Books 10-11 – Boys and Brother Ivan Karamazov

I’m still without my computer so I’ll keep it brief again.  If this novel were a Shakespeare play (and George Steiner’s Tolstoy or Dostoevsky argues that Shakespearean drama is a good analogue to most of D’s works) , Book 10 starts after where the intermission would have fallen: it’s Act 4.  Fyodor has been murdered, Dmitri goes on a spree and is arrested.  Then, we fast forward two months.  Dmitri is still in jail, and it’s the eve of his trial.

Book 10 is largely about the B-storyline of Aloysha and the children.  Iluskya is dying of tuberculosis, and Alyosha gets his proud friend Kolya, the leader of the rock-throwers from earlier, to meet with him.  Kolya is a sort of amusing teenage version of Ivan.  He’s a self-avowed socialist and atheist who also desires Alyosha’s approval.  Alyosha works to reconcile the two, and though Ilushkya is already doomed, still there is something touching in Alyosha’s efforts.  The Kolya-Ilushkya subplot allows for an interesting reflection of the Karamazov’s story, but now in a childish and innocent (though tragic) setting.

Book 11 returns to the main action.  We learn that Ivan returned to his family just a few days after his father’s murder, and has met with Smerdyakov several times.  On his final visit, Smerdyakov, after previously protesting his innocence, confesses to the murder of Fyodor, describing the murder in intricate detail.  Ivan says he’ll testify against him, but Smerdyakov points out that if he does that, he’ll look like an accomplice to that murder, having given both ideological encouragement and his tacit approval (or it will look like that to the jury anyway).

Ivan leaves S’s house and then has a fit of what we would call schizophrenic hallucination.  He is visited by the Devil in an extraordinarily riveting and intellectually complicated chapter that reminded me a lot of Tyler Durden’s dialogues with the narrator of Fight Club.     There’s a lot to parse but I guess I won’t.  Another thing this section (and all the Ivan sections, come to think of it) reminds me of is the Stephen Deadalus chapters of Ulysses.  There’s this hyper allusive, frenetic self doubt that is here brought to the level of the supnatural.  I also can’t help but wonder whether D himself must have suffered from some sort of bipolar or schizophrenic issue, in addition to the well-documented epilepsy, to have written this with such sympathy and rawness.

Book 11 ends with Alyosha’s touching efforts to calm Ivan from his delusions.  This is again one of those moments in this extremely intellectual novel where the physical and emotional details somehow seem just right.  He arrives with the news that Smerdyakov has hung himself, seemingly preventing Ivan from testifying against him.  Ivan vows to do so anyway.

This leaves only Book 12 – the trial of Dmitri, and the epilogue.  Then I’ll try to write something about my oval experience with Fyodor Dostoevsky and Joseph Frank’s biography.

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One Response to Books 10-11 – Boys and Brother Ivan Karamazov

  1. Pingback: The Dostoevsky Project Wrap-Up #1: Everything I Wrote | Original Positions

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