Essay / Literature

Razumikhin Haddock

The character Razumikhin in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is one of the most personable figures in the book. Intelligent, loyal, resourceful, and generally pleasant, he’s one of the few people you can imagine looking forward to spending a few days with in St. Petersburg.

But when he gets mad, he swears like Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics. I don’t just mean that he swears like a sailor; I mean that like Haddock he has a pattern of shouting bizarre terms of abuse drawn from a  highly idiosyncratic thesaurus of vituperation. I mean a weird insult book.

Haddock’s curses are legendary: Troglodyte! Vivisectionist! Bashi-bazouk! Technocrat! Iconoclast! Vegetarian! You can find lists of them that claim to be comprehensive at the Tintinologist website. Somewhere I’ve even seen a table of how the translators have handled all these terms (Tintin comics being available in many languages).

I’ve never seen a comprehensive list of Razumikhin insults, but here are a few that I noticed (from the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation). Yelling at Raskolnikov, he says, “You’re made of spermacetti ointment, with whey instead of blood in your veins! … You’re a fool, a banal fool, an utter fool, a foreign translation!” And yelling about Luzhin, he calls him “a stool pigeon and a speculator… a mountebank.”

But while only rage can set Haddock off into these verbally creative rants, Razumikhin occasionally breaks into them with more reverie than wrath. Coaching Raskolnikov on how to cozy up to the landlady, he offers this evocative but progressively more bizarre advice: “Here, brother, there’s this feather-bed principle… it sucks you in, it’s the end of the world, an anchor, a quiet haven, the navel of the earth, the three-fish foundation of the world, the essence of pancakes, rich  meat pies, evening samovars, soft sighs and warm vests, heated beds on the stove..” 

It’s just one more reason Razumikhin is the person in Crime and Punishment you’d vote to take a long train ride with.

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