Mitya may claim that Karamazovs love depravity (“I loved depravity, I also loved the shame of depravity. I loved cruelty: am I not a bedbug, an evil insect? In short – a Karamazov!” p. 109), but I’d argue that they love nothing more than to talk. Good lord, it’s as bad as Melville regaling us with whale tales!
Okay, so I’m reading The Brothers Karamazov and it’s rough going. It’s also time for our first check in, as I’m doing this read-along style. Today, I’ll be discussing Part 1, consisting of Books I, II and III.
In Book 1 we meet the Karamazovs:
Fyodor: aka Papa. A mean, cheap bastard who has largely ignored his sons as they grew up.
Dmitri: aka Mitya. The eldest, son of Fyodor’s first wife, who ran away and then died (the wife, not the son). Dmitri is a bit of a playboy, and feels his Karamazov nature is going to get the best of him. He also believes his father is withholding an inheritance from dear mama. This creates a bit of family tension.
Ivan: The middle son and an atheist scholar who writes articles defending the church. Ivan is a bit conflicted. Ivan and his little bro are sons of the second wife, a hysterical woman not so affectionately called “the shrieker.”
Alexei: aka Alyosha. The baby, and evidently everyone’s favorite. Alyosha is an all-around good egg.
Aren’t they a lovely family?
In Book 2 we move on to the monastery, where Alyosha has been hanging out with the esteemed elder Zosima. Zosima is going to mediate the family dispute over Dmitri’s inheritance. Thing is, Dmitri’s late, so we get to listen to Fyodor act the buffoon and much (much!) religious debate. Zosima takes a time out to go and give spiritual advice to a group of women. One young women, Lise, makes eyes at Alyosha.
Moving on to Book 3, Dmitri finally arrives (his father told him the wrong time) and we hear more about Fyodor and Dmitri’s squabbles. Seems that Dmitri is engaged to Katerina but he may have left his fiancée for the more common Grushenka. However, Fyodor also has the hots for Grushenka. Zosima effectively ends the argument by bowing at Dmitri’s feet (yeah, I was confused, too).
There is more buffoonery from Fyodor, and then we move on to a meeting between Alyosha and his beloved older brother Dmitri. Dmitri goes on (and on and on) about his debauchery and his two-timing of Katerina and begs Alyosha to help him repay 3000 rubles he filched from Katerina to finance a good time he had with Grushenka. The plan is to ask dear daddy for the money. Ummm, yeah, good luck with that.
Alyosha trots of to dinner with the rest of his family, where we meet the sullen Smerdyakov (whose name translates to something like “son of the stinking one,” who is likely the bastard son of Fyodor, but who works as a servant in the household). There is more religious debate (shoot me now) and then Dmitri shows up claiming that Grushenka is hiding in the house. Dmitri and Fyodor get into it, and Dmitri threatens to off dear old dad before he exits stage right.
Alyosha goes to visit Katerina, where he finds her with her new BFF, Grushenka. However, Grushenka soon shows her true colors and the friendship falls apart. The maid slips Alyosha a love letter from Lise, and he goes home to read it.
What I’m Thinking:
If you were to judge the author by his writing, you’d think Dostoevsky was a church-loving, woman-hating, moralistic dude with a love for long-ass soliloqueys (as evidenced by Dmitri’s ramblings on depravity, which went on for pages). Woman are largely considered objects, and the Karamazovs have a distressing tendency to sit around and bash on women and philosophize about religion. I confess that the only way I was able to make sense of Part 1 was to read the Spark Notes. I’ll also confess that the only thing keeping me going is that I heard a rumor that someone dies a nasty death. I can’t wait.