The Epilogue of Crime and Punishment

Robert Belknap, Columbia University

Dostoevsky wrote three novels with conclusions that are called epilogues, Crime and Punishment, The Insulted and Injured, and The Brothers Karamazov. The Possessed really has three epilogues, none so labeled, the ambitious and circumstantial ending of Stepan Trofimovich's career, the short account of the fates of the conspirators, and the Stavrogin epilogue, with its horrific ending. Poor Folk for practical purposes has no epilogue, labeled or otherwise. In 1947, Ernest Simmons echoed a widespread and still popular opinion when he wrote of Crime and Punishment, "The epilogue is manifestly the weakest section of the novel, and the regeneration of Raskol'nikov under the influence of the Christian humility of Sonia is neither artistically palatable nor psychologically sound."

This paper argues that in the epilogue, the novel loses its dialogic quality for reasons that are anchored in other Baxtinian doctrines. Baxtin traces the Dostoevskian plot to the novel of ordeals, originating in Greek Romance, where the remarkably beautiful boy and girl of marriageable age meet unexpectedly, suddenly become passionately involved, but encounter a series of obstacles that retard their union. After all these "attempts on chastity and fidelity, false accusations of crimes, ... meetings with unexpected friends or enemies, prophetic dreams, ... [etc.] the novel ends happily with the lovers united in marriage."

The paper also argues that Raskol'nikov has rehearsed his confession many times in the novel, and finally performed it in the public square and the police station, but that confession in many Christian traditions is not the result of repentance but the means to it. The epilogue presents the eventual result of the confessions which are the climax of the novel. In this way, and several others which will be discussed in the paper, while the discourse in Crime and Punishment leaps from the dialogic to the inspirational in the epilogue, the plot remains consistent with the whole, moving logically, though hesitantly toward confession and then redemption. In this sense, the epilogue is artistically and psychologically motivated.