The Brothers Karamazov
Book Four, Chapters 3-4
by Dennis Abrams
“He Gets Involved with Schoolboys” “‘Thank God he didn’t ask me about Grushenka,’ Alyosha thought for his part, as he left his father’s and headed for Madame Khokhlakov’s house, ‘otherwise I might have had to tell him about meeting Grushenka yesterday.” Alyosha considers that his father is angry and irritated, Dmitri “has gained strength over night…” The gang of schoolboys. “Alyosha could never pass children with indifference…” Alyosha attempts to break the ice by suggesting that one boy wear his bag over his left side so he can get quickly into it with his right hand, but learns the boy is left-handed. Stones are thrown, six against one. Who started it? Did the squealer stab Krasotkin in class with a penknife? Alyosha chases after the boy, “Watch out…he won’t be afraid of you, he’ll stab you suddenly on the sly, like he did Krasotkin.” The boy was waiting for him, “a child not more than nine years old, weak and undersized, with a pale, thin, oblong little face, and large dark eyes that looked at him angrily. His bare arms stuck out of the sleeves. On the right knee of his trousers there was a large patch, and on his right boot, over the big toe, there was a big hole, and one could see that it had been heavily daubed with ink.” The boy claims he knows Karamazov and begins to throw rocks at him. Furious that Alyosha would not fight back, “the boy went wild, like a little beast…the wicked boy bent down, seized his left hand in both hands, and bit his middle finger badly. He sank his teeth into it and would not let go for about ten seconds…The finger was badly bitten, near the nail, deeply, to the bone; blood began to flow.” Alyosha asks, “Though I don’t know you at all, and it’s the first time I’ve seen you, it must be that I did something to you — you wouldn’t have hurt me for nothing. What was it I did, and how have I wronged you, tell me?” The boy breaks into sobs and runs away; Alyosha resolves to seek the boy out and clear up the mystery. “At the Khokhalkov’s” “He soon reached the house of Madame Khokhlakov, a stone house, privately owned, two-storied, beautiful, one of the best houses in our town.” Madame Khokhlakov and the ‘miracle.’ Zosima’s approaching death. Madame Khokhlakov and the ‘horrors’ of what passed between Grushenka and Katerina Ivanovna; Katerina Ivanovna is at the house, talking with Ivan Fyodorovich, “and you wouldn’t believe what’s happening between them now.” Was Lise in hysterics on learning that Alyosha was there? Lise tends to Alyosha’s wound. Lise asks for her letter back, tries to say it was a joke. Alyosha says that he believed everything, and that “As soon as I had read it, I thought at once that that was how everything would be, because as soon as the elder Zosima dies, I must immediately leave the monastery. Then I’ll finish my studies and pass the exam, and when the legal time comes, we’ll get married. I will love you. Though I haven’t had much time to think yet, I don’t think I could find a better wife than you, and the elder told me to get married…” Lise protests she’s a freak in a wheelchair, but Alyosha responds, “I’ll wheel you around myself, but I’m sure you’ll be well by then.” Madame Khokhlakov worries about rabies. Alyosha prepares to go talk with Katerina Ivanovna. Madame Khokhlakov warns Alyosha, “I don’t want to suggest anything, or lift the veil, but you go in and you will see for yourself what is going on in there, it’s terrible, it’s the most fantastic comedy [Katerina Ivanovna] loves your brother Ivan Fyodorovich, and is persuading herself as hard as she can that she loves your brother Dmitri Fyodorovich. It’s terrible!”
1. What is it with Dostoevsky and people biting people?
2. I appreciated Madame Khokhlakov’s immediate hysteria at Alyosha’s wound vs. Lise’s relative calm taking control.
3. And I REALLY appreciated Madame Khokhoakov’s concern at Alyosha getting rabies, “Your boy could have been bitten by a rabid dog, and become a rib boy, and then he might go and bit someone around him,” followed by Lise’s hilarious question for Alyosha, “And are you afraid of water?”
I’d like to share this from Vladimir Nabokov, regarding Dostoevsky’s use of chapter titles:
“The Brothers Karamazov is the most perfect example of the detective story technique as constantly used by Dostoevski in his other novels. It is a long novel (more than 1000 pages), and it is a curious novel. The things that are curious about it are numerous; even the chapter headings are curious. It is worth noting that the author not only is well aware of this quaint and weird nature of his book but he even seems to be all the time pointing to it, teasing his reader, using every device to excite the reader’s curiosity. Let us look, for instance, at the index of chapters. I have just mentioned how unusual and how puzzling: a man, unfamiliar with the novel, could be easily misled into imagining that the book offered him is not a novel but rather the libretto of some whimsical vaudeville. Chapter 3: ‘Confession of a Fiery heart, Expressed in Verse.” Chapter 4: ‘Confession of a Fiery Heart, Expressed in Anecdotes.” Chapter 5: “Confession of a Fiery Heart, ‘Upside Down.'” then in the second volume, Chapter 5: ‘Nerve Storm in a Drawing Room.’ Chapter 6: ‘Nerve Storm in a Peasant Hut.’ Chapter 7: ‘And Outofdoors.’ Some headings surprise us by their odd diminutives, ‘A Cozy Little Chat Over Brandikins.’ Most of these titles do not hint even ever so slightly at the contents of the chapter as, ‘One more reputation destroyed’ or ‘The third and indisputable thing,’ headings that are meaningless. Finally a number of headings with their flippancy and their bantering choice of words read actually like an index to a collection of humorous stories. Only in part six, in fact, incidentally the weakest part of the book, are the names of chapters in agreement with their content.
In this taunting and teasing way the cunning author quite deliberately entices his reader. However, this is not the only way in which he does it. He is constantly preoccupied with various means for keeping and whetting the reader’s attention throughout the book. Take for instance the manner in which he finally discloses the name of the town where the action has taken place from the very start of the novel. This revelation of the town’s name does not occur until close to the end: ‘Skotoprigonyevsk [place towards which cattle are driven, clearing place for cattle, something like oxtown), Skotoprigonyevsk,’ he says, ‘such alas is the name of our town, I have been long trying to conceal it.’ This over-sensitivity, over-concern of the writer in regard to the reader — when the reader is thought of simultaneously as the victim being drawn into a trpy by the writer and as a hunter before whose path the writer keeps crossing and recrossing like a fleeing hare — this consciousness of the reader on part of the writer derives partly from the Russian literary tradition. Pushkin in Evgeniy Onegin, Gogol in Dead Souls, often apostrophize, address themselves to the reader in a sudden aside, sometimes with an apology, sometimes with a request or with a joke. But it also derives from the tradition of the Western detective story, or rather from its predecessor, the criminal novel. It is in accordance with this latter tradition that Dostoevski uses an amusing device: with deliberate frankness, as if he were putting down before you all his cards, he comes out at the very beginning with the statement that a murder has been committed. ‘Aleksey Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Karamazov, a landowner of our country, who became so famous for a time…through his tragic and unclarified death.’ This apparent sincerity on the part of the author is nothing but a stylistic device, the object being to inform the reader from the first of the fact of this ‘tragic and unclarified’ death.”
Book Four, Chapter Five