In February, I joined a reading group comprising two moderators and, depending on the week, seven to ten other readers (thinkers, learners) who are tackling the twelve books and a three-chapter epilogue of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov one book a week. Before the first meeting, I asked which edition we would use and was advised to choose whatever worked for me. The Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation has been on my shelves since 2003 when I joined an online group that fell apart after Book II. After revisiting it and then perusing the Norton Critical edition (which is based on the Constance Garnett translation), I chose the Barnes and Noble edition of Garnett. The Garnett translation is also readily available in audiobook format, and having the book in my ears and before my eyes greatly enhances my deep reading.
Naturally, I’ve been marking memorable passages. Here are some from the first four books.
Book I: The History of a Family
Chapter I: Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov
As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple‐hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.
Chapter IV: The Third Son, Alyosha
He was simply an early lover of humanity, and that he adopted the monastic life was simply because at that time it struck him, so to say, as the ideal escape for his soul struggling from the darkness of worldly wickedness to the light of love.
Chapter V: Elders
Oh! no doubt, in the monastery he fully believed in miracles, but, to my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling‐block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith.
For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to‐day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth. Alyosha would have found it strange and impossible to go on living as before.
Book II: An Unfortunate Gathering
Chapter II: The Old Buffoon
“And, above all, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all.”
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill—he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing….”
Chapter IV: A Lady of Little Faith
“And do you know, I came with horror to the conclusion that, if anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once—that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving any one.”
“Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute. Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint‐heartedness in attaining love. Don’t be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions.”
Chapter VI: Why Is Such a Man Alive?
With old liars who have been acting all their lives there are moments when they enter so completely into their part that they tremble or shed tears of emotion in earnest, although at that very moment, or a second later, they are able to whisper to themselves, “You know you are lying, you shameless old sinner! You’re acting now, in spite of your ‘holy’ wrath.”
Book III: The Sensualists
Chapter VIII: Over the Brandy
“There’s absolute nothingness then. Perhaps there is just something? Anything is better than nothing!”
“No, I am not angry. I know your thoughts. Your heart is better than your head.”
Book IV: Lacerations
Chapter III: A Meeting with the Schoolboys
Alyosha had no art or premeditation in beginning with this practical remark. But it is the only way for a grown‐up person to get at once into confidential relations with a child, or still more with a group of children. One must begin in a serious, businesslike way so as to be on a perfectly equal footing. Alyosha understood it by instinct.
Pingback: “Stupidity is brief and artless….” | Nerdishly
Pingback: What I’ve been reading | Nerdishly