Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Excerpt

For a critic who cannot read Russian, The Brothers Karamazov needs considerable mediation, more perhaps than War and Peace or Fathers and Sons. Much of this mediation is provided by Victor Terras in his admirable commentary A Karamazov Companion, to which I am indebted here.

Dostoevsky's final novel, completed only two months before his death when he was nine months short of sixty, The Brothers Karamazov was intended as Dostoevsky's apocalypse. Its genre might best be called Scripture, rather than novel or tragedy, saga or chronicle. Dostoevsky's scope is from Genesis to Revelation, with the Book of Job and the Gospel of John as the centers. Old Karamazov is a kind of Adam, dreadfully vital and vitalistically dreadful. His four sons resist allegorical reduction, but William Blake would have interpreted them as being his Four Zoas or living principles of fallen man, with Ivan as Urizen, Dmitri as Luvah, Alyosha as Los, and the bastard Smerdyakov as a very debased Tharmas. On the model of this rather Hermetic mythology, Ivan is excessively dominated by the anxieties of the skeptical and analytic intellect, while Dmitri is culpable for "reasoning from the loins in the unreal forms of Beulah's night" and so is a victim of his own overly sensual affective nature. The image of imaginative and spiritual salvation, Alyosha, is thus seen as the true Christian visionary, while the natural—all too natural—Smerdyakov represents the drives or instincts, turned murderously against the father and against the self.

That there may be affinities between English Blake and Great Russian Dostoevsky is itself surprising and ought not to be magnified, since the differences between the two seers are far more serious than any parallels in mythic projection. Despite his extraordinary powers of characterization and representation, the Dostoevsky of Karamazov is . . .

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