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Richard Gill THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER AND CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: EXISTENTIAL PARABLES To my knowledge, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Dostoyevsky 's Crime and Punishment have never been compared; and with the many differences between them, there may seem to be little reason why they should be. The Ancient Mariner presents a mysterious fantasy in the archaic guise of a medieval ballad; Crime and Punishment is a realistic novel in the nineteenth-century tradition deriving from Balzac. One takes the reader on an extraordinary voyage through haunting seascapes suggesting the world of dream; the other, in sharp contrast, exposes him to the squalid tenements and dusty, crowded streets typical of the modern city. The Mariner's tale, told in the first person, swiftly unfolds with superlative economy and directness; the novel, omniscient in point of view, builds to an appropriate massiveness and dialectical complexity. Yet in spite of such multiple differences, once The Ancient Mariner and Crime and Punishment arejuxtaposed, what obviously stands out is the significant parallel in subject matter: each work is the story of a heinous wrong and its terrifying consequences for the wrongdoer himself. The Mariner slays a friendly Albatross; Raskolnikov murders an old pawnbroker and her sister; and both protagonists become guilt-ridden creatures who must suffer much the same fate. It is not this single parallel by itself, however, that is remarkable, but a number of other and more deep-seated parallels that are not so immediately evident and that include such varied elements as philosophical theme, psychological motivation, formal structure, and symbolic imagery . The Ancient Mariner condenses and crystallizes what Crime and Punishment augments and explores, so that upon further comparison each work might seem to be designed to furnish glosses for the other. Even those problematical aspects of each work that have withstood confident interpretation and evaluation, such as ambiguity and irresoluti 132Philosophy and Literature tion, are very much alike. Just why all this is so then becomes a question in itself, and one whose answer leads to consideration of possible historical and cultural links between Coleridge and Dostoyevsky, particularly with respect to their ultimate metaphysical concerns and their struggle to uphold Christian orthodoxy against the assaults of post-Enlightenment rationalism and secularism. Indeed, upon close examination of the striking affinities between their two masterpieces, it becomes evident that Coleridge and Dostoyevsky, while generations apart and belonging to two quite different cultures, may be associated as revealing manifestations of how nineteenth-century Romanticism merges into modern Christian existentialism. With respect to theme, what Robert Penn Warren has stated about The Ancient Mariner applies just as well to Crime and Punishment (and may possibly allude to its title, though Warren never mentions the novel or Dostoyevsky): "The fable, in the broadest and simplest terms, is a story of crime and punishment and repentance and reconciliation."1 In both the poem and the novel, moreover, the working out of this theme is basically a religious one that conforms to the familiar pattern of orthodox Christian teaching, with its emphasis on such polarities as sin and redemption, pride and humility, despair and hope, hate and love. This is unmistakable in Crime and Punishment because of its many references to the New Testament, discursively in various exchanges of dialogue and by implication in much of the recurring imagery.2 And while there has been a good deal of debate about the meaning of The Ancient Mariner, the persistent religious allusions both in the text and in the glosses, which Coleridge added to assist the puzzled readers of the first published version, do invite us, as M. H. Abrams avers, "to take the Mariner's experience as an instance of the Christian plot of moral error, the discipline of suffering, and a consequent change of heart."3 At the same time, what could remain a very conventional theme, lending itself to religiosity and didacticism, is given a highly individual and provocative treatment in both works. Neither Coleridge nor Dostoyevsky imposes the Christian pattern in an allegorical fashion from without; instead, each one discovers the pattern anew through the ordeal of his protagonist. Dostoyevsky, in the notebooks for Crime and Punishment, makes what...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 131-149
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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