Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski’s budding literary career was interrupted in 1849 by a nine-year exile in Siberia and Asian Russia for political subversion, a charge never fully substantiated. When he resumed his career, at the age of thirty-eight, he began to work at a frenetic pace—as novelist, journalist, and editor—a pace that he maintained until his death, only one year after the publication of The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevski was an inveterate gambler, frequently indulging in gambling binges of up to two weeks in duration; when his gambling debts mounted and his other creditors became insistent, he wrote, in a furiously intense burst of energy, to pay his bills. In addition, other catastrophes punctuated his hectic life. His first wife died; he began to have epileptic seizures; he got into further trouble with the government; he found it impossible to resist beautiful women. Woven through all this were his epiphanic flights of imagination, which culminated in his superb novels and the agonized soul searching of a man deeply concerned with truth, peace of mind, and religious faith. Indeed, the turbulence of Dostoevski’s life never really subsided, although he did enjoy a relative calm of sorts during the last few years of his life under the careful ministrations of his second wife. That turbulence is reflected in Dostoevski’s novels, particularly The Brothers Karamazov, his last novel and presumably the most mature expression of his style and his thought.
Like the other novels, The Brothers Karamazov is a psychological novel: Less emphasis is placed on plot, action, and setting (although Dostoevski is a master craftsman at all three) than on emotions and thoughts. In fact, Dostoevski’s psychological insights are so sharp that Sigmund Freud selected The Brothers Karamazov as one of the three greatest works in world literature. The other two he picked were Oidipous Tyrannos (c. 429 b.c.e.; Oedipus Tyrannus, 1715) and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark(pr. c. 1600-1601, pb. 1603). All three involve a death of a father and an intergenerational love triangle. Moreover, Freud’s essay on The Brothers Karamazov, “Dostoevsky and Parricide,” is considered a classic in psychology and literary criticism. In it,...
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