Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Skotoprigonyevsk (sko-to-prihg-ON-ih-ehfsk). Russian town in which the Karamazovs’ home is located and the location of the worst debauchery commonly blamed on Fyodor Karamazov—the rape of the mentally disabled Lizavita. Dostoevski’s narrator withholds the name of the town until almost the very end of the novel, at the beginning of the trial of Dmitri Karamazov. Otherwise, the narrator refers to it only as “the town” or “our town.” The name Skotoprigonyevsk is most likely derived from the Russian word skotoprigony, meaning a stockyard. It is a generic Russian rural town of the time, located somewhere in the broadleaf-forest belt that is the heart of old Russia. For the people of Skotoprigonyevsk, the bright lights and Western fashions of the capital in St. Petersburg are almost unimaginably distant, talked about but never seen.
Karamazov home. Dwelling of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, patriarch of the Karamazov family. As befits a wealthy landowner, it is a spacious house, tended by a faithful servant and his wife. However, it is also in notable disrepair, with crumbling wallpaper. These signs of decay reflect the moral dissolution of the elder Karamazov and are likely a deliberate touch of Dostoevski’s art. Although the house is the family home, it is not a place where Karamazov’s sons find nurturing or comfort. All three of his legitimate sons are fostered by...
(The entire section is 466 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
In 1689 Peter the Great assumed the throne in Russia. His attempts to modernize Russia were not entirely successful, but he did manage many reforms before his death in 1725. Another reform-minded leader, Catherine the Great, resumed the task of modernization in 1762.
From 1801 to 1825, Alexander I continued in the path of Peter and Catherine. He granted amnesty to political prisoners and repealed many restrictive laws. Under Alexander's reign, Russia increased in size and power. When Napoleon marched on Moscow in 1812, he found the city burned to the ground and, with no supplies and winter setting in, he retreated. The Russian army routed Napoleon's troops using guerrilla tactics.
In 1826 Nicholas I adamantly opposed liberal ideas and Western thought. He instituted secret police, strict censorship, and the removal of all controversial materials from educational institutions. Writers were arrested, university chairs in history and philosophy abolished, and student bodies reduced. Meanwhile, he reformed the economy and compiled the first set of Russian laws since 1649. In 1854 the Russian military forces were defeated by an international army of Turkish, British, French and Sardinian troops in the Crimean War (1854-1856)....
(The entire section is 644 words.)
Like many other novels of the nineteenth century, The Brothers Karamazov is composed of a diverse array of narrative techniques. These techniques include tales, anecdotes, confessions, digressions, a novella, and a trial transcript. None of these elements can be isolated from the novel without making it incomplete.
The narrator seems omniscient, yet allows various parts of the story to be told by others without clarification. As a result, there are approximately eleven versions of Fyodor's murder.
The multiplicity of voices and layers drive home the themes of the novel through repetition and mirroring. The novel works on thesis and antithesis. Zossima, and his echo Alyosha, counter Ivan's thesis. Fyodor and Miusov foreshadow Ivan's thoughts. Dmitri repeats a portion of Ivan's speech. Ilusha and his friends are mirrors of and responses to Ivan's "rebellion." Kolya's goose is a mirror of Ivan and Smerdyakov.
There is allegorical significance in virtually every aspect and feature composing the fabric of The Brothers Karamazov. Dmitri's shame hangs about his neck like an albatross. His redemption is in the form of a small icon that Madame Hohlakov gives to him.
Animals and insects are employed not only to describe character traits, but also as harbingers. For example, cockroaches in the wall emphasize Ivan's horror.
(The entire section is 753 words.)
As usual, Dostoevsky lays out the plot, a complex one, in a fairly orderly fashion. The author apologizes for the family history that he provides at the opening, but this information about the background of the Karamazov family is essential for an understanding of the events that follow. The text is broken up into small sections, little chapters within twelve "books" and the Epilogue. Each book is tided with an appropriate phrase or word that identifies the subject (e.g. "Alyosha" and "The Russian Monk"); then, the chapters are also helpfully labeled: for instance, "He gets rid of his eldest son," "A lady of little faith," and "The Grand Inquisitor."
Biographer Mochulsky speaks of the novel in terms of "the harmony of its architectonics," and goes on to show how all the threads of the plot and the relationships of the characters are cleverly intermingled. Almost all of the central characters have some association with, or at least some knowledge of, each of the other characters. While they often operate at cross purposes, the force of the conflicts (Dmitri and Fyodor, Katerina and Grushenka, Ivan and himself) advances the plot inexorably.
The setting is confined to the provincial town; and, the voice of the narrator, heard only occasionally, provides a unifying impression to the text. The first person voice is employed sparingly, mosdy at the beginning of the story; and, it provides a somewhat "folksy" tone that both prepares for the dire...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
A fruitful exercise might be a comparison of this novel with the preceding ones, with an eye to the "progress" that the author made in developing his themes and characters. An obvious example would be to discover whether Alyosha is indeed an "advance" in characterization over Prince Myshkin. Also, one could attempt to determine whether Ivan mirrors Stavrogin and whether the former is a more believably tormented personality than the latter. Since there is a great deal of violent behavior in the text; it might be well to investigate psychological studies of deviant behavior, in order to see if Dostoevsky is as astute a student of such activity as has been claimed for him (e.g., is Dmitri's "mixed" nature true to the "rules" of personality theory in psychology?). Lastly, one might examine the passages of dialogue to judge whether Dostoevsky has created a distinctive pattern of speech for each major character, as he has been praised for doing in earlier works.
1. Russian novels are famous for the enormous numbers of characters, with very long and complicated names. While War and Peace (1865-1869) may be the most challenging in this regard, The Brothers Karamazov, not containing the 500 persons found in the Tolstoy work, still has more than forty characters. Are they all necessary? Are there any that could be dispensed with, without harm to the integrity of the plot or the themes?
2. Further, are all the plot incidents needed? For...
(The entire section is 564 words.)
The principal social aspect of The Brothers Karamazov is the integrity of the family. As the tide suggests, there is great emphasis on the three brothers, their relationships with one another and with their father, and on the matter of crime in a family—in a way, a family is a model of society as a whole; and, if the family loses its integrity, so will society suffer dislocation. This is just what happens in The Brothers Karamazov.
Dostoevsky had always possessed an intense interest in children and family life. For this novel, which took three years in the writing, he did considerable research, including queries of lawyers about various features of the criminal code (he disapproved of the new jury system, which had recently been introduced into Russia), studies of trials (with attendance at those of persons accused of child abuse), and reading about criminal cases, such as a notorious one in Omsk, which is said to be the initial source of the main plot action.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky, more than anywhere else in his writings, connects the relationships between fathers and children to those between God and Man. Thus, a crime by either "side" in a family quarrel mirrored the problems that many people have in their connection with God—indeed, Dostoevsky believed that all of society, especially that in Russia, needs the order and veneration of God (and of family integrity) that is provided by the Church. Of...
(The entire section is 689 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Late 1800s: The forefather of Russian communism and Marxist philosopher, Georgy Plekhanov, fled to Western Europe in 1880.
Today: Russia is developing democratic institutions based on the American model.
Late 1800s: There was a great famine in the agricultural regions of Russia from 1891-1892.
Today: Agricultural problems are still frequent in Russia due to poor infrastructure, inadequate resources for private farms, and a lack of credit sufficient to finance farming.
Late 1800s: The United States experienced an industrial revolution that would catapult it to the fore of manufacturing by the twentieth century.
Today: The United States is in the midst of an information revolution that has created significant economic benefits. These innovations have changed the way people communicate and do business in the twenty-first century.
(The entire section is 124 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Dostoyevsky had a profound impact on many twentieth-century authors like Albert Camus Richard Wright and Franz Kafka. Select a novel by one of these authors and write an essay tracing Dostoyevsky's influence.
There are many references throughout the novel to religious lore. Pick a few of them and research the full stories. How do these references impact the story? Are they relevant to modern American readers, or are these stories ignored?
Define the concept of the ideal Russian woman. Compare Grushenka and Katerina in terms of this concept.
Dmitri reluctantly considers escaping to America. What does America represent in this context? Has the impression of America changed?
How does the story of Ilusha's lost dog reflect the concerns of the novel as a whole?
(The entire section is 124 words.)
As critic Vyacheslav Ivanov has indicated, there is a Faustian quality to the mythic features of The Possessed (1871- 1872; see separate entry). The same might be said of The Brothers Karamazov, in which Ivan, most notably, "sells" his soul to the devil (the scenes where he is confronted by the demon are close to myth in their effect) and yet gains only unhappiness— one could say that this intellectual young man is "cursed" by his own personal devil. Moreover, Dmitri, in a manner, also suffers from a kind of bargain with grim fate. While he is eager, to recite Schiller's "Hymn to Joy," and falls to weeping with deep sentiment afterward, this troubled spirit occasionally hates himself for his rough ways, his excesses, his passions, and his general immorality. He, too, is somewhat "cursed" because of his "deal" with the devilish impulses in his personality—he pays the dear price at the close of the novel, but by this time he is willing to do so.
The general subject of antipathy between fathers and sons is an old tradition, going back to Oedipus the King (Sophocles, c. 429 B.C.); but, the most nearly connected, so far as nationality and social relevance go, is Turgenev's Fathers and Sons (1862), in which the political and moral differences between parent and child adumbrate, in a much milder way, the familial conflicts in The Brothers Karamazov.
(The entire section is 231 words.)
Nearly all of Dostoevsky's titles can be viewed as related to the others. In the case of this novel, however, perhaps the most closely related items are The Double (1846; a number of characters in The Brothers Karamazov are seen as rather dual personalities, especially Ivan), Notes from the Underground (1864; Dmitri's fixation on freedom of will and behavior, even to the point of loss of self-interest), and The Idiot (1868-1869, in which Prince Myshkin seems a more simplified preparatory character for the more realistic Alyosha). The themes that interested Dostoevsky, and sometimes bedeviled him, from the start of his career can be found in the course of his writings: inner conflict, the search for faith, belief in the Russian people, concern over crime and criminals, and so forth. The corpus of Dostoevsky's fiction is thus all of a piece, thematically, yet rife with differences of outlook and attitude and belief.
(The entire section is 149 words.)
Apart from the Moscow Art Theatre production of The Brothers Karamazov, there was a French version done by J. Copeau in 1911 and an Italian treatment by C. Alvaro.
On film, the principal work is the 1958 MGM movie version. It was written and directed by Richard Brooks and starred Yul Brynner as Dmitri, Maria Schell in a brilliant performance as Grushenka (Marilyn Monroe had been considered for the part), Richard Basehart as Ivan, Lee J. Cobb as Fyodor, Claire Bloom as Katerina Ivanovna, a very young William Shatner as Alyosha, and Albert Salmi as Smerdyakov. The production was long, expensive, and fairly close to the novel (insofar as such was possible for a work so extensive and complex)—it was generally praised for the breadth of its "coverage" and the fidelity to the spirit of the novel.
(The entire section is 136 words.)
The Brothers Karamazov was made into a silent film in 1918 by Dmitri Buchowetzki and Carl Froelich in Germany. Irmgard Bern and Fritz Kortner were in the cast.
The second German adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov was directed and scripted by Erich Engels. The 1931 film starred Fritz Kortner (again) as Dmitri and Bernhard Minetti as Ivan.
William Shatner made his film debut in the 1958 English production of The Brothers Karamazov. Adapted by Julius J. Epstein and directed by Richard Brooks, the film also starred Yul Brynner and Maria Schell.
A Russian production of the novel was made in 1968. Ivan Pyryev wrote the adaptation. Kirill Lavrov and Mikhail Ulyanov directed the film. Ulyanov and Lavrov also starred in the film, which was nominated for a best foreign film Oscar in 1970.
(The entire section is 128 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Notes from the Underground (1864) marks a turning point in Dostoyevsky's thought. It was written in reaction to Nikolay Chernyshevsky's utopian novel, What Is To Be Done ? Here, Dostoyevsky outlines the moral universe that he will explore in the rest of his writings.
Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was published in 1866. This crime novel chronicles the moral struggles of an impoverished student, Raskolnikov, who kills his landlady for money. This novel is considered a masterpiece.
Published in installments between 1875 and 1877, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina tells the story of a tragic love affair in late nineteenth-century Russia.
In Russia, a landowner must pay a soul tax on his serfs—though they are dead—until the next census. Such absurdities inspired Nikolay Gogol's 1842 masterpiece, Dead Souls. Gogol's satire about an enterprising young man who is trying to buy social mobility through prospecting on such dead souls gave Russian literature garnered critical and commercial popularity.
Ivan Turgeniev's Fathers and Sons (1862) explores the generation gap. The protagonist is a young intellectual nihilist who believes only in the laws of natural science; much to his chagrin, he falls prey to emotions such as love and unhappiness.
(The entire section is 189 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Belknap, Robert L. The Genesis of “The Brothers Karamazov”: The Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Text Making. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1990. Considers the reading and experiences of Dostoevski that appear in the novel. A study of the mind behind the book.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Selection of critical interpretations of the text. Essays printed in chronological sequence from 1971 to 1977. Includes an extended chronology of Dostoevski.
Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. This authoritative critical biography provides detailed information on the intellectual and literary context of the novel’s creation as well as a close reading of its main themes.
Leatherbarrow, William J. Fyodor Dostoyevsky—The Brothers Karamazov. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Provides background for understanding, including historical, intellectual, and cultural influences. Discusses the major themes of the novel.
Scanlan, James P. Dostoevsky the Thinker. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. Scanlan places Dostoevski’s views on...
(The entire section is 255 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Mikhail Bakhtin, "Toward a Reworking of the Dostoyevsky Book," in Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics, translated and edited by Caryl Emerson, University of Minnesota Press, 1984, pp. 283-302.
Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus Vintage, 1991, pp. 93-118.
Sigmund Freud, in Dostoyevsky and Parricide, translated by D. F. Tait, Basic Books, 1959, pp. 222-42.
Prince Kropotkin, "Gontcharoff; Dostoyevsky; Nekrasoff," in Russian Literature, McClure, Phillips & Co., 1905, pp. 151-90.
Hans Kung, "Religion in the Controversy over the End of Religion," in Literature and Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, edited by Walter Jans and Hans Kung, translated by Peter Heinegg, Paragon House, 1991, pp. 223-42.
Ralph E. Matlaw, in The Brothers Karamazov: Novelistic Technique, Mouton & Co., 1957, pp. 20-33.
J. Middleton Murray, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky: A Critical Study, Russell & Russell, 1966.
Richard Peace, in Dostoyevsky: An Examination of the Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1971.
The Spectator, Vol. 109, No. 4396, September 28, 1912, pp. 451-52.
The Temple Bar, Vol. 91, February, 1891, pp. 243-49.
Victor Terras, in A Karamazov Companion: Commentary on the Genesis,...
(The entire section is 323 words.)