three brothers

23 December 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve just finished writing my first thoughts about the Karamazovs, mainly focussing on the three brothers. My notebook contains a lot of  other thoughts which I haven’t really managed to fit into what I wrote, but it’s all there for eventual use.

As the narrator of Brothers Karamazov says at the beginning of the trial:

“I trust that my readers will not complain if I describe only what struck me personally, and what stuck in my head”.

Now I’m going to break for Christmas, read trashy novels for a week or so, then come back in January to start on The Idiot.

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Brothers Karamazov

22 December 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov – it’s taken exactly a month, which I think is a record-breaking speed for me. I’m struck again by what a cracking good story Dostoevsky can tell – if you strip out all the clever theology, it’s a real pot-boiler, with dramatic twists all over the place to keep you turning the pages right up to the end.

I’m conscious that when I wrote my little essay on Crime and Punishment to kick this off, I gave away a lot of the story, and at some point I’ll have to correct that. I think I was sliding back to the mindset of university essay-writing where, of course, your reader has read the book. I have some jottings already on the Karamazovs, but will be more careful not to give away all the delicious surprises of the plot. I wouldn’t like to inflict on anyone what happened to me when I first read Anna Karenina – halfway through it, I had a query and thought I’d read the introduction – which promptly gave away the plot in its opening paragraph.

I’ve been trying to remember when I have previously read it, and haven’t had much luck. My copy is inscribed with my name and Durham college, so I obviously bought it as an undergraduate, but I’m sure I never read it then. My memory of reading it is that I was particularly struck by the trial, and the reaction and interest it provokes in the town, and across Russia, and I compared it at the time with the intense interest and public speculation that surrounded the trial of Louise Woodward, the British nanny accused of shaking a baby to death in America. If so, that would put it at around 1997, so I either read it in London or in Moscow. Funny how I can’t remember. There’s also a postcard tucked inside it as a bookmark which was sent to me by my mother and the message on the back appears to date it from the time I lived in Chile, so I must have read it again there.

PS: I have to add this link too http://onion.com/hOy9qY – very very funny.

Twilight of Love

21 December 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the books that P suggested I read when I started on this project was Twilight of Love by Robert Dessaix. It’s a beautiful and touching book that meanders through the life of Turgenev as Dessaix visits the writer’s homes in Germany, France and Russia. It’s almost a travel book, almost a biography, almost a memoir, and as much about Dessaix as it is about Turgenev. He ponders mortality, civilisation, belief and above all, love, and whether it is possible truly to love and how we all find our own ways of loving.

Turgenev’s own way of loving was a lifelong, more or less chaste devotion to the singer Pauline Viardot, whose husband seemed to tolerate her devoted troubadour with considerable kindness. I was naturally struck by the superficial similarity to Brahms’ passion for Clara Schumann and highly amused to learn from Dessaix that in fact Clara Schumann and Pauline Viardot were close friends.

I’ve never been that bothered by Turgenev;  I read Fathers and Sons in my first year at university and wasn’t particularly impressed, although after reading Dessaix, I am inspired to take time and revisit Turgenev at some point. He’ll probably be a good antidote to the excesses of Dostoevsky. (They loathed each other, and Dessaix equally loathes Dostoevsky, although even he can’t help weighing in on the Grand Inquisitor).

I wouldn’t be so bold as to take Dessaix as a model for what I’m trying to do but he’s inspired me, and in different ways, comforted me. I tried to write about the messages that Dessaix draws from Turgenev about finding happiness, but everything I wrote came out sounding rather banal, like something from a self-help book, and he’s so much more eloquent, so all I can say is go and read the book and find out.

Everything is permitted

16 December 2010 § Leave a comment

It struck me again, this evening, reading Brothers Karamazov, when Smerdyakov throws back Ivan’s words at him – “Everything is permitted” – that this is one of the themes that drives everything, not just in Brothers Karamazov but everything Dostoevsky writes. Isn’t it a tempting proposition.  I can envy the way that so often in Dostoevsky’s novels, people just let rip, and do and say what they please, without hiding their emotions. Wouldn’t it be liberating to throw off the good manners and social niceties, step into a parallel Dostoevsky universe and let your passions go wild. What would you do first?

Of course, it doesn’t really work like that though. Like Raskolnikov, Smerdyakov soon discovers that actually, when it comes down it, not everything is permitted. However much they try, most people still possess a shred of goodness somewhere (I was trying to explain this to my son not long ago after we had watched Return of the Jedi). Even rejecting God doesn’t mean that you can do what you like. This is obvious to us today, when atheism abounds, but was possibly just a little more shocking in the 1880s.  However much the Karamazovs try to push to the limits the idea that everything is permitted (and they all embody it, in their own way, even Alyosha) they all run up against that elusive human quality that, in the end, keeps us all under control. It cannot be for nothing that man evolved a conscience.

here we go

12 December 2010 § Leave a comment

Whilst not paying attention to a boring sermon in church this morning, I decided it might be useful to start a blog so that I can leave things for my very helpful friends to read as and when they want to, rather than clogging up their inboxes. I think P may have suggested it when he came up with this mad idea. Let’s see what happens.

I’ve posted my little introduction and my essay on Crime and Punishment. I wrote these mainly to get myself started, and to get something together quickly for P to read. If this evolves into something bigger, it’ll all have to be re-written but it’s a start. I also wrote something on the Grand Inquisitor as soon as I’d read it, because I wanted to get my own thoughts together before I read what everyone else has to say.

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