Thursday, November 22, 2012
A Passion Play
I'm well into The Brothers Karamazov. It is easy to see that this novel was serialized in its day. Each chapter is like a little charge of dynamite, designed to string the reader's attention along from one installment to the next in this very melodramatic story. For a murder mystery it takes an awfully long time to get to the murder. I'm a quarter of the way through the book an old Fyodor is still very much alive and well, although Dostoevsky maintains a strong tension between the brothers.
The novel is essentially a study of predestination vs. free will with the main characters introduced in a meeting with the Father Superior at the youngest brother's monastery on the outskirts of a remote Russian town. Dostoevsky's characters are for the most part "Sensualists" struggling with their own inner demons. Even within the monastery Dostoevsky reveals schisms and tensions, notably between the Father Superior and the ascetic Father Ferapont, who is not willing to accept a miracle associated with the ailing senior monk.
When Alyosha, the youngest brother, is forced to confront Katerina in an effort to resolve a conflict between his two brothers, Mitya and Ivan, he finds himself beginning to question his own faith. Alyosha is a bit like Prince Myshkin from The Idiot, a young holy fool who takes pretty much everything at straight value, even as he finds himself being toyed with by the ladies in this novel. He is willing to give up the church for darling Lise, who the Father Superior apparently cured of her palsy.
Meanwhile, Mitya looms like a rogue bea, crashing into his father's house and beating him within an inch of his life over their shared lust for Grushenko, a local harlot, who both seem intent on marrying. The patriarch is the most humorous character in the novel, although pathetic in nature. He hoards his money for his own personal enjoyment, much to the chagrin of oldest son, Mitya, who feels he is the rightful heir to it.
Dostoevsky provides a long introduction on Fyodor's two wives and the children borne from them, noting that Mitya feels like he got the short of the end of the stick. Ultimately, this is a novel about him, but for the first quarter of the book, Dostoevsky chooses to deal with him peripherally, mostly through the eyes of Alyosha.