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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

Mitya's trial

It is odd reading Mitya's trial. It takes up nearly all of the last book. I think in modern day Britain, a trial would be adjourned if a key witness was too sick to give evidence and another key witness had committed suicide the day before. Trials were expensive and I suppose they would not wait. The summings up by the both prosecuting and defence counsels are very verbose and speculative in my opinion. The prosecutor was saying things like a person with such a mind as the defendant's would not behave in such a way, but in another sort of way. Well, that's all maybe. I think, in my country, a jury may be asked how a reasonable person might act in such and such a situation, and then take into account that they may have been bullied for years or had recently gone through divorce or bereavement or something. I don't think they are asked what is in character for the defendant, who is a person they probably do not know. I am a bit surprised they did not concentrate more on the forensic evidence. They gave short shrift to the 3000 roubles that Ivan produced at trial, which is another reason the trial should be adjourned. Was there any blood around the bed clothes, or on Smerdyakov's clothes or footware? If it was not Mitya who murdered his father, then the other suspect was Smerdyakov, but surely it was up to Mitya's defence lawyer to make that scenario more plausible. Smerdyakov told Mitya about the secret signals and the hidden money. He hinted to Ivan to be away. He had a motive. He might have guessed that at some time late at night, Mitya would come to confront his father. The defence lawyer did say that Smerdyakov had a motive and that he appeared to him quite cunning and may have been jealous and resentful, but I do not think he joined the dots. Overall, I think if I were on the jury I think I would have convicted Mitya. There is more evidence against him than O J Simpson. The only thing going for Mitya is that there was another suspect. I do not know if there is something lacking in the translation, but I have found all this section of the book rather boring. Maybe the original Russian readers found it as thrilling as a John Grisham courtroom drama, but not me.

The Devil

So what was the Devil up to when he was chatting to Ivan in his fever-brained state? He was being silver-tongued and reasonable, maybe like the Devil when he was tempting Christ, as referred to earlier in the book. Maybe he was just being cheerful because the scientific rationalism was eating away religious faith.

BK - The interrogation

Just finished part 3 today. Overall I was fairly impressed by the fairness and thoroughness of Dmitri's Karamazov's interrogation in part 3, but there were one or two things I thought were odd. I thought it was odd that one of the interrogators told Dmitri of an important material fact they found at the crime scene while they were taking his statement. Later on, they told him that they were obliged to answer and questions Dmitri asked. In the UK the police are obliged to hand over any evidence they find to the defence, but surely not during the taking of statement. Another thing I found odd was that after the interrogators had questioned Dmitri, they proceeded to question the other witnesses in front of Dmitri. Dmitri was allowed to question them or challenge them. So, is this some combined interrogation and trial? If so, is the defendant expected to conduct his own defence without help from a lawyer? Maybe I shall find out in part 4.

cabbage pies

There are several references to cabbage pies in the Brothers Karamazov. For example, Smerdyakov is praised for his excellent cabbage pies. I wouldn't have thought cabbage pies could be excellent. Does anyone have a good recipe?

Death penalty in Czarist Russia

I was a little surprised to read in one of the chapters a character exclaim, "We don't have the death penalty, do we? Or something like that. I had a look on Wikipedia, which says the Russians did have capital punishment during the nineteenth century, but it was not applied often. Peter the Great increased the number of crimes punishable by execution, but Catherine the Great abolished it except for certain kinds of insurrection. By and large, executions were not carried out. Instead convicted criminals were punished by years of hard labour. That's interesting. I had assumed the Russia was less liberal that most of Europe on such things, as serfdom was not abolished until 1861. Britain executed decreasingly fewer people during the nineteenth century, but we did not abolish it as a form of punishment until 1965, except for High Treason, and no one was for executed for that, not even Major Hewitt.

Were Ivan and Zosima correct about church and state?

I like the character of the elder, Zosima He seemed very good and wise. I can see why he was so well respected. I have just finished reading Book 2 Chapter, So Be It! So Be It! This chapter contained a discussion between Ivan, Miusov, Father Paissy, Zosima and Iosif, about an article Ivan wrote criticizing a book on ecclesiastical courts. The author of the book had argued that the church occupies a certain corner of the state. I think Ivan criticized this by arguing that the state should transform itself into the church. This is somehow different to the church transforming itself into the state. I think it was Ivan who argued that when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity it still retained a lot of its pagan attributes. I felt rather like Miusov in that I had difficulty grasping the arguments. Were Ivan and Father Paissy arguing in favour of theocracy? Having come to admire the elder, I was concerned he might show himself up, having come to the argument late. But, being such a clever chap, he had no trouble getting stuck in. Nevertheless, I think he was naive in thinking criminals would respond better to religious sanctions than state punishments. Being such a holy man himself, he thinks everyone is at heart religious, and while they may break state law, would not want to offend God. I am not sure I agree with any of that. I think I would agree with the author of the book that Ivan criticized. I am not sure what the aim of this chapter was. Was it to show what clever clogs Ivan and Zosima were, or was it to introduce a religious discussion to be developed in later chapters?

I think I found a plot hole

Smedryakov wanted Ivan to go to Tchermashnya instead of to Moskow. There's no reason for him to want that, so Dostoevsky made a mistake here. I'm surprised that I'm the first to catch this, lol.

Some question about the book

So, I'm currently reading the book for the first time I'm at book 11, chapter 2. Hohlakova asks Perhotin: "What does the counsel say?" What does she mean by this? Also, if I come across some parts which I don't understand in the future, I'll ask here. No spoilers please. Thanks in advance.

What defeated Smerdyakov?

Can someone explain why they think Smerdyakov was so emotionally dependent on Ivan? According to his philosophy, successfully killing the elder Karamazov and getting the money should have enabled him to realize his dreams of moving to Paris and starting a restaurant. This would have freed him from the stigma of being Stinking Lizaveta's son and member of the servant class. Instead, Ivan's rejection and disapproval destroyed him and suicide was his only option. I just don't understand why he even cared. I get that he saw Ivan as a teacher. But, once one has learned from a teacher, the knowledge and understanding are one's own. Why couldn't Smerdyakov see that?

The Brothers Karamazov Illustrations

Hello book lovers, I used to consider myself a fervent reader of literature but since I've only been reading crime thrillers, espionage and murder mysteries, I don't think my reading is diverse enough to justify such a claim. Lately, I've decided to start reading classics and books that can open my mind's eyes to things that I know exist but don't have the right tools to explore. I ended up deciding to begin with The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky as it was one of the few books I was able to find in town. I live in Freetown (Sierra Leone) and there are no dedicated bookshops here, which means, you basically buy what you can find on the day. I ended up buying a used copy of the Penguin translation by Mcduff. However, I had found online that several editions of the novel exist with excellent illustrations by very gifted artists like Fritz Eichenberg. I've even read a post on this forum by a member claiming that 'you haven't read Dostoevsky if you haven't seen the illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg'. As this is my first foray into books that delve deeply into philosophical themes, I think my reading experience will benefit greatly from the visual inputs of artists that thoroughly understand the contexts. I am therefore pleading to anyone who has an illustrated copy of The Brothers Karamazov, who is willing to take scans of the illustrations, to share them with me. I know such a request might be considered under the act of 'piracy', but given my location and situation, there's nothing I can do but to resort to such based requests. I hope you understand. Thank You.

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