Why Am I Doing This?
There are three reasons I signed up for The Brothers Karamazov Read-A-Long–because, believe me, the last thing I feel like doing is reading a long Russian novel all summer long.
The first reason is that after my father died last year, I decided that one way to maintain a connection with him would be to read some books that were important to him or that he wanted me to read at some point in my life. The Brothers Karamazov was one of those books. In one of letters he wrote to me during college when I was having a really tough time, he quoted this line that he said came from The Brothers Karamazov:
Know the measure. Know the times. Know yourself.
The second reason is that when I asked my readers for questions I could answer, one smart-ass (a friend of mine from college) asked: Which Karamazov brother is the hottest? Of course, how could answer this question (and believe you me, I will write an entire post about it once I finish the book) without reading the actual book to find out for myself?
The third reason is that I’m, admittedly, a lazy modern reader. Because of this, I feel compelled to force myself to read classic books in order to improve my depth as a reader and to continue my self-education. There are so many books (like The Brothers Karamazov) that I hear about but have never read. So, every year, I pick a few classics to read so I can cross them off the list. It is the dietary equivalent of forcing yourself to eat vegetables!
So, with that in mind, here are my summaries and thoughts on the first three books of The Brothers Karamazov!
Book 1: A Nice Little Family (<—-sarcasm on Dostoevsky’s part)
The Story (As Far As I Can Tell): This book introduces us to the three brothers and their father. In this book, we learn that the father of the three brothers (Fyodor) is an Ass with a Capital A. He’s never going to be in the running for father of the year — seeing as he tends to forget about his children (and where his second wife’s grave is) and leaves them to be raised by others. Also, he has major problem with women, manners, and drinking. Yet, despite all his carelessness, he manages to retain his money. His first wife is Dimitri’s mother, and his second wife gave birth to Ivan and Aloysha. Yet none of the brothers were raised together. This is shaping up to be one dysfunctional family.
- I can tell that names are going to be a problem. Dostoevsky is throwing out facts and history willy-nilly and I’m finding it hard to keep up. I already forgot most of what I learned about Ivan and Dmitri. The only brother who really made an impression on me is Aloysha.
- Also, who the heck is the narrator of this book? Did I miss something somewhere? I have no idea who is telling this story.
Book 2: An Inappropriate Gathering
The Story (As Far As I Can Tell): So the family gathers for a big meeting with a religious elder and Aloysha’s mentor (Father Zosima–a renowned healer and local “celebrity” of sorts) to work out a dispute between Fyodor and Dmitri over an inheritance of some sort … or maybe fishing rights. (To be honest, I’m losing details pretty fast as I wade through the barrage of words that Dostoyesky is vomiting on me.) Dmitri is late for the meeting, so they fill the time by having long involved discussions, with the occasional break for the Elder to go out and bless peasants and visitors and have them tell us about their lives.
Finally, Dmitri arrives and there is a bit of a dust-up between him and his father over … a woman. (Of course, it would have to be a woman!) Seems like both Dmitri and his father are gunning for the same gal (Grushenka). Meanwhile, Ivan is using Dmitri’s distraction with Grushenka to make a move on Dmitri’s fiancee (Katerina). (Although Dmitri seems fine with this.) Aloyosha seems to be the only one not involved, him being a monk and all. But his mentor, Father Zosima, tells him that he really should leave the monastery and get out in the world.
- My suspicions that I’m not cut out for this type of book are just being reaffirmed each time I read a chapter. I find myself frequently drifting off while reading. Pages of text go by, and I feel like I’m skimming over a bunch of stuff. Dostoevsky’s writing … um … leaves something to be desired. People start off on rants and just go on and on about a topic that makes my eyes begin to glaze over. The Church vs. the State! Would you be virtuous if there was no immortality? These are some of the issues that crop up out of nowhere and are debated seemingly endlessly, and leave me grasping for a plot. Then, every so often, a character will show up and the plot will kick into high gear and I’ll get some much needed information on what is happening, and then Dostoevsky will go off on some tangent and I’ll start losing the threads of the narrative and start drifting off again. If things don’t change soon, I don’t know how much longer I can stand this.
- Also, who is Musisov??? He is all over the place during the inappropriate gathering chapter and I kind of forgot who he was or his role in the dispute. Oh well, I’m sure it will either make sense soon enough or it doesn’t matter. All I know is that he doesn’t like Papa Karamazov.
- I feel like I’m reading and reading and reading and yet I’m only 8% done with the book (according to my Kindle). This is beginning to feel like a torture experiment rather than a read-a-long.
Book 3: Sensualists
The Story (As Far As I Can Tell): Finally, the book starts to take on the form of an actual novel, and I’m able to follow along a bit better. First we learn a bit about Fyodor’s servant Grigory and his wife (who I believe were the ones that raised each Karamazov boy before they got farmed out). Turns out, Fyodor has an illegitimate son (Smerdyakov) who was the result of his drunken rape of the village’s idiot girl. Grigory and his wife find the dying mother and adopt and raise Smerdyakov as their own as they recently lost their own child.
The narrative then picks back up with Aloysha going into town. On the way, he is waylaid by Dmitri, who tells him the history of his engagement to Katerina. It turns out Dmitri intended to deceive Katerina into sleeping with him by lending her money to help bail out her father from a jam. However, at the last moment, he was so ashamed of himself that he ended up giving her the money free and clear. For this, he earns Katerina’s endless thanks and love. So when she comes into money later, he ends up getting engaged to her. (I think … I kind of forgot how they got engaged. )Then he meets Grushenka–who is a very stunning beauty and temptress–and ends up hopelessly enraptured with her and leaves Katerina. He feels shame about it though, and tries to convince Aloysha to break things off with Katerina for him. He also tells Aloysha that their father, Fyodor, has also decided he wants Grushenka and the two are vying for her attentions.
Aloysha goes on to his father’s house, where his father is drunk (of course) and finishing dinner with Ivan. There are more philosophical debates and then Dmitri bursts through the door–convinced that Grushenka is there. Dmitri attacks Fyodor, but Ivan and Aloysha pull him off before he can kill him. But Dmitri vows he will kill him someday. (Foreshadowing???) Once he leaves, Aloysha nurses Fyodor and then goes to Katerina’s house. Of course, he takes some time to talk with Ivan before he goes.
At Katerina’s house, Aloysha is shocked to discover Grushenka there. It seems that Grushenka is up to some nasty business of her own–making Katerina (falsely) believe that she will be giving up Dmitri and returning him to Katerina. Grushenka reveals herself to be a bit of a manipulator and not such a good person. Katerina is in tears when Aloysha leaves.
On his way back to the monastery, Aloysha is again waylaid by Dmitri, who laughs when Aloysha tells him what Grushenka did to Katerina. But filled with self-loathing, Dmitri vows to never see Aloysha again and stumbles off into the night. Aloysha returns to the monastery and, seeing that Father Zosima is on his death bed, vows to stay with him in the monastery. He then reads a letter that has been given to him at some point from one of the girls (Lise) who had been blessed by Father Zosima earlier and who knew Aloysha when they were young. Apparently, she is in love with him and wants to marry him.
- I’m finally starting to get a grip on the story and it is being told in a more conventional way. It seems clear–even to me–that all the brothers represent some aspect of the philosophical debates that I’ve been skimming over in the first parts of the book. Fyodor is the most vile and base person humans can be. Dmitri is a good guy at heart who struggles with his passions so he often does the wrong thing. Ivan seems to be wound up pretty tight and more of an intellectual. Aloysha represents all things good, holy and pure.
- It also helped when Dostoevsky finally explains the Russian naming system, in which calling someone Aloysha Fyodorovich simply means that they are the son of Fyodor! This was immensely helpful to find out because for the first two books, I was confused if ANYONE was actually named Karamazov.
- I’m still unclear who the narrator is though. I guess he is some all-knowing and all-seeing narrator and not a real person–although is often interjecting comments and talking as if he is a real person.
Well, this has been a bit of jumble of a post, but I’ll keep on sticking with it. Here’s to the next three books following a more straightforward narrative path!