Sunday, September 2, 2012

Final thoughts on The Brothers Karamazov

Well, that was pretty great. I have no idea why I stopped reading this novel halfway through 20+ years ago. It is also surprisingly timely in its themes, I discovered. Or perhaps "timely" is not the right word. Possibly what I really mean is timeless, which is the mark of great literature. The Brothers Karamazov is great literature.

Dostoyevsky was a prideful nationalist, a lover of Mother Russia who despised and mistrusted Western Europe, America, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, revolutionaries, republicans and just about anything that wasn't the Russia in which he grew up. He was however clear-eyed enough to see that the Russia he loved was a madhouse, that the typical Russian soul was a soul of opposing extremes: loving and hating, selfish and charitable, crude and cultured, looking forward with hope and backwards with despair while looking forward with despair and backwards with nostalgia. All of it, all at once. What Dostoyevsky's nationalism blinded him to is that his extreme souls are not confined to Russia; they're everywhere; they're all of us. Or many of us. The Brothers Karamazov was, I think, meant to be Dostoyevsky's grand commentary on the state of the Russian people in 1880, a warning to his beloved nation that it was in danger of losing its moral compass, or perhaps that it had lost its moral compass and had best find it again, and a promise or a hope that this was possible. A remarkable book, this. Truly great literature.

The reference to Crime and Punishment in the defense attorney's summation was unexpected and made me laugh, too. I like things like that, you know.


  1. I'm so happy you made it through and enjoyed it! I'm looking forward to it now.

  2. You have acres of time to get to this one. I really enjoyed it, though. I think my next read will be some Virginia Woolf.

  3. What is the reference to Crime and Punishment? I missed it.

    The stuff about America in BK is hilarious. Dmitri, what are you talking about?

  4. "Not long ago in Petersburg a young man of eighteen, hardly more
    than a boy, who carried on a small business as a costermonger, went in broad daylight into a moneychanger's shop with an axe, and with extraordinary, typical audacity killed the master of the shop and carried off fifteen hundred roubles."

    Not precisely C&P, but if Mr Dostoyevsky didn't see Raskolnikov in that passage, I'll eat my hat.

    The America stuff is great fun, but not exactly complimentary to us. I do love Dmitri's plan to learn to speak English so well that nobody will guess he's not an American. And he'll teach himself out of a textbook, in the isolation of the Great Plains with only the indians and the buffalo for company. Such a Karamazov plan!

  5. I agree, that's Raskolnikov, or the version of the story that made it to the provinces. Maybe a little mangled.

    I ended my Karamazov week with a call for someone to write the sequel, Prairie Karamazov, or, because it has more variety, Karamazov in California. All of the brothers end up in America. Dmitri never learns English, but never stops saying that he will, soon.

  6. Little Dacha on the Prairie.

    The Cowboys Karamazov.

    Dmitri will get to know the insides of a variety of small town jails. Will Grushenka bail him out again this time? God alone knows.

    Yes, Alyosha could end up in a monastery in California and still fulfill Fr Zosima's prediction. Ivan will start a newspaper.