Raskolnikov awakes unhappy the next morning in his cramped, dusty, sparely furnished apartment. The building’s maid Nastasya arrives and orders Raskolnikov to rise from bed, since it’s past nine o’clock. He gives her some small change for food, drinks her stale tea, and is convinced to eat a small portion of cabbage soup. Nastasya informs Raskolnikov that his landlady, Praskovya Pavlovna, is initiating a police complaint against him for payment of back-rent. Nastasya chastises Raskolnikov for his laziness; he no longer teaches children and claims his only work is “thinking.” Before leaving, Nastasya gives Raskolnikov a letter from his mother, sent from the provinces.
Nastasya serves as a substitute mother figure for Raskolnikov while his family is away in the provinces. In this section Raskolnikov’s apartment is described in more detail, and it barely seems habitable—he can open the door only when he is lying down on his sofa, and his books and other items are covered in dust. It is as though Raskolnikov has not moved for weeks on end. It is hard to imagine that Raskolnikov ever worked at all, although it becomes clear that he served as a tutor for younger students before his recent spate of anxiety.
Raskolnikov reads the letter. His mother Pulcheria has not written for two months but can now tell Raskolnikov of recent good fortune in their family. Dunya, Raskolnikov’s sister, has been working as a servant in the house of the Svidrigailovs, a relatively wealthy family in the same R----- province. Dunya took out a salary advance of 100 roubles when she began work in order to send 60 to Raskolnikov the previous year, and his mother has also sent smaller portions of her own pension, inherited from Raskolnikov’s father after his death.
Raskolnikov’s mother worries about her son most of all—although she loves Dunya dearly, Raskolnikov is the first born and her only son, and according to Russian custom at the time, Raskolnikov is the head of the family despite his inability to provide monetarily for his mother and sister. Indeed, Raskolnikov is financially supported by these two women throughout the novel.
Dunya’s position was placed in jeopardy when Mr. Svidrigailov began making passes at her, eventually asking her to elope with him. Dunya refused but, hoping not to lose her job, stayed in her position for six weeks, during which time Marfa Svidrigailov overheard her husband begging Dunya once again to run away with him. Marfa mistook Dunya for the initiator of affections and dismissed her immediately, much to Raskolnikov family’s shame.
Although Dunya refuses all of Svidrigailov’s advances, Marfa believes she is guilty of seducing her husband and speaks out against Dunya throughout the neighborhood. This has serious financial consequences for the family, since Dunya’s income, combined with Raskolnikov’s father’s pension, must support the three of them.
Pulcheria and Dunya were afraid to inform Raskolnikov of this news, not wanting to burden him, and did not write during the intervening two months. Marfa slandered Dunya throughout the province, further shaming the family. But Svidrigailov ultimately could not stand the lies being told, however unknowingly, by his wife; he confessed to her and proved his guilt by providing a letter of Dunya’s in which she refused Svidrigailov and chastised him for his immorality.
Svidrigailov will reappear later in the text, in Petersburg. Indeed most of the characters in the novel referenced in the provinces—Luzhin, Lebezyatnikov, Svidrigailov—make their way to Petersburg and figure into Raskolnikov’s drama. Svidrigailov will later argue that he truly loved Dunya, and that his desire to elope with her was genuine, and his actions here do attest to some level of honesty and goodness in him.
Now Marfa experienced a great shame and went to the houses of the province revoking her previous statements and insisting on Dunya’s total innocence. Dunya’s reputation was restored, and in short order a relative of Marfa’s named Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin proposed marriage to her. Dunya and Pulcheria have agreed in principle to this marriage, arranged speedily, without Raskolnikov’s consent, as Pulcheria goes on to explain.
Luzhin appears to be a “deus ex machina,” or “God from the machine”—a character who arrives to eliminate another character’s troubles entirely. But from the beginning Luzhin’s advances have an air of mystery about them. For one thing, it is not initially clear why he wishes for the wedding to take place so quickly.
Luzhin met with Dunya once, in a formal setting, before proposing. He is 45 years old, a rising government official, and “still handsome,” in Pulcheria’s words. He is also in accord with the political fashions of the time—meaning he is politically liberal—and describes himself as an “enemy of all prejudice.” Pulcheria admits that Dunya does not feel a “special love” for Luzhin, but her inherent goodness and his solid circumstances should make for a strong match.
Dostoevsky makes Luzhin an object of ridicule. Luzhin seems to understand that the “new liberal ideas,” including those of feminine equality and political democratization, are gaining currency in Russia. But Luzhin does not seem to understand why these ideas ought to be championed—he merely repeats what he reads in popular publications in order to get ahead in his governmental career.
In the letter, Pulcheria describes how, at his second visit with the family, Luzhin announces that it is ideal for a husband to marry an impoverished woman who has “experienced some hardship,” since then she will see her husband as her protector. This comment dismays Pulcheria, but Dunya distinguishes between Luzhin’s words and his possible behavior as a future husband. She decides to accept Luzhin’s marriage proposal. Meanwhile Luzhin is en route to Petersburg, where he must attend a matter in the Senate. Both Pulcheria and Dunya hope that Luzhin will take on Raskolnikov as a secretary, with a secret wish that he become partner one day. Luzhin says that he does need a secretary, and having a family member in the position would be convenient.
An important part of Pulcheria’s letter. Luzhin mentions that a woman who has no money is therefore required to depend upon her husband for her livelihood. This makes a more devoted wife, in Luzhin’s view. Raskolnikov takes umbrage at this comment and worries that Luzhin wishes simply to dominate Dunya. Pulcheria fears the same, but Dunya argues, at least initially, that she can handle her husband-to-be, and that she is not making a sacrifice for anyone—she is instead getting married to Luzhin because she feels she can grow to love him.
Luzhin wishes to meet Raskolnikov in Petersburg; Dunya has already spoken highly of her brother to her fiancé, but he resolves that he will judge Raskolnikov’s character in person. Pulcheria reveals that Luzhin will send for her and for Dunya within a week, bringing them to Petersburg. Luzhin will pay for (only) some of their travels costs, but news of the marriage will enable Pulcheria to receive an advance on her pension from her creditor, meaning she can send Raskolnikov 25 or 30 roubles very soon.
Luzhin’s lack of generosity also arouses Raskolnikov’s (and, later, Razumikhin’s) suspicion. Luzhin appears to want to be married in order to further his career, just as he repeats ideas about liberalism in order to better position himself for future promotion. Raskolnikov does not trust that Luzhin’s intentions with Dunya are noble or gentlemanly. Certainly he does not think they are marrying for love.
Dunya has joked to Pulcheria that she is so excited to see Raskolnikov she would marry Luzhin almost for that reason alone. Pulcheria closes her letter with an outpouring of love and great happiness at the family’s reunion after three years’ separation. Raskolnikov is greatly agitated by the letter and must leave his apartment when he finishes reading.
It is revealed that Raskolnikov has not seen his sister and mother for three years. Their communication via letter has also been infrequent. Raskolnikov’s relationship with them will become more intimate in Petersburg, but only for a time; eventually Raskolnikov will swear off any further meetings with his family.