“But did he kill him, without the robbery, did he kill him? Is this proved? Is this not also a novel?”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapters 10-11
by Dennis Abrams

“The Defense Attorney’s Speech. A Stick with Two Ends.” “All became hushed as the first words of the famous orator resounded. The whole room fixed their eyes on him.” His voice, beautiful and attractive, “and even in this voice itself one seemed to hear something genuine and guileless.” His ability to “strike the heart with an unutterable power.” “He spoke perhaps less correctly than Ippolit Kirillovich, but without long phrases, and even more precisely.” The ladies do not like the way he keeps bending forward. The two parts of his speech: a critique, “a refutation of the charges,” followed by a rise into pathos, “and the courtroom seemed to be waiting for it and began trembling with rapture.” “He went straight into work”: He only took cases when he was convinced of the defendant’s innocence. His sincerity. “This thought of mine — my formula — is as follows: the overwhelming totality of the facts is against the defendant, and at the same time there is not one fact that will stand up to criticism, if it is considered separately, on its own!” As a newcomer, he can see the defendant without preconceived notions, since he “had not offended me to begin with, as he had perhaps a hundred persons in this town…” The “somewhat erroneous prejudice” the prosecutor held against Mitya. The prosecutor’s need for “artistic production, so to speak, the creation of a novel, especially seeing the wealth of psychological gifts with which God has endowed our abilities.” “But psychology, gentlemen, though a profound thing, is still like a stick with two end.” Does it make sense that Mitya was so cautious that he jumped back to check on Grigory but so frenzied that he’d forget the marked envelope on Fyodor’s floor? Why did he tend to Grigory for five minutes instead of finishing him off? Was the prosecutor guilty of an excess of psychology? “There Was No Money. There Was No Robbery.” Did the 3000 roubles actually exist? Nobody knows. Smerdyakov is the only person who claimed to know about it. If Mitya had taken the money out from under the mattress — why weren’t the sheets rumpled and why were there no blood stains? How do we know that the money had still been in the envelope? “And if even the mere possibility of such a speculation exists, then how can it be asserted so insistently and so firmly that the defendant committed the murder with the purpose of robbery, and indeed that the robbery existed? We thereby enter the realm of novels.” Is it more plausible to believe that Mitya kept half the money in an amulet around his neck or that he somehow hid the money in a crevice in the village of Mokroye? Which testimony is more believable, Katerina Ivanovna’s initial testimony, or her angry denouncement of Mitya? “But did he kill him, finally, or not? The accusation of robbery I reject with indignation: there can be no accusation of robbery if it is impossible to point exactly at what precisely has been robbed — that is an axiom! But did he kill him, without the robbery, did he kill him? Is this proved? Is this not also a novel?”

I had to enjoy the defense attorney’s dismissal of the prosecutor’s excessive use of psychology (isn’t Dostoevsky known as a master of the psychological novel?) as well as the constant references to the “novel” that he was trying to put together…

I’ll have more to say about the defendant’s arguments tomorrow.

Wednesday’s Reading:

Book XII, Chapters Twelve and Thirteen


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One Response to “But did he kill him, without the robbery, did he kill him? Is this proved? Is this not also a novel?”

  1. Minnikin says:

    ‘A Stick with Two Ends’ …

    Does this refer to an ancient Chinese saying as the article below suggests?


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