Kenyon's Reviews > The Grand Inquisitor: with related chapters from The Brothers Karamazov

The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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's review
Mar 27, 2012

it was amazing
Read from October 23, 2011 to March 27, 2012

This is my second reading of the Brothers Karamazov. The translation I have currently is not the one I would have chosen, but I took what was available. (My current translation is by Andrew MacAndrew; the preferred translation is by Pevear and Volokhonsky; my first reading was the Manuel Komroff translation). I've read most of Dostoevsky's other works (The Adolescent (aka The Raw Youth), The Double, Crime & Punishment (twice), The Idiot, The Possessed (Demons)(twice), The House of the Dead, Notes from Underground (twice), and The Eternal Husband). I love these books, and my favorites have been Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Adolescent, Notes from Underground, The Idiot and The Double (in that order).

What has immediately struck me about The Brothers Karamazov the second time around (I'm about 40% through it already; it's been about a week) is how modern it is. The text has weathered the decades very well. Aside from incidental references to serfdom (already abolished at this time), horses and carriages, etc., the only major element of the work that seems to have lost relevance in our time is the (large) portion that deals with the discussion of various Christian themes. Even here, though, Dostoevsky has completely anticipated the rise of scientific positivism, state socialism and atheism, and in this sense the struggle that Christianity faces throughout The Brothers Karamazov as it strives to maintain it's relevancy in a decadent society is completely on the mark.

Certain passages dealing with Christian themes hold up very well. Ivan's 'poem,' The Grand Inquisitor, is certainly very strong and has even been published by itself. But many of Father Zosima's passages come across as overly preachy and dogmatic (while, perversely, trying to argue against the strict doctrine of Catholicism and especially the Jesuits), and tire this modern reader.

But The Brother's Karamazov is extremely strong because it really deals with almost the complete realm of human experience. There's something for everyone here, and the four brothers Karamazov (along with their father) are complex enough to model almost every type of human behavior. This ranges from the depraved to the sublime, from the voluptuary concerns of Fyodor Karamazov to the (atheistic) intellectual pursuits of Ivan, to the scoundrel and rogue Dimitry to the saint Alyosha. And then, of course, there's Smerdyakov, the smelly one, who presents a more common type of man, the one that finds himself in servitude and unsure of himself, but striving to differentiate his being from the mass of others through some decisive action.

The women are less completely characterized, but are typified upon similar lines: Katerina, Lise, Grushenka (I love that name, it fits the character so completely), Martha and the other's I've not yet re-encountered are sufficiently different to allow you to sincerely believe in their distinct personalities.

What I love about the Brothers Karamazov as opposed to, say, Anna Karenina, is that no single element of the plot is completely unbelievable (I.E. even though the themes are epic, the action is not). These are regular people with typical concerns and behaviors. Nothing really happens throughout much of the book. There is a love triangle, but it's mostly talk. There is a touch of the spiritually sublime, but it's based in reality (I love, for instance, that the body of the supposed saint Zosima smells rotten, as it's supposed not to); Karamazov is simply an impetuous, debauched drunk; Ivan is a little bit lost, and Dimitry and Alyosha (and Katerina) are callow, inexperienced youths trying to find some way for themselves. This flourish of realism makes the novel great. [10/23/2011].

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