The whole fete scene was really well done, but am I crazy for siding with Stepan Trofimovich’s speech about beauty being the most important thing in the world? I mean, yes, obviously people need food and shelter, I get that, but to not appreciate beauty, not appreciate art, to think only science and engineering is our fate, as if we are only worker bees seems – like the argument people would rather believe.
It’s rare Dostoevsky plays up much comedy, but the scene where everyone is trying to decide if their party is actually a (illegal) meeting or not was very funny. Typical of these kinds of people to not really have any idea what’s going on, even the ones, like the young lady, who are full of fervor but are totally unreliable. And Shigalyov’s idea of putting 90% of all Russians into absolute servitude is … absurd.
Stephan is kicked out, but he’s still getting a nice pension of 3000 rubles a year. Hard to complain about that, but I do feel bad for him, even if he never really accomplished anything and is, I believe fairly accused, of being a sponger.
More troubling was the lady in the group who needed to see the young man who had committed suicide because all other forms of “entertainment” bored her. The whole group was crass
The duel was funny – sad funny. We don’t know why Gaganov is so furious with Nikolai except it’s something that happened a few years ago which, though nobody knows about it, was a disgrace to his family and caused him to end his military career. Yet we know as much as Nikolai seems to care. But imagine being Gaganov and having Nikolai not even care about the duel even though it means so much to him. And he still lost
Fascinating speech between Shatov and Nikolai about how each nation has their own God and a nation that does not have their own god but shares it with others is bound to fail. I can also see where the root of the ‘socialism leads to atheism’ argument comes from among nationalists and conservatives in how Shatov presents the idea. But is Nikolai that bad? Shatov is devastated, but which path is more dangerous?
Now some of this is making some sense, if in a convoluted way. The poor Marya thought she was married to Nikolai, and he even paid her an allowance, but this was stolen by her drunkard brother who beat her. I now wonder how much of her story of having a baby is true? She seemed to think it might be, but she also might have imagined it. Poor woman.
Someone once told me that Dostoevsky would have been a very good playwright and I agree with that. He’s all about dialogue (though everyone talks in long speeches) and it always seems as if every scene takes place in a stuffy, dusty, airless room in which everyone is poor and miserable, except for one character who has money but is even more miserable (at least morally).
I still have no idea what’s going on, however.
There a wonderful comment on Goodreads from someone also reading this novel that says simply, ” Voy a paso de tortuga”. Me too, Natalia. Me too.
While everyone is somewhat mean and cruel to each other, I never get the impression that Dostoevsky is mean or cruel to them, he’s only showing us how these people live, and it’s about what you’d expect if you looked in on a lot of people’s lives: bickering, petty intrigue, half-baked ideas, affairs, generalizations about politics and society. But the point is that he wants us to care about these people.
Kirillov’s philosophy that man is only free once he no longer fears death is interesting and threatening. He sounds like someone who wants to not have anything left to lose in order to make some sort of grand statement (though he probably doesn’t know what). Either way he seems very dissatisfied and I like how it’s pointed out to him that his desire to blow everything up will cost him his job of building a bridge.
When he talks about writers whose ideas have run out and younger generations have all forgotten I wonder who he had in mind when he wrote that.
I’m still having a hard time wondering what the point of all this is, and to be honest I probably would have stopped reading were it written by nearly anyone else. Basically there ins’t really a plot driving anything forward, it’s all domestic squabbling which is depressing
I’m still a little unclear what is going on, but it seems Varvara wants to marry off Darya to Stepan because she thinks something was going on with Darya and her own son, Nikolai. It’s all vague and I’m honestly having a hard time trying to find a reason to care about these characters, but there is something unseemly about these people that is sort of fascinating to watch.
I like the odd relationship between Stepan and Varvara; their bickering is funny to listen to. It’s odd to think that these people have the means to not have to work because they don’t act like they have much class – they’re almost low class in their scheming and behavior, yet they have land and money and leisure to act – well I wouldn’t say horribly, but they aren’t the sort of people I’d want to spend time with.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read Dostoevsky, which is a problem because it always takes awhile to get into gear with his novels. The only other author I feel this way about is Shakespeare because whenever I start one of his plays I always feel lost until about Act 3 or 4. This novel is starting off the same way with a huge list of (unusual) characters but with no plot to attach them to. But I’m sure I’ll love this.
I wonder what inspired Dostoyevsky to write this novel? During the trial it is mentioned that there was a woman in St. Petersburg who had given birth and then killed the infant, hiding the little body and then later it was discovered she had done this numerous times. I wonder if, assuming that story is true, Dostoyevsky began to wonder about how difficult it would be to forgive someone like that, to see into their heart and find something good. This novel is, after all, about that very idea, the idea of never being able to know what goodness really lies in another persons heart and how difficult it is, or even how inappropriate it is, to judge anyone, no matter how evil they have been.
The novel ends with a promise, a promise that all the boys and Aloysha will never forget each other, never forget little Ilyusha, and never forget the goodness of their childhood memory together. Even, if later, they grow cynical or do many terrible things, Aloysha asks them to always remember this one good moment in their life because it may save them someday, just as an onion almost saved another sinner. Those small moments of goodness could, at least in the eyes of God, be the one link to salvation for even the most terrible sinner.
The novel also deals with the questions of faith and belief and it is these parts I found most fascinating because Dostoyevsky makes the strongest case I’ve yet heard that counters the scientific arguments of logic and reason. And while I think Dostoyevsky was too hard on science and too opposed to the good science can do for humanity, he does show how logic and reason can absolutely condemn an innocent person. At times I wondered if Dostoyevsky was trying to tell us it would be better just to forgive all criminals and then let God figure it all out later.
And that’s the real issue here: forgiveness. How difficult is it really to forgive someone. Not just any regular sinner either, but a person who has done something horribly terrible. And what sort of world would we live in if we did, in fact, forgive everyone easily? A world where we forgive a terrorist or the rapist of a child? Can we even imagine such things? In the character Smerdyakov we have someone who is cunning and ruthless and who takes advantage of the people around him, but we never really know why he does what he does. Smerdyakov is the closest character to the ‘main villain’, but we never get his own thoughts, we only see him through the eyes of others. He is difficult to forgive because we don’t know him, yet this is exactly they point Dostoyevsky is trying to make: we MUST forgive Smerdyakov, he is in the greatest need of it as Father Zosima alluded to earlier in the novel.
Dostoyevsky is not foolish enough to think that we can always forgive, however. He knows we will always be carried away by our emotions and passions. He knows those passions will lead us to do terrible things and to also condemn others, too. He quite clearly sees the onion layers that make up human interactions, the dual nature of all people who can be both good and bad at the same time. He knows how complicated people really are. But he also plants that seed of doubt in our mind while reading this novel as to if we really are qualified to pass judgment on any person. He wants us to know that nothing is what it seems and even when we are positive we know a person we might very well be wrong about them. He’s showing us the danger of gossip, of judgment, of not walking in another person’s shoes. And he’s also showing us how we are all conflicted, how we ebb and flow between goodness and sin and even how what we perceive in others as sin might actually be virtue as in the case of little Ilyusha and his father, Captain Snegiryov, or even the Grand Inquisitor who though his actions go against God he is actually doing so because he is for God.
Then there is the faith question, the tricky nature of how faith works. Here he shows us that if God himself showed up at our doorstep and said “I am God, here I am”, we would actually doubt the existence of God even more. But the lack of any proof of God, the absence of proof is the very thing that is needed for their to be faith. If we know for certain there is the possibility of salvation at the end of life then what point would life have since that would take away our own free will? We would already know beforehand if we are saved or doomed so why bother going through the motions?
The book even goes so far as to make me want to be a better person. I found myself questioning my own opinions and judgments of others while at work and out and about town. I started wondering what sort of life each person I saw was really living, how good or how bad, what tragedy or joy they were dealing with. I started to wonder if perhaps you could just do away with all the different religions in the world and have everyone read this novel instead.
And even as I write this it does sound rather absurd and I can imagine anyone reading this saying “Well clearly this person has a religious agenda”, but that’s not the case. In fact there is no way I could convince you that I don’t have an agenda because you can’t see into my own heart and know how I really feel about this subject. All I can say is that I was sincerely moved by this novel and that it makes me want to look at the world differently and that I had a better understanding of belief and faith than when I began the novel.
This book is not some “depressing Russian tome”, but aside from its philosophical and theological nature it is a well plotted family novel and murder mystery. Like all of Dostoyevsky’s other works it’s wordy and characters seem to speak in long speeches, but it’s never boring – even when it is. Dostoyevsky also makes a great counter to Tolstoy in that Tolstoy allowed you to see into a character’s mind where Dostoyevsky is always more interested in looking into his heart.
This is a novel of great compassion and is one of my favorite reading experiences I’ve ever had.
So the trial went right into the night, until past 1 am. I’m assuming that’s how it really was in Russia at the time? But then it only took an hour for the jury to reach a verdict. And whose side do you come down on: cold logic or the passionate plea? Wasn’t passion what got everyone in this mess to begin with? So we have to meter our passion, temper it with wisdom.
20 years. He’s lucky it wasn’t death.
Here the defense presents the facts as we, the reader, have learned them and yet even though we know they are true they don’t actually seem very believable against the case the prosecutor made. The truth is nearly unbelievable because it goes against our own common sense.
And so should a person be judged by the accumulation of his sins, by the sheer weight of them, or is each one unique and independent?
The speech by the prosecutor is one of those moments in literature where it would be easy to pass it off as a misfire or, more bluntly, a really boring bit. However it is these moments, like the descriptions of the landscape in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom or the scientific observations of the whale in Moby Dick that encapsulate the whole point of the book. Here it is used to show that logic can’t lead to faith.
And in this proof of his argument is the wonderful description of the condemned man measuring the distance to the gallows and thinking how much time he has to this street and then to that and that it’s not so bad … all the way to the rope. Here there is faith against logic.
So the whole book is about how society (that’s why this is a murder mystery with a court scene) is drifting away from what Father Zosima hoped would be the future of Russia towards the more secular and scientific future of no morality. Dostoyevsky is trying to show that you can’t have faith with reason, that logic and absolute proof can’t lead you towards absolute belief. He is saying belief and truth start from within and can only be seen by ourselves. Nobody else can see our truth because each person’s truth is different – only we know where our heart is (the money bag) and what the truth even if we can’t prove it.
So why does Smerdyakov kill himself (and Fyodor)? We get a lot of talk all through the novel about how Smerdyakov is a terrible person (stinking, as his name suggests), but isn’t he the most in need of pity? The only person who seemed to show him any respect was, ironically, Fyodor (trusted with the money, sent him to school, told him the knocks). Doesn’t his suicide (off-stage, too) show him miserable and lonely?
So then if God or the Devil were to appear to you, wouldn’t that not actually be good enough evidence to prove they exist since the whole point of faith is to do so without proof. Perhaps that’s why Dostoyevsky frames this whole novel around the search for truth because even being able to see the truth soes not mean what you are seeing is, in fact, true (the eyes deceive).
We have to have faith Dmitri is innocent?
Ivan is the one character most plagued by doubt. The story the devil tells him about the nose, about how man missing his nose is free not to be led around by the nose but, in fact, does want to be led around by the nose and is, again in fact, being led around by the nose he doesn’t have is a wonderful analogy. And I just thought of Gogol’s ‘The Nose’.
He both believes and doesn’t. He doesn’t want to commit.
Smerdyakov is endlessly fascinating. He, too sees that Ivan would feel responsible for his fathers death, but unlike Alyosha who tries to calm his conscience, Smerdyakov takes full advantage of him. And, really, isn’t Ivan partially responsible for the murder? He did know something was going to happen and all he had to do was stay to prevent it. Turning your back to a wrong is still a decision to participate.
It is not you. Now how could Alyosha have known Ivan felt himself to be partially guilty for his father’s murder? Did Alyosha have those same feelings, too?
When Dmitri goes on so passionately and eloquently about how he will go to Siberia for ‘all men’, as if he’s a martyr, I didn’t believe him. Everyone loves to talk but they say little and Dmitri kept contradicting himself, ending with the escape to the US plan
Khokhlakov and Lisa are nuts, Lisa in particular. However, they must be loved, too. I don’t get Lisa though. She’s like her mother in that she babbles on and on, but her mother always has a method to her madness, Lisa is just mad.
That doctor is an ass. Science is not looked on kindly here.
Dostoyevsky’s ability to make you empathize with his characters is uncanny. A lot of his genius is in introducing a character from only one point of view and then only later, and through another characters eyes do we learn their inner lives. he makes the case for always caring about people, especially when they are at their worst because we rarely know the struggles within others. Never judge.
This is an unexpected change of direction. We go from the trials (and soon to be trial) of Dmitri to 13 year old Kolya – whom we’ve not yet met. Gotta admit, I’m not too sure what’s going on here.
There is this wonderful sense of Dmitri ‘unraveling’ before the inspectors. He’s really being forced to examine his own actions, motives, and thoughts in a way he might never have before. Perhaps this will be a first step to him re-examining his relationship with Katerina whom he has been nothing but blindly impulsive against. All the major characters have been through examined change, but his comes harder = Z’s bow.
So far the detectives are not nearly as tricky as Porfiry in Crime and Punishment. In that novel the psychological games he played with Raskolnikov were wonderfully devious and probably quite true to how a real detective works. Here Dmitri is a much different suspect and the authorities are far more relaxed believing they have their man and an iron-clad case. But we don’t know Dmitri’s mind so we can’t know the truth
Book 8 is a lot of fun to read. The whole section is plot driven and reads like a good crime novel but the preceding chapters give it a literary frame of morality and deeper characterization.
I still don’t trust Grushenka, however, she has been used for so long that I would be a jerk to dismiss her uncertainty with Dmitri – she’s always sending him away them calling him back.
She’s a great character.
The murder happens off-screen. I’m sure we’ll revisit it, however, what we get is all reaction to the murder.
Dostoyevsky writes Dmitri as in a frenzy. As the chapter goes on everything feels near confusion, he acts without knowing why and doesn’t seem to care. He jokes for no reason, is totally impulsive and the writing reflects that confusion and desperation. This feels very modern and is very well written.
All this wouldn’t be happening to Dmitri is he’d just give it up. But he’s so stuck with his pride and lets himself get carried away just like his father.
Is Madame Khokhlakov just fucking with him? I mean, she can’t be that obtuse as to not know he wanted to borrow money, right? She must just be playing dumb to save face. Samsonov however, is cruel.
He’d do well to listen to the people around him, but he won’t
It’s always darkest before the dawn – that’s why we get the reading of the Marriage at Cana. And the miracle does happen, and just like a miracle it seems hard to believe even when we see it because how unlikely was it that Grushenka would form such a fast and honest bond with Alyosha?
Love the metaphor of the onion.
The night image of him on the ground and the stars above and the emerald dark sky is beautiful.
What’s so striking about this ‘novel’ is how it’s both very modern – post-modern, actually – but about a very old subject: religion and morality. When Zossima dies and the body immediately begins to decompose and smell bad, I’m reminded of a touch of magic realism. And how ambiguous is this image, how it can be seen from many points of view.
This is always a very surprising novel, quite unlike what I expected.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad about how wrong Zossima (and Dostoyevsky) was about how a person would no faith could never hope to gain power in Russia. Which then leads me to wonder if Dostoyevsky was either that blindly optimistic or that this book was more of a plea because he saw which the way the wind was really blowing?
The world turned out exactly how Dostoyevsky did not want it to turn out.
Funny how that all three, Zossima’s brother, Zossima himself, and the stranger are all seen as being not right in the head when they see the point of life in God. Zossima is taken the most seriously but even he is somewhat laughed off and only the stranger really takes him seriously – to the point of wanting to kill him
Funny then too how Dostoyevsky’s brotherly philosophy through Zossima turned so wrong in Russia
So Fyodor is clever enough to know the signs of a man who is lying to him in a business transaction (the selling of the copse) but he can’t see anything going on in his own home and even believes that woman will come see him. Smerdyakov is obviously planning something, but it’s almost as if he’s giving Ivan a chance to undo these elaborate plans. He’s clever, but not very smart.