Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: The Brothers Karamazov

I feel like I deserve to rest on my laurels for a while and read nothing but Angela Thirkell and  D. E. Stephenson after finishing Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, which I read for the fifty classics project.  Are you tired of hearing about the fifty classics?  Don't worry, I am nearly halfway through the project, and I seem to be reading all the more difficult works on my list first.  There is some fun stuff coming up, I promise.



The Brothers Karamazov is kind of sexy, which I wasn't expecting. The main plot is the sort that attracts filmmakers, but as far as I can tell, it has been made into a movie only one time, in 1958, starring Yul Brenner, and billed as a "drama" and "romance."  (Is it possible that it's a muscial?)

So, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov is a right bastard who fathers one son, Dmitri, with his first wife, and two more sons, Ivan and Alexei with his second wife.  He also has an illigitimate son, Pavel, who works as a servant in the household.  Dmitri ("Mitya"), Ivan, and Alexei are all motherless and raised away from home because their father didn't take any interest in them.  When the novel opens, all three brothers are young men and have returned home to their father.  (Alexei ("Alyosha") actually lives in the local monastery.)  Mitya is a drinking, whoring, hell-raising kind of guy.  Ivan is the tortured intellectual, and Alyosha is a monk in training.  Mitya is engaged to a young lady, Katerina Ivanova Verkhovtseva, but he falls in love with the town Jezebel, Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova ("Grushenka").  Fyodor is also in love with Grushenka, and the love triangle between father, son, and this woman is the vehicle for much of the plot.  Meanwhile, Ivan is in love with Mitya's fiancee, Katerina.  Alyosha isn't really in love with anyone, but a young girl in the town is very much in love with him.  It's obvious that all three brothers are supreme hotties. See? Sexy.

That's the basic framework.  There are several subplots, and lots of details I'm leaving out, not to mention the philosophical and religious themes, but it's an 800-page book, so I can't go into all of it.  I was intrigued with Ivan's "poem," The Grand Inquisitor, in which Jesus Himself returns to earth during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and is condemned to death, though the Grand Inquisitor knows perfectly well who he is, and elegantly explains his reasoning for sending Jesus to the stake.  Ivan's deeply cynical view of religion contrasts with Alyosha's faith.

What a difference a good translation makes!  My copy was translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and this is THE translation.  There are no lame attempts to substitute English colloquialisms for Russian ones, no sense of missed meaning such as I experienced with Crime and Punishment.  This translation of The Brothers Karamazov is so well-done, you'd think it was originally written in English.  If these two had translated Crime and Punishment, I'd read it again, but they haven't.  They have translated The Idiot, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina.  I will be reading War and Peace soon and I intend to seek out their translation.

8 comments:

  1. I cleaned off one of the upstairs bookshelves this week and found I have a copy of this. Now I need to see who translated it so I can read it. I actually got rid of a stack of books while I was at it!

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  2. It's a good thing you own it because it's so long it's difficult to read in the amount of time the library gives you.

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  3. I am applauding that you completed this book. Thanks for the review and the translation recommendation. The translation can make a huge difference, as can the reader's knowledge of the world. When I read it as a teenager I never considered the possibility that the brothers were all hotties because book characters being hotties never crossed my mind!

    The main thing that I remember about the book is
    that the characters were always "cyring" as in "Oh, no!" Alyosha cried. Which of course meant, "exclaimed" but I imagined all the characters sobbing their way through the entire book. That was my teenager-ish attitude. I think I really should re-read it.

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    1. Sounds like you had an awkward translation! No "crying" in my book and the description of Dmitri made me imagine him as Jonathan Rhys Myers.

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  4. I have not read this one and I am glad to know that this is THE translation to read. I did read Anna Karenina again a few years ago. Now I'm wondering if it's the same translators ... Since I lend books and sometimes don't get them back but never get rid of them, it's still on my shelf, so I'm going to check. :-)

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    1. They did translate Anna Karenina--this was the version that Oprah recommended.

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  5. I must have read a rotten translation of Crime and Punishment. Did this translator use multiple names for all the characters? I find that tedious in old novels. And I tip my hat to you for slogging through this book!

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    1. YES. Everyone has at least three nicknames, but I think that's a Russian cultural thing.

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