The End of Book One

contemplator-1876.jpg!LargeHad some quality hammock reading time and was able to move to the end of Book One with our favorite brothers.  The action since we last talked as still centered around the debaucherous brothers and Grushenka.  Dmitry has gotten himself into a “pickle” in Barb’s words, and has found himself owing someone money and then engaged to marry the woman he gave the money too, despite being still in love with Grushenka, to the point where he tells Alyosha that he would be willing to wait quietly in the other room while she has sex with other men.  He says:

I loved debauchery, I loved the stench of debauchery too. I loved cruelty: am I not a louse, an evil insect? I’m a Karamazov, don’t forget that!

Hilariously, Dmitry is sending Alyosha to break up with the first woman…a maneuver many others have tried over the years, without success.

‘Tell her that I shall never see her again and tell her that I send her my regards.’

‘You can’t do that!’

‘No, I can’t. That’s why I’m sending you in my stead. I couldn’t possibly do it myself.

Almost reads like Groucho Marx.

A significant part of this section consists of one of those Russian novel discussions on the nature of faith, which sound like dorm room bull sessions.  Woody Allen famously sent this up in “Love and Death.”  For example, in Matthew Jesus is supposed to have said that if you had faith as large as a mustard seed you could move a mountain.”  Why then, it is asked, is no one, anywhere on earth, moving mountains.  And how can there by martyrs when all you needed to do was move a mountain on them and crush them like “cockroaches.”

Enlightening stuff.

Like any author of a book written for a contemporary audience, Dostoevsky uses a lot of references that are current and familiar, and the footnotes in a book like this are often quite fun.

For example, the painting posted above is part of a discussion about one of the servants, who had a habit of just stopping and staring off into space.  Like the character in the painting, it is suggested, he is not thinking but “merely contemplating” and that he will file away these unconscious musings in a kind of primitive part of his brain until after many years “he might unexpectedly throw up everything and go off to Jerusalem as a wandering pilgrim, or perhaps he might suddenly set fire to his native village, or perhaps both.”

Which is kind of what they looks like he’s doing, even if that’s a fair amount of extrapolation.

There’s another reference to a poem by Nikolai Nekrasov.  It is titled “When from thine error” or “When from the darkness.”  Either way, it was probably important to Dostoevsky, because he referred to it in this book, inserted it into Notes from the Underground and doing a public reading of it.

It is worth a read.  It is also not surprising to see how it might have been appealing to our author.  It is about a person who has fallen and confessed and forgive, and yet carries around doubt because of how the world sees him/her.

Heed not the world, its lies dissembling,
Henceforth from all thy doubts be free;
Nor let thy soul, unduly trembling,
Still harbor thoughts that torture thee.
By grieving fruitlessly and vainly
Warm not the serpents in thy breast,

….advice that Dmitry has adopted under trademark false piety, something that would have been apparent to contemporary readers.

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