“‘So it’s true what they say, that it’s always interesting to talk with an intelligent man,’ Smerdyakov replied firmly, giving Ivan Fyodorovich a penetrating look.”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book Five, Chapter Six; Book Six, Chapter One
by Dennis Abrams

“It’s Always Interesting to Talk with an Intelligent Man” “And he spoke the same way.” Ivan enters into his father’s house, sees Fyodor in the front hall and cries out “Upstairs, to my room, not now, good-bye.” Smerdyakov mutters to Fyodor that Ivan is “angry about something.” Ivan in his room, unable to sleep and pondering. “He himself felt that he had lost his bearings.” His torment, his “insistent and unbearable urge” to go downstairs and give Smerdyakov a beating and his inability to provide a reason for doing so. His soul seized by “some inexplicable and humiliating timidity” that robbed him of his physical strength. “Remembering this night long afterwards, Ivan Fyodorovich recalled with particular disgust how he suddenly would get up from the sofa, and quietly, as though terribly afraid of being seen, open the door go out to the head of the stairs, and listen to Fyodor Pavlovich moving around below, wandering through the downstairs rooms…All his life afterwards he referred to this ‘action’ as ‘loathsome,’ and all his life, deep in himself, in the inmost part of his soul, he considered it the basest action of his whole life.” His lack of hatred for Fyodor Pavlovich. His curiosity about what he was doing. Ivan’s bolt of energy upon waking. His announcement that he is going to Moscow. Fyodor begs him to go to Chermashnya first to check out a possible business deal. Fyodor’s farewell. “‘Farewell, Ivan! Don’t hold any grudges!’ the father cried for the last time.” Already in his carriage, Ivan tells Smerdyakov, who is straightening out his rug “You see…I’m going to Chermashnya,’…it flew out by itself, accompanied by a kind of nervous chuckle. He kept remembering it for a long time afterwards.” “‘So it’s true what they say, that it’s always interesting to talk with an intelligent man,’ Smerdyakov replied firmly, giving Ivan Fyodorovich a penetrating look.” Ivan changes his mind and does not go to Chermashnya, and instead boards the seven o’clock train to Moscow. “‘Away with all the past. I’m through with the old world forever, and may I never heard another word or echo from it; to the new world, to new places, and no looking back!’ But instead of delight, such darkness suddenly descended on his soul, and such grief gnawed at his heart, as he had never known before in the whole of his life. He sat thinking all night; the train flew on, and only at daybreak, entering Moscow, did he suddenly come to as it were. ‘I am a scoundrel,’ he whispered to himself.” In the meantime, Fyodor was pleased at seeing Ivan off, until he learned that Smerdyakov had had his “falling sickness” and was found at the bottom of the cellar steps, “in cramps and convulsions, writhing and foaming at the mouth,” and was put to bed in the cottage. Fyodor’s unhappiness at Marfa Ignatievna’s soup. Fyodor’s further unhappiness that Grigory, who had been ill, “was no almost completely bedridden with his lower back out.” Fyodor locks himself in his room, hoping to hear Grushenka’s knock. “The Elder Zosima and His Visitors” “When Alyosha, with anxiety and pain in his heart, entered the elder’s cell, he stopped almost in amazement; instead of a dying sick man, perhaps already unconscious, as he had feared to find him, he suddenly saw him sitting in an armchair; his face, though worn out from weakness, cheerful and gay, surrounded by visitors and engaging with them in quiet and bright conversation.” Zosima’s joyful smile for Alyosha, “Greetings, my quiet one., greetings, my dear, so you’ve come. I knew you would come.” Zosima asks Alyosha if he had seen his brother, “I mean the one from yesterday, the older one, before whom I bowed to the ground.” Zosima’s worry, “Make haste and find him, go again tomorrow and make haste, leave everything and make haste. Perhaps you will be able to prevent something terrible. I bowed yesterday to his great future suffering…Yesterday I seemed to see something terrible…as if his eyes yesterday expressed hiw whole fat. He had a certain look…so that I was immediately horrified in my heart at what this man was preparing for himself…” Zosima’s love for Alyosha, his knowledge that he will leave the monastery, but will “sojourn in the world like a monk.” Alyosha reminds Zosima of his older brother, who died in his youth. Zosima prepares to tell his story; the narrator-chronicler let us know that the story is put together from Alexei’s notes, which he may have added to from former conversations.

1. I thought the chapter “It’s Always Interesting to Talk with an Intelligent Man,” was brilliant in the way that we got to follow Ivan through to his departure to Moscow, listening in on his thoughts, his guilt, and then cutting back (as it were) to Fyodor as all the pieces of the plan that Smerdyakov told Ivan about fell into place. One question — who exactly, was Smerdyakov referring to when he told Ivan that “it’s always interesting to talk with an intelligent man.” Was he calling Ivan the intelligent man? Himself?

2. It was interesting, I think, to note that Zosima’s worries about Dmitri don’t seem to refer to something that he is going to do to someone else, but ‘what this man was preparing for himself.”

3. In addition, Zosima’s words to Alyosha “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit,” are the words from John 12:24 that Dostoevsky used for the book’s epitaph.

Wednesday’s Reading:

Book Six, Chapter Two, Sections (a) and (b)


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One Response to “‘So it’s true what they say, that it’s always interesting to talk with an intelligent man,’ Smerdyakov replied firmly, giving Ivan Fyodorovich a penetrating look.”

  1. DouglasTodd says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I have always been haunted by this quote of Smerdyakov’s — ever since I first read the Brothers Karamazov when I was 19 years old.
    Douglas Todd

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