Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov Part I

I was pretty excited to join in on the read-along of The Brothers Karamozov, but I've only had a little bit of time to read each day so I'm already over a week behind.  Because I'm anxious to read the discussions of the other participants, I'm going to try to be good and set the timer on myself so I don't spend too much time writing here.  Therefore, here are some probably very random thoughts about Part 1, in 15 minutes (if I'm good!):
  • Having read Crime and Punishment (dark and serious, loved it) and most of The Idiot (was bored, but that may have been because it was not a very good audio production), I was not expecting to find so much humor.  I loved the author's note at the beginning, almost apologizing for certain aspects of the story, and telling us, "I am even glad that my novel broke itself into two stories . . . having acquainted himself with the first story, the reader can decide for himself whether it is worth his while to begin the second.  Of course, no one is bound by anything; he can also drop the book after two pages of the first story and never pick it up again."  Sorry, Fyodor--you had me hooked by paragraph one.  Upon reading the word "muddleheaded" four times in the first paragraph alone (reminds me of the repetition of Dickens), I knew I was in for a treat.
  • I'm a little slow, but I just now noticed that Dostoevsky has named what is so far his most despicable character after himself:  Fyodor.  Is this some form of self-deprecation?  
  • It's very clear from the beginning that one of the main themes is truth/honesty, particularly when it comes to lying to yourself.  I agree with Zosima that if you can't even believe yourself because you are always lying, you will assume that everyone else is lying, and therefore not be able to believe in anything.  This seems to apply especially to Fyodor, but I haven't thought enough about the other characters enough, like Ivan.   Is he still struggling/deciding even though he avows to be an atheist?  It's hard to say, because so many characters are lying about everything!
  • I like the narrator, even though I know this kind of narrator is often annoying to some people.  He is very present and at times acts like a guide:  Like when he notes that Yefim Petrovich Polenov especially loved Alexei.  "I should like the reader to remember that from the very beginning." And also, "I am ashamed to distract my reader's attention for such a long time to such ordinary lackeys, and therefore I shall go back to my narrative, hoping that with regard to Smerdyakov things will somehow work themselves out in the further course of the story."  He presents himself as a writer/narrator of a story that he doesn't have much control over the telling of.
  • Love the sarcasm in the title of Book One:  "A Nice Little Family"
  • Of course there are some deep discussions about the existence of God and immortality.  It seems that there are some who agonize about their faith (or lack of, or motivations for) like Madame Khokhlakov, and others who really just don't care--they love pleasure (those sensualists!) so much that it supersedes any sense of morality. 
  • Speaking of the sensualists, I haven't been able to figure out what is so great about Grushenka that father and son would commit some of the acts they do for her.  The shape of her foot?  The curve of her ear?  At first I thought she was older, and was surprised to find out she was only 22. 
  • The discussion about the ecclesiastical courts was a little hard to get through, but what seems to stand out is the irony that Ivan is arguing for more involvement of the church when he doesn't believe in God.   It seems like he holds the notion that a belief in God is beneficial to society whether or not there actually is a God.  I think there are many today who have this practical rather than spiritual approach to religion. 
  • A question floating in my head while reading was "What motivates us to do good?"  A better afterlife, a better life here, avoidance of punishment?  What are Alexei's motivations?  It seems like it is just in his nature to be kind and good.  Will that change during the course of the story?  His friend (can't remember his name) seems to think it's in his genes to eventually fall and become like his father and brothers.
  • I was very entertained by the whole scene at the monastery.  Fyodor, horrible that he is, provides a lot of laughs.  All of his "buffoonery" is so well written.  I could really see it acted out on a stage.  In fact I was picturing a certain actor playing him.  (I'll mention it in a footnote (*) at the end of this, so I don't inadvertently ruin anyone's own vision of Fyodor).  The best part was when he showed up at the dinner after he said he wouldn't be there, because you just knew he would.  I don't really get what Kalganov has to do with the story.  Why was he there?  And Miusov is for me the most irritating character so far.
  • There's obviously so much more that can be discussed, which I think is what make a great book.  I had some notes in the margins about paradoxical situations, irony, constant judgment of what characters are saying, emotions on steroids (these characters have some really passionate feelings!), absolving guilt, etc., etc. And lots of underlining and stars that I will leave alone for now.
On to reading the other posts, and reading Part II, which in all likelihood will also be a week late.

    *Steve Carell. I must admit I find myself channeling him a few characters in other books as well (Amory in This Side of Paradise, Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream). Just give a him a good Russian accent and some Michael Scott-isms, and he's perfect for the part. 


    1. I read this so long ago. I really think it is time for a re-reading.


    2. You brought forth so many good points to discuss! My favorite that you posed is this: "A question floating in my head while reading was "What motivates us to do good?" A better afterlife, a better life here, avoidance of punishment? What are Alexei's motivations? It seems like it is just in his nature to be kind and good."

      I found so much in this book to be about our inherent nature, which is not naturally good. I think Alexei truly believes in God, and therefore strives to be good. I think that Dmitri comes to find out what being good means, and how it soothes his soul more than being a "scoundrel". Some people, their father, don't seem to care about being good at all, and those are the ones I feel sorriest for. To not even care seems worse than being bad.

    3. I tried reading this last year with my online book club. I failed miserably. It's now one of my "someday" books.

    4. Ooh, I barely remember reading this one, but I do recall how interested I was in their motivations as well. I don't know that I'll ever reread it, but maybe a little update on basics would help me remember. :)