Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov

He was sentimental. He was wicked and sentimental. (I, 4,p 25)

What makes a book a classic? There are those volumes which have withstood the test of time; Homer's epics, Shakespeare's plays, and Milton's poetry come to mind. Then there are those books which as one reads and rereads them grow richer, remain fresh and yield new discoveries with each rereading. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of these books. As his ultimate novel, capping a successful (in retrospect if not immediately upon publication) run of novels that included The Demons, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot; all of which might be considered precursors to some extent for his final novel. The Brothers Karamazov was not intended as a final novel as it was a planned first volume of at least a two volume narrative of the life of young Aloysha Karamazov.

As I begin another rereading of this great work I am focused above all on questions that arise from my reading. Yes, there are still questions to be resolved or at least considered even after several readings of the book. One thinks of the famous comment that In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust was written to be reread. What does it mean to act in the world? In the first part, Book One, the reader is introduced to most of the main characters including Fyodor Karamazov and three of his four sons, Dimitri, Ivan and Aloysha. We have already been told that the youngest, Aloysha, will be the unorthodox hero of the book in the Narrator's introduction. What are the relationships between each of the sons and their father? Brief biographies of each of the family members provide the first clues to the character of each and suggest tensions that will be explored as the novel develops. This beginning is one that befits that massive, almost eight hundred page novel that will follow. And it is a beginning that suggests if we pay attention to the action and the details that follow, despite the narrator's claimed ignorance as noted in Chapter three when he comments on the return home of Ivan, the middle son:

This so-fateful arrival which was the start of so many consequences, long afterwards remained almost always unclear to me. Generally considered, it was strange that so learned , so proud, and seemingly so prudent a young man should suddenly appear in such a scandalous house, before such a father, who had ignored him all his life . . . (I, 3,p 17)

The so many consequences and more questions, if not more answers, will have to be left aside for consideration on another day.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Everyman's Library Edition. 1992 (1881)

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