by Kate Holland
2016 was the 150th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. To mark that date, Katherine Bowers and I organized an outreach program that included a conference at the University of British Columbia with talks by faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, a film screening of an Australian adaptation of the novel, a Twitter project, two library exhibits and a conference panel. (The project website with more details about all of these activities is here). The final event, appropriately enough, was dedicated to the problematic epilogue of Dostoevsky’s novel, about which scholars and critics have been arguing since it was first published 150 years ago.
That panel, held at the annual ASEEES conference in November 2016, featured papers by Kate Holland, Katherine Bowers and Sarah J. Young, with Robin Feuer Miller as discussant. The three papers all took different approaches to the big questions of the end of Dostoevsky’s novel: is Raskolnikov’s final epiphany consistent with the tone and spirit of the novel that precedes it? Does it seem tacked on, preachy, inconsistent, as critics such as Bakhtin have claimed? Or is it the culmination of a development that has been taking place inside Raskolnikov throughout the novel? How should or could readers respond to this epiphany and to the equivocal language in which it is couched? The panel provided as many further questions as it did answers, and we decided to develop our ideas further in a journal special issue.
During the planning process, we lost one contributor, Sarah J. Young, and gained another, Eric Naiman, and finally published our cluster in Canadian Slavonic Papers. The issue consists of three articles and an epilogue by Robin Feuer Miller. Here we provide brief synopses of the articles and the epilogue and links to the journal issue. Each link is provided by Taylor & Francis and allows for 50 free reads of each article.
Katherine Bowers’s article examines the epilogue of Crime and Punishment from the perspective of genre and generic expectation. Considering two generic plots that appear in the novel, the detective plot and the redemption narrative, she argues that the imagined reader’s generic expectation is both satisfied and thwarted in each case. Bowers introduces the idea of “generic stasis” to refer to Raskolnikov’s situation vis-à-vis generic plot in each plot trajectory of the epilogue. In upsetting generic expectation, this state of generic stasis creates an opening that enables the novel’s ending to occur. In this sense, Bowers’s article argues for the utility of the epilogue’s generic hybridity in resisting narrative pre-determination. [link to Bowers’s article]
Kate Holland’s article re-examines the structural relationship of the epilogue of Crime and Punishment to the rest of the novel, arguing that the three central events of the plot, the murder, the confession, and the conversion, function as “open” moments or aporias in the text that lie at the intersection of multiple explanatory narratives. These events are presented by the narrator as key to Raskolnikov’s plot and identity, yet an explanation of their meaning is elided as they are simultaneously anticipated and deferred. Holland’s article examines the role of competing models of confession within the novel’s emplotment as well as the narrator’s use of temporal disruption that allows him to have it both ways: to anticipate Raskolnikov’s future conversion while at the same time showing the extent to which he is shaped by his Idea in the present. It argues that the problems of narrative closure are key to the poetics of the novel, and that the novel’s own hermeneutic structure invites a dialectical reading of the work as a whole and its ending. [link to Holland’s article]
Eric Naiman’s article employs a strategy of “adversarial reading,” seeking to find complexity and contradiction in the seemingly monologic epilogue to Crime and Punishment. Since the novel’s most resistant and perverse interpreters, and in particular Svidrigailov, have vanished from the text prior to the opening of the epilogue, it is the reader’s challenge to carry forward these characters’ approach to textual interpretation and keep alive the novel’s rejection of transparent, perfectly adequate denotation. Heuristically, Naiman’s article asks what readers might find in the epilogue if they refuse to remain the passive recipients of Sonia’s word. [link to Naiman’s article]
In her afterward, an epilogue in itself, Robin Feuer Miller invokes T.S. Eliot’s recursive beginnings and endings in “Little Gidding” and “East Coker,” to bring out overlap between the three readings of the epilogue, showing how all three “highlight how the final paragraphs of the epilogue replicate and the dilemmas and paradoxes of the novel as a whole.” She goes on to emphasize the dialogic and polyphonic qualities of the epilogue which interact with the music of the whole, and the imperceptible shifts in time and space which make it so difficult to pinpoint the actual moment of conversion. For Miller, the epilogue is a moment where Dostoevsky’s complex processes of narration come together, pointing towards the importance of Sonya as a bridge to Dostoevsky’s later narrator-chroniclers. [link to Miller’s afterword]
Overall, we hope that this cluster provokes more discussion of the tricky Epilogue to Crime and Punishment as the panel and writing these articles has for us!
Kate Holland is Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Novel in the Age of Disintegration: Dostoevsky and the Problem of Genre in the 1870s (Northwestern University Press, 2013, paperback reissue forthcoming, 2021) and co-editor with Katherine Bowers of Dostoevsky at 200: The Novel in Modernity (forthcoming with University of Toronto Press, 2021). She is President of the North American Dostoevsky Society.