Posts Tagged ‘ musings ’

Dostoevsky – ‘The Brothers Karamazov’: Thoughts

I’m starting to think I should change the name of this blog. When I set out, I wanted somewhere to write about the video games I was playing and this was my humble outlet for that. More recently however, I feel like I haven’t had the time to play many video games. I’ve just started working full time (temporarily) and have a bunch of real life stuff going on which often prevents me from enjoying my video games. On top of all this, I simply don’t have anything current enough, all the games I could talk about would be small indie games that could run on my laptop. I haven’t had a new acquisition for my retro collection in a while and I’ve already talked about most of the stand out titles in that.
Whilst I haven’t been playing games, I have been reading books. Mostly in lunch breaks at work and on public transport etc. This has allowed me to finally finish The Brothers Karamazov, perhaps Dostoevsky’s second most famous work behind Crime & Punishment. This one is a huge novel, steeped in detail and Dostoevsky’s bleak Russian evaluation of society. I thought I would quite like to gives some of my clumsy thoughts on this great book. I’m no expert and do not claim to be one, I did however enjoy this book and want to just air some thoughts about it.

I think this is Dmitri Karamazov but I am not 100%

The first thing I feel like I should mention is Dostoevsky’s style of narration. In The Possessed he was narrating as a bystander to the events of the novel, as a character who was a close friend of one of the central figures early on. This narrating character was either present at the events of the book or heard in detail about later from his connections in the town, allowing him to describe them to the reader. To me, this is very plausible and adds an element of the ‘unreliable narrator’ which often leads to interesting interpretations, although this character does usually seem to be calling things mostly straight with some exceptions, like a clear dislike for the ‘villain’ of the novel. In Karamazov however, there is quite a different approach. The narration seems to come mostly third person from one of the titular brothers but sometimes the narrator appears to move through the air and float above certain scenes and happenings. To me one particularly jarring section is at the end of the book, where there is a trial (Warning: Spoilers ahead) of one of the Karamazov brothers. During this quite lengthy section, Dostoevsky chooses to recount the action as he did in The Possessed, as an unnamed narrator character. I suspect he does this so he can talk directly to the reader as this character, this allows him to cut down the length of the section (as trials do tend to be quite long) by providing broad overviews of impressions in the court house etc. I found the sudden change in style to be quite unpleasant, although I guess it served it’s purpose. Overall it doesn’t really detract from the quality of the book although since it happens right at the end it does leave a bit of a sour taste.

Something else I would like to talk about comes from something someone mentioned to me when they saw I was reading Dostoevsky. They told me they could never follow the characters names and as such couldn’t enjoy the book. Whilst I personally didn’t struggle too much, I have to concede that they may have had a point. I feel like the perfect example of this can be found in Karamazov in the form of the titular brothers. The eldest is named Ivan, then Dmitri and finally Alexis. I understand that these are the forenames of the three most central characters. Their surname, of course, is Karamazov. I am no expert, but it seems that Russians are referred to as a derivative of their fathers’ forenames at least in this period/setting which is often used instead of their surname. The father of these three brothers is Fyodor, like Dostoevsky himself. This means Ivan is referred to as Ivan Fyodorovich continually. This isn’t all too bad but for the other siblings, their nicknames come into account. Dmitri is known as Mitya Fyodorovich and Alexis as Alyosha Fyodorovich. In my opinion this can make things a little tricky to follow. In the modern day we could call one character Alexis Karamazov but is mostly referred to in the book as Alyosha Fyodorovich, which is not really even close. Of course when you consider that these are the titular characters and there are several very important side-characters to remember, then you can see that this might become confusing. Really though, this is not too much of a problem once you get your head round it and hopefully it wouldn’t dissuade anyone from enjoying the novel.

I don’t want to ramble on too long, so I’ll just finish with a few thoughts. I have probably devoted too much time to the two thoughts above but those were some things I really did want to mention. The Brothers Karamazov is overall a great read in my opinion. Dostoevsky’s incredibly detailed style of writing works wonders here. It takes some time to get into but due to the nature of his writing and his love of discussing the ‘character’ of his, well, characters, you really begin to understand them at the deepest level. I feel that one of Dostoevsky’s main strengths is the levels he goes to to explain his characters thoughts and actions. When you understand the political and social context of the period the story is set in you can appreciate this even more. Dostoevsky was very politically motivated and this shows in all his writing, Karamazov is no different. His uniqueness comes from a quality that I am struggling to put into words. It almost feels like each character is fatalistically destined to carry out certain actions in certain scenarios. The flaws of the characters seem to be what ultimately drives them. This is especially seen in Mitya, who is completely overwhelmed by his ‘nature’ and whose actions almost seem completely inevitable given his character and emotional make-up. This sort of fatalistic determinalism seems to run rife through Dostoevsky’s characters and there don’t seem to be any that can break free of their own flaws. Maybe Dostoevsky is making a point about the bleakness that surrounds the idea of destiny. The thought that no matter our wishes we are all doomed to adhere to our characteristic and emotional flaws until they ruin us. At least that is the way it seems to be in this novel. The ending of the book is appropriately bleak and is very characteristic of the author. Alyosha is chosen as the main brother to be followed by the narrator and his character arc seems very realistic. He starts the novel as a fresh faced young monk-to-be and ends the story having seen tragedy tear his family apart and ready to embark into the world. Tragedy seems to follow Dostoevsky’s characters around, although not too unrealistic proportions. Alyosha ends the book as seemingly the only survivor of the scandal that the book entails, which is interesting considering how virtuously he is portrayed. Perhaps Alyosha has managed to escape the clutches of his destiny through his selflessness and adherence to moral values? Undoubtedly there is a social commentary here but I am not the main to discern its full nature. Ultimately the book is fairly heavy going but overall worth it. It can get extremely wordy at times and personally I think some sections could do with a little pruning. Particular I think the stories of the Elder Zosima were a tad unnecessary given their length and the not exactly central nature of the character recounting them. Still they add depth to key characters so they are clearly not without purpose. The Brothers Karamazov is a great book, as I’m sure you already know. If you think you can follow through the commitment of reading it, then I would strongly encourage you to pick it up.

I hope you enjoyed this rambling, I think it does me good to tell my ideas to no-one in particular sometimes. I am deeply grateful to anyone actually reading this, as it is undoubtedly very dull. I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina which is a completely different animal. Once I’ve finished that I would quite like to write something comparing works by the two Russian greats. I guess we shall see. Apologies, yet again, for the huge gaps between updates. I do always intend to write more things here but life gets in the way. Perhaps in the future?

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