The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky: Part One

Hmm. I have tried to read this book once before. Part of me, after seeing others’ editions, wonders if it isn’t simply the translation and edition (an old Bantam Classic) that I don’t like. However, I honestly don’t think that is it.

After looking at Dolce Belleza’s post over first one and checking out the other participants’ posts, I definitely see some similarities in my own reading. Yes, I do pick up on the sense of humor. But after such mind-numbing conversations about philosophy, it just hasn’t been enough to pull me through.

I am all for alternative narrators. When they work, they work well. In The Book Thief, which I just discussed yesterday, the narrator is one of the best parts of the book. That said, in this book, sometimes he is clearly present and others, he doesn’t show up for many many pages, so it’s disconcerting when he does throw his voice in:

The two brothers had been corresponding before on an important matter that concerned Dmitry more than Ivan. What it was the reader will learn at great length in good time. However, even when I learned about that matter, Ivan Karamazov remained a mystery to me and I still did not understand why he had come.

This is where I pause and groan. I really don’t like being kept out of “the know,” but I particularly cannot stand it when the narrator then goes on to discuss it at length:

It is of this brother, Alexei, that I find it the most difficult to speak in this introductory part of my narrative, although it is indispensable to do so before I bring him out onto the stage of my novel. I must write an introductory piece about him too, if only to explain a point that may strike my readers as very strange, namely, that my future hero will have to wear the cassock of a novice at his very first appearance.

It is just so darn wordy.

Basically, the three brothers – Dmitry, Ivan, and Alexei, also alternatively called, hmm, Mitya, and Aloyshi – have a strange relationship with their father. Mr. Karamazov is a despicable character, debauched and dramatic with not much thought as to his effect on others. All three have reason to hate him, but like any complicated father/son relationship, it is difficult to tell where each brother stands with his father.

I gather this between so many philosophical conversations I lose count. I’ll give you an example:

Of course, when he was in the monastery he believed entirely in miracles, but I don’t think that miracles ever confound a realist. Nor is it miracles that bring a realist to religion. If he is an unbeliever, a true realist will always find the strength and ability not to believe in a miracle, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact, he will rather disbelieve his own senses than accept that fact. Or he may concede the fact and explain it away as a natural phenomenon until then unknown. In a realist, it is not miracles that generate faith, but faith that generates miracles. Once a realist becomes a believer, however, his very realism will make him accept the existence of miracles.


All are a bit badly behaved. They are wealthy enough. They have little regard for women. I keep wanting to tell each character to suck it up.

But…. Dolce says the mystery gets interesting, and I am banking on that. I love mysteries. I also just really feel the need to finish this book. Thanks to Dolce for hosting and giving me the shove I need to add another Russian novel to my very spare list.

UPDATE: Part Two is most decidedly better than Part One. Odd. I’m actually enjoying it… maybe because there are actually a couple female characters?


8 responses to “The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky: Part One

  • nicole

    These things certainly make me groan too (not the first one though–that sort of thing I like) and have always been a turnoff for me with Dostoevsky. Suck it up is right. But I’m trying to make my best-faith effort possible to look past my groans and see what I can find of value underneath.

  • Amateur Reader

    Are you reading Constance Garnett? Dump it. Switch.

    Still, most of your problems will remain, and a few might get worse. This is how Dostoevsky works. This is how Novels of Ideas work.

  • Bellezza

    I’m with Amateur Reader: Dump that translation! While you’re not going to escape wordiness, you are going to find much more meaningful wordiness. I hope you can get your hands on a Pevear translation…

    Anyway, I just finished Part 3 today, and it was AWESOME! Really!

  • Matthew

    I found Part 1 a bit slow but Dostoevsky obviously has introduced his characters to a full extent. He portrays the brothers as a spiritual unity with some collective personality in its triple structure. The principle of reason is embodied in Ivan, the atheist, logician, and innate skeptic. Dimitri represents the principle of feeling in whom one finds the sensuality of insects. The principle of will, realizing itself in active love as an ideal, is presented Alyosha. However much the novel resembles a psychological treatise and a theological epistle; Dostoevsky merely meant it to be a novel.

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