The Brothers Karamazov
Book XI, Chapters Two and Three
by Dennis Abrams
“An Ailing Little Foot” “The first thing he had to do was at Madame Khokhlakov’s house, and he hurried there to get it over with as quickly as possible and not be late for Mitya.” Madame Khokhlakov’s previous illness, her current dressiness — Alyosha hesitates to speculate as to who she was dressing up for. Four days since Alyosha’s last visit. Lise has taken back her promise to marry Alyosha and she is now walking. Madame Khokhlakov’s rambling conversation. The upcoming trial. Her fear of testifying. Rumors. Had she offered Dmitri three thousand roubles to run away with her to the gold mines of Siberia? Problems with Rakitin. Her certainty that Pyotr Ilyich had saved her life. The romantic rivalry between Pyotr Ilyich and Rakitin over Madame Khokhlakov. Her hand is squeezed by Rakitin, her foot start hurting. Rakitin writes a poem about her foot. After Pyotr Ilyich and Rakitin have words, Rakitin is banned from her house. Defining a fit of passion. Had Dmitri killed in a fit of passion? Madame Khokhlakov speculates that Grigory killed Fyodor after Dmitri attacked him. Is it better if Dmitri had killed his father? Madame Khokhlakov vows to throw a party for Dmitri if he’s found not guilty because he killed in a fit of passion. Madame Khokhlakov’s distrust of Ivan with Lise. Ivan’s visits; Lise’s hysterics. Lise’s attack on Yulia. Pyotr Ilyich arrives to visit Madame Khokhlakov; Alyosha retreats to go visit Lise. “A Little Demon” “When he entered Liza’s room, he found her half-reclining in her former chair, in which she had been wheeled around while she was as yet unable to walk.” Liza’s eavesdropping. Her happiness at having refused to marry Alyosha. “You’re unfit to be a husband: I’d marry you, and suddenly give you a note to take to someone I’d fallen in love with after you, and you would take it and make sure to deliver it, and even bring back the reply.” Alyosha notes that “There is something wicked and guileless about you at this time.” Candy for Dmitri. Lise’s wish: “I want someone to torment me, to marry me and then torment me, deceive me, leave me and go away.” Her desire to set fire to the house. Kalganov’s dreams, “Well, he’s like a top, spin him and set him down and then whip, whip, whip. I’ll marry him and keep him spinning all his life.” Lise doesn’t want to be holy. Alyosha asks “Why do evil?” “So that there will be nothing left anywhere.” The crowd loves it that Dmitri killed his father. “Everyone says it’s terrible, but secretly they all love it terribly.” Liza’s dream about devils — In her room at night, with a candle, devils in the corners of the room — she allows them to come close, she crosses herself and they draw back, “And suddenly I have a terrible desire to start abusing God out loud, and so I start abusing him, and they suddenly rush at me again in a crowd, they’re so glad, and they’re grabbing me again, and I suddenly cross myself again — and they all draw back. It’s such terrible fun, it takes my breath away.” Alyosha tells Liza that he shares the same dream. Liza asks, “Is it true that Jews steal children on Passover and kill them?” Alyosha doesn’t know. The Jew who cut off the fingers of a four year old boy and crucified him on the wall. Liza says, “Sometimes I imagine that it was I who crucified him. He hangs there moaning, and I sit down facing him, eating pineapple compote. I like pineapple compote very much. Do you?” The letter she’d written to a certain man, his visit, she tells him about the boy and the compete, “He suddenly laughed and said it was indeed good. Then he got up and left.” Alyosha’s agitated response. Lise’s demand of Alyosha to be “saved.” “I’ll kill myself, because everything is so loathsome to me! I don’t want to live, because everything is so loathsome to me…” Lisa asks Alyosha to wee’ for her. “I need only your tears…” Lise sends Alyosha away with a note to give Dmitri, and once he’s gone, opened her door, put her finger in the chink, and slammed the door, crushing it “with all her might.” “Mean, mean, mean!”
What a contrast in chapters! I thought that “An Ailing Little Foot” was hilarious. Some of my favorite lines:
“Ah, it’s she who has ruined everybody, but in fact, I don’t know, they say she’s become a saint, though it’s a bit late.”
“The main thing is not to forget the main thing.”
“Here, in the newspaper, Rumors from Petersburg. These Rumors just started coming out this year. I’m terribly fond of rumors, so I subscribed, and now I’ve been paid back for it.”
“…you’ll forgive me, Alyosha, I’m speaking to you as a mother…oh, no, no, no, on the contrary, I’m speaking to you now as my father…”
“He all bug saved me from death on that horrible day, when he came to me at night.”
“Only, you see: it would be better, so much better, if it were Dmitri Fyodorovich who killed him. And that’s how it was, though I say Grigory, it was certainly Dmitri Fyodorovich, and that’s much, much better! Oh, not better because a son killed his father, I’m not praising on that, on the contrary, children should honor their parents; but still it’s better if it was he, because then there’s nothing to weep about, because he was beside himself when he did it, or, rather, he was within himself, but didn’t know what was happening to him.”
And of course, it was also nice to have the narrator-chronicler finally admit to the name of the town in which Karamazov takes place — embarrassment?
On the other hand, I’m not quite certain how to read/interpret the chapter on the meeting between Alyosha and Liza. Obviously, (I think), her dream of the demons in the corner mirrors that of Father Ferapont from Zosima’s monastery, but why do she and Alyosha share the same dream? Her attack on Yulia followed by weeping and kissing her feet mirrors Zosima…but there seems to be a lot going on here. Perhaps this from Miller will help:
“In the second chapter of Book XI Madame Khokhlakova comically expounds her own latest theory of guilt, or its lack — ‘aberration.’ Her ideas, distilled from those of the visiting Moscow doctor and her own shaky understanding of the recent reforms in court law (to which Dostoevsky was opposed and which he satirizes here), come close to being a ridiculous parody of Ivan’s own atheistic aphorism — ironically borrowed from the Bible — ‘everything is permitted.’ Madame Khokhlakova defines her term for Alyosha in its ‘legal sense.’ ‘An aberration in which everything is pardonable. Whatever you do, you will be acquitted at once.’ Dostoevsky lets her go on to parody his own cherished idea of all men’s shared guilt toward and responsibility for one another. ‘And besides, who isn’t suffering from aberration…Why my Lise is in a state of aberration.’ In Ivan’s formulation, ‘everything is permitted’; there is, likewise, no guilt and no responsibility. In Madame Khokhlakova’s theory of aberration, we are all, on the contrary, guilty. But no one need feel responsible for this guilt; it simply does not matter.
It turns out that Ivan has secretly been visiting Lise Khokhlakova as well as Mitya. these secret visits have propelled her into a hysterical frenzy. Finally, Madame Khokhlakova reveals to Alyosha that Lise had insulted and then begged forgiveness from her servant. All these events — secret visits, hysterical fits, begging forgiveness from insulted servants — rhyme with others in the novel and are particularly suggestive of Mitya, Katerina Ivanovna, and Zosima. Madame Khokhlakova’s comic theory of aberration, a theory which combines the work of the custodians of temporal power — doctors and lawyers — with her own silliness, gives way to a much more problematic parody of the novel’s ideas about guilt. The next chapter, ‘A little demon,’ functions as a preface for chapter 9.
Lise’s mother outlines a theory of aberration that acknowledges guilt but denies that anyone need take responsibility for it. Lise, on the other hand, puts forth a theory that acknowledges that everyone is responsible for evil, but that also asserts no one need feel guilty about it: ‘Everyone loves crime, they love it always, not at some ‘moments’…you know it’s as though people have made an agreement to lie about it…They all declare that they hate evil, but secretly they all love it.’ Her approach reflects the lacerating seeking out of guilt in order to take a voluptuous pleasure in it. Moreover, like Father Ferapont, Lise dreams of devils, ‘devils all over the place…a crowd of them.’ To her surprise, and ours, Alyosha admits that he has had the same dream. Thus Ferapont, Lise, and Alyosha — an unlikely trio — all presage Ivan’s hallucination in a way that works against the physical preparation for it in the growing sings of Ivan’s illness. The combined effect of these foreshadowings is to inject a heavy dose of the fantastic into the reality of the novel.
Alyosha, surprisingly, finds much to agree with in Lise’s words. “There is some truth in what you say about everyone,’ he answers her softly.” Her theoretical depiction of universal responsibility, for evil with no need for anyone to feel guilty about it — is in fact a way of claiming to value aesthetic form without any moral content. This notion hearkens back to Mitya’s earlier lamentation over men confusing the beauty of Sodom with that of the Madonna. This Gothic vision of corrupted beauty finds its dreadful formal apotheosis in the horrible verbal icon of disfigurement that Lise puts forth to Alyosha. This icon possesses a harmonious aesthetic form that is hideously at odds with its dreadful content. It is an aesthetic manifestation of the war taking place in the human spirit. Lise describes her vision of a mutilated child who has been crucified by a “Jew.” the child moans for four hours before it dies. Her aesthetic evaluation of the scene is that it is ‘nice.’ Sharing the twisted desire for punishment and martyrdom of Stavrogin (Demons) and Dosteovsky’s ‘ridiculous man’ (“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”), she adds, ‘I sometimes imagine that it was I who crucified him. He would hang their moaning and I would sit opposite him eating pineapple compote.’
This is, perhaps, the moral low point of the novel. Dostoevsky devastatingly illustrates how evil seeds can take root in anyone’s heart, even in the heart of a child like Lise. Sadly, the seal of aesthetic approval — the word nice — had been given to Lise by Ivan, whom she describes only as ‘he’ or ‘a certain person.’ Her refusal to use his name at this crucial juncture would intimate to Dostoevsky’s contemporary readers Ivan’s connection to the devil. For the devil in Russian folklore is also traditionally not named but rather described as ‘he.’
Both Ivan and his disciple Lise are believers ‘in the pineapple compote; hence, each is ill. ‘Save me!’ Lise suddenly cries out to Alyosha. Lise’s aesthetic temptation toward evil meshes with Kolya’s intellectual, ideological temptations toward atheism and feigned miracle for utilitarian purposes. It also meshes with Ilyusha’s temptation to evil, that of the injured and insulted child who, in his despair, wants to throw pin-infested bread to all the dogs. through these three children, each of whom the reader cares for, Dostoevsky offers the reader difficult and painful examples of his belief that children are not exempt from the temptation and allure of evil.
The third chapter of Book IV had ended with Ilyusha concluding his interview with Ilyusha concluding his interview with Alyosha by biting Alyosha’s finger to the bone and thereby desperately wounding himself. the third chapter of Book XI also concludes with a finger being wounded at the end of an encounter with Alyosha. Lise injures not Alyosha’s finger but her own. She deliberately puts her finger in the crack of the door and slams the door on it. Her last words echo those of Ivan and Kolya: she whispers about herself, ‘Base, base, base'”
What I’m still trying to figure out is the pineapple compote. I think it’s obvious that pineapples would have definitely been an expensive luxury item, but other than that…is there some reason why she’s eating it specifically?
Book XI, Chapter Four and Five