The Brothers Karamazov – 3: Sensualists

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In the previous installment, we saw the Karamazov family and friends bickering at Alyosha’s home, the monastery.  Now we see the Karamazov family feuding in its natural habitat, and as what the father Fyodor and the son Dmitri call themselves, half-proudly: “sensualists.”

Book III really gets inside these two Karamazovs’ heads, where depravity reigns over whatever better side they may (or may not) have.  Dmitri is engaged to Katerina Ivanovna, but he is also part of a lust-triangle involving his father and a young woman named Grushenka.  We are also introduced to Smerdyakov, a young man who, according to rumor, is Fyodor’s fourth son.  Alyosha, as usual, is caught in the middle and ends up being the one to suffer most.  He is grateful to return to the monastery as soon as he can.

Why had the elder sent him “into the world”?  Here was quiet, here was holiness, and there—confusion, and a darkness in which one immediately got lost and went astray . . .

I’ll admit to being somewhat sensitive, and it was difficult to get through these pages.  At times it seemed almost unreal, the sick behavior of Fyodor Karamazov, and while the way women were treated is not news to me, it’s still not easy to read.  I keep wondering if Dostoyevsky based these characters on real people, and at the same time, I’m not sure I want to know.

I get frustrated with Alyosha, because he still cares about his family.  Pretty much most of us would find it easiest to relate to Ivan, the brother who is detached and critical of everyone.  Alyosha, on the other hand, has a forgiving heart, and nobody deserves it…which is kind of the point of Alyosha.  I still wish he wouldn’t put up with so much.

Katerina is a fascinating character.  Not particularly likeable.  But she wants so much to be treated as more than an object, and even though there is something pathetic about her actions, you feel for her, because there’s nothing else she can do.  (Save, perhaps, stay away from the older Karamazovs, which would be the best option.)  Definitely interested to see how her story goes.

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