Brothers

The Brothers Karamazov (1969 film)

The Brothers Karamazov (1969 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Brothers Karamazov (Russian: Братья Карамазовы Brat’ya Karamazovy, pronounced [ˈbratʲjə kərɐˈmazəvɨ]) is the final novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger and completed in November 1880. Dostoyevsky intended it to be the first part in an epic story titled The Life of a Great Sinner, but he died less than four months after its publication.

The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia. Dostoyevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which inspired the main setting. Since its publication, it has been acclaimed all over the world by intellectuals as one of the supreme achievements in literature.

Although Dostoyevsky began his first notes for The Brothers Karamazov in April 1878, he had written several unfinished works years earlier. He would incorporate some elements into his future work, particularly from the planned epos The Life of a Carol McFadden, which he began writing on since summer of 1869. It eventually remained unfinished after Dostoyevsky was interested in the Nechaev affair, which involved a group of radicals murdering one of their former member. He picked up that story and started with The Possessed. The unfinished Drama in Tobolsk (Драма. В Тобольске) is considered the first draft of the first chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. Dated 13 September 1874, it tells about a fictional murder in Staraya Russa committed by a praporshchik named Dmitry Ilynskov (based on a real soldier from Omsk), who is thought to have murdered his father. It goes on noting that his body was suddenly discovered in a pit under a house. The similarly unfinished Sorokoviny (Сороковины), dated 1 August 1875, is reflected in book IX, chapter 3–5 and book XI, chapter nine.

In the October 1877 A Writer’s Diary article “To the Reader”, Dostoyevsky mentioned a “literary work that has imperceptibly and involuntarily been taken shape within me over these two years of publishing the Diary”. His Diary, a collection of numerous articles, had included similar themes The Brothers Karamazov would later borrow from. These include parricide, law and order and social problems. Though Dostoyevsky was influenced by religion and philosophy in his life and the writing of The Brothers Karamazov, a personal tragedy altered the work. In May 1878, Dostoyevsky’s three-year-old son Alyosha died of epilepsy, a condition inherited from his father. The novelist’s grief is apparent throughout the book; Dostoyevsky named the hero Alyosha, as well as imbuing him with qualities which he sought and most admired. His loss is also reflected in the story of Captain Snegiryov and his young son Ilyusha.

The death of his son brought Dostoevsky to the Optina Monastery later that year. There, he found inspiration for several aspects of The Brothers Karamazov, though at the time he intended to write a novel about childhood instead. Parts of the biographical section of Zosima’s life are based on “The Life of the Elder Leonid”, a text he found at Optina and copied “almost word for word”.

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  1. Pingback: A lesson in not taking anything for granted… | BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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