My copy of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is translated from Russian by Pevear and Volokhonsky. I bought it several years ago after my son gave me their translation of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Both read like a dream.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a “cunning and obstinate buffoon”, has three sons. Dmitri, the eldest, was born of his first wife Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov. Ivan and Alexei were born of his second wife, Sofia Ivanovna, who died when Alexei was four. Their upbringing was largely left to the family servant, Grigory, as Fyodor Pavlovich was a drunkard and a fool, too intent on debauchery to act as father.
Alyosha (Alexei) chooses to join a monastery due in part to his great affection for the elder, Zosima. When an enormous disagreement over inheritance and property accounts arises between the eldest son Dmitri and his father, they seek Zosima’s wisdom and influence. At this meeting, however, Fyodor is unable to contain his foolishness; he lashes out at everybody and calls for Alyosha to come home. A strange occurence, however, which has not yet been explained, is that Zosima bows at Dmitri’s feet, touching his forehead to the floor.
But the whole scene, which had turned so ugly, was stopped in a most unexpected manner. The elder suddenly rose from his place. Alyosha, who had almost completely lost his head from fear for him and for all of them, had just time enough to support his arm. The elder stepped towards Dmitri Fyodorovich and, having come close to him, knelt before him. Alyosha thought for a moment that he had fallen from weakness, but it was something else. Kneeling in front of Dmitri Fyodorovich, the elder bowed down at his feet with a full, distinct, conscious bow, and even touched the floor with his forehead. Alyosha was so amazed that he failed to support him as he got to his feet. A weak smile barely glimmered on his lips.
“Forgive me! Forgive me, all of you!” he said, bowing on all sides to his guests.
Dmitri Fyodorovich stood dumbstruck for a few moments. Bowing at his feet-what was that?” (p. 74-75)
Dmitri is engaged to Katerina Ivanovna, who is a rich, aristocratic colonel’s daughter. But the woman he seems to love is Grushenka, the kept woman of an old shopkeeper, whom he calls the “queen of insolence” at the end of Part 1. Apparently, Dmitri and his father each want Grushenka for his own.
To compound the difficulties of this triangle, Katerina Ivanovna seems to truly love Dmitri, despite the fact that he has spent three thousand rubles she gave him. Katerina and Grushenka are sitting together when Alyosha comes as messenger for Dmitri, and Grushenka rudely scorns Katerina by not returning her kisses and slandering her abominably.
“Insolent!” Katerina Ivanovna said suddenly as if suddenly understanding something. She blushed all over and jumped up from her place. Grushenka, too, got up, without haste.
“So I’ll go right now and tell Mitya that you kissed my hand, and I didn’t kiss yours at all. How he’ll laugh!”
“You slut! Get out!” (p. 152)
What I love about this book so far:
- the dramatic relationships between father and sons, men and women, the public and the monastery (remember the women crying out to the elder for his blessing, particularly the one who had lost her son? It broke my heart! Dostoeyvsky himself suffered terribly through the loss of his own three year old son.).
- the elements of faith that Alyosha has, epitomized by this sentence; “But before going to sleep, he threw himself down on his knees and prayed for a long time. In his ardent prayer, he did not ask God to explain his confusion to him, but only thirsted for joyful tenderness, the same tenderness that always visited his soul after praising and glorifying God, of which his prayer before going to sleep usually consisted. This joy that visited him always drew after it a light and peaceful sleep.” (p. 158)
- The way the tension is slowly building, layer after layer, with intricate detail.
Questions I’m pondering as I conclude Part 1:
- Why did the elder Zosimov bow at Fyodor Pavlovich’s feet at the monastery?
- Why does Alexei feel so drawn to both the elder and that way of life? Is it in reaction to his father’s dishonor, or a true calling?
- What terrible thing is Dmitri predicting as he tells his brother, Alexei, of the darkness in his heart?
“You know me by now: a scoundrel, an avowed scoundrel! But know that whatever I have done before or now or may do later—nothing, nothing can compare in baseness with the dishonor I am carrying, precisely now, precisely at this moment, here on my chest, here, right here, which is being enacted and carried out, and which it is fully in my power to stop, I can stop it or carry it out, make a note of that! And know, then, that I will carry it out and will not stop it. I just told you everything, but this I did not tell you, because even I am not so brazen! (p. 156)
If you have written a review for Part 1, please leave a comment below to direct us to your post so that I can add your link here. If you haven’t written a review, please feel free to leave a comment. What are your thoughts so far? Until we meet again to discuss Part 2 on Thursday, April 15, happy reading!
Find other reviews here:
- Frances at Nonsuch Book
- Sarah at What We Have Here Is a Failure To Communicate
- Nicole at bibliographing
- Eva at A Striped Armchair
- Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life
- Allie at A Literary Odyssey
Becca at Bookstack
Shelley at Book Clutter
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