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The Brothers Karamazov



Translated by Constance Garnett (1861-1946) in 1912.

The last of Dostoevsky's finest works, telling the story of the four Karamazov brothers--each with his own distinct personality and desires. Exploring the secret depths of humanity's struggles and sins, Dostoevsky unfolds a grand epic which attempts to venture into mankind's darkest heart, and grasp the true meaning of existence.

This novel explores the big questions of life through the story of a highly dysfunctional "family": three sons basically neglected and abandoned by their father Fyodor. The oldest, Dmitry, is engaged to the beautiful Katerina Invanova yet irresistibly drawn to Grushenka, the same woman his wealthy lecherous buffoon of a father is lusting after. To make matters worse, Dmitry has given up rights to a future inheritance to finance his extravagances and now feels his father is cheating him. Perhaps the half brothers he is just getting to know can help resolve these problems. Ivan is a highly educated man who rejects the ideas of a creator God and an immortal soul. Alexey, the youngest, is a gentle spiritual man, apprenticed to the local monastery. How will these three very different brothers affect Smerdyakov, Fyodor's cook, who is also rumoured to be his illegitimate son? Will these family problems be resolved or go on to affect the whole community and the whole society? Read Fyodor Dostoevsky's last and possibly greatest novel to find out!--Submitted by Aloe

Each brother in this novel is a vivid, individual personality. Yet, as a group, they represent the classically recognized spectrum of human traits:

Ivan Karamazov, one of the famous characters in modern literature, is the tortured intellectual who questions the justice of both man and God, the forerunner of modern philosophical nihilists who see no evidence of moral purpose in the world.

Dmitri, the man of passion, actually threatened to kill his father, for they both vie for the favors of the young courtesan Grushenka. If intent of the heart establishes guilt, then Dmitri must be guilty and is, in fact, arrested for the crime.

Young Alexey, called Alyosha, represents spirituality and purity, a contrast to the violence and sensuality of Dmitri and the rationality of Ivan. Yet he secretly recognizes his own tendency toward sensuality and his resentment of their irresponsible father. His mentor is Father Zossima, whose teaching on behalf of spiritual brotherhood provides a counterweight to the ambivalent, passionate nature of the Karamazovs.

The fourth son, Smerdyakov, is a servant in the household and does not bear the family name. He was born to an idiot woman raped by Fyodor Pavlovitch. He is understandably vulnerable to Ivan's skepticism about human and divine justice.

Although this complex family tragedy promotes the vision of Christian redemption, its exploration of intellectual doubt and metaphysical rebellion seems, to some readers, more convincing. Ivan's famous "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" often appears in anthologies dealing with existentialist literature.--Submitted by Anonymous.

I have attempted again to read this book. It was assigned to me in a college class to be read in one week (along with other courses work!) and I never finished it and only remembered the part about the stinking monk, but I did remember the flowing style of the author. What has engaged me now is the wonderful detective/mystery story revolving around Dmitri's confession. I am at page 580 and find the story suddenly as compelling as my wife's favorite detective show on tv : the Closer. The heavy almost deadly discussions regarding god and morality and what kind of god would allow this and that were nauseating. But they helped in providing a picture of daily Russian life and showing the role of the church. The simple village sketch was enchanting in a way almost evoking Robert Frost in some strange way. Of course to me the references to the bible and Shakespeare and Russian playwrights made me identify with this Russian work and made me think of it more as an American or European work. I marveled at how this world was swept with the godless Russian revolution, the horrible horrible world wars, the Stalin terror and the gulag with neighbors accusing neighbors like the Salem Witch trial world. I hope those visiting Russia either in person or via the media during the 2014 Winter Olympics will read this book (be patient) and sense the deep underlying bonds that should unite Europe and America and Russia in a cultural bond.--Submitted by Anonymous.

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Recent Forum Posts on The Brothers Karamazov

the brothers (for me)!

I feel like this novel has changed my life, but I also feel like I may be being over-sensitive/over-emotional in my reaction to it. So much about the novel affected me very deeply, on a human level in particular the subplots of the captain and his son, and on a philosophical level too. The combination of reading it and at the same time in my life watching the Seventh Seal have got me contemplating life and God objectively, but what the brothers K and the character Alyosha instilled in me was a very deep love for humanity and awareness of others' suffering. Do you think Dostoevsky intended the novel to have that effect? Have others reacted in a similarly strong way? I cant work out if its part of the genius of the novel as written, or if it is more my own experience an the point in my life when I read it that it touched me so profoundly?

Do you feel it difficult?

It is my first time read The Brothers K, in fact it is my first time read Dostoevsky. I am now around the famous chapters: Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor. Before these two chapters I have enjoyed the reading very much, but when I came to these two chapters I have big problem to follow and understand although people say very highly of them. I want to know is it only me have this problem or it is universal? Will the situation improve by reading it for the second maybe third time? Thanks!

Best English translation?

I am attempting to build a personal classics library with modern editions with the best translations. It's a bit cheesy, but I'm trying to do something like this poster, buying from "classics editions", so long as the translations and notes are good. I already own an old copy of the Signet Classics of this novel, and I'm not sure if it's good or not.

A fun fact about "The Children," the unfinished sequel to TBK

"The Brothers Karamazov" was actually meant to be Dostoevsky's penultimate novel, though it has gone down in history as having been his magnum opus. At the time of his death in 1881, he was making preliminary notes for a sequel, believed to have been tentatively titled either "The Children" or "Atheism." In his foreword to TBK, Dostoevsky mentions that the TBK plot was meant to suffice as little more than a memoir of Alyosha, that the character may well appear undeveloped. In the sequel, Alyosha supposedly went on to incite a revolutionary movement, assassinated the Czar, and was tried and executed for the crime. This sequel was to take place 13 years after TBK. In TBK, Alyosha was 20, which would have made him 33 in the sequel and, presumably, 33 at the time of his death...and, incidentally, this is commonly held to be the age that Christ was during the crucifiction.

Beginning it

I'm just now beginning this Dostoevsky novel, despite owning it for over a year. I've just been too busy with other books. I'm a huge fan of philosophical novels. I'll be looking around this sub-forum throughout my reading of the novel; hopefully avoiding any major spoilers.

Smerdyakov as the face of youth?

It seems deliberately ironic, the youth is becoming old beyond its age (I am thinking here particularly of the image of his withered eunuch face), perhaps from a loss of innocence, and by loss of innocence I'm referring to the younger generations being exposed to more at a younger age.

Humor in the novel

There is not a lot of it but I found one particular section to be very funny. The dinner seen early in the book, "The Sensualists" part of it. The buffoonery of Fyodor was just hilarious. His contradictions throughout the discussion were great. The way Grigory mocks Smerdyakov for his picky eating "what is it a cockroach?". Too funny. What did you think of this pretty funny scene?

Ivan's role in death of his father

Hi all, I'm curious to hear what people think about this topic: "What, if any, responsibility does Ivan have for the death of his father?"

Alyosha, the 'hero' of the novel

Dostoevsky says in his preface that Alyosha is his novel's 'hero'; he's obviously meant to be (at first sight) the 'nice guy' out of the three brothers. But do you think it's the case that he was created for this purpose, as a 'traditional' hero, the good guy whom we should like and be behind? Personally, I think - given Alyosha's religious convictions, and the fact that Dostoevsky was not a religious man but would have liked to be able to have faith - that he's the sort of guy FD wishes he could be. Perhaps also FD based Alyosha on the person he wanted his son* to grow up to be. Certainly there must be some significance in the fact that he named him after him. But those are just some thoughts of mine :) * I'm sure most people know this, but Dostoevsky's son, Alexei died at a young age just as FD was starting to write BK.


I'm fascinated by the narrator. He seems to be a town gossip. He knows some things but not everything. Sometimes he speaks from a distance and sometimes he disappears and the story is told in the voice of the characters. But he's telling a story that is 13 years old. There are hints throughout that he is reporting rumors rather than facts. And I'm constantly reminded of Plato's question "how do we know?" which carries over into our information age where anything and everything is out there and we have to sort through it all and reason through it all to determine what is true and what is not. What do you think?

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