Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment

Is this novel okay for a 13y/o? I’ve never read it, but it sounds like something my son would like. He devours Tolkien and Lewis, beyond Lord of the Rings and Narnia, and he seems taken with philosophy and theology. So, I think he’s capable, but I don’t know if the story is antithetical to Catholicism or not.

I haven’t read the entire book, but I’m sure it’s fine to read…it might be a bit complicated for a 13 year old,but if he can handle it, then it should be totally fine to read.

If he can handle Tolkien at his less readable, he can probably take Dostoevsky – some of it may stretch him a bit, but that’s the idea!

There’s nothing anti-Christian or anti-Catholic in C&P – far from it, it’s quite pro-Christian. The protagonist starts as a would-be Nietzschean overman (not naming Nietzsche, but starting from a similar idea and going about it the wrong way) and a murderer, but if anything that only serves to emphasize the changes in his character as the story progresses.

Dostoevsky himself was devoutly Orthodox, and for a look at how he viewed religion and the world, I’d recommend his short story (yes, the great Russian writers did short stories!) The Dream of a Ridiculous Man – it’s the best work of explicitly religious fiction I have ever read.

Has he read George MacDonald’s books? And a little more mature, maybe Michael O’Brian.

I bought a few Michael O’Brien in hopes that he would read them; however, I previewed Sophia House and was revolted by the molestation scene and the recurrent homosexual theme, although it was ultimately rejected by the character. He’s been given a cursory understanding of homosexuality, but I don’t think I want to encourage him reading it.
Mirdath, many thanks for your input. I like your style and fair approach to matters posted on these forums. Your judgement is trusted, so I’ll go ahead and ask for one more thought from you. There is a character in the book that is a prostitute. I understand from the book sleeve that the relationship is chaste, but are there other details of her profession in C & P?

Dostoevski was Orthodox, so in some of his books there is anti-Catholic polemic–not in this one though.

I would not encourage C & P for a 13-year-old. If he decides he wants to read it for some reason, I certainly wouldn’t stop him. But it isn’t something I’d go out of my way to put before him until he’s a few years older. When I read it (at the age of 16) I so strongly identified with the main character that I had dreams in which I thought I had committed the axe murder that the main character commits in the book. Mind you, I found LOTR too scary at 13–I was a very sensitive and sheltered 13-year-old. But I’m not sure that developmentally I’d push a 13-year-old to explore the darkness of the human soul quite as deeply as reading Dostoevski will make him do. I love Dostoevski, and certainly a precocious 13-year-old might find the book on his own and that’s fine. But I wouldn’t rush it. If he’s smart and thoughtful, he’ll get there eventually. Everyone should read C & P at least once. But not until they’re ready. Your son may not be ready yet.

I would second the recommendation of George MacDonald. And other 19th-century novelists–Dickens, Walter Scott, Cooper, etc. On a bit deeper and darker level: Victor Hugo, the Brontes, George Eliot, Mark Twain (beyond the “kids’ stuff”). If he reads enough of those authors, he’ll eventually work up an appetite for Dostoevski. At least that was my background when I read C & P. My first reaction was: “This is like Dickens with new dimensions!”


Mary Gail and Contarini,
Can you suggest M acDonald titles? I haven’t been as big a reader of the classics that I should be! Are they high school level reading?
Mirdath, I’ve always found your opinions wise and fair. I trust your judgement on this matter. Many thanks.
Contarini, thanks for listing alternative authors.

Ohh, Sorry I’m not familiar with the author MacDonald…

It was Viki

I read Crime and Punishment when I was in college and out on my own for the first time. It was a great book to read at that time, because it reinforced the truth that evil is evil, even if you don’t get caught. (The protagonist eventually turns himself in, in the book.)

I don’t think I’d recommend it to a 13 year old, though - I don’t think 13 is really mature enough to get the nuances of the story - and it could become more of a “how-to” than a “don’t do,” for someone of that age.

MacDonald wrote a number of children’s stories–but interesting and complex enough that I’d hope a sensible teenager wouldn’t look down on them: The Princess and the Goblin, the Princess and Curdie, and a lot of short stories such as “the Light Princess” and “The Golden Key.” (Some of these are actually more suitable for teenagers than children.) He wrote two fantasies for adults: Phantastes and Lilith. I would recommend Phantastes for a 13-year-old who liked Tolkien–he might find it weird and difficult but it would be worth trying. Lilith is darker and weirder and probably better suited for an older reader.

Macdonald’s more conventional novels are not considered great literature. I enjoy them every much, but even I tend to read them in small doses (this is mostly because I have them on CD, admittedly). As a teenager, I devoured them in modernized, edited editions by Michael Phillips and Dan Hamilton (Hamilton is generally better–though I’m biased because I know him personally-but there are only a few for which versions by both are available, and Phillips beat Hamilton to most of the good ones). I’ll list some of the ones I really like, giving the original title first:

Malcolm (edited by Phillips as The Fisherman’s Lady)
*The Marquis of Lossie *(sequel to Malcolm; edited by Phillips as The Marquis’ Secret)
*Sir Gibbie *(edited by Phillips as The Baronet’s Song–Phillips is really bad with titles!)
*Alec Forbes of Howglen *(edited by Phillips as The Maiden’s Bequest)
*What’s Mine’s Mine *(edited by Phillips as The Highlander’s Last Song–why Phillips was obsessed with songs I don’t know)
*St. Michael and St. George *(edited by Hamilton as The Last Castle–this is a historical novel about the 17th-century English Civil War, with a portrayal of Catholicism that is remarkably positive for a 19th-century Protestant writer; in fact the heroine is shown overcoming her anti-Catholic prejudices as she serves as a lady in waiting in an aristocratic Catholic family).

One of Macdonald’s most interesting books for fans (because it’s so autobiographical and theological) is *Robert Falconer *(edited by Phillips as The Musician’s Quest). But I wouldn’t recommend it for your son until he’s read a few of the others (because it’s so autobiographical and theological).

Macdonald’s theology is a bit unorthodox (he was a universalist), though by and large in ways that bother Calvinists more than Catholics.


Well, isn’t this part of what parents are for? I would very much recommend exiled read C&P as well – I’m a bit surprised he or she hasn’t yet, given its ubiquity in coursework and the popular imagination. It’s not a very difficult read, especially compared to some of Dostoevsky’s other novels; other than the occasional angsty woe-is-me interlude with Raskolnikov, it moves at a good clip and isn’t very long. A parent who’s read the book will be able to help the child get a true understanding of its themes, if any questions come up.

Reading related works along with C&P might also be a good thing. The kid’s probably familiar with the gospels already (Raskolnikov is a would-be Christ figure, albeit a horribly flawed one who comes to realize his failings, Sofia is quite obviously Mary Magdalene, and the story itself has a more-than-coincidental thematic resemblance), but other lit exploring the themes of humanism contra nihilism, rights, morals, and ethics, redemption, and even just the gestalt in which Dostoevsky was writing, all of that would be a help in understanding C&P better. Off the top of my head, a short list would include his Dream of a Ridiculous Man and Notes From Underground, Goethe’s Faust, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial, Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (may be getting a bit much for most 13-year-olds here, but Raskolnikov is basically a failed prototype of the overman, and Nietzsche has a great deal to say about human potential against nihilism – a lot of it even correct!), and the recently late Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.

Most of the 13-year-olds I know are reading child detective stories. :shrug:

This one apparently blitzed through the Silmarillion. This is no mean feat – it makes the first chapter of Matthew (the one with all the begats) look like a Reader’s Digest joke page. And in addition to all the crazy genealogy, it’s got magic trees, rings, tidal waves, betrayals upon betrayals, giant spiders, dragons, incest, genetic experimentation, and elves being jerks. We’re not talking about Encyclopedia Brown or the Boxcar Children here.

Some kids can read well past what’s usually expected of their age group. I know I used to read the Berenstein Bears at the same time as Arthur Clarke, and could understand both of them just fine – whether it was Papa Bear’s morning irritability or the physics behind the slingshot maneuver Discovery used to accelerate on the final leg of its trip to Iapetus.

I think I first started reading Dostoevsky when I was around 13, and look how well I turned out! :wink:

I remember reading the Silmarillion (those jerkish Feanoreans!) at twelve. That sort of stuff stuff is much more difficult to read than Doesteovsky, which is more psychologically and philosophically oriented. If the kid likes that sort of stuff (like I do), go for it. It’s a Christian morality tale. And although some people might call it existentialistic, I certainly wouldn’t.

Crime and Punishment is more violent that the Lord of the Rings, however. I mean, Tolkien had fairly abstract descriptions of battles and Doesteovsky’s violence is much more realistic. But the quantity of violence is less and it’s a good story. In fact, if you haven’t read it, you should. I like how it lambastes Utilitarianism. Good stuff.

Crime and Punishment is about a murderer. There is one point in the book where a character talks for pages about nihilism and possibly utilitarianism, but that’s only because Dostoevsky was hypergraphic. Crime and Punishment is fine for a 13 year old if he or she can read it.

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