Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is by many measures one of the best novels ever written. It is an expansive crime novel that covers many themes: historical, political, philosophical and moral and assembles them in a way that very few other books can match.
That being said, the book was written in the mid 19th century, and since then both the Russian and English languages have changed with the times.
As such, the question you should ask yourself as a reader is what kind of translation would you like? A more recent translation written with modern English or an older one that has an 19th century feel.
Below are the 2 best translations of Crime and Punishment, what makes them different from each other, as well as example passages so you can compare the two.
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Constance Garnett Translation of Crime and Punishment
Constance Garnett was an English translator of 19th-century Russian literature, and published her translation of Crime and Punishment in 1914.
Her writing style has a pronounced Victorian era feel, that reads in a proper and polite tone and comes with a rich, old and nostalgic texture you can expect from 1890 to 1910’s British English.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation of Crime and Punishment
Pevear and Volokhonsky are a husband-and-wife couple that have collectively translated many Russian classics, with Crime and Punishment being published in 1992.
Their version of the Russian novel has a more raw feel to it, captures Dostoyevsky’s rough and vulgar language, and also the book’s subtle, dark humor. Being relatively recent, the writing closely resembles modern, conversational English.
Comparing two paragraphs between the two translators
Below are are a couple of paragraphs, one from each version. They are spoiler free, and are taken straight from the first or second page of the book.
Constance Garnett Version:
‘I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles,’ he thought, with an odd smile. ‘Hm … yes, all is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most…. But I am talking too much. It’s because I chatter that I do nothing. Or perhaps it is that I chatter because I do nothing. I’ve learned to chatter this last month, lying for days together in my den thinking … of Jack the Giant-killer. Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It’s simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything.’
The heat in the street was terrible: and the airlessness, the bustle and the plaster, scaffolding, bricks, and dust all about him, and that special Petersburg stench, so familiar to all who are unable to get out of town in summer—all worked painfully upon the young man’s already overwrought nerves. The insufferable stench from the pothouses, which are particularly numerous in that part of the town, and the drunken men whom he met continually, although it was a working day, completed the revolting misery of the picture. An expression of the profoundest disgust gleamed for a moment in the young man’s refined face. He was, by the way, exceptionally handsome, above the average in height, slim, well-built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair. Soon he sank into deep thought, or more accurately speaking into a complete blankness of mind; he walked along not observing what was about him and not caring to observe it.
Pevear and Volokhonsky Version:
“I want to attempt such a thing, and at the same time I’m afraid of such trifles!” he thought with a strange smile. “Hm . . . yes . . . man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice … That is an axiom … I wonder, what are people most afraid of? A new step, their own new word, that’s what they’re most afraid of … I babble too much, however. That’s why I don’t do anything, because I babble. However, maybe it’s like this: I babble because I don’t do anything. I’ve learned to babble over this past month, lying in a corner day in and day out, thinking about . . . cuckooland. Why on earth am I going now? Am I really capable of that? Is that something serious? No, not serious at all. I’m just toying with it, for the sake of fantasy. A plaything! Yes, a plaything, if you like!”
It was terribly hot out, and moreover it was close, crowded; lime, scaffolding, bricks, dust everywhere, and that special summer stench known so well to every Petersburger who cannot afford to rent a summer house—all at once these things unpleasantly shook the young man’s already overwrought nerves. The intolerable stench from the taverns, especially numerous in that part of the city, and the drunkards he kept running into even though it was a weekday, completed the loathsome and melancholy coloring of the picture. A feeling of the deepest revulsion flashed for a moment in the young man’s fine features. Incidentally, he was remarkably good-looking, taller than average, slender and trim, with beautiful dark eyes and dark blond hair. But soon he lapsed as if into deep-thought, or even, more precisely, into some sort of oblivion, and walked on no longer noticing what was around him, and not wishing to notice.
3 other books like Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment is primarily an existentialist and philosophical novel, written as a crime story.
An essential part of the story is also the internal life of the main character, Rodion Raskolnikov, how he views his life and how he interprets the horrible thing he’s done.
Below are three more book suggestions, that have similar elements to Crime and Punishment and can satisfy some similar “scratches”.
Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
For over 20 years, Detective Sasagaki is obsessed with an unsolved murder, and why Ryo, the son of the murdered man, and Yukiho, the daughter of the main suspect, remain unexplicably linked for all these decades.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
A philosophical novel exploring the inner workings of Meursault, a man emotionally detached from life, and is indifferent even to the death of his mother. The book is divided in two sections, that analyze his life before and after he commits an act of provoked evil.
The Magus by John Fowles
Told from the perspective of Nicholas Urfe, an Oxford graduate who ends up teaching English at a near deserted Greek island. There he meets Conchis, a wealthy, mysterious native of the island who may or may not have collaborated with the Nazis in WW2. As the months pass, Nicholas falls deeper and deeper into Conchis’s psychological games.