“And if even only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation.”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapter 14; Epilogue
by Dennis Abrams

So, we’ve come to the end of The Brothers Karamazov and of our journey through the major novels of Dostoevsky — I hope it’s meant as much to you as it has to me. The kind of close reading we’ve given the books has altered my conceptions about Dostoevsky, showing me how much more complex his novels are, how intricately his themes, ideas, and images are woven throughout the text. I’ll have thing to say about the experience throughout the week, but I thought I’d begin with Robin Feuer Miller, who has helped me so much in my reading of Karamazov by showing me just how much more there is to the book than I had ever imagined.

“The Epilogue”

‘A radiant fellowship of the fallen.’ — Joshua Chamberlain

‘In the dream of the heart/Let the healing fountain start.’ — W.H. Auden

It is my hope that readers, having read the novel — and the introduction to it — up to this point, can simply sit down to a well-earned reading of the epilogue in which its varied levels of meaning, its rhymes, and its symbols can interact in the pleasurable, yet serious jouissance [in the sense, I think of an almost sensual satisfaction or enjoyment] that is perhaps the greatest satisfaction to be derived from the experience of reading. Usually the epilogue to a novel serves to separate the reader from the characters, to distance him from the action, and to provide a more or less neutral buffer zone between the world of the novel and the real world that the reader will reenter upon putting down the book. This epilogue completes none of these tasks; its purposes are entirely different. We are drawn more deeply than ever into the action, we are implicated in it, and the zone we enter here is highly charged and anything but neutral.

The theme of memory juts like a vein of golden ore through the epilogue. Alyosha, in his familiar role, moves from Katerina Ivanovna’s house to the hospital to Ilyusha’s funeral. In each of the three chapters he gives crucial and loving advice, predicated on the belief, derived from Zosima, that memory can shape the future course of a life. He thus begs Katerina Ivanovna to visit Mitya. ‘Your eyes ought to meet. How will you live all your life, if you don’t make up your mind to do it now?’ He wholly sanctions the plan for Mitya’s escape and offers him a genuine reassurance that is not a rationalization. Along the way, he invokes again the sustaining power of memory: ‘If you had murdered our father it would grieve me that you should reject your cross. But you are innocent, and such a cross is too much for you. You wanted to make yourself another man by suffering. I say, only remember that other man always, all your life and wherever you escape to; and that will be enough for you.’

By the third and final chapter of the epilogue the theme of memory and the vital, ongoing symbols of the novel simultaneously reach their apotheosis. Numbers important to Christian belief also play a role. This epilogue follows 12 earlier books. There are ‘about twelve’ boys; the 12 followers of Alyosha recall the 12 apostles of Jesus. At least there is a death in which, to everyone’s surprise — as opposed to their expectation — the corpse does not stink. ‘Strange to say there was practically no smell from the corpse.’ And like Markel, so many years before, the dying Ilyusha had thought of the birds.

It is a curious yet meaningful fact that this, the last chapter of fiction Dostoevsky wrote before his death, even as it ties together the many disparate threads of his huge novel — and thus illustrates Zosima’s aphorism about all things being connected — should also have a startling resonance with the first story Dostoevsky ever wrote, Poor Folks. There, too, a heartbroken father, like Snegiryov (and like Dostoevsky himself over the death of his son), weeps and, oblivious to the cold weather, loses his hat. As Dostoevsky describes Snegiryov’s grief, the abundance of heartrending detail again gives the scene its painful immediacy: the crumpled flowers, Ilyusha’s empty bed, his little boots.

Alyosha’s words strikingly recall those of Zosima to the peasant woman: ‘Let them weep,’ he says. Alyosha and the boys feed the birds at sunset. Dostoevsky has carefully set the scene for the final tour de force of his novel. Just as The Idiot depicts near its end a powerfully conceived verbal icon — a negative one: Myshkin and Rogozhin lie face to face beside the dead Nastasia Filippovna — here, too, we suddenly find ourselves confronted by a haunting icon, one whose terms are, despite the sadness of events, hauntingly optimistic.

Alyosha remembers all that Snegiryov had told him, ‘the whole picture,’ and he spontaneously delivers a message to the boys. ‘Let us make a compact, here at Ilyusha’s stone, that we will never forget, first, Ilyushechka, and second, one another.’ Alyosha, recalling Jesus with Peter and the apostles, founds his living church, his brotherhood of children by a rock. And their brotherhood is cemented by the very mortar that Ivan had earlier so eloquently refused to accept — the unjustified suffering of a child. ‘And…whatever happens to us later in life…let us always remember how we buried the poor boy at whom we once threw stones, do you remember, by the bridge.’ Those stones and the stone at which Alyosha and the boys stand become a physically embodied spiritual sustenance. For Alyosha and the boys, the stones, as it were, become bread. The boys are all guilty; they have contributed to Ilyusha’s suffering. Yet they accept themselves and their brotherhood, though their edifice does stand upon a child’s tears.

In the terms the novel puts forth, a kind of miracle has been wrought, for we, too, forgive these boys, even as Ivan’s words about the mother of a tortured child ring in our ears. ‘The truth is not worth such a price…Let her forgive him for herself…But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive.’ Although Alyosha would not consent then to be ‘the architect’ of such an edifice, he now finds himself in that role: he is the architect, the builder, of precisely such an edifice, to which we, he, and the boys do mutually consent.

In these last magnificent pages, as the boys make their compact founded on memory, words denoting memory and remembrance occur some 30 times. Memories and the very words used to express them become, literally, the seeds that, having died, bear fruit. Alyosha’s words echo those of Zosima, those of Grushenka, and, indirectly, even those of the devil when he spoke about faith. Alyosha affirms, ‘If one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometimes be the means of saving us.’ He then bids the boys to remember this moment when they are all remembering Ilyusha and his stone. He forges here a unit of memory that is simultaneously a recollection, and the recollection of a recollection, and which will operate for them in the future as an even more densely layered and sustaining recollection and meta-recollection. An attempt to describe the components of this moment comes dangerously close to linguistic gibberish. In this way, though, the novel resists efforts to reduce it to succinct paraphrase and affirms the value of life over theories about life.”

More tomorrow…

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“In reality a thousand things can flash by, which escape the observation of the subtlest novelist.”

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

I’m going to leave the synopsis for these chapters to the discussions by Miller and Frank (who cover pretty much everything I planned to discuss), but there’s one thing I’d like to mention:

I was struck by the way that Dostoevsky disparages novels and the art of the novel, “In reality a thousand things can flash by, which escape the observations of the subtlest novelist.” Throughout our examination of Dostoevsky, we have seen the way in which he forces us to question the reality of what is being told to us — this seems to me the most blatant attempt to point the essential…untrustworthiness of what we’re reading, and that we as readers have to resolve for ourselves the truth of the matter. Thoughts?


From Miller:

“The blend of fact and fancy in the case for the defense is a different one. As Fetyukovich begins his speech, we can agree with his initial premise: ‘There is an overwhelming chain of evidence against the defendant, and at the same time not one fact that will stand criticism if it is examined separately.’ Moreover, in attacking the prosecutor, Fetyukovich utters a truth that has been axiomatic throughout the novel. “But profound as psychology is, it’s a knife that cuts both ways.’ He praises the prosecutor’s canny citation of the ‘broad Karamazov nature,’ and ‘the two extreme abysses which a Karamazov can contemplate at once,’ and the uses his own psychological knife to carve out a completely different hypothesis about Mitya — that he did not steal the money, that he did keep 1500 roubles sewn up in a bag, and, in the first part of the argument at least, that he did not commit the murder.

His analysis of Smerdyakov, in which he scrutinizes the agonizing difference between despair and penitence, is the most accurate that we have had so far. He suggests that in Smerdyakov’s guilty suicide we see only the former. Moreover, he paints an accurate portrait of Mitya’s character and shows him to be a man undone by his tendency — as in the drunken letter to Katerina Ivanovna — to crate vivid scenarios. Dostoevsky seems to agree with Fetyukovich here that Mitya’s fate lies hidden in his character. This view of character as fate — as opposed to the classical notion of fate being determined by the gods — is a profoundly Shakespearean one. As we know, Dostoevsky, like both his fictional prosecutor and defense attorney, knew his Shakespeare well.

In fact, Fetyukovich’s view of the real events lying behind Fyodor’s murder comes closest to Dostoevsky’s own, until the crucial moment when Fetyukovich’s argument veers sharply away and gives itself up to an absurd self-destructiveness. We know by now that Dostoevsky typically gives some of his own views to characters whose ideas he ultimately ridicules and repudiates. Fetyukovich becomes a true blockhead, for at the moment when he should have concluded his argument, he launches instead into a theoretical justification for negating filial bonds. ‘Filial love for an unworthy father is an absurdity.’ He then denies the mystical bond that exists only on faith between parents and children; he argues that parental love must be earned, that its bases are ‘rational, responsible, and strictly humanitarian.’

His argument reads as a dangerously reductive version of Ivan’s ideas. Moreover, he suddenly retraces the events of the fateful night of the murder and suggests, that if, even though he does not believe it, Mitya did in fact kill Fyodor, the act was an unpremeditated gesture of ‘indignant disgust;’ and that he had not meant to kill his father. ‘Such a murder,’ Fetyukovich concludes preposterously, ‘is not a murder. Such a murder is not parridice.’ Fetyukovich has effectively unraveled his own defense. Earlier he had ridiculed the prosecutor for claiming to argue in Mitya’s defense; here Fetyukovich foolishly and unwittingly wins the case for the prosecution.”

From Frank:

“The famous defense attorney Fetyukovich, the star of the Petersburg bar, now offers a masterly defense of Dimitry in terms that the reader recongizes as accurate. His defense not only discredits the psychological inferences drawn by Ippolit Kirillovich, he also understands that Dimitry could act under the influence of love, honor, and pity, as well as out of the rage and jealousy considered his sole motivations by the prosecutor. Dostoevsky’s main criticism of the legal profession in his journalism, however, had been that defense lawyers, carried away by their task, often lost sight of the larger moral implications of their arguments, and this is exactly what occurs here. Fetyukovich goes too far, swept beyond the bounds of the morally legitimate by the desire to defend his client (who in this case at least was innocent.)

Fetyukovich treads on dangerous ground when he raises the question of whether the murder of such a reprehensible father as Feodor Pavlovich could be condemned. While insisting that Dimitry is innocent, he nonetheless argues that such a murder could well be justified, driving home the point with examples taken from a tirade by the villainous Karl Moor in Schiller’s The Robbers. The indignant narrator now labels him ‘an adulterer of thought’ (the chapter’s title), and it is here that the defense plea intersects with the novel’s deepest moral-philosophical motifs.; ‘Filial love for an unworthy father,’ Fetyukovich insists, ‘is an absurdity, an impossibility. Love cannot be created from nothing: only God can create something from nothing.’ If fathers wish to be loved by their children, they should earn such love by their deeds. Love for a father should rest on a ‘rational, responsible, and strictly humanitarian basis’ it should not derive from a ‘mustical meaning which I cannot comprehend with my intellect, but only accept by faith, or better, on faith, like many other things which I do not understand, but which religion leads me to believe.’ The courtroom audience, as the narrator notes sarcastically, went wild over this denunciation of a filial love based solely on faith. ‘Even persons of high position, old men with stars on their breasts, sitting on specially reserved seats behind the judges, applauded the orator and waved their handkerchiefs.’

Fetyukovich is here making the same argument against unconditional filial love, based only on faith, that Ivan had made against a God-father who incomprehensibly permits the undeserved suffering of his children. But the lawyer goes still further when he suggests that, even if Dimitry had entered the house — which he denied having done — with no intent to kill, he might have struck Feodor Pavlovich precisely because ‘The mere sight of the father who hated him from his childhood, had been his enemy, his persecutor, and how his unnatural rival, was enough.’ His feeling of hatred would have been so strong that he might have dealt him a blow, ‘not knowing that he would kill him’ and not intending at all to do so. But if he had killed him,’ the murder of such a father,’ Fetyukovich insists, ‘cannot be considered parricide…can only be reckoned a parricide by prejudice.’

Fetyukovich undermines his own case, however, by raising doubts as to whether he himself believed in the innocence of his client. And we know that the terms of Fetyukovich’s argument recall those that Ivan had made against the God-father. But in asking the reader to accept Ivan’s attack on God and Dimitry’s hatred of Feodor Pavlovich as equally impious assaults on the sacrosanct principle of fatherhood, Dostoevsky was taking a considerable artistic-ideological risk. Indeed, if there is some question among interpreters as to whether Dostoevsky ever truly succeeded in blunting the force of Ivan’s rebellion, an even stronger doubt arises over his effort to merge the levels of this same thematic motif. God, after all, bestowed on man the immense gift of freedom, however badly this gift may have been abused and misused, and while he can be held implicitly responsible for all the honors that have ensued, they occurred, as even Ivan conceded in his Legend, because he refused to enslave the dignity of the human conscience.

It is entirely different, however, to substitute Feodor Pavlovich for God and to ask readers to accept a refusal to love him unconditionally as an equivalent violation of the sacred principle of fatherhood. The stark realism with which his cynicism and debauchery are displayed, and his complete lack of any redeeming features, undermine the parallel that Dostoevsky was trying to establish. Readers, in this case, are likely to ally themselves with Fetyukovich’s insistence that mundane filial-paternal love should involve reciprocity and mutual responsibility. Nonetheless, just as Dostoevsky had not softened the asperities of Ivan’s attack on the shortcomings of both God and Christ, so here too he dares to proffer the protection of the sacrosanct principle of fatherhood, unassailable by reason and justified by faith alone, even to so odious a specimen as Feodor Pavlovich. One cannot help wondering whether the extremity of this effort was not a forlorn response to the nerve-racking situation that all of Russia was then living through, as one attempt after another was made on the life of the Tsar-Father.

After appealing to reason to defend a crime that Dimitry had not committed, Fetyukovich then concludes by evoking a totally opposite principle — that of Christian mercy. As he goes on, Fetyukovich’s eloquent words continue to ask for mercy in a manner implying Dimitry’s guilt. ‘Let other nations think of retribution and the letter of the law, we will cling to the spirit and the meaning — the salvation and reformation of the lost.’ The argument is thus a tissue of contradictions, more an apologia for the crime than a clear-cut defense of Dimitry’s innocence.

These concluding words excite a demonstration from the audience that was like ‘an irresistible storm.’ Everyone wept, and even ‘two important personages shed tears’ at this combination of rationalism and an appeal to a sentimental humanitarianism deriving from Christian principles. When Ippolit Kirillovich rose to protest, ‘shaking with emotion…people positively looked at him with hatred.’ In his articles, Dostoevsky had often criticized the abuse of the Gospels by defense lawyers, and Ippolit Kirillovich charges Fetyukovich with such malpractice by his reference to Christ as ‘the crucified lover of humanity…in opposition to all of Orthodox Russia, which calls to Him, ‘for thou art our God.” ‘Religion and the Gospels,’ Ippolit Kirillovich cries, ‘are corrected — that’s all mysticism, we are told, and ours is the only true Christianity which has been subjected to the analysis of reason and common sense.’

As for me, I have to say that my sympathies lie both with Ivan’s argument as well as that of Ippolit Fetyukovich. And, to be honest, I’m not all together certain that Dostoevsky didn’t, at least in part, agree with them as well.

I’m going to take the rest of the week of, so…

The Weekend’s Reading

Book XII, Chapter 14, and the Epilogue.

Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend. I’ll be posting again Monday morning.

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“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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“No, gentlemen of the jury, they have their Hamlets, but so far we have only Karamazovs!”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapter Nine
by Dennis Abrams

“Psychology at Full steam. The Galloping Troika. The Finale of the Prosecutor’s Speech” “Having come thus far in his speech, Ippolit Kirillovich, who had evidently chosen a strictly historical method of accounting, which is a favorite resort of all nervous orators who purposely seek a strict framework in order to restrain their own impatient zeal — Ippolit Kirillovich expanded particularly on the ‘former’ and ‘indisputable’ one, and on this topic expressed several rather amusing thoughts.” Why wasn’t Dmitri Karamazov jealous of the ‘former’ and ‘indisputable’ one? What could “he” mean to her now? With all roads closed to him after he ‘killed his father,’ suicide was his only way out. “Not for nothing are we a poet, not for nothing have we been burning our life like a candle at both ends.” The pistol will reconcile everything. “I do knot know whether Karamazov thought at that moment of ‘what lay beyond‘ or whether a Karamazov could think, in Hamlet fashion, of what lies beyond. No, gentlemen of the jury, they have their Hamlets, but so far we have only Karamazovs!” Ippolit Kirillovich presents a picture of Dimitry’s preparations. Karamazov’s victor over his rival, the “former and indisputable’ one. Yet, “One can positively admit, gentlemen of the jury, that outraged nature and the criminal heart revenge themselves more fully than any earthly justice!” Mitya’s sufferings, learning that Grushenka had chosen him, “When everything was finished for him, and nothing was possible.” Why didn’t he shoot himself right there? “It was precisely [his] passionate thirst for love and the hope of satisfying it right then and there that held him back.” His state of revelry. His feeling that “the fatal ending” was still a long way off. Ippolit theorizes that the clever Dimitry, as a plan of defense, hid half the 3000 roubles. His two abysses. “Gentlemen of the jury, there are moments when, in the exercise of our duty, we ourselves feel almost afraid before man, and afraid of man!” The need for self-preservation. “‘Who could have killed him if not I? Do you hear that? he asks us, us, who came to him with the very question! Do you hear that little phrase — ‘if not I’ — running ahead of itself, its animal cunning, its naivety, it’s Karamazovian impatience?” Mitya’s attempts to find a way out. His defenses. Ippolit’s final plea to the jury: “Remember that you are the defenders of our truth, the defenders of our holy Russia, of her foundations, of her family, of all that is holy in her! Yes, here, at this moment, you represent Russia, and your verdict will resound not only in this courtroom but for all of Russia, and all of Russia wil listen to you as her defenders and judges, and will be either heartened or discouraged by your verdict.” Ippolit gets carried away. The Russian troika and the world’s reaction. The audience reacts and analyzes Ippolit’s speech — was there too much psychology?

I was struck by the ridiculousness of Ippolit Kirillovich’s “I do not know whether Karamazov thought at that moment of ‘what lies beyond’ or whether a Karamazov could think, in Hamlet fashion, of what lies beyond.” Is there a Karamazov who hadn’t thought about that subject a great deal? Again, Ippolit’s misunderstanding of the facts in front of him, from Mitya’s motives to why he didn’t shoot himself earlier, and just about everything is…ironically funny?

From Joseph Frank:

“In conclusion, the prosecutor returns to the image of the Russian troika made famous in Gogol’s Dead Souls, where Russia is compared with a troika, furiously galloping to some distant destination and before which all the other nations give way. The jurors represent, he tells them, ‘all of our holy Russia…her principles, her family, everything that she holds sacred!’ The whole country awaits their verdict, as ‘our fatal troika dashes on in headlong flight, perhaps to destruction, and for a long time past men have stretched out imploring hands and called a halt to its furious, reckless course.’ Other nations stand aside, ‘not from respect…but simply from horror,’ and he warns that some day they man ‘form a firm all confronting the hurrying apparition…for the sake of their own safety, enlightenment, and civilization.’ The jury, Ippolit Kirillovich warns, must not increase ‘their growing hatred by a sentence justifying the murder of a father by his son.'”

Tuesday’s Reading:

Book XII, Chapters Ten and Eleven


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“”…we are of a broad, Karamazovian nature…capable of containing all possible opposites and of contemplating both abysses at once, the abyss above us, an abyss of lofty ideals, and the abyss beneath us, an abyss of the lowest and foulest degradation.”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapters 6-8
by Dennis Abrams

“The Prosecutor’s Speech. Characterizations.” “Ippolit Kirillovich began his statement for the prosecution all nervously atremble, with a cold, sickly sweat on his forehead and temples, feeling alternately chilled and feverish all over…He considered this speech his chef d’oeuvre.” Nine months later, Ippolit died of consumption. “Even our ladies, ultimately hostile to Ippolit Kirillovich, nonetheless admitted the greatness of the impression he made.” His voice grew stronger as the speech went on, “But as soon as he finished it, he nearly fainted.” His speech: The resounding of the case throughout Russia. “And here is the real horror, that such dark affairs have almost ceased to horrify us!” Why the people’s indifference? Cynicism? Shattered moral principles? Other horrific cases are recounted. A monster, but not an isolated monster. Suicides. “Look, finally, at our depravity, at our sensualists. Fyodor Pavlovich, the unfortunate victim in the current trial, is almost an innocent babe next to some of them. And we all knew him, ‘he lived among us.’…” Will the psychology of Russian crime be worthy of study? “For now, we are either horrified or pretend that we are horrified, while on the contrary, relishing the spectacle, like lovers of strong, eccentric sensations that stir our cynical and lazy idleness…” Gogol’s troika. Applause for Ippolit. The sad notoriety of the Karamazov family. “Perhaps I am greatly exaggerating, but it seems to me that certain basic, general elements of our modern-day educated society shine through, as it were, in the picture of this nice little family…” Ippolit dissects the Karamazovs. Fyodor, “In the end he see nothing in his life apart from sensual pleasure, and thus he teaches his children.” Ivan’s immorality and cynicism; his bad influence on Smerdyakov, “in the preliminary investigation he told me, with hysterical tears, how this young Karamazov, Ivan Fyodorovich, had horrified him with his spiritual unrestraint, ‘Everything, according to him, is permitted, whatever there is in the world, and from now on nothing should be forbidden — that’s what he kept teaching me about.’ It seems that this thesis, which he was taught, ultimately caused the idiot to lose his mind…” Smerdyakov’s remark that Ivan most closely resembled his father. Alyosha, ‘pious and humble,’ who clung to the monastery and all but became a monk, “In him, it seems to me, unconsciously, as it were, and so early on, there betrayed itself that timid despair that leads so many in our poor society, fearing its cynicism and depravity, and mistakenly ascribing all evil to European enlightenment, to throw themselves, as they put it, to the ‘native soil,’ so to speak, into the motherly embrace of the native earth, like children frightened by ghosts, who…wish only to fall peacefully asleep and…simply not to see the horrors that frighten them.” Hope that Alyosha’s ‘youthful brightheartedness and yearnings for popular foundations ” will not turn into dark mysticism. Dimitri: “he seems to represent ingenuous Russia…we are an amazing mixture of good and evil…” Lovers of the enlightenment while at the same time raging in taverns. Possessed of the noblest ideals, “but only on condition that they be attained by themselves, that they fall on our plate from the sky…so that we need pay nothing for them.” We like to get things but hate to pay for them. Do not obstruct our character. Dmitri’s need for money. His selflessness, his depravity. Was he at the same time sincerely noble and sincerely base? “…we are of a broad, Karamazovian nature — and this is what I’m driving at — capable of containing all possible opposites and of contemplating both abysses at once, the abyss above u s, an abyss of lofty ideals, and the abyss beneath us, an abyss of the lowest and foulest degradation.” Why didn’t Dmitri return the remaining half of the money to Katerina? Ippolit speculates that it would have been impossible — IF he had held it, he would have started to rationalize taking out a hundred at a time until there was nothing left, “This is how the real Dmitri Karamazov would have acted.” “A Historical Survey” “The medical experts strove to prove to prove to us that the defendant is out of his mind and a maniac. I insist he is precisely in his right mind, and so much the worse for him: had it not been his mind, he might have turned out to be much more intelligent.” Ippolit tells his interpretation of Dmitri’s story, tracing the how the thought of killing Fyodor grew, explaining away any questions others might have. “A Treatise on Smerdyakov” Ippolit shows that the three people who accuse Smerdyakov of the murder, Ivan, Alyosha, and Grushenka, have no proof of their contention. Ippolit portrays Smerdyakov as feeble-minded and cowardly. In his testimony, Smerdyakov told Ippolit that he had told Dmitri about Fyodor about the money, the code, etc., because he was afraid of him. Smerdyakov’s supposed honesty, his remorse at betraying Fyodor. Ippolit says that Smerdyakov begged Ivan to remain at home rather than go to Moscow. Smerdyakov’s bout of “falling sickness” was because of his fears over Fyodor’s murder. Why would Smerdyakov plan the murder and draw attention to himself by having a fit? How would Smerdyakov killed Fyodor — by himself or with Dmitri? What would be his motive? Why would he reveal a motive to Dmitri? How could Smerdyakov have known that Dmitri would come and go, after which he could sneak in and kill Fyodor and steal the money? Why would he have left the envelope? Why didn’t Ivan tell the police about Smerdyakov’s confession earlier?


Interesting. I appreciated Ippolit’s attempt to personify all of Russia in the Karamazovs (was that Dostoevsky’s motive?) and was equally amused by the way he completely misread Smerdyakov while insisting that what actually did take place couldn’t possibly have taken place for x, y, and z reasons.

And of course this famous passage: “Precisely because we are of a broad, Karamazovian nature — and this is what I’m driving at — capable of containing all possible opposites and of contemplating both abysses at once, the abyss above us, an abyss of lofty ideals, and the abyss beneath us, an abyss of the lowest and foulest degradation. Recall the brilliant thought expressed earlier by a young observer who has profoundly and closely contemplated the whole Karamazov family. Mr. Rakitin: ‘A sense of the lowness of degradation is as necessary for these unbridled, unrestrained natures as the sense of the loftiest nobility’ — and it is true: they precisely need this unnatural mixture, constantly and ceaselessly. Two abysses, two abysses, gentlemen, in one and the same moment 0– without that we are wretched and dissatisfied, our existence is incomplete.”

And I thought it was interesting that Ippolit denigrated Alyosha’s need to throw himself to the native soil, since for all the ‘good’ characters in the novel, Alyosha, Zosima, etc., touching the earth is vital.

From Miller:

“In Books X and XI Dostoevsky had sounded in a variety of keys the interrelated questions of the determination of one’s own guilt and one’s own responsibility. Here in Book XII, however, the action focuses on the question of how one can judge the guilt of another. The prosecutor’s speech, his ‘swan song,’ offers an astute summation of each of the members of the Karamazov family and an analysis of them in terms of contemporary Russian problems. Fyodor was a ‘typical father of today’; Ivan’s ‘Europeanism’ is described as is Alyosha’s ‘return to [the] native soil’; Mitya himself ‘seems to represent Russia directly.’

Indeed, the prosecutor’s speech ironically forecasts what has been the shape of much subsequent commentary on the novel, even though all the specific conclusions he draws are wrong. His ideas represent a peculiar, yet powerful blend of fact and fancy; he draws precisely the wrong conclusion from shrewd, correct initial premises and deductions about Mitya’s character. Particularly sharp is his agreement with Dr. Varvinsky that Mitya has been in his right mind all along. He makes the indisputable point that none of those who believe Smerdyakov to be guilty — Mitya, Ivan, Alyosha, and Grushenka — have been able to provide a single fact to support the idea.

Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney shrewdly use the tools of psychology to scrutinize the facts, and each brilliantly misinterprets them. Ippolit Kirillovich, for example, understands that Dmitri ‘can contemplate two extremes and both at once,’ but he then consistently identifies the wrong extreme as the one chosen. He fails, in his psychological reasoning, to suppose that Smerdyakov might have lied to Mitya about where the envelope was hidden, and he thus falls neatly into Smerdyakov’s psychological trap; he maintains that the presence of the town envelope on the floor proves that it could not have been taken by Smerdyakov, who, knowing what the envelope contained, would have had no reason to rip it open at the scene of the crime.”

From Frank:

“The final section of the novel contains the extensive speeches of both the prosecuting attorney and the defense, and Dostoevsky uses them not only to provide the proper climax to the plot-action involving Dimitry and Ivan but also as a means of internal commentary on the novel itself. The two lawyers argue about a case of murder, but their ovations also illuminate the larger moral-spiritual (and hence implicitly social and political) problems that the novel has presented with such majestic amplitude.

According to the prosecuting attorney Ippolit Kirillovich, Russians are no longer horrified by the crime of murder [MY NOTE: Neither are Americans for that matter], and his indictment would certainly have been read, in the context of the time, as a condemnation of those who, if not in sympathy with terrorism, then at least remained neutrally indifferent to its ravages. He argues that the Karamazov family presents a picture of contemporary educated Russia, and Feodor Pavlovich certainly represents — in the extreme, symbolically expressive form that only Dostoevsky knew how to create — the older generation of Russians among whom stable moral-social standards had entirely disappeared. Moreover, Ivan’s loss of faith and his theory, as Ippolit Kirillovich put it, that ‘everything in the world is lawful,’ that ‘nothing must be forbidden in future,’ has driven Smerdyakov ‘out of his mind’, and Dostoevsky here raises the possibility that the intelligentsia’s atheism will undermine the still devout Russian people. [MY NOTE: But since that’s not the case, that Smerdyakov was not driven mad by Ivan, but by his own guilt…]

Dimitry is seen as a symbol of Russia itself. He, argues the prosecutor, ‘represents Russia directly…Yes, here she is, our Mother Russia, the very scent and smell of her. Oh, we are spontaneous, we are a marvelous mingling of good and bad, we are lovers of culture and Schiller, yet we brawl in taverns and pluck the beards of our boon companions.’ Both are part of the Karamazov character, which is ‘capable of containing the most incongruous contradictions and simultaneously contemplating both abysses,…the highest ideals, and…the lowest and foulest degradations.’ These words echo Dmitry’s about the ceaseless conflict between the ideal of Sodom and that of the Madonna., but the entire book has shown his struggle to wrench himself free from the temptations of Sodom and commit himself to the Mother of God.”

Monday’s Reading:

Book XII, Chapter Nine

Enjoy. And everyone in Hurricane Irene’s path — stay safe.

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“It was he who killed father, not my brother. He killed him, and killed him on my instructions…Who doesn’t wish for his father’s death…””

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapter 5
by Dennis Abrams

“A Sudden Catastrophe” “I will note that he had already been called once, ahead of Alyosha.” Ivan’s testimony, “The presiding judge began by saying that he was not under oath, that he could give evidence or withhold it, but that, of course, all testimony should be given in good conscience, etc., etc.” Ivan’s resemblance to a dying man. His attitude. Ivan starts to leave, the courtroom, compares himself to that peasant girl, “…you know how it goes, ‘I’ll jump if I want, and I won’t if I don’t…'” Ivan reveals the 3000 roubles, “here is the money…the same money that was in that envelope…I got it from Smerdyakov, the murderer, yesterday. I visited him before he hanged himself. It was he who killed father, not my brother. He killed him, and killed him on my instructions…Who doesn’t wish for his father’s death…?…Everyone wants his father dead. Viper devours viper…” Alyosha jumps up and insists that Ivan is delirious. Ivan responds, “Calm yourself, I’m not mad, I’m simply a murderer!” Ivan admits he has no proof and no witnesses, “except one perhaps…” Ivan is escorted from the courtroom, turmoil ensues. Katerina Ivanovna has hysterics, begins sobbing and asks to give a piece of evidence — the letter with the ‘mathematical proof’ that Dmitri killed his father. “He killed his father, you’ll see now, he writes to me how he’s going to kill his father! And the other one is ill, ill, he’s delirious! I’ve seen for three days that he’s delirious!” Katerina throws Dmitri under the bus, telling the court that Dmitri hated her, that she knew when she gave him the money that it was for him to court Grushenka with, that he wanted to marry her only for inheritance, and so that she would go “trembling before him all my life out of shame for having come to him that time, and that he could despise me eternally and so hold himself above me…He’s a monster!” Katerina blames Ivan’s madness on his concern for Dmitri, “He tormented himself, he kept trying to minimize his brother’s guilt…Oh, he has a deep, deep conscience?…He could not bear it that his own brother was a parricide…And yesterday he learned that Smerdyakov had died — he was so struck by it that he’s lost his mind…and all because of the monster, all to save the monster!” Did Katerina believe what she was saying? “‘Mitya,’ she cried out, ‘your serpent has destroyed you! See, she’s shown you what she is!'” Ivan’s brain fever is confirmed. “Fetyukovich was visibly shaken by Katerina Ivanovna’s evidence. But the prosecutor was triumphant.” After an intermission, “I believe it was precisely eight o’clock in the evening when our prosecutor, Ippolit Kirillovich, began his statement for the prosecution.”

What a tremendous courtroom scene! Reading it, I found it difficult to believe that the same man who wrote such a completely theatrical yet completely true to the characters scene, is the same man who also gave us tremendous, philosophically chapters such as Zosima’s Mysterious Stranger, The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, and Ivan’s great scene with the devil. The range of this novel is rather breathtaking.

And, I was struck again by Dostoevsky’s use of the narrator-chronicler’s uncertainty as to what he is witnessing. “I do not remember everything in order, I was excited myself and could not follow…”

And of course by Ivan’s famous line, “Who doesn’t wish for his father’s death?” As Freud points out in his essay, “Dostoevsky and Parricide, “It can scarcely be owing to chance that three of the masterpieces of the literature of all time — the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov should all deal with the same subject: parricide. In all three, moreover, the motive for the deed, sexual rivalry for a woman, is laid bare.”

From Miller:

“But in this strange trial the truth, as Mitya quickly realizes during Katerina Ivanovna’s first round of testimony, serves to damage his case. Ivan’s sudden producing of the stolen money and his accusation of Smerdyakov and himself (“Who doesn’t desire his father’s death?”) hurts Mitya most of all. Moreover, like Grushenka and Alyosha, Ivan, when he speaks the truth, has no proof of it. “That’s just it. I have no proof.” The court reacts to Ivan as the mysterious visitor’s interlocutors did to him so long ago.

Yet to us Ivan’s words summarize the immense spiritual journey he has undergone. His wavering has continued until the last moment — he has approached, departed from, and reapproached the witness stand. Although his words sound like mad ramblings to those in the courtroom, to us they have a poetic and recapitulative significance. At last he cries out: ‘You see, listen to me. I told him I don’t want to keep quiet and he talked about the geological cataclysm…idiocy! Come, release the monster…he’s been singing a hymn…It’s like a drunken man in the street bawling how ‘Vanka went to Petersburg,’ and I would give a quadrillion quadrillion for two seconds of joy.’ By the time a hysterical Katerina Ivanovna, intent on saving Ivan, offers up her ‘mathematical proof’ of Mitya’s guilt, we know that all is lost for Mitya. The devil’s arithmetic seems operative in the courtroom.

We have see at length Mitya’s extraordinary skill at creating and depicting possible scenarios for himself, beginning with his description of his successive motivations in his first meeting with Katerina Ivanovna. Now his drunken letter to her, describing yet another of his unexecuted plans, is interpreted as evidence for what actually occurred. His own character, his habit of working out innumerable scenarios before settling on a single course of action, has undone him. Katerina Ivanovna shrikes, “Look, everything is written there beforehand, just as he committed the murder after. The whole scenario.” The dreadful irony of this scene is that, to defend Ivan, Katerina Ivanovna makes her consummate accusation of Mitya at the very moment when she believes ‘all of a sudden’ that it is Ivan who is guilty.”

And a few excerpts from Joseph Frank:

Regarding Ivan’s scene with the devil:

“The portrait of the devil, as Victor Terras has remarked, contains more descriptive detail than that of any other character. Dostoevsky takes great pains to present him in entirely earthly terms as a Russian social type. Because Ivan keeps insisting that the devil is just a figure of his imagination, Dostoevsky ironically gives him a solid embodiment…He lives as what the Russians call a prizhivalchik, a sponger on more affluent relatives and friends who continue to offer him hospitality because he is, after all, a gentleman; his manners are good, he can be presented in society, and he is agreeable, accommodating, and amusing. Such an image carries a symbolic meaning. Religion itself, from Dostoevsky’s point of view, was now a hanger-on in Russian educated society, accepted as a respectable relic of the past but hardly exercising its old power and influence. As the devil remarks himself, ‘it’s an axiom generally accepted in society that I am a fallen angel…If I ever was, it must have been so long ago that there’s no harm in forgetting it.”

Ivan’s dialogue with the devil plays on the continual fluctuation between the stirrings of his conscience and the amorally Nihilistic conclusions that he has drawn from his refusal to accept God and immortality. The devil had first appeared to Ivan once he began to brood over his possible part in the murder, and in this sense the evil represents paradoxically the voice of Ivan’s conscience revolting against his reason. Dostoevsky’s devil, however, does not preach moral sermons but ridicules the inconsistency between Ivan’s pangs of conscience and the ideas he has accepted and expounded. ‘Everything is permitted’ for those who do not believe in God and immortality, and Ivan has rejected both. Why, then, should he be tormented of moral guilt that derive from such principles? The devil arrives to personify Ivan’s self-mockery of his own moral-psychic contradictions, which have driven him into what Dostoevsky called brain fever and we now diagnose as schizophrenia. Ivan will finally break down completely — but not before the devil has exhibited both Ivan’s longing for faith and difficulty of attaining it for someone who refuses to accept any non-Euclidean world.

The involutions of Ivan’s conversation with the devil are so intricate that it is impossible to give in brief any adequate account of their complexities. Essentially, however, its aim is to dramatize the antinomies in which Ivan is trapped once his conscience comes into clashing opposition with those rational convictions that give rise to his rebellion against God and Christ. The supreme irony, of course, is that it should be the devil who apparently leads him along the path to faith, and Ivan (who is of course speaking to himself through the devil) realizes all the incongruity of such a situation.

Ivan insists ‘I knew Smerdyakov hanged himself,’ affirming that ‘he [the devil] had told me so just now.’ This not literally true, but the devil had indeed warned Ivan that the conflict between belief and disbelief was such torture that ‘it could be enough to make you hang yourself.’ And in Ivan’s disordered frame of mind, such words applied to himself could well have been shifted to Smerdyakov, similarly tormented by the same uncertainties. Alyosha’s arrival causes the devil to vanish from Ivan’s psyche, if not as a recollection then as a presence, but Ivan’s inner debate with himself continues. Completely bewildered, he insists that the devil had been in his rooms, but then acknowledges that ‘he is myself…All that’s base in me.’ Still, Ivan insists that ‘he told me a good deal that was true about myself…I would never have owned it to myself.’ Most of all, the devil understood the source of Ivan’s mortification: ‘You are going to perform an act of heroic virtue,’ he had told Ivan. ‘and you don’t believe in virtue, that’s what tortures you and makes you angry, that’s why you are so vindictive.’ Now that Smerdyakov is dead, any hope of saving Dimitry has vanished, and yet, the devil sneers, Ivan will go anyway. ‘And it would be all right if you believed in virtue…But you are a little pig like Feodor Pavlovich and what do you want with virtue?’

The devil had had no doubt about how Ivan would act: ‘you’ll go because you wont’ dare not to go’ though why this should be be so ‘is a riddle for you.’ But is not a riddle for Alyosha, who finally puts Ivan to bed when he collapses. Alyosha ‘began to understand Ivan’s illness. The anguish of a proud determination. A deep conscience! God, in Whom he disbelieved, and His Truth were gaining mastery in his heart.’ Alyosha naturally imagines that ‘God will conquer,’ and we shall soon see that Ivan will indeed obey the voice of his conscience. But Alyosha’s fears also leave open the possibility, not resolved by the time the novel ends, that Ivan will ‘perish in hate, revenging himself on himself and on everyone for having served the cause he does not believe in.’

Indeed, during the trial of Dimitry for the murder of their father, all of Ivan’s contempt for humanity — the contempt underlying the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, despite its humanitarian pathos — comes to the fore as he turns on the judges and all the spectators in the courtroom, none of whom is shown as especially concerned with moral questions. When the startled president asks if Ivan is in his right mind, he replies, ‘I should think I am in my right mind…in the same nasty mind as you…and all those…ugly faces.’ Humankind now becomes identified with himself: ‘They all desire the death of their fathers. One reptile devours another.’ Alyosha cries out that Ivan has ‘brain fever,’ but Ivan continues, ‘I am not mad, I am only a murderer.’ When asked for proof of his accusation against Smerdyakov, he replies that he has no witnesses — except possibly the devil — and then rambles on, as if confiding a secret, in a stream-of-consciousness monologue composed of fragments taken from earlier scenes. ‘I told him I don’t want to keep quiet and he talked about the geological cataclysm…idiocy! Come…release the monster [Dimitry]…he’s been singing a hymn…that’s because his heart is light…It’s like a drunken man in the street howling how ‘Vinka went to Petersburg,’ and I would give a quadrillion quadrillions for two seconds of joy.’ The poignancy of these last words requires no comment.”

The Weekend’s Reading:
Book Twelve, Chapters Six-Eight


And enjoy your weekend.

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“‘Bravo, leech!’ Mitya cried from his place. ‘Precisely right!'”

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII, Chapters 3-4
by Dennis Abrams

The storyline in Chapters 3 and 4 seems to me to be pretty straightforward, and Miller covers it very well in her synopsis of those chapter, but a few things I’d like to note:

1. Again, the conflicting medical testimony (he should have been looking to the right, he should have been looking left, he should have looking straight at the judge like he was…”‘Bravo, leech!’ Mitya cried from his place. ‘Precisely right!”

2. The lovability of Dr. Herzenstube, his searching for the right word, that remarkable story about the young Mitya…continuing the theme of planting seeds.

3. Alyosha’s sudden memory of Mitya on the road to the monastery, pounding not his chest but right above his chest, which, we now know, is where he had the amulet hanging that contained the 1400 roubles remaining from Katerina Ivanovna…”my brother precisely kept exclaiming to me then that he could remove half, half of the disgrace from himself at once (several times he said half!), but was so unfortunate in the weakness of his character that he would not do it…” Very nicely done, a great example, I think, of Dostoevsky’s absolute cleverness in laying out everything (or almost everything) we need to know (no cheats so far) to solve the mystery.

4. I liked very much the way that the narrator-chronicler let us know that after her testimony, rumors spread around town that Katerina Ivanovna had left something out of her story, and that it was unlikely that Dmitri would just “let her go” after loaning her the money she needed.

5. But, given how helpful her testimony was, why did Mitya exclaim at the end of it, “Katya, why have no ruined me!…Now I am condemned.”

From Miller:

Dostoevsky injects a note of absurdity into the very possibility of giving an account of the trial by having his narrator-chronicler suddenly become muddled. The narrator-chronicler cannot promise us anything about the accuracy of his own account. ‘Some things I did not hear, others I did not notice, and others I have forogten, [and]…I have literally no time or space to mention everything that was said of done.’ After this disclaimer, he proceeds to do just that.

Among the witnesses called to testify, two — Grigory and Dr. Merzenstube — serve to awaken the jury’s compassion through their recollections of Mitya as a child, although each believes in his guilt. Both of them function as stern but just father figures worthy of Mitya’s love, which they each receive. In particular, Dr. Herzonstube’s anecdote about the pound of nuts underscores yet again the power of the novel’s epigraph. Mitya had remembered, for some 23 years, Dr. Herzenstube’s gratuitous act of kindness to him as a child when the doctor had given him some nuts. Mitya had quite recently come to thank him. Both had then shed tears together, and as Dr. Herzenstube suddenly tells the story in the courtroom, Mitya weeps again. ‘And I am weeping now, German, I am weeping now, too, you saintly man.’

Dr. Herzenstube’s story recalls Mitya’s own dream of the babe, yet the babe here is the neglected child Mitya, who may suddenly be linked in the reader’s mind with Alexey, the dead child of the grieving peasant woman at the beginning of the novel, and with the dying Ilyusha, whom Mitya has himself wronged. The linkage occurs through the narrator-chronicler’s powerful evocation of detail. We recall the details about the three-year-old Alexey and about Ilyusha, and now Dr. Herzenstube projects a similarly detailed and heartrending image of the toddler Mitya: ‘Oh, I remember him very well, a little chap so high, left neglected by his father in the backyard, when he ran about without boots on his feet, and his little breeches hanging by one button.’

As we might expect, Alyosha’s evidence helps Mitya, but Katerina Ivanovna, though initially seeming to help, ends by hurting him. ‘Katya, why have you ruined me?’ With Alyosha’s testimony, we see Dostoevsky as the expert mystery writer, for Alyosha’s sudden recollection, his evidence about Mitya striking his chest at a point too high up to really be his chest — corroborating Mitya’s own story of the ‘little bag’ with 1,500 rubles in it — is fully consistent with those events at the beginning of the novel. “‘You see, here, here — there’s terrible disgrace in store for me’ (As he said ‘here’ Dmitri Fyodorovich struck his chest with his fist and a strange air; as though the dishonor lay precisely on his chest, in some spot, in a pocket, perhaps, or hanging around his neck.)” This detailed foreshadowing is particularly interesting given that the novel appeared serially.

Indeed, until Ivan takes the stand the trial seems to be preceding with a reasonable amount of evidence coming forth in Mitya’s favor. The affection of Grigory and Dr. Herzenstube, the drunkenness of Grigory on the night of the murder; the innkeeper Trifon Borisovich’s dishonesty about money, Rakitin’s discrediting as a hostile witness, Alyosha’s sudden recollection of Mitya’s oddly aimed gesture of striking himself on the chest, and Katerina Ivanovna’s claim that she did not expect the money to be repaid right away, and even her story of their first encounter — all these disclosures would seem to be potentially helpful to Mitya’s case.”


Thursday’s Reading:

Book XII, Chapter Five


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