Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A foul and pestilent congregation of vapours


It seems Dostoevsky got paid by the word for The Brothers Karamazov as he stretches just about every situation to its breaking point, such as the unruly smell of Father Zossima which leads fellow monks and laypersons who gather for the viewing to question his legacy.  There wasn't much in the way of embalming back then but still a saintly corpse wasn't expected to smell the next day.  Zossima apparently stuck up the place, leading Father Ferapont and others to speculate on his faith, which greatly upset the young Alyosha, who had literally taken Zossima as his father figure given how unfortunate he was to have a miser like Fyodor Pavlovich as his biological father.

Alyosha, like his brothers, was raised by surrogate parents, as Fedya didn't appear to have much time for his offspring.  Instead, he preferred bars and brothels, chasing after young trollops like Grushenka.  Alyosha appeared perfectly content to devote himself to the monastic order, but Father Zossima had given him permission to leave the monastery to experience life as he had done before committing himself fully to the lord.

We get quite a chapter on Zossima's life, which the narrator tells us was taken from  Alyosha's notes Zossima's last night when he was particularly animated and led his fellow monts to believe he had found a new lease on life.  The elder had been a bit of a dandy in his younger days, and as an officer in the Tsar's army ready to marry a young woman he had taken a fancy to, but apparently this love was not reciprocated.  The turning point came the morning of a duel when he realized he had deluded himself, seaking absolution in his manservant and refusing to fire back at the man who had challenged him to a duel over comments he had made.

A large part of the material appears as typical fodder from that era, even the "love triangle" between Dimitri, his father and Grushenko feels contrived, which Alyosha thrust into the middle of this melodramatic struggle.  There is also the "love triangle" betwen his two brothers and Katerina, which he is also forced to intercede upon.  All this becomes too much a burden for a young man of God.  He questions his knowledge on affairs of the heart, taking a scolding from his older brother Ivan, who leaves Katerina for Dmitri, should he choose to take her.

At the halfway point of the novel, the women seem little more than foils, although Grushenka is given a very interesting chapter in which she reveals quite a bit of herself.  However, you are left to wonder if she is only playing games, like she did with Katerina earlier in the book.  The two remind me a lot of of Nastya and Aglaya from The Idiot.

I keep waiting for something to happen.  After all, this is supposed to be a murder mystery.  But, to this point the only mystery is when the murder will occur?

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