Welcome back to the summer readalong of Dostoevsky’s classic The Brothers Karamazov. At 93 pages, “Book Eleven: Brother Ivan Karamazov” is the second longest section of the book, which will be book twelve, next week. And remember all those early books where stuff didn’t happen? I think it’s because Dostoevsky packed it all into Book 11. boy howdy, did things happen this week. Additionally, I think an appropriate subtitle might be Varieties of Mental Illness because we got a whopping load of that this week. And now, my slapdash, irreverent summary.
Ch 1: At Grushenka’s. Alyosha goes to see Grusha, who has been ill with distress. I was bothered by the contradiction between:
“There was no trace, for example, of her former frivolity.”
And, a few lines later:
“Grushenka still had not lost her former youthful gaiety.”
Am I wrong? Is it Dostoevsky? Is it the translation?
Maximov is staying with her, and I loved the description of him as a “wandering sponger.” We learn that Grusha and Dmitri have been fighting and are jealous: she of Katerina, he of her former Polish lover. We learn that Ivan and Dmitri are plotting something.
Ch 2: An Ailing Little Foot Alyosha is our everyman and the eyes through which we see most of what happens in this section. He goes to the Khokhlakov’s. Mme has a hurt foot, and has been receiving the attention of Perkhotin, but now that weaselly Rakitin is trying to worm his way into the affections of this rich widow. She is anxious because of a libelous (because it’s in print, right?) piece tying her and Dmitri romantically. She’s also anxious because of the rivalry between Perkhotin and Rakitin. She informs Alyosha that Ivan came to visit Lise, which upset the girl.
Ch 3: A Little Demon. Does this describe the visions Lise is having, or herself? In any case, I think Lise is on the Crazy Train, leaving Bi-polar on her way to Schizophrenia. She admits having dark thoughts to Alyosha, which include an ugly anti-Semitic dream about Jews eating children. Alyosha says he understands her dream of demons, which only makes her more enraged so she slams her finger in the door purposefully.
Ch 4: A Hymn and a Secret. Alyosha visits Dmitri in jail. Dmitri wants to be a martyr, and die for other people’s sins.
I wondered who is the “them” in this sentence from p 587:
“Me, friends with Mikhail? No, not really. Why would I be, the swine! He considers me…a scoundrel. And he doesn’t understand jokes–that’s the main trouble with them.
Later, as he continues his ranting, Dmitri moves away from Christianity and says he’s sorry for God, because of the advent of science.
Chemistry, brother, chemistry! Move over a little, Your Reverence, there’s no help for it, chemistry’s coming!
Though it’s not mentioned directly here, Dostoevsky was influenced by the works of Lyell and Darwin:
Then Dmitri goes into a roller-coaster series of mood swings over the next few pages: worried, hot, excited, rapture shifts to breathless pale, trembling and tearful. Two pages later he’s laughing almost gaily. On the next he’s glum and terribly worried. And the next paragraph made him sound completely CRAZYTOWNBANANAPANTS:
He looked around, quickly went up to Alyosha, who was standing before him and whispered to him with a mysterious air, though in fact no one could hear them: the old guard was nodding on his bench in the corner, and not a word could reach the sentries.
“I’ll reveal our whole secret to you!”
And in the next two pages he’s in a frenzy with a feverish look, pleading, and then a page later is suddenly quite pale in the frenzy, and finishes by almost swooning.
I found this scene exhausting to read; how must it have been for poor Alyosha to experience?
Ch 5: Not You! Not You! Alyosha finds Ivan leaving Katerina’s, and declaring he doesn’t care for her. Ivan rips up Lise’s letter, asks Alyosha who he thinks murdered their father, then runs off. Ivan decides to go see Smerdyakov.
Ch 6: The First Visit to Smerdyakov. In a time flashback, Ivan has a psychologically twisted confrontation in the hospital with his half brother, who is suffering in the aftermath of the attack he claims happened on the day FP was killed.
Ch 7: The Second Visit. Smeryakov accuses Ivan of being complicit in FP’s death. Katerina provides a letter from Dmitri that sounds like a plan to have killed FP that is repeatedly referred to as “a mathematical proof.” Again, is it the translation, or an archaic usage, because it seems to me that scientific or concrete would be more fitting.
Ch 8: The Third and Last Meeting. THE MONEY CHAPTER, IN WHICH ALL (MUCH?) IS REVEALED.
Smerdyakov did it! He pulls out the 3K roubles to prove it and accuses Ivan of being the mastermind. Ivan says he’s going to tell all. On his way out, he helps a peasant he’d knocked unconscious, earlier. He decides he’ll put off confessing till the trial the next day, then returns home to stare at an empty couch.
Ch 9: The Devil. Ivan Fyodorovich’s Nightmare. In which Ivan boards the Crazy Train. Understatement:
things will go badly. (635).
Ivan has an imaginary conversation with the devil, in a long chapter that reminded me a great deal of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, though a quick search doesn’t turn up evidence for Lewis’ book being influenced by this chapter. It goes on and on until finally brought to a close by–guess who?–Alyosha! at the window. Poof. Devil gone. A says that Smerdyakov has hanged himself.
Ch 10: “He Said That!” In which Ivan raves, and Alyosha prays for him.
I found this one of the most engaging, forward-moving of the book sections so far. So many revelations! So much crazy!
What did everyone else think?