Friday, December 25, 2009

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The book is set in an unprepossessing village town named Stockyard, its protagonists cling by the skin of their teeth to their nobility, most of the characters in the book are totally insufferable, and aside from the murder and the fatal trial, nothing particularly extaordinary happens.  And yet, after I finished the book, I found myself thinking, "Oh!  That's the way to live!  What passion!"

A second later, I was horrified at myself.  No, that is most decidedly not the way to live.

I loved when Katya comes to visit Mitya in prison (after Katya has, during a hysterical fit at Mitya's trial, offered up the evidence that condemns him) and Mitya says, "do you know, five days ago, that same evening, I loved you...when you fell down and were carried out."  And why?  When Katya is condemning Mitya, once her fiancée, Dostoevsky writes,
"Oh, of course, such an avowal is only possible once in a lifetime - at the hour of death, for instance, on the way to the scaffold!  But it was in Katya's character, and it was such a moment in her life.  It was the same impetuous Katya who had thrown herself on the mercy of a young profligate to save her father, the same Katya who had just before, in her pride and chastity, sacrificed herself and her maidenly modesty before all these people, telling of Mitya's generous conduct, in the hope of softening his fate a little.  And now, again, she sacrificed herself, but this time it was for another, and perhaps only now - perhaps only at this moment - she felt and knew how dear that other was to her!"
There are a lot of books that show the epic of the everyday; the great upheavals that explode all around us while we walk down the street.  Maybe the virtue of Dostoevsky is that he is pitiless, but writes with great love.

You can't help but admire Katya, even as you hate her.  Just like you can't help but admire Mitya, even though you'd normally hate him.

Dostoevsky abolishes the whole notion of justice, by making human justice impossible and leaving only the possibility of divine justice.  And this is why, in The Brothers Karamazov, nobody is wrong, but nobody is right, either.  Or - and this is also possible - everybody is wrong.

There are certainly despicable characters to contend with.  Rakitin and Fyodor Pavolovich.  But they are comparatively minor.  Aloysha is the only character who is wholly admirable - but he's also something of a shadow compared to the more forceful characters - from Ivan and Dimitri to Grushenka and Katya.  He is almost a blank space; the empty box of a confessional, or the envelope that secures a message as it passes from hand to hand.  And then there's the fact that Aloysha is so childlike.  Aloysha is pure because he has not lived.  I don't think that anyone who has done much living in Dostoevsky can remain pure.  On the other hand, there are many who don't do much living and still aren't pure.

The reader is even roped into sympathizing with the prosecuting attorney, who is so meticulous and sincere.  Even amidst such a miscarriage of justice, you can't hate anyone, or blame anyone.  You can only grieve.

I was really glad when Aloysha gave a speech at the end.  I'd been waiting for him to really say something since the book began.  The sweetness of it warmed my heart.
"And even if we are occupied with most important things, if we attain to honor or fall to great misfortune - still let us always remember how good it was once here, when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us, for the time we were loving that poor boy, better perhaps than we are....
"You must know that there is nothing higher or stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home....
"...the cruelest and most mocking of us - if we do indeed become so - will not dare to laugh inwardly at having been skind and good at this moment!  What's more, perhaps, that one memory may keep him from great evil and he will reflect and say, 'Yes, I was good and brave and honest then!'  Let him laugh to himself, that's no matter, a man often laughs at what's good and kind.  That's only from thoughtlessness.  but I assure you, oys, that as he laughs he will say at once in his heart, 'No, I do wrong to laugh, for that's not a thing to laugh at.'"

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