DOSTOEVSKY: The Brothers Karamazov [Part I]

Part I

Book I – The History of a Family

Chapter 1 – Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov

  • The narrator intends to detail the events and circumstances that led to Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov’s death, which occurred thirteen years ago.
  • Fyodor is a dissolute man. He married a woman of noble birth named Adelaida Ivanovna Miusova, who married Fyodor because she thought that it resembled a romantic ideal – i.e. eloping with a man below one’s status.
  • Adelaida hates Fyodor, and abandons Fyodor and their three year old child named Dmitri to elope with a seminary student.
  • Fyodor neglects Dmitri. He indulges in alcohol and prostitutes with the money that he acquired after marrying Adelaida. He seeks attention and sympathy from people in town by playing the part of the wronged husband.
  • When Fyodor receives news that Adelaida died of starvation, he is reported to have celebrated with extreme jubilation, and also to have wept bitterly.

 

“I knew a young lady of the last “romantic” generation who after some years of an enigmatic passion for a gentleman, whom she might quite easily have married at any moment, invented insuperable obstacles to their union, and ended by throwing herself one stormy night into a rather deep and rapid river from a high bank, almost a precipice, and so perished, entirely to satisfy her own caprice, and to be like Shakespeare’s Ophelia. Indeed, if this precipice, a chosen and favorite spot of hers, had been less picturesque, if there had been a prosaic flat bank in its place, most likely the suicide would never have taken place.”

 

Chapter 2 – He Gets Rid of His Eldest Son

  • One of Fyodor’s servants named Grigory cares for Dmitri during the first year after Adelaida fled the Karamazov household. Then, a cousin of Adelaida named Pyotr Alexandrovitch Miusov and several other family members of Adelaida care for Dmitri. They persuade Dmitri that Fyodor is keeping the inheritance Adelaida left him. Dmitri asks Fyodor about the inheritance. Fyodor gives him small sums of money for a while, but then claims that he has given Dmitri everything, and that Dmitri now owes Fyodor money. Dmitri is convinced that his father is swindling him.
  • Dmitri is profligate and dissolute like his father. He was also in the military.

 

Chapter 3 – The Second Marriage and the Second Family

  • Fyodor marries another woman named Sofia Ivanovna.
  • Sofia was just 16 years old when she eloped with Fyodor. Her ward was a general’s widow. Sofia tried to hang herself because of the maltreatment she received at the hands of the widow.
  • Fyodor continues to indulge in orgies, despite his recent remarriage. His mistreatment of Sofia causes her to become hysterical.
  • Sofia gives birth to two sons, Ivan and Alyosha. Sofia dies when Alyosha is four.
  • Again, Grigory cares for Fyodor’s sons until they are taken by the general’s widow. The widow dies. The boys are placed in the care of Yefim Petrovich Polenov, who treats the boys well, and pays for their education.
  • Ivan is very intelligent. He studies at Moscow, and writes articles for local journals. He is conscious of the money spent on him by other people, and endeavors to be independent.
  • Ivan moves in with his father at the request of Dmitri. Dmitri hopes that Ivan will be able to solve their dispute.

 

“Those innocent eyes slit my soul up like a razor.”

 

Chapter 4 – The Third Son, Alyosha

  • Alyosha is 20. Ivan is 24. Dmitri is 28.
  • Alyosha is religious. He intends to become a monk at the local monastery.
  • He returns to his hometown to visit his mother’s grave. Fyodor does not know where the grave is located. Grigory shows Alyosha the grave.
  • Fyodor donates thousands of rubles to the monastery to have requiems sung for his first wife, not Alyosha’s mother.

 

“It’s easier going to the other world if one knows what awaits.”

 

Chapter 5 – Elders

  • Alyosha’s mentor is Father Zosima. Alyosha is entirely obedient to Zosima, believing that one can only attain self-mastery and religious insight through such practice.
  • Despite their disparate personalities – Dmitri is rash and hedonistic; Ivan is prudent and austere – the elder brothers appear to have a close relationship. Alyosha, too, enjoys both of his brothers’ company, though he senses that Ivan is cold and aloof sometimes.
  • Dmitri and Fyodor agree to settle their dispute with the aid of Father Zosima. They arrange a meeting with the Elder. Alyosha, Ivan, and Pyotor Miusov – who is suing the monastery over fishing and lumber rights – will also be present at the meeting. Alyosha is anxious over the impending meeting because he fears that his father will disrespect Zosima, and make a mockery of the entire meeting.

 

“He entered upon this path only because, at that time, it alone struck his imagination and presented itself to him as offering an ideal means of escape for his soul from darkness to light. Add to that that he was to some extent a youth of our last epoch—that is, honest in nature, desiring the truth, seeking for it and believing in it, and seeking to serve it at once with all the strength of his soul, seeking for immediate action, and ready to sacrifice everything, life itself, for it. Though these young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest of all sacrifices, and that to sacrifice, for instance, five or six years of their seething youth to hard and tedious study, if only to multiply tenfold their powers of serving the truth and the cause they have set before them as their goal—such a sacrifice is utterly beyond the strength of many of them. The path Alyosha chose was a path going in the opposite direction, but he chose it with the same thirst for swift achievement. As soon as he reflected seriously he was convinced of the existence of God and immortality, and at once he instinctively said to himself: “I want to live for immortality, and I will accept no compromise.” In the same way, if he had decided that God and immortality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist. For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth. Alyosha would have found it strange and impossible to go on living as before. It is written: ‘Give all that thou hast to the poor and follow Me, if thou wouldst be perfect.’”

 

“Oh! he understood that for the humble soul of the Russian peasant, worn out by grief and toil, and still more by the everlasting injustice and everlasting sin, his own and the world’s, it was the greatest need and comfort to find some one or something holy to fall down before and worship.”

 

In Book I, Dostoyevsky focuses most of his attention on developing the characters. Dostoyevsky is an excellent writer, and is able to create such profound personalities that the reader cannot help but be immersed in the story, and be emotionally invested in the characters of the novel. Though Dostoyevsky reveals the fact that Fyodor is murdered, it does not remove any of the tension or drama of the narration of the events preceding the crime.

 

Book II – An Unfortunate Gathering

Chapter 1 –They Arrive at the Monastery

  • Fyodor, Ivan, and Miusov arrive at the monastery. Fyodor irritates Miusov by acting like a buffoon.
  • A landowner named Maximov escorts them to Father Zosima’s cell.
  • A monk invites them to attend dinner with Father Superior after their meeting.

 

Chapter 2 – The Old Buffoon

  • Father Zosima enters the cell and blesses the monks. Fyodor, Ivan, and Miusov all decline to receive the blessing, but instead bow respectfully to Zosima, causing Alyosha embarrassment.
  • Dmitri is late. Fyodor apologizes for his son and proceeds to act like a buffoon. He tells sacrilegious stories, and then sarcastically asks Father Zosima for advice about how to attain eternal life. Zosima solemnly tells him that a man must never lie, especially to himself.

 

“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill—he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.”

 

Zosima provides some compelling insights about lying. He advises Fyodor that he can attain eternal life by merely not lying to others, but especially to himself. According to Zosima, a man who lies to himself loses all respect for himself and for others. Without respect, a man soon degenerates to a state of bestiality in which his entire life is dedicated to vain pleasures. Zosima also asserts that a false man is most likely to take offense, and even derive pleasure from an imagined insult. This is a startling paradox because being offended is something that ought to be unpleasant, yet I believe that Zosima’s remark is true. There is pleasure in all passions, certainly in love, but surprisingly also in profound grief and rage.

 

Chapter 3 – Peasant Women Who Have Faith

  • While they await Dmitri’s arrival, Zosima exits the cell, and goes to bless the peasant women outside of the monastery.
  • The first woman tells Zosima that she is grieving for the death of her three year old son. Zosima tells her that grief is natural, and to remember that her son is now in heaven.
  • The second woman is worried about her son who is in the army. He hasn’t written to her in a very long time. She asks Zosima whether it is right to publish the name of her son among the list of the dead in order to compel him to write to her. Zosima says that it is wrong, and also tells her that her son is well and will write to her soon.
  • The third woman implies that she killed her husband who beat her. Zosima says that God forgives all sins. If she is truly repentant, God will forgive her sin.
  • The last woman gives Zosima money, and asks him to give it to someone poorer than her.

 

“There is silent and long-suffering sorrow to be met with among the peasantry. It withdraws into itself and is still. But there is a grief that breaks out, and from that minute it bursts into tears and finds vent in wailing. This is particularly common with women. But it is no lighter a grief than the silent. Lamentations comfort only by lacerating the heart still more. Such grief does not desire consolation. It feeds on the sense of its hopelessness. Lamentations spring only from the constant craving to reopen the wound.”

 

“Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others.”

 

Yet again, Dostoyevsky provides a startling paradox about suffering. He asserts that a grieving person does not wished to be consoled, but rather desires the prolongation of one’s own suffering. Perhaps this is because one would feel guilty for moving on after a tragic event such as the death of one’s child. Their grief validates their love for that lost individual.

 

Chapter 4 – A Lady of Little Faith

  • Next, a wealthy woman and her handicapped daughter approach Zosima. Madame Holahkov thanks Zosima for curing her daughter, Lise, of her night fevers.
  • Madame Holahkov then expresses her doubts about the immortality of the soul. Zosima responds that one cannot be certain of the immortality of the soul, but one can become convinced by practicing active love for humanity. Madame Holahkov states that she is not able to practice entirely selfless love; she always expects recognition in return for her good deeds.
  • Zosima says that God will forgive her flaws because she is aware of them and truly repentant.
  • Meanwhile, Lise laughs at Alyosha, causing him some embarrassment. Zosima asks her why she is teasing Alyosha. She responds that Alyosha used to visit her, but hasn’t done so since he entered the monastery. Zosima promises to send Alyosha to her.

 

“I shut my eyes and ask myself if every one has faith, where did it come from? And then they do say that it all comes from terror at the menacing phenomena of nature, and that none of it’s real. And I say to myself, ‘What if I’ve been believing all my life, and when I come to die there’s nothing but the burdocks growing on my grave?’ as I read in some author. It’s awful! How—how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How, how is one to prove it? I have come now to lay my soul before you and to ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life will answer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely any one else cares; no one troubles his head about it, and I’m the only one who can’t stand it. It’s deadly—deadly!”

 

“If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”

 

“It’s just the same story as a doctor once told me. He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. ‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as any one is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.’ ”

 

“Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attaining love. Don’t be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions. I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it—at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.”

 

Dostoyevsky provides another insight about human nature in this chapter – i.e. that people can develop a love for humanity with ease, but it is much more difficult to develop love for each individual person. I think that this is because love and humanity are both abstract concepts, and therefore are compatible with each other. However, when we try to bring love from the abstract to the concrete, complications arise.

 

Chapter 5 – So Be It! So Be It!

  • Zosima returns to the cell. The other men are engaged in a debate over Ivan’s controversial article. Ivan suggests in his article that crime would decrease if the ecclesiastical courts administered justice because the criminals would not be acting against the State, but against God. Furthermore, only the church can truly reform criminals. When the government tries to reform criminals, it only succeeds in making the criminals more resentful toward society.
  • Zosima agrees with Ivan. He asserts that the only power which is able to punish crime is conscience.
  • Dmitri finally arrives at the monastery, and enters the cell.

 

“If everything became the Church, the Church would exclude all the criminal and disobedient, and would not cut off their heads,” Ivan went on. “I ask you, what would become of the excluded? He would be cut off then not only from men, as now, but from Christ. By his crime he would have transgressed not only against men but against the Church of Christ. This is so even now, of course, strictly speaking, but it is not clearly enunciated, and very, very often the criminal of to-day compromises with his conscience: ‘I steal,’ he says, ‘but I don’t go against the Church. I’m not an enemy of Christ.’ That’s what the criminal of to-day is continually saying to himself, but when the Church takes the place of the State it will be difficult for him, in opposition to the Church all over the world, to say: ‘All men are mistaken, all in error, all mankind are the false Church. I, a thief and murderer, am the only true Christian Church.’ It will be very difficult to say this to himself; it requires a rare combination of unusual circumstances. Now, on the other side, take the Church’s own view of crime: is it not bound to renounce the present almost pagan attitude, and to change from a mechanical cutting off of its tainted member for the preservation of society, as at present, into completely and honestly adopting the idea of the regeneration of the man, of his reformation and salvation?”

 

Chapter 6 – Why Is Such a Man Alive?

  • Dmitri apologizes for being late, and explains that Fyodor’s messenger, Smerdyakov, gave him the wrong time of the meeting.
  • The men continue to discuss Ivan’s ideas. Ivan believes that if men did not believe in immortality or God, then morality would not exist. Men could behave in any way they wish with impunity. All would be permitted.
  • Fyodor then criticizes Dmitri for abandoning his fiancée, Katerina, for another woman, Grushenka. Dmitri angrily responds that Fyodor lusts after Grushenka too, and even tried to conspire with her to send Dmitri to jail.
  • During the heated argument between father and son, Zosima stands up, walks to Dmitri, bows before him, touhing his forehead to the floor, and leaves the cell. Dmitri becomes distraught, and rushes out of the room. The rest of the men wonder at Zosima’s gesture, and leave the cell too.
  • Miusov and Ivan go to eat dinner with Father Superior after Fyodor promises not to come with them.

 

“Only five days ago, in a gathering here, principally of ladies, he solemnly declared in argument that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbors. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality. Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That’s not all. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognized as the inevitable, the most rational, even honorable outcome of his position.”

 

“If it can’t be decided in the affirmative, it will never be decided in the negative. You know that that is the peculiarity of your heart, and all its suffering is due to it. But thank the Creator who has given you a lofty heart capable of such suffering; of thinking and seeking higher things, for our dwelling is in the heavens. God grant that your heart will attain the answer on earth, and may God bless your path.”

 

“Why is such a man alive? Tell me, can he be allowed to go on defiling the earth?”

 

When I first read this novel in my early twenties, I was convinced that morality could exist without God. I believed that there was a “natural law,” such as Kant’s categorical imperative, and that God was not required for there to be an objective right and wrong. However, at the age of 25, I am convinced that God is necessary for an objective morality to exist. Having read Kant’s treatise upon the subject, I find it entirely unconvincing and replete with contradictions. This does not mean that one must behave “immorally” in the traditional Christian sense of the word, but it does mean that there is no objective standard for judging right and wrong without God.

 

Chapter 7 – A Young Man Bent on a Career

  • Alyosha accompanies Zosima back to his private cell. Zosima says that he will die soon, and that Alyosha must leave the monastery, live in the world, and take a wife before returning to the monastery. He also tells Alyosha that he will see much suffering, but that he should look to find happiness in suffering.
  • Alyosha leaves the cell, and walks with Rakitin, who tells Alyosha that Zosima bowed to Dmitri to signify that Dmitri will kill Fyodor. Rakitin says that the whole Karamazov clan is heading toward tragedy because they are all sensualists – they love only pleasure.

 

“Christ is with you. Do not abandon Him and He will not abandon you. You will see great sorrow, and in that sorrow you will be happy. This is my last message to you: in sorrow seek happiness. Work, work unceasingly.”

 

“Humanity will find in itself the power to live for virtue even without believing in immortality. It will find it in love for freedom, for equality, for fraternity.”

 

Chapter 8 – The Scandalous Scene

  • Before leaving the monastery, Fyodor creates yet another scandalous scene at Father Superior’s. He criticizes the hypocrisy of the monastery and the monastic life in particular. He finally gets into his carriage with Ivan to leave, and tells Alyosha, who is walking with Rakitin, to return home with his mattress and pillow tonight.

 

“No, you are von Sohn. Your reverence, do you know who von Sohn was? It was a famous murder case. He was killed in a house of harlotry—I believe that is what such places are called among you—he was killed and robbed, and in spite of his venerable age, he was nailed up in a box and sent from Petersburg to Moscow in the luggage van, and while they were nailing him up, the harlots sang songs and played the harp, that is to say, the piano. So this is that very von Sohn. He has risen from the dead, hasn’t he, von Sohn?”

 

“Tut—tut—tut—sanctimoniousness and stock phrases! Old phrases and old gestures. The old lies and formal prostrations. We know all about them. A kiss on the lips and a dagger in the heart, as in Schiller’s Robbers. I don’t like falsehood, Fathers, I want the truth. But the truth is not to be found in eating gudgeon and that I proclaim aloud! Father monks, why do you fast? Why do you expect reward in heaven for that? Why, for reward like that I will come and fast too! No, saintly monk, you try being virtuous in the world, do good to society, without shutting yourself up in a monastery at other people’s expense, and without expecting a reward up aloft for it—you’ll find that a bit harder. I can talk sense, too, Father Superior. What have they got here?” He went up to the table. “Old port wine, mead brewed by the Eliseyev Brothers. Fie, [pg 094] fie, fathers! That is something beyond gudgeon. Look at the bottles the fathers have brought out, he he he! And who has provided it all? The Russian peasant, the laborer, brings here the farthing earned by his horny hand, wringing it from his family and the tax-gatherer! You bleed the people, you know, holy fathers.”

 

Book III – The Sensualists

Chapter 1 – In the Servants’ Quarters

  • The narrator describes Grigory in more detail. He had a child with his wife, Marfa. The child had six fingers, which was very disappointing to Grigory. He is very devout, and reluctantly had the child baptized. The child died two weeks after its birth.
  • The night of the child’s burial, Marfa hears screams in the garden’s bathhouse, and notifies Grigory. They discover a woman giving birth. The woman dies, but the baby lives.

 

Chapter 2 – Lizaveta

  • Stinking Lizaveta is the woman in the bathhouse. She is a sort of lovable village idiot. She cannot speak, and is dim-witted, but the village pities her because of her condition. her father beats her whenever she returns home, so she sleeps in random gardens most nights.
  • Everyone suspects that Fyodor is the man who raped Lizaveta because he is the only man cruel enough to do so to such a girl, and because Lizaveta chose his garden as the place to give birth to her son. Lizveta was 20 years old.
  • Marfa and Grigory adopted the child with Fyodor’s permission. Fyodor named the child Smerdyakov, after its mother. Smerdyakov became a Fyodor’s cook.

 

Chapter 3 – The Confession of a Passionate Heart – In Verse

  • Alyosha leaves the monastery, and walks towards Katerina’s. Madame Holahkov gave Alyosha a letter from Katerina earlier in the day, requesting Alyosha to come and see her.
  • Alyosha encounters Dmitri along the way.

 

“Being in love doesn’t mean loving. You may be in love with a woman and yet hate her.”

 

“All we Karamazovs are such insects, and, angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood. Tempests, because sensual lust is a tempest—worse than a tempest! Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many riddles weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man. But a man always talks of his own ache.”

 

Chapter 4 – The Confession of a Passionate Heart – In Anecdote

  • Dmitri tells Alyosha about how he met Katerina. She was the daughter of Dmitri’s commanding officer. She treated Dmitri with contempt when he first tried to woo her because he was infamous as a womanizer and drunk.
  • Dmitri discovered that the commanding officer had lent government money to a friend who refused to pay back the commanding officer. Dmitri told Katerina’s sister that if her family was ever in need of money, then she ought to send Katerina to his rooms alone, and he would giver he the money.
  • Katerina’s sister, suspecting the worse, runs to her father’s chambers and prevents him from committing suicide. Katerina goes to Dmitri’s that night and offers herself to him. Dmitri scoffs at the idea, but then gives her the money and lets her leave. She bows to him.

 

“I always liked side-paths, little dark back-alleys behind the main road—there one finds adventures and surprises, and precious metal in the dirt. I am speaking figuratively, brother. In the town I was in, there were no such back-alleys in the literal sense, but morally there were. If you were like me, you’d know what that means. I loved vice, I loved the ignominy of vice. I loved cruelty; am I not a bug, am I not a noxious insect? In fact a Karamazov!”

 

Chapter 5 – The Confession of a Passionate Heart – “Heels Up”

  • Dmitri continues to relate the tale of Katerina to Alyosha. He tells him that Katerina repaid the money and offered herself in marriage to him. He sends Ivan to Katerina with a letter. Ivan falls in love with Katerina during this visit. Dmitri and Katerina become officially engaged in Moscow. She makes him promise to reform his immoral behavior, but when Dmitri returns home, he falls in love with an immoral woman named Grushenka.
  • Katerina gives Dmitri 3,000 rubles to send to her guardian in Moscow, but Dmitri spends it all on Grushenka. Dmitri feels like scum, and is desperate to repay Katerina. He asks Alyosha to ask Fyodor for 3,000 rubles, though it would be a miracle if Fyodor voluntarily gave him the money. In fact, Fyodor is holding 3,000 rubles in an envelope for Grushenka with the promise that he will give it to her if she will come to him. Smerdyakov informed Dmitri of this, which is why he is waiting outside of Fyodor’s house, to make certain that she does not come to see Fyodor.
  • Dmitri also asks Alyosha to go to Katerina and tell her that Dmitri wants to break off the engagement.

 

Chapter 6 – Smerdyakov

  • The narrator provides background information about Smerdyakov. After he develops epilepsy, Fyodor grows very fond of him. Fyodor pays for him to attend culinary school, and Smerdyakov becomes Fyodor’s cook.
  • Fyodor grows even more fond of Smerdyakov when he learns that Smerdyakov did not steal from him when he had the opportunity to do so.
  • Smerdyakov is sullen and taciturn. When he was young, he used to hang cats and perform elaborate funeral rituals.

 

Chapter 7 – The Controversy

  • When Alyosha enters the house, Smerdyakov, Grigory, Ivan, and Fyodor are discussing a recent news story. A Russian soldier was captured by Muslims, refused to renounce Christianity, and was flayed alive because of his refusal. Fyodor mockingly asserts that the soldier should be declared a saint, and the skin ought to be sent to the monastery and worshipped there.
  • Smerdyakov says that if he were the soldier, he would have renounced his faith, and that it would not have been immoral to do so; for no one has perfect faith, and therefore it would not be a lie to say that one did not believe whole-heartedly in the Christian doctrine. If one had perfect faith, then one could move mountains; for the Bible says that the person who has perfect faith can move mountains simply by asking.

 

“It is said in the Scripture that if you have faith, even as a mustard seed, and bid a mountain move into the sea, it will move without the least delay at your bidding. Well, Grigory Vassilyevitch, if I’m without faith and you have so great a faith that you are continually swearing at me, you try yourself telling this mountain, not to move into the sea for that’s a long way off, but even to our stinking little river which runs at the bottom of the garden. You’ll see for yourself that it won’t budge, but will remain just where it is however much you shout at it, and that shows, Grigory Vassilyevitch, that you haven’t faith in the proper manner, and only abuse others about it. Again, taking into consideration that no one in our day, not only you, but actually no one, from the highest person to the lowest peasant, can shove mountains into the sea—except perhaps some one man in the world, or, at most, two, and they most likely are saving their souls in secret somewhere in the Egyptian desert, so you wouldn’t find them—if so it be, if all the rest have no faith, will God curse all the rest? that is, the population of the whole earth, except about two hermits in the desert, and in His well-known mercy will He not forgive one of them? And so I’m persuaded that though I may once have doubted I shall be forgiven if I shed tears of repentance.”

 

Chapter 8 – Over the Brandy

  • Fyodor dismisses Grigory and Smerdyakov. He asks Ivan and Alyosha whether they believe in immortality and in God. Ivan does not believe in either; Alyosha believes in both.
  • Fyodor begins to criticize their mother. He tells them how he spit on one of her religious ikons while she was praying. Alyosha begins to tremble and weep as his mother did.
  • Dmitri enters the room in a rage, demanding to see Grushenka, whom he believes is in the house.

 

“Damn it all, what wouldn’t I do to the man who first invented God! Hanging on a bitter aspen tree would be too good for him.”

 

Chapter 9 – The Sensualists

  • Fyodor accuses Dmitri of stealing the money intended for Grushenka, and rushes at him. Dmitri throws Fyodor to the ground and kicks his head, causing Fyodor to bleed.
  • Dmitri leaves the house after being convinced that Grushenka is not there. Fyodor tells Alyosha to visit him tomorrow.
  • Ivan tells Alyosha that he will defend Fyodor from Dmitri, and Alyosha leaves the house to visit Katerina.

 

Chapter 10 – Both Together

  • Alyosha arrives at Madame Holakov’s house to visit Katerina. He tells her about Dmitri. She believes that he will not break off the engagement, and that she will demonstrate her loyalty to Dmitri by forgiving him for spending the money intended for her sister. She is confident about this because Grushenka just promised her that she would give up Dmitri.
  • Grushenka enters the room. Katerina makes a fuss over her, kissing her hand and proclaiming that she is an angel. Grushenka tells Katerina that she might not give up Dmitri after all. Realizing that she has been deceived, Katerina angrily commands Grushenka to leave, and accuses her of being a prostitute. Grushenka reveals that she knows Katerina tried to sell her beauty to Dmitri, and then she leaves.
  • Katerina tells Alyosha that Dmitri is a scoundrel for revealing that information, but still desires to remain faithful to him.
  • When Alyosha is leaving the house, a maid gives him a letter from Lise.

 

Chapter 11 – Another Reputation Ruined

  • While returning to the monastery, Alyosha encounters Dmitri. He tells Dmitri what just transpired. Dmitri begins to laugh. Alyosha reproaches him for his indifference towards Katerina’s feelings. Dmitri soon grows remorseful, and tells Alyosha that a great dishonor is looming over him. Alyosha continues on to the monastery.
  • When he arrives at the monastery, Father Paissy informs him that Father Zosima’s health is in dire straits. Alyosha resolves not to leave the side of Zosima until he dies, despite the crisis outside of the monastery walls.
  • Alyosha goes to his chamber and says a prayer. He does not ask for anything, but simply desires the warm happy feeling which comes after praying. After his prayer, he opens the letter that was given to him by the maid at Madam Holakov’s. The letter is from Lise. She professes her love for Alyosha, and desire to marry him. Alyosha grows joyful after reading it, and then falls into a deep sleep.

 

In Part I, Dostoyevsky manages to create vivid characters that the reader can deeply empathize with. The plot is compelling and intriguing. There are so many conflicts between the characters – Dmitri’s and Fyodor’s contest for Grushenka, Alyosha’s faith against Ivan’s doubt, the Ivan, Katerina, and Dmitri love triangle, etc. Having previously read this novel a few years ago, I remember the ultimate outcomes of all of these conflicts, but that does not make the story any less exciting. Dostoyevsky is truly one of the greatest novelists ever. He is able to interweave profound philosophical dilemmas into a thrilling story. There are not too many novels that can combine these two elements. I am thoroughly enjoying taking my time with this second read, and I believe that this will not be the last time I visit the excellent storytelling of Dostoyevsky.

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