The Brothers Karamazov
My interest in this book was piqued when a well known local named it as his favorite work of literature in a interview on TV. I guess that's as good a reason as any other. I read an at least century old translation by Constance Garnett who translated many of Dostoevskys works. Dostoevsky hardly needs an introduction but I think it is in order to say something about the circumstances in which the book was written. There are countless speculations about the external circumstances of the writing of The Brothers Karamazov, it's ulterior message and I'll try to address my own later on without revealing to much of the story. It is written roughly between 1877 and 1880, when Dostoevsky was pushing sixty living a quiet life in the small town of Staraya Russa in the Novgorod region situated with Moscow to the north-west and St. Petersburg in the south-east. These were times of great advances in almost every field of human knowledge, a few noteworthy happenings around the same time:
1848 - Karl Marx and Frederick Engels publish The Communist Manifesto
1848-1856 - The Crimean War rages
1856 - Darwin publishes On the origin of the species
1861 - Emancipation of the serfs
1867 - Russia sells Alaska to the U.S.
1870-1871 - Sees the Franco-Prussian war
1871 - Dmitri Mendeleev devises the (revolutionary but perpetually incomplete) Periodic Table of the Elements
1877-1878 - the Russo-Turkish War breaks out in the Balkans
was gaining momentum. It had been more than three decades since Dostoevsky published his debut novel Poor Folk
in 1846 then 25 years old. For all intents and purposes I believe The Brothers Karamazov might be considered his crowning achievement, although most might be quicker to associate Crime and Punishment
with him. It is his longest and last book.
Notable Russian contemporary writers include
Alexandr Pushkin (1799-1837)
Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)
Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
Maxim Gorky (1868-1936).
The story takes place in the town of Skotoprigonevsk, the neighbouring town Mokroe and their immediate surroundings. Skotoprigonevsk is thought to be modeled after the town of Staraya Russa where Dostoevsky spent his last years. Moscow and St. Petersburg are understandibly referred to as the "big influential cities" on some occasions but my impression is that the story could have taken place in any little town.
In a work as encompassing in its description of human behaviour as this book is it is only too easy to recognise a plethora of motifs. I feel that enumerating some of them would be an inexcusable simplification. Something like presenting a recipe for a big dinner that only lists the ingredients needed. What I propose to do is give an inconclusive narrative of the storyline, so as not to spoil it for those who haven't read it and then present two (yes only two) intepretations. Symbolism is of the essence and so in good humour I have chosen to title them macro and micro.
Boiling it all down to a paragraph
The surviving members of a family are reunited. The father and his 3 or 4 sons. The sons are all twentysomething and each one is of a different mind than the other. The youngest believes his future to be as a servant of god. The middle brother has grave inner conflicts of ideologies. The oldest one is material and likes the good life, he wants the same woman as his father. The father is murdered half way through. The oldest brother is accused of it, an investigation and finally a trial follows. There are many marginal stories and characters intwined. It is not easy to decide their importance. In the end a man is found guilty and a motive is established, but the story does not end there...
The contemporary Russian people, indeed from the lowliest beggar to the Tsar himself, are portrayed in all their collective glory.
Dostoevsky tells us the story of his life. He lost both his mother when he was sixteen and his father two years later. He was educated in Moscow and in a military academy as an engineer. He was sentenced (probably wrongfully?) to death for revolutionary activity but it was reduced to hard labour in Siberia. He was an epileptic himeself. There are numerous other resemblances.
Book II - An Unfortunate Gathering
- Book I - The History of a Family
- Chapter 1 - Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov
- Chapter 2 - He Gets Rid of His Eldest Son
- Chapter 3 - The Second Marriage and the Second Family
- Chapter 4 - The Third Son, Alyosha
- Chapter 5 - Elders
Book III - The Sensualists
- Chapter 1 - They Arrive at the Monastery
- Chapter 2 - The Old Buffoon
- Chapter 3 - Peasant Women Who Have Faith
- Chapter 4 - A Lady of Little Faith
- Chapter 5 - So Be It! So Be It!
- Chapter 6 - Why Is Such a Man Alive?
- Chapter 7 - A Young Man Bent on a Career
- Chapter 8 - The Scandalous Scene
- Chapter 1 - In the Servants' Quarters
- Chapter 2 - Lizaveta
- Chapter 3 - The Confession of a Passionate Heart -- in Verse
- Chapter 4 - The Confession of a Passionate Heart -- In Anecdote
- Chapter 5 - The Confession of a Passionate Heart -- "Heels Up"
- Chapter 6 - Smerdyakov
- Chapter 7 - The Controversy
- Chapter 8 - Over the Brandy
- Chapter 9 - The Sensualists
- Chapter 10 - Both Together
- Chapter 11 - Another Reputation Ruined
Book V - Pro and Contra
- Book IV - Lacerations
- Chapter 1 - Father Ferapont
- Chapter 2 - At His Father's
- Chapter 3 - A Meeting with the Schoolboys
- Chapter 4 - At the Hohlakovs'
- Chapter 5 - A Laceration in the Drawing-Room
- Chapter 6 - A Laceration in the Cottage
- Chapter 7 - And in the Open Air
Book VI - The Russian Monk
- Chapter 1 - The Engagement
- Chapter 2 - Smerdyakov with a Guitar
- Chapter 3 - The Brothers Make Friends
- Chapter 4 - Rebellion
- Chapter 5 - The Grand Inquisitor1
- Chapter 6 - For Awhile a Very Obscure One
- Chapter 7 - "It's Always Worth While Speaking to a Clever Man"
- Chapter 1 - Father Zossima and His Visitors
- Chapter 2 - Recollections of Father Zossima's Youth before he became a Monk. The Duel
- Chapter 3 - Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima (e) The Russian Monk and his possible Significance
Book VIII - Mitya
- Book VII - Aloysha
- Chapter 1 - The Breath of Corruption
- Chapter 2 - A Critical Moment
- Chapter 3 - An Onion
- Chapter 4 - Cana of Galilee
Book IX - The Preliminary Investigation
- Chapter 1 - Kuzma Samsonov
- Chapter 2 - Lyagavy
- Chapter 3 - Gold Mines
- Chapter 4 - In the Dark
- Chapter 5 - A Sudden Resolution
- Chapter 6 - "I Am Coming, Too!"
- Chapter 7 - The First and Rightful Lover
- Chapter 8 - Delirium
- Chapter 1 - The Beginning of Perhotin's Official Career
- Chapter 2 - The Alarm
- Chapter 3 - The Sufferings of a Soul
The First Ordeal
- Chapter 4 - The Second Ordeal
- Chapter 5 - The Third Ordeal
- Chapter 6 - The Prosecutor Catches Mitya
- Chapter 7 - Mitya's Great Secret Received with Hisses
- Chapter 8 - The Evidences of the Witnesses. The Babe
- Chapter 9 - They Carry Mitya Away
Book XI - Ivan
- Book X - The Boys
- Chapter 1 - Kolya Krassotkin
- Chapter 2 - Children
- Chapter 3 - The Schoolboy
- Chapter 4 - The Lost Dog
- Chapter 5 - By Ilusha's Bedside
- Chapter 6 - Precocity
- Chapter 7 - Ilusha
Book XII - A Judical Error
- Chapter 1 - At Grushenka's
- Chapter 2 - The Injured Foot
- Chapter 3 - A Little Demon
- Chapter 4 - A Hymn and a Secret
- Chapter 5 - Not You, Not You!
- Chapter 6 - The First Interview with Smerdyakov
- Chapter 7 - The Second Visit to Smerdyakov
- Chapter 8 - The Third and Last Interview with Smerdyakov
- Chapter 9 - The Devil. Ivan's Nightmare
- Chapter 10 - "It Was He Who Said That"
- Chapter 1 - The Fatal Day
- Chapter 2 - Dangerous Witnesses
- Chapter 3 - The Medical Experts and a Pound of Nuts
- Chapter 4 - Fortune Smiles on Mitya
- Chapter 5 - A Sudden Catastrophe
- Chapter 6 - The Prosecutor's Speech. Sketches of Character
- Chapter 7 - An Historical Survey
- Chapter 8 - A Treatise on Smerdyakov
- Chapter 9 - The Galloping Troika. The End of the Prosecutor's Speech
- Chapter 10 - The Speech for the Defence. An Argument that Cuts Both Ways
- Chapter 11 - There Was No Money. There Was No Robbery
- Chapter 12 - And There Was No Murder Either
- Chapter 13 - A Corrupter of Thought
- Chapter 14 - The Peasants Stand Firm
- Chapter 1 - Plans for Mitya's Escape
- Chapter 2 - For a Moment the Lie Becomes Truth
- Chapter 3 - Ilusha's Funeral. The Speech at the Stone
name (nickname if any)note that many are unaccounted for
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
Twice a widower, father of Dmitri, Ivan, Alexey and possibly Smerdyakov. Landowner who is fairly well off, moderately rich even. Known for debaucheries and lack of morals. It is no secret that he is competing with his son Mitya for the attentions of Grushenka and that they argue often and heatedly about her and/or money. He is murdered halfway through the story which is a central turning point.
Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov (Mitya)
Oldest of the brothers, son of Fyodor and Adelaida Miusov his first wife who later runs off and dies of sickness. Completely neglected by his father, Mitya is raised by the servant Grigory and his wife Marfa. Mitya returned to his home after studying at a military school. Rash and vain but of good intentions, madly in love with Grushenka just like his old man.
Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov
The middle brother, son of Fyodor and his luckless second wife Sofya Ivanovna who died when Ivan and Aloysha were very young. They were raised by their mothers' old "benefactress" who was strict in her upbringing. Ivan studied at a college and was generally knowledgable about most matters academic. He had written several papers and essays and returned home for reasons unknown. He and his father got along fairly well although they had never been close.
Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov (Aloysha)
The youngest brother and, like Ivan, only half-brother to Dmitri (and Smerdyakov). Dostoevsky proclaims him the storys main protagonist. A reoccurring point in the novel is that only babes are truly innocent. Children too inexpirienced and therefore uncorrupt. Aloysha is the incarnation of that goodness. He is mild, chaste, unjudgmental, intelligent, loved, and respected unequivocally. He is the mentor of Father Zossima who Aloysha holds dearest of all men. But as it later turns out, life of fasting and wandering around in robes is not meant for Aloysha.
The pasts of the "legitimate" brothers is told in Book I - The History of a Family
Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov (Smerdyakov)
The epileptic son of "stinking Lizaveta" the mute, town idiot who died while giving birth to him in a shed by Fyodor's manor. The identity of the father was never confirmed it is an unspoken certainty. He, also, is brought up by Grigory the loyal servant and his wife Marfa. When he grows older he is sent to Moscow to learn how to cook. He is a silent and morose type of person, almost sullen. He is first introduced in Book III - The Sensualists but his role becomes more and more involved as the story progresses.
Grigory Kutuzov and his wife Marfa Ignatyevna
Stoic servant of the manor and who lives in an outhouse right by the manor. Hard working, stubborn, unquestioning and simple. They have very little to contribute, especially Marfa who I don't think has a single sentance in all the book.
The elder at the monastery who is Aloysha's mentor. He is reputed in the region for his wisdom, true faith and some say healing powers. Amongst the flock there are some who envy him for his reputation. Book VI - The Russian Monk tells of his life before he became a monk.
Agrafena Alexandrovna (Grushenka)
Young woman who was betrayed by her betrothed a few years back and thereby shamed her family. She is beautiful, extremely proud and fiercely independent. A sorry sort of a love triangle is created when both Dmitri and Fyodor fall hopelessly in love with her. Dmitri young but penniless and Fyodor old but rich. Dmitri, having all his life been dependant on his father's generosity is driven near mad with fear that she might choose Fyodor.
Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtsev
Young noblewoman of intelligence and wealth. She was to be betrothed to Dmitri but then suddenly he met Grushenka. Ivan likes her alot.
Liza Katerinovna Khoklakhov (Lise)
Teenage daughter of a local noblewoman, paralysed from waist down and therefore confined to a wheel chair. Rather cooky as a result of being holed up in an estate with her mother all her life. Aloysha is a freind of hers as well as her mother's and so are Ivan and Dmitri.
Nikolai Ilyich Snegiryov
Retired army captain . Father in a large family of unfortunates. Mitya beats him badly in a drunken rage accusing Nikolai of being one of his fathers henchmen. This has unforeseen consequences.
Ilyusha Nikolaevich Snegiryov
Son of Nikolai, a schoolboy who gets picked on a lot because his father gets beaten by Dmitri.
Nikolai Ivanovich Krasotkin (Kolya)
Freind of Ilyusha and classmate. A daring young boy, he gained notoriety by laying down motionless between railway tracks while a train passed. He is a socialist and very promising.
This chapter, in another translation than the one I've reviewed, is a short story told by Ivan to Aloysha. I read somewhere
that it is Laura Bush's
favorite piece of literature.
Note that The Brothers Karamazov is in the public domain
Any suggestions for corrections or improvements are welcome