“‘What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people,’ Mitya uttered in complete despair.”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book VIII, Chapters 2-5
by Dennis Abrams

“Lyagavy” “So he had to go ‘at a gallop,’ and yet he had no money, not a kopeck, for horses — that is, he had forty kopecks, but that was all, all that remained from so many years of former prosperity!” Dmitri gets six roubles from a Jew for his watch, and another three roubles from his landlords. Setting off to find Lyagavy. Dmitri find the priest who knows Lyagavy, who informs him that he hates being called Lyagavy, and that he must be called Gorstkin. Should that have been a giveaway of Samsonov’s intentions? A long walk through the woods. The hut, the forester, and Lyagavy, passed out drunk. Dmitri’s desperation. The need to wait until morning. The priest returns home. Dmitri studies the passed-out Lyagavy, “Mitya examined his physiognomy with terrible hatred, and for some reason the most hateful thing was his curly hair.” Dmitri wakes up with an unendurable headache — the room had filled with fumes “and that he might even have died.” Dmitri saves the unconscious Lyagavy; the uncaring forester. When Dmitri wakes in the morning, Lyagavy is already drunk, and unable and unwilling to do business, calling him a liar and denying knowing his father. “Mitya glumly stepped back, and suddenly it was as though ‘something him him on the head,’ as he himself put it later. In an instant a sort of illumination came to him, ‘a light shone and I perceived everything.'” Lyagavy chuckles at Dmitri, “On another occasion Mitya might have cooled the fool in a rage, but now he himself became weak as a child.” Dmitri wanders aimless through the woods, “He strode along a narrow forest path, senselessly, lost, with his ‘lost idea,’ not caring where he was going.” “What despair, what death all around!” he kept saying…” A coachman. Arrival in town. His new ‘immutable’ plan for obtaining ‘that accursed money.’ “And to think that a man’s fate should be ruined because of a worthless three thousand roubles!” Dmitri arrives at Grushenka’s (as we know, she convinced him to drive her to Samsonov’s where she said she would remain until eleven o’clock at which point he could pick her up again — as soon as Dmitri dropped her off, she returned home.) Dmitri’s jealousy — there when he’s away from Grushenka, not there when he’s with her. His need for money. Pawning his guns to a fellow officer. The narrator-chronicler drops a hint — it’s important to note that the fact emerged that several hours before ‘a certain incident, of which I will speak below,” Mitya was broke and pawned his guns for ten roubles, and three hours later he had thousands in his hands. Dmitri learns of Smerdyakov’s illness — who will now be watching to see if Grushenka visits Fyodor? Dmitri goes to Madame Khokhlakov, convinced that she’ll give him three thousand roubles to get him out of town and away from Katerina Ivanovna. Madame Khokhlakov, on the other hand, has decided that Dmitri should go make his fortune working in gold mines in Siberia, and then “return in wealth and glory, [and] you will find a companion for your heart in the highest society.” Dmitri and Madame Khokhlakov talk at each other without listening — Dmitri convinced because she’s giving him the money, Madame Khokhlakov convinced that he’s going to go to the mines. Figuring it out, Madame Khokhlakov confesses she has no ready cash and in any event never loans money to friends. Dmitri pounds on the table in anger and frustration frightening Madame Khokhlakov. Dmitri leaves, certain that if he can’t find the money, he’ll be facing ruin and suicide. He goes to Grushenka’s, and can get in information about where she is. Grabbing a small brass pestle, “only seven inches long,” Dmitri runs out out of the house. “Oh, Lord,” Fenya clapped her hands, “he’ll kill somebody.” “In the Dark” Dmitri runs to his father’s house, lowers himself into the garden the same way as Stinking Lizaveta did, and watches his father through his bedroom window. Fyodor’s ‘Chinese’ screens, his new striped silk dressing gown, the red bandage on his head. Is he alone? Is Grushenka hiding on the other side of the screen, already asleep? Has she been there or not? Dmitri knocks on the window, using the signal meaning that ‘Grushenka is here.” Fyodor, leans out the window, “Grushenka, is it you? Where are you, sweetie, my little angel, where are you?…Come here: I have a little present waiting for you; come, I’ll show you…” Dmitri decides that Fyodor must be alone, and that the present is the envelope with three thousand roubles. Dmitri watches his father leaning out the window, “his drooping Adam’s apple, his hooked nose, smiling in sweet expectation, his lips…” finds him loathsome and “Terrible, furious anger suddenly boiled up in Mitya’s heart…” Fyodor as Dmitri’s rival, tormentor, “tormentor of his life?” Could he kill him? Dmitri’s previous fear that Fyodor’s face will become hateful to him. “The personal loathing was increasing unbearably. Mitya was beside himself, and suddenly he snatched the brass pestle from his pocket…’God was watching over me then,” Mitya used to say afterwards…” At the same time Grigory, still ill, wakes up, and remembering that he hadn’t locked the garden gate goes to do so, hears a noise, sees that Fyodor’s window is open, “Why is it open? It’s not summertime!” and caught sight of someone running in the garden. Grigory recognizes the man, shouts ‘Parricide,” as he catches the man’s leg as he tries to jump back over the garden wall — “suddenly he felt back as if struck by a thunderbolt.” Dmitri jumped back into the garden, brass pestle in hand, and bend over Grigory’s head “all covered with blood.” “If I cracked his skull, how can I tell now…? And what difference does it make?…If I’ve killed him, I’ve killed him.” Dmitri starts running, shoving the bloody handkerchief he’d used to wipe the blood off Grigory’s face into the back pocket of his coat, and returns to Grushenka’s, where he finally learns that she has gone to Mokroye to be with the officer, Timofei.

Wow. How much of a roller-coaster were those three chapters? From the near-death experience and despair at the forester’s hut to the darkly comic comedy of errors with Madame Khokhlakov to the utter suspense, tension and mystery of…whatever happened at his father’s. The book is seriously kicking into high gear.

From Miller:

“Mitya, unlike Ivan, actually goes there [to Chermashnya], armed by the spiteful Samsonov with all the wrong information about how to make the deal work. (Gorstkin hates, for example, to be called Lyagavy.) Moreover, during the second night, while zosima is dying at the monastery, Mitya actually saves Gorstkin from death. (The charcoal fire in Gorstkin’s hut was giving off poisonous fumes, and Gorstkin had passed out in a drunken stupor. But for MItya’s quick and persistent attempt to save him, Gorstkin would have perished.) For us, the goodness of Mitya’s spontaneous deed overshadows his other follies, though he himself forgets all about it.

The rhyming with Mitya’s narrative in Book III continues. Jealousy motivates Mitya’s next round of activity. In the scene succeeding his earlier encounter with Katerina Ivanovna, Mitya had, in a gesture loaded with phallic significance, pulled his sword from its scabbard, kissed it, and replaced it. This odd gesture had embodied both his hot lust and his honorable repression of it. Now in Book VII he makes another odd gesture of phallic repression. Mitya, a man who would normally be likely to fight a duel when in a jealous rage, instead prepares to pawn his prized brace of dueling pistols for the ridiculously low sum of 10 rubles.

He then rushes to Madame Khokhlakova’s with the equally absurd hope that she, in her desire to prevent his marriage to Katerina Ivanovna, would gladly pay him the 3,000 rubles. Again he tries to sell something he does not own — Chermashnya. madame Khokhlakova responds with the promise of money: ‘The money is as good as in your pocket, not three thousand, but three million.’ She too deals in a nonexistent commodity. ‘I’ll make you a present of the idea…gold mines.’ Both of them regard the importance of this exchange as a ‘mathematical certainty.’

Dostoevsky, with high relish in the comedy of this scene, actually parodies an act that in two of his previous novels, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, constitutes a key moment of profound solemnity — the act by one character of giving a religious necklace to another. But no gesture, in Dostoevsky’s canon is immune to parody. To conclude their ridiculous encounter, Madame Khokhlakova gives Mitya an icon and puts it around his neck.

The scene between them closes with his roaring anger, and like a maddened comic-tragic hero, Mitya beats himself upon the breast, ‘on the spot,’ the narrator-chronicler tells us in a stage whisper, ‘where he had struck himself two days previously, before Alyosha, the last time he had seen him in the dark, on the road.’ The narrator-chronicler continues for a full paragraph to highlight the significance of ‘that spot and Mitya’s secret. By turning back to chapter 9 of Book III, we see that the secret is a baseness, a dishonor that he bears on his breast, but a dishonor that could be half-retrieved if he chose to do so.

Chapter 3 of Book VIII, which had begun with Mitya pawning his pistols, ends with him grabbing from a mortar ‘a small brass pestle’ about six inches long. [MY NOTE: Six inches or seven inches?] This abundance of melodramatic phallic symbols with which descriptions of Mitya seem to abound would be comic if they were not at the same time so representative of his struggles, and if himself were not so unconscious of them. [MY NOTE: My question then is this — are these phallic symbols a conscious creation on Dostoevsky’s part or are they too unconscious?] Later, as Mitya looks with repulsion at the loathed face of his rival (his father, staring out the window and searching for Grushenka), he pulls the brass pestle out of his pocket. This fraught, Freudian, Oedipal moment — illuminated by ‘slanting lamplight’ — creates a shocking phallic icon: the young man drawing his pestle from his pocket to do battle with his father. Although he always claimed to reject such psychological probing, Dostoevsky milks this moment for what it is worth. After an ellipse come the words: ‘God was watching over me then,’ Mitya himself said afterwards.

All of Mitya’s actions throughout Book VIII are incomplete: he does not achieve even one of his goals. Along the way the narrator-chronicler throws out a great deal of evidence that cuts both ways, evidence that could buttress the belief that Dmitri had murdered his father, or that he did not. Both paradigms — of incomplete action and evidence that cuts both ways — come to their climax in the chapter, ‘In the dark,’ a chapter that is at once a masterful prevarication and a careful account containing vital clues and facts.”

And finally, the conclusion to D.H. Lawrence’s “Preface to Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor'”

Again, the Inquisitor says that it is a weakness in men, that they must have miracle, mystery, and authority. But is it? Are they not bound up in our emotions, always and for ever, these three demands of miracle, mystery, and authority? If Jesus cast aside miracle in the Temptation, still there is miracle again in the Gospels. And if Jesus refused the earthly bread, still he said: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ And for authority, ‘Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?’

The thing Jesus was trying to do was to supplant physical emotion by moral emotion. So that earthly bread becomes, in a sense, immoral, as it is to many refined people today. The Grand Inquisitor see that this is the mistake. The earthly bread must in itself be the miracle, and be bound up with the miracle.

And here, surely, he is right. Since man began to think and to feel vividly, seed-time and harvest have been the two great sacred periods of miracle, rebirth, and rejoicing. Easter and harvest-home are festivals of the earthly bread, and they are festivals which go to the roots of the soul. For it is the earthly bread as a miracle, a yearly miracle. All the old religions saw it: the Catholic still sees it, by the Mediterranean. And this is not weakness. This is truth. The rapture of the Easter kiss, in old Russia, is intimately bound up with the springing of the seed and the first footstep of the new earthly bread. It is the rapture of the Easter kiss which makes the bread worth eating. It is the absence of the Easter kiss which makes the Bolshevist bread barren, dead. They eat dead bread now.

The earthly bread is leavened with the heavenly bread. The heavenly bread is life, is contact, and is consciousness. In sowing the seed man has his contact with earth, with sun and rain: and he must not break the contact. In the awareness of the springing of the corn he has his ever-renewed consciousness of miracle; wonder, and mystery: the wonder of creation, procreation, and re-creation, following the mystery of death and the cold grave. It is the grief of Holy Week and the delight of Easter Sunday. And man must not, must not lose this supreme state of consciousness out of himself, or he has lost the best part of him. Again, the reaping and the harvest are another contact, with earth and sun, a rich touch of the cosmos, a living stream of activity, and then the contact with harvesters, and the joy of harvest-home. All of this is life, life, it is the heavenly bread which we eat in the course of getting the earthly bread. Work is, or should be, our heavenly bread of activity, contact and consciousness. All work that is not this, is anathema. True, the work is hard; there is the sweat of the brow. But what of it? In decent proportion, this is life. The sweat of the brow is the heavenly butter.

I think the older Egyptians understood this, in the course of their long and marvellous history. I think that probably, for thousands of years, the masses of the Egyptians were happy, in the hierarchy of the State.

Miracle and mystery run together, they merge. Then there is the third thing, authority. The word is bad: a policeman has authority, and no one bows down to him. The Inquisitor means: ‘That which men bow down to.’ Well, the bowed down to Caesar, and they bowed down to Jesus. They still bow down, first as the Inquisitor saw, to the one who has the power to control the bread.

The bread, the earthly bread, while it is being reaped and grown, it is life. But once it is harvested and stored, it becomes a commodity, it becomes riches. And then it becomes a danger. For men think, if they only possessed the hoard, they need not work; which means, really, they need not live. And that is the real blasphemy. For while we live we must live, we must not wither or rot inert.

So that ultimately men bow down to the man, or group of men, who can and dare take over the hoard, the store of bread, the riches, to distribute it among the people again. The birds, the givers of bread. How profound Dostoevsky is when he says that the people will forget that it is their own bread which is being given back to them. While they keep their own bread, it is not much better than stone to them — insert possessions. But given back to them from the great Giver, it is divine once more, it has the quality of miracle to make it taste well in the mouth and in the belly.

Men bow down to the lord of bread, first and foremost. For, by knowing the difference between earthly and heavenly bread, he is able calmly to distribute the earthly bread; and to give it, for the community, the heavenly taste which they can never give it. That is why, in a democracy, the earthly bread loses its taste, the salt loses its savor, and there is no one to bow down to.

It is not man’s weakness that he needs someone to bow down to. It is his nature, and his strength, for it puts him into touch with far, far, greater life than if he stood alone. All life bows to the sun. But the son is very far away to the common man. It need someone to bring it to him. It needs a lord: what the Christians call one of the elect, to bring the sun to the common man, and put the sun in his heart. The sight of a true lord, a noble, a nature-hero puts the sun into the heart of the ordinary man, who is no hero, and therefore cannot know the sun direct.

This is one of the real mysteries. As the Inquisitor says, the mystery of the elect is one of the inexplicable mysteries of Christianity, just as the lord, the natural lord among men, is one of the inexplicable mysteries of humanity throughout time. We must accept the mystery, that’s all.

But do so is not diabolic.

And Ivan need not have been so tragic and satanic. He had made a discovery about men, which was due to be made. It was the rediscovery of a fact which was known universally almost till the end of the eighteenth-century, when the illusion of the perfectibility of men, of all men, took hold in the imagination of the civilized nations. It was an illusion. And Ivan has to make a restatement of the old truth, that most men cannot choose between good and evil, because it is so extremely difficult to know which is which, especially in crucial cases: and that most men cannot see the difference between life-values and money values: they can only see money-values, even nice simple people who live by the life-values, kind and natural, yet can only estimate values in terms of money. So let the specially gifted few make the decision between good and evil, and establish the life-values against the money-values. And let the many accept the decision, with gratitude, and bow down to the few, in the hierarchy. What is diabolical or satanic in that? Jesus kisses the Inquisitor: Thank you, you are right, wise old man! Alyosha kisses Ivan: thank you, brother, you are right, you take a burden off me! So why should Dostoevsky drag in Inquisitors and auto-da-fe, and Ivan wind up so morbidly suicidal? Let them be glad they’ve found the truth again.”



Monday’s Reading:

Book VIII, Chapter Five


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