The Karamazov Brothers

By Fyodor Dostoevsky; Ignat Avsey | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

IT is a commonly held view that Dostoevsky is an excessively pessimistic, even dour writer, obsessed with analysing the criminal tendencies of human nature, 'heavy' and difficult to read. But Dostoevsky stands out first and foremost as a reader's writer, who always seeks to present his themes in a palatable form as an integral part of an absorbing plot in which humour is often a key element. He was never sure, however, of being able to win the critics over to his side, and to the very end of his life he remained decidedly on the defensive. In his correspondence with the Procurator of the Holy Synod, the formidable Konstantin Pobedonostsev, tutor to Aleksander III and to the future Tsar Nicholas II, Dostoevsky wrote: 'I am coming to the end of The Karamazovs. This last part, I can see and feel this, is so unusual and different from what other people are writing that I definitely do not expect any plaudits from the critics.'1

Dostoevsky's strong urge to shock the 'genteel' readership may provide a clue to his entire creative approach, may even be the principal factor in determining his choice of subject. Sigmund Freud argued that Dostoevsky's preoccupation with the nether side of human nature stemmed from criminal tendencies in his own soul.2 This, surely, is to misjudge the tree by its fruit. An alternative explanation is that Dostoevsky acted on the principle of 'why should the devil have all the best tunes?', and, being a true artist with an eye for what is popular, he served his readers such fare as was calculated to satisfy their appetites. The price he had to pay was that Turgenev proclaimed him to be a latter-day de Sade, his fictional heroes became bywords for depravity and degeneration, and the Russian language was 'enriched' by such cult terms as Karamazovshchina and even Dostoevshchina, which are associated with sexual profligacy, violence, psychological deviation, and the breakdown of conventional

____________________
1
To K. Pobedonostev, 16 Aug. 1880, Collected Works, 30/pt 2, 209, (henceforth CW--see 'Texts used' for full citation).
2
Sigmund Freud, "'Dostoievski and Parricide'", trans. by D. F. Tait, The Realist, 1/2 ( 1929), 19.

-xi-

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The Karamazov Brothers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • Translator's Note xxix
  • Texts Used xxxi
  • Select Bibliography xxxii
  • Chronology of Fyodor Dostoevsky xxxiii
  • Principal Characters xxxv
  • From the Author 5
  • Part One 7
  • Book One the Story of a Family 9
  • Book Two an Unseemly Encounter 43
  • Book Three Sensualists 117
  • Part Two 203
  • Book Four Crises 205
  • Book Five Pros and Cons 267
  • Book Six a Russian Monk 353
  • Part Three 409
  • Book Seven Alyosha 411
  • Book Eight Mitya 459
  • Book Nine Judicial Investigation 561
  • Part Four 645
  • Book Ten Schoolboys 647
  • Book Eleven Ivan Fyodorovich 705
  • Book Twelve Judicial Mistake 823
  • Epilogue 949
  • Explanatory Notes 975
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