The Brothers Karamazov
Book VIII, Chapter Seven
by Dennis Abrams
“The Former and Indisputable One” “Mitya, with his long, quick strides, went right up to the table.” Introductions. The use of Polish. Pan and Panie. Dmitri’s shifting moods. Drinks. More champagne. Dmitri’s observes Grushenka’s ‘pan’: “nearly forty-year old face, somewhat flabby, with a tiny little nose, under which appeared a pair of the thinnest little pointed mustaches, dyed and insolent…Even the ‘pan’s’ quite wretched wig, made in Siberia, with the hair stupidly brushed forward on the temples, did not particularly strike him.” The pan’s bodyguard. Grushenka’s delight. Maximov’s lies — Dmitri’s attempts to be delighted with the conversation. Grushenka’s loving looks at Kalganov: “He was a young man, not more than twenty years old, stylishly dressed, with a very sweet, pale face, and with beautiful thick, light brown hair. And set in this pale face were a pair of lovely light blue eyes, with an intelligent and sometimes deep expression, even beyond his age…Generally he was very original, even whimsical, though always kind.” Dmitri’s ‘perfect bliss.’ Was Gogol writing about Maximov? A discussion of thrashings. Toasts to Poland and Russia. Maximov suggests a game of baccarat — the innkeeper brings out a new deck of cards. The dancing girls have gathered, the Jews are on their way. Dmitri loses at least two hundred roubles on cards before Kalganov insists he stops playing. The Poles are insulted. Dmitri brings the Poles into another room to talk: he offers Grushenka’s officer 3,000 roubles if he’ll leave immediately, but since he can’t give him all the money at once, the officer angrily declines the offer. Returning to the other room, the officer, shouting in Polish, tells Grushenka that Dmitri had attempted to “buy” her. Grushenka claims she had kept herself pure in order to be free to call her Polish officer a scoundrel should the opportunity arise, and shouts that the officer has returned to marry her because he heard she had money. Grushenka’s officer says that she has changed, that she is “wanton and shameless.” Grushenka turns on the officer shouting insults; the innkeeper reenters the room, and informs the group that they had been playing with a marked deck — the Poles had hidden his deck behind a sofa cushion and were using one of their own. The officer’s ‘bodyguard’ calls Grushenka a ‘Public slut!’; Dmitri flies at him, picks him up and hurls him into the other room, where, after telling Grushenka, “Pani, if you want to come with me, come, if not — farewell!’ he is followed by the officer. Grushenka cries, “Bravo! Bravo! And good riddance!”
That was, I have to say, an odd chapter. The beginning made sense, the end made sense both dramatically and psychologically, and I loved the comic effect of Grushenka raging at her officer, collapsing into an armchair with her face in her hands, at which point the dancing girls arrive, bursting “into a rollicking dance song,” but…what was that whole discussion with Maximov and lies and thrashings about? Dostoevsky doesn’t add a lot to the books that aren’t somehow and someway tied into everything else, but this one…I felt lost. Anyone have anything?
And finally, the introductory paragraphs to Sigmund Freud’s fascinating (if slightly nutty) essay on The Brothers Karamazov:
“Four facets may be distinguished in the rich personality of Dostoevsky: the creative artist, the neurotic, the moralist, and the sinner. How is one to find one’s way in this bewildering complexity?
The creative artist is the least doubtful. Dostoevsky’s place is not far behind Shakespeare. The Brothers Karamazov is the most magnificent novel ever written, the episode of the Grand Inquisitor, one of the peaks in the literature of the world, can hardly be valued too highly. Before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down its arms.
The moralist in Dostoevsky is the most readily assailable. If we seek to rank him high as a moralist on the plea that only a man who has gone through the depths of sin can reach the highest summit of morality, we are neglecting a doubt that arises. A moral man is one who reacts to temptation as soon he feels it in his heart, without yielding to it. A man who alternately sins and then in his remorse erects high moral standards lays himself open to the reproach that he has made things too easy for himself. He has not achieved the essence of morality, renunciation, for the moral conduct of life is a practical human interest. He reminds one of the barbarians of the great migrations, who murdered and did penance for it, till penance became an actual technique for enabling murder to be done. Ivan the Terrible behaved in exactly this way: indeed this compromise with morality is a characteristic Russian trait. Nor was the final outcome of Dostoevsky’s moral strivings anything very glorious. After the most violent struggles to reconcile the instinctual demands of the individual with the claims of the community, he landed in the retrograde position of submission both to temporal and spiritual authority, of veneration both for the Tsar and for the God of the Christians, and of a narrow Russian nationalism — a position which lesser minds have reached with smaller effort. This is the weak point in that great personality. Dostoevsky threw away the chance of becoming a teacher and liberator of humanity and made himself one with their gaolers. The future of human civilization will have little to thank him for. It seems probable that he was condemned to this failure by his neurosis. The greatness of his intelligence and the strength of his love for humanity might have opened to him another, an apostolic, way of life.”
More to come…
Book VIII, Chapter Eight