The Brothers Karamazov Readalong: Book 4


Welcome back to our section-a-week reading of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. We just finished week 4, book 4, which puts us about a quarter of the way through the book. Woo hoo! Apologies for the lateness of this post. This is my super busy week of the summer, with 3 kid activities a day. If I make it through this week, I think I’ll be OK.

Disclaimer: I am reading BK for the first time, and this is not (as you’ll soon see) a rigorously academic discussion of it.

In the “From the Author” section that opens the book, Dostoevsky asks himself what’s so notable about Alexei to make him the hero of the book. The answer is pretty clear to me by book four. Alexei is the only sane character in the book. He might also be the only one who doesn’t shout all the time, requiring multiple exclamation points. All the other characters are loud, and shout-y, and act capriciously, with mood swings that have to be read to be believed. But not Alexei. He just wanders among them, sometimes confused, always tolerant. He’s a good listener and well liked. Doestoevsky’s right in that these don’t seem exemplary. UNTIL HE’S SHOWN IN THE MIDST OF A BUNCH OF BAT$H1T CRAZY PEOPLE.

So in this week’s Book IV: Strains, the adventures of Alexei are as follows:

Ch 1 Father Ferapont (who then is not even discussed till the end of his chapter.) Zosima wakes and preaches ramblingly to Alyosha and others. I had trouble with this phrase: “his voice, though weak, was still quite firm.” Weak and firm are opposites. Quiet and firm would have worked better for me. Mostly Z says to love one another. Shocking. The monks are awaiting a miracle. Then we shift to Father Ferapont, who fasts, says little, is grumpy and either very holy or very crazy. or perhaps ingesting too many forest mushrooms. This made me laugh:

today he announced that a fool would visit me and ask improper questions.

In Chapter 2 Alexei goes to his father’s, discusses the love entanglements that go far beyond a triangle, because we have both Katerina and Grushenka and two of the three legit Karamazov brothers plus their father. Love pentagon? I may need to try and map this, perhaps with a ven diagram. Alyosha kisses him goodbye, which seems to startle Fyodor.

In Chapter 3 he comes across some schoolboys who are tormenting a sickly kid. A tries to intervene, and for his trouble the sickly kid throws a rock at him and bites his finger to the bone. Most people would be annoyed, but Alexei is merely confused.

Chapter 4, At the Khokhlakov’s (having just re-watched Arrested Development, this name always makes me think of the family’s chicken dances. Hmm. Bluths and Karamazovs. Maybe not so different. Anyhoo.)

Lise acts strangely to Alexei, though perhaps not if we remember she’s an adolescent who seems embarrassed by her mom. They worry about his injured finger.

In Chapter 5, he visits with KI and Ivan in the drawing room, and finally is so exasperated by their duplicity that he calls them out and everyone gets very huffy. KI asks him to give some cash to a man who Dmitri had offended.

In Chapter 6 and 7, we learn the man is the father of the boy who attacked Alexei earlier. Dmitri humiliated him publicly. His wife is ill, as is one of his daughters, the son is now ill, and he refuses the money out of pride.

I’m finding the book enjoyable enough to read, but I think I’m still getting my sea legs with its Russian-ness. I’m not yet having fun with it, and I sense that potential here. Perhaps just wishful thinking? Then again, I’m really having fun with these recaps, so I think I’m on my way.

What did everyone else think?

5 Responses to “The Brothers Karamazov Readalong: Book 4”

  1. Amy Says:

    “He’s a good listener and well liked. Doestoevsky’s right in that these don’t seem exemplary. UNTIL HE’S SHOWN IN THE MIDST OF A BUNCH OF BAT$H1T CRAZY PEOPLE.”

    That’s a very Bloggess kind of statement. :-)

    I agree with everything you’ve said. It’s Russian-ness is a tough row to hoe at times. Still, I’m intrigued and wonder–will Alyosha eventually replace the holy elder? And were Russians at the time even remotely how Dostoevsky paints them?

  2. Ritalee Says:

    I enjoy your recaps too — they also make me appreciate the book more. Most of the characters are stressful to spend time with, and as I begin book 5 reading Ivan talk about cruelty to Aloysha I glance ahead and notice that his side of the conversation takes up the whole next two pages without any indentations for new paragraphs. Dostoevsky loves to bring up Russians whipping horses across the eyes (see Crime and Punishment) and it makes me sick. I know this is beyond the scope of book 4, but my main point is about the endurance required for lengthy conversations.
    Father Ferapont is a lot of fun and I like his counterpoint to Zosima. I would be happy to read a book simply about the monastery and its characters.
    Lise is thoroughly annoying and her love affair with Alexei completely baffles me. Seriously, it made me long for Twilight.
    I’m still acclimating to this gargantuan novel and think about why Woody Allen is enamored of the Russians — the wordiness, the angst, neurotic women. I find myself wondering how I’ll feel about it all at the end. Underlying everything, I think, is the necessity of compassion, and I look forward to this concept spooling out through our characters.

  3. girldetective Says:

    I should probably stop comparing it to Bleak House, but I do, and miss the Dickens.

  4. Amy Says:

    Ritalee, I agree about Father Ferapont and thinking a book just about the monastery would be worth thread.

    Kristin, a little of Dickens’ sense of humor would be very welcome. Not to mention his (relatively, anyway) brevity.

  5. girldetective Says:

    Dostoevsky has a sense of humor, it’s just way more discomfiting than Dickens’.

    Fr. Ferapont, who sees demons: the fasting + the mushrooms doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in touch with the spiritual, IMO.