The Brothers Karamazov
Book VIII, Chapter Eight
by Dennis Abrams
“Delirium.” “What began then was almost an orgy, a feast of feasts.” Drinking and dancing. “The girls who gathered were the same as then; the Jews with fiddles and zithers arrive, and finally the long awaited troika arrived with its cart full of wine and provisions.” Uninvited guests. The innkeeper Trifon Borisich keeps an eye on Dmitri. Dmitri in his element. Kalganov, unhappy with the female chorus begins drinking and becomes happier; Maximov stays at his side. Grushenka encourages Dmitri to have a good time. Dmitri’s worry about Grigory, “I left a sick man there. I’d give ten years of my life for him to recover, just to know he’d recover.” Kalganov passed out on the sofa. The ‘new song with a perky dance tune.” “And all the girls the master sought/Would they love him or would they not?” Grushenka praises Kalganov’s beauty. Kalganov wants Maximov. Maximov does not leave the girls. Dmitri, his head burning, goes out on the veranda to get some fresh air. His thoughts come together: “If I’m going to shoot myself, what better time than now?” Dmitri’s shame — the theft, the blood. Thoughts of Grushenka: “She was ashamed, and by her eyes he could now see clearly whom she loved. So now all he had to was live…but he could not live, he could not, oh damnation!” Dmitri realizes that he can return the stolen money, and if Grigory is still alive, “There will be no trace of shame left, except forever in my heart.” Dmitri’s realization: “Isn’t one hour, one minute of her love, worth the rest of my life, even in the moments of disgrace?..To her, to her alone, to see her, to hear her, and not to think of anything, to forget everything, if only for this one night, for one hour, for one moment!” It’s three in the morning. Grushenka confesses that she did love her Polish officer, but he’s changed, and she’s ashamed of the five years she wasted, but “Tonight a falcon walked in, and my heart sank inside me. ‘You fool, this is the one you love,’ my heart whispered to me at once. You walked in and brightened everything.'” Dmitri hungrily kisses Grushenka, “Kiss me, kiss me harder, like this! Let’s love, if we’re going to love! I’ll be your slave now, your lifelong slave!…Kiss me, beat me, torment me, do something to me…Oh, how I deserve to be tormented…” Grushenka decides to get drunk. Grushenka is “like a hot coal” in Dmitri’s heart. Grushenka kisses the dancer, and dances with Maximov. The piggy, the calfy, the ducky, and the goosey. Grushenka vows that someday she’ll go into a convent, But today, let’s dance. Tomorrow the convent, but today we’ll dance. I want to be naughty good people, what of it, God will forgive.” Grushenka, thoroughly drunk, calls for everyone to come watch her dance, even the two Poles still locked in the other room. Grushenka starts to face, Dmitri takes her to her room and lays her on the bed, they kiss, and Grushenka pleads with him “don’t touch me, I’m not yours yet…I said I was yours, but don’t touch me….spare me…” Dmitri is a noble beast. The blood. Grushenka says that she and Dmitri will go to Katerina Ivanovna and ask for her forgiveness and then go away, regardless of whether or not she forgives. The ringing bell. While Dmitri is kissing Grushenka’s dress, her breast, her hands, the room suddenly fills with people including the district police commissioner Mikhail Makarich, the deputy prosecutor, a district attorney, the deputy commissioner Mavriky Mavrikich. Dmitri shouts that he understands, “The old man…the old man and his blood…” The old district commissioner roars in response, “You understand? He understands! Parricide and monster, your old father’s blood cries out against you!” Delirium. The short attorney has an announcement: “Retired Lieutenant Karamazov, sir, it is my duty to inform you that you are charged with the murder of your father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, which took place this night…” Dmitri no longer understands, “With wild eyes he stared around at them all…”
“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 of evidence that cuts both ways — come to their climax in the chapter, ‘In the dark,” a chapter that is at once a master prevarication and a careful account containing vital clues and facts.
Later that night Mitya redeems the pledge on his pistols and rushes off to Mokroe with champagne, the loaded pistols, and a suicide note in his pocket — ‘I punish myself for my whole life, my whole life I punish.’ By reminding us that all this is occurring at ‘perhaps the very hour’ when Alyosha fell to the earth, the narrator-chronicler suggests that Mitay’s ‘sudden resolution’ will be of equal spiritual significance. Counterbalanced against this possibility, however, is the narrator’s technique, which he so often uses in portraying Mitya, of obfuscation through seeming directness. Instead, the structural paradigm of the uncompleted scenario so frequently associated with Mitya holds: Mitya does not, on this fateful night, kill himself with those loaded pistols. He does experience a spiritual conversion as vital as Alyosha’s. Moreover, the further the narrator-chronicler proceeds from the actual moment of the crime, the more genuinely direct and reliable his words about Mitya become.
By the moment of Mitya’s most profound epiphany the narrator-chronicler has attached himself to Mitya with the same intimacy that he had shared with Alyosha during the Cana of Galilee episode. In this light, Mitya’s act of violence, his decision to kill himself, and his ‘agonizing confession’ correspond paradigmatically to Alyosha’s far gentler despair after his elder’s death. Although taking a woman on your lap and wanting to eat a bit of sausage with vodka are acts hardly in the same league with potential murder, threatened suicide, and frenzied disorientation, both kinds of acts embody a ‘death of the seed before it can bring forth great fruit.’
Mitya’s loaded pistols and his recent striking of a beloved servant in the head also recall Zosima just before his fateful duel. Book VIII begins with Mitya contemplating two endings to his torment. The first would be Grushenka suddenly saying, ‘Take me, I’m yours forever,’ and then taking her away to the ‘furthest end of Russia.’ The second ending he imagined was an awful one — that she would come to an understand with Fyodor Pavlovich; and that, if she did, he ‘did not know what would happen then.’ By the end of Book VIII these mutually exclusive outcomes have, in a curious way, come together. throughout most of Book VIII Mitya acts under the assumption that the second ending will occur, only to discover that the first has happened. the result for the reader, as in Mitya’s account of his first encounter with Katerina Ivanovna, is a kind of plot smorgasbord: she can respond to both what does happen and what only seems to happen. The shimmer of the imagined shades the contours of actuality. And as with Alyosha, the actual moment of Mitya’s conversion is impossible to isolate.”
And finally, with all the talk of the spiritual and the Grand Inquisitor and hell in The Brothers Karamazov, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that very earthly issues, among them money, are the driving force of the plot, as this excerpt from Boris Christa’s essay “Dostoevskii and money” makes clear:
“In Dostoevskii’s final monumental novel, The Brothers Karamazov, the theme of getting money by crime dominates the plot. At the heart is the tension between Fedor Karamazov and his sons, which is constantly exacerbated by his parsimony. Dmitrii, the eldest, considers he has a rightful claim to money brought into the family by his mother, who died young. The father rejects this outright, which leads to a bitter confrontation between the two men. When the old man is found murdered, Dmitrii is the obvious prime suspect…[Smerdiakov and Ivan also long for the money…]
Not only is The Brothers Karamazov centered on the4 theme of money, but the Dostoevskian technique of using named sums of cash for communication and semiotic impact rises to a crescendo. The dispute between the protagonists, for example, focuses sharply on the struggle for 3,000 roubles for which Dmitrii is prepared to settle his claim against his father. This sum is mentioned in the novel literally hundreds of times and it acquires powerful symbolic meaning. It provides the pivot around which the characters gyrate, since 3,000 roubles is the sum which Katerina Ivanovna has entrusted to Dmitrii and which he has misappropriated. He now desperately needs 3,000 to avoid disgrace. He tries to borrow it from Samsonov, from Gorstin and even from Khokhlakova. Old man Karamazov has 3,000 gift-wrapped and ready as a bait to lure the beautiful Grushenka to his bed…At the trial the matter of the 3,000 roubles is dissected in minute detail…
It is a matter much to Dostoevskii’s credit that, although he held strong views on many religious and philosophical issues, he rarely allowed these to obtrude into his literary narrative and destroy the integrity of the artistic text. So while recognising and foregrounding the elemental and universal significance of money throughout his fiction, he consistently refrains from moralising about its role in human affairs. The closest that he comes to being overly judgmental is in the context of Ivan Karamazov’s famous ‘poem,’ ‘The Grand Inquisitor,’ in which money is castiaged as the pursuit of the common herd that prefers to live mindlessly under the tutelage of an authoritarian regime, rather than being encouraged by a charismatic, spiritual leader to develop their individual moral consciousness in freedom and to emancipate themselves from the narrow confines of purely materialistic values. In the text Dostoevskii frequently uses the word ‘bread’ rather than ‘money,’ but the concepts clearly fuse into one. it is not by chance that in English slang ‘bread’ is a word for ‘money.’
The Brothers Karamazov is a novel of immense intellectual scope and although the issues are presented in very concrete and specific terms, they have far-ranging philosophical implications. We are confronted not merely by conflict over 3,000 roubles between a wayward son and an obdurate father, but by a symbolic representation of the eternal struggle between good and evil, in which money plays a crucial and sinister role. The characters in the novel that particularly impress by their moral stature are those who have not as yet been corrupted by money, such as Alehsa, the youngest of the Karamazov brothers, or those who have experienced its temptations and have freed themselves from subservience to it, like Father Zosima, the ex-officer, who has retreated from worldly life to his hermitage and extends guidance and spiritual help to all who seek them. The final message of The Brothers Karamazov is forceful and it is revealed by the reactions of the characters to the challenge of the materialistic and hedonistic values symbolised by money. Dostoevskii’s personal world-view, as expressed directly by his journalistic and polemical writing, saw money, and the frenzied pursuit of it, in a very negative light. He regarded it as an aspect of decadent Western culture which was threatening the integrity of the Russian ethnic tradition of brotherhood and spirituality. As he puts it in his Diary of a Writer for October 1876: ‘Let me say it again — the power of money was understood by everybody also in past time, but never until now was money considered in Russia to be the greatest thing in the world.’ Money with its attendant materialism was the root of all evil, responsible for unleashing powerful destructive forces. Cash is power and power corrupts, so that almost by definition wealth was associated with moral degeneration and spiritual atrophy. Given this underlying antagonistic position, it becomes apparent how in Dostoevskii’s fiction money functions on the moral plane as a touchstone — a stone that tests for the presence of precious metals by contact with its dark surface.”
The Weekend’s Reading:
Book IX, Chapters 1-4
And enjoy your weekend.