The award-winning translation of Dostoevsky's last and greatest novel.
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North Point Press
June 01, 2002
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Excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
BOOK I: A NICE LITTLE FAMILY
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known in his own day (and still remembered among us) because of his dark and tragic death, which happened exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place. For the moment I will only say of this "landowner" (as we used to call him, though for all his life he hardly ever lived on his estate) that he was a strange type, yet one rather frequently met with, precisely the type of man who is not only worthless and depraved but muddleheaded as well--one of those muddleheaded people who still handle their own little business deals quite skillfully, if nothing else. Fyodor Pavlovich, for instance, started with next to nothing, he was a very small landowner, he ran around having dinner at other men's tables, he tried to foist himself off as a sponger, and yet at his death he was discovered to have as much as a hundred thousand roubles in hard cash. At the same time he remained all his life one of the most muddleheaded madcaps in our district. Again I say it was not stupidity--most of these madcaps are rather clever and shrewd--but precisely muddleheadedness, even a special, national form of it.
He was married twice and had three sons-the eldest, Dmitri Fyodorovich, by his first wife, and the other two, Ivan and Alexei, by his second. Fyodor Pavlovich's first wife belonged to a rather wealthy aristocratic family, the Miusovs, also landowners in our district. Precisely how it happened that a girl with a dowry, a beautiful girl, too, and moreover one of those pert, intelligent girls not uncommon in this generation but sometimes also to be found in the last, could have married such a worthless "runt," as everyone used to call him, I cannot begin to explain. But then, I once knew a young lady still of the last "romantic" generation who, after several years of enigmatic love for a certain gentleman, whom, by the way, she could have married quite easily at any moment, ended up, after inventing all sorts of insurmountable obstacles, by throwing herself on a stormy night into a rather deep and swift river from a high bank somewhat resembling a cliff, and perished there decidedly by her own caprice, only because she wanted to be like Shakespeare's Ophelia. Even then, if the cliff, chosen and cherished from long ago, had not been so picturesque, if it had been merely a flat, prosaic bank, the suicide might not have taken place at all. This is a true fact, and one can assume that in our Russian life of the past two or three generations there have been not a few similar facts. In the same way, the action of Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov was doubtless an echo of foreign influences, the chafings of a mind imprisoned.1 Perhaps she wanted to assert her feminine independence, to go against social conventions, against the despotism of her relatives and family, and her obliging imagination convinced her, if only briefly, that Fyodor Pavlovich, despite his dignity as a sponger, was still one of the boldest and most sarcastic spirits of that transitional epoch--transitional to everything better--whereas he was simply an evil buffoon and nothing more. The affair gained piquancy from elopement, which strongly appealed to Adelaida Ivanovna. As for Fyodor Pavlovich, his social position at the time made him quite ready for any such venture, for he passionately desired to set himself up by whatever means. To squeeze into a good family and get a dowry was tempting indeed. As for mutual love, it seems there never was any either on the bride's part or on his own, despite the beauty of Adelaida Ivanovna. This was, perhaps, the only case of its kind in Fyodor Pavlovich's life, for he was a great sensualist all his days, always ready to hang onto any skirt that merely beckoned to him. This one woman alone, sensually speaking, made no particular impression on him.
They had no sooner eloped than it became clear to Adelaida Ivanovna that she felt only contempt for her husband and nothing more. Thus the consequences of their marriage revealed themselves extraordinarily quickly. And though her family even accepted the situation fairly soon and allotted the runaway bride her dowry, the married couple began leading a very disorderly life, full of eternal scenes. It was said that in the circumstances the young wife showed far more dignity and high-mindedness than did Fyodor Pavlovich, who, as is now known, filched all her cash from her, as much as twenty-five thousand roubles, the moment she got it, so that from then on as far as she was concerned all those thousands positively vanished, as it were, into thin air. As for the little village and the rather fine town house that came with her dowry, for a long time he tried very hard to have them transferred to his name by means of some appropriate deed, and he would probably have succeeded, merely because of the contempt and loathing, so to speak, that his shameless extortions and entreaties aroused in his wife, merely because of her emotional exhaustion--anything to be rid of him. Fortunately, Adelaida Ivanovna's family intervened and put a stop to his hogging. It is well known that there were frequent fights between husband and wife, but according to tradition it was not Fyodor Pavlovich who did the beating but Adelaida Ivanovna, a hot-tempered lady, bold, dark-skinned, impatient, and endowed with remarkable physical strength. Finally she fled the house and ran away from Fyodor Pavlovich with a destitute seminarian, leaving the three-year-old Mitya in his father's hands. Fyodor Pavlovich immediately set up a regular harem in his house and gave himself to the most unbridled drinking. In the intermissions, he drove over most of the province, tearfully complaining to all and sundry that Adelaida had abandoned him, going into details that any husband ought to have been too ashamed to reveal about his married life. The thing was that he seemed to enjoy and even feel flattered by playing the ludicrous role of the offended husband, embroidering on and embellishing the details of the offense. "One would think you had been promoted, Fyodor Pavlovich," the scoffers used to say, "you're so pleased despite all your woes!" Many even added that he was glad to brush up his old role of buffoon, and that, to make things funnier still, he pretended not to notice his ridiculous position. But who knows, perhaps he was simply naive. At last he managed to find the trail of his runaway wife. The poor woman turned out to be in Petersburg, where she had gone to live with her seminarian and where she had thrown herself wholeheartedly into the most complete emancipation. Fyodor Pavlovich at once began bustling about, making ready to go to Petersburg. Why? He, of course, had no idea. True, he might even have gone; but having undertaken such a decision, he at once felt fully entitled to get up his courage for the journey by throwing himself into more boundless drinking. Just then his wife's family received news of her death in Petersburg. She died somehow suddenly, in some garret, of typhus according to one version, of starvation according to another. Fyodor Pavlovich was drunk when he learned of his wife's death, and the story goes that he ran down the street, lifting his hands to the sky and joyfully shouting: "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace."2 Others say that he wept and sobbed like a little child, so much so that they say he was pitiful to see, however repulsive they found him. Both versions may very well be true--that is, that he rejoiced at his release and wept for her who released him, all at the same time. In most cases, people, even wicked people, are far more naive and simple-hearted than one generally assumes. And so are we.
The First Son Sent Packing
Of course, one can imagine what sort of father and mentor such a man would be. As a father he did precisely what was expected of him; that is, he totally and utterly abandoned his child by Adelaida Ivanovna, not out of malice towards him and not from any wounded matrimonial feelings, but simply because he totally forgot about him. While he was pestering everyone with his tears and complaints, and turning his house into an iniquitous den, a faithful family servant, Grigory, took the three-year-old Mitya into his care, and if Grigory had not looked after him then, there would perhaps have been no one to change the child's shirt. Moreover, it so happened that the child's relatives on his mother's side also seemed to forget about him at first. His grandfather, that is, Mr. Miusov himself, the father of Adelaida Ivanovna, was no longer living. His widow, Mitya's grandmother, had moved to Moscow and was quite ill, and the sisters were all married, so that Mitya had to spend almost a whole year with the servant Grigory, living in the servants' cottage. But even if his papa had remembered him (indeed, he could not have been unaware of his existence), he would have sent him back to the cottage, for the child would have gotten in the way of his debaucheries. Just then, however, the late Adelaida Ivanovna's cousin, Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov, happened to return from Paris. Afterwards he lived abroad for many years, but at the time he was still a very young man, and, among the Miusovs, an unusual sort of man--enlightened, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, a lifelong European, and at the end of his life a liberal of the forties and fifties. In the course of his career he had relations with many of the most liberal people of his epoch, both in Russia and abroad; he knew Proudhon and Bakunin personally;1 and he particularly liked to recall and describe--this was already near his journey's end--the three days of the February revolution in Paris in forty-eight,2 letting on that he himself had almost taken part in it on the barricades. This was one of the most delightful memories of his youth. He had independent property, valued according to the old system at about a thousand souls.3 His splendid estate lay just beyond our little town and bordered on the lands of our famous monastery, with which Pyotr Alexandrovich, while still very young, having just come into his inheritance, at once began endless litigation over the rights to some kind of fishing in the river or wood-cutting in the forest--I am not sure which, but to start a lawsuit against the "clericals" was something he even considered his civic and enlightened duty. Hearing all about Adelaida Ivanovna, whom he of course remembered and had once even shown some interest in, and learning of Mitya's existence, he decided, despite his youthful indignation and his contempt for Fyodor Pavlovich, to step into the affair. It was then that he first made the acquaintance of Fyodor Pavlovich. He told him straight off that he wanted to take responsibility for the child's upbringing. Years later he used to recall, as typical of the man, that when he first began speaking about Mitya with Fyodor Pavlovich, the latter looked for a while as if he had no idea what child it was all about, and was even surprised, as it were, to learn that he had a little son somewhere in the house. Though Pyotr Alexandrovich may have exaggerated, still there must have been some semblance of truth in his story. But all his life, as a matter of fact, Fyodor Pavlovich was fond of play-acting, of suddenly taking up some unexpected role right in front of you, often when there was no need for it, and even to his own real disadvantage, as, for instance, in the present case. This trait, however, is characteristic of a great many people, even rather intelligent ones, and not only of Fyodor Pavlovich. Pyotr Alexandrovich hotly pursued the business and even got himself appointed the child's guardian (jointly with Fyodor Pavlovich), since there was, after all, a small property, a house and estate, left by his mother. Mitya did, in fact, go to live with his mother's cousin, but the latter, having no family of his own, and being in a hurry to return to Paris for a long stay as soon as he had arranged and secured the income from his estates, entrusted the child to one of his mother's cousins, a Moscow lady. In the event, having settled himself in Paris, he, too, forgot about the child, especially after the outbreak of the abovementioned February revolution, which so struck his imagination that he was unable to forget it for the rest of his life. The Moscow lady died and Mitya was passed on to one of her married daughters. It seems he later changed homes a fourth time. I won't go into that now, particularly as I shall have much to say later on about this first-born son of Fyodor Pavlovich, and must confine myself here to the most essential facts, without which I could not even begin my novel.
First of all, this Dmitri Fyodorovich was the only one of Fyodor Pavlovich's three sons who grew up in the conviction that he, at any rate, had some property and would be independent when he came of age. He spent a disorderly adolescence and youth: he never finished high school; later he landed in some military school, then turned up in the Caucasus, was promoted, fought a duel, was broken to the ranks, promoted again, led a wild life, and spent, comparatively, a great deal of money. He received nothing from Fyodor Pavlovich before his coming of age, and until then ran into debt. He saw and got to know his father, Fyodor Pavlovich, for the first time only after his coming of age, when he arrived in our parts with the purpose of settling the question of his property with him. It seems that even then he did not like his parent; he stayed only a short time with him and left quickly, as soon as he had managed to obtain a certain sum from him and made a certain deal with him concerning future payments from the estate, without (a fact worth noting) being able to learn from his father either the value of the estate or its yearly income. Fyodor Pavlovich saw at once (and this must be remembered) that Mitya had a false and inflated idea of his property. Fyodor Pavlovich was quite pleased with this, as it suited his own designs. He simply concluded that the young man was frivolous, wild, passionate, impatient, a wastrel who, if he could snatch a little something for a time, would immediately calm down, though of course not for long. And this Fyodor Pavlovich began to exploit; that is, he fobbed him off with small sums, with short-term handouts, until, after four years, Mitya, having run out of patience, came to our town a second time to finish his affairs with his parent, when it suddenly turned out, to his great amazement, that he already had precisely nothing, that it was impossible even to get an accounting, that he had already received the whole value of his property in cash from Fyodor Pavlovich and might even be in debt to him, that in terms of such and such deals that he himself had freely entered into on such and such dates, he had no right to demand anything more, and so on and so forth. The young man was stunned, suspected a lie or a trick, was almost beside himself, and, as it were, lost all reason. This very circumstance led to the catastrophe, an account of which forms the subject of my first introductory novel, or, better, the external side of it. But before I go on to this novel, I must introduce the other two sons of Fyodor Pavlovich, Mitya's brothers, and explain where they came from.
Second Marriage, Second Children
Fyodor Pavlovich, having packed off the four-year-old Mitya, very soon married for a second time. This second marriage lasted about eight years. He took his second wife, Sofia Ivanovna, also a very young person, from another province, where he happened to have gone for a bit of contracting business in the company of some little Jew. Fyodor Pavlovich, though he led a wild, drunken, and debauched life, still never stopped investing his capital, and always managed his deals successfully, though of course almost always somewhat shabbily. Sofia Ivanovna was one of our "little orphans," left without relations in early childhood, the daughter of some obscure deacon, who grew up in the rich house of her benefactress, mistress, and tormentress, an aristocratic old lady, the widow of General Vorokhov. I do not know the details but have only heard that, it seems, the ward, who was a meek, gentle, uncomplaining girl, was once taken out of a noose that she had hung from a nail in the closet--so hard was it for her to endure the willfulness and eternal nagging of the old woman, who was apparently not wicked but had become a most insufferable crank from sheer idleness. Fyodor Pavlovich offered his hand, inquiries were made, and he was turned away; and then once again, as with his first marriage, he suggested elopement to the little orphan. Most likely she would not have married him for anything if she had learned more about him in time. But she lived in another province, and what could a sixteen-year-old girl understand except that she would rather drown herself than stay with her benefactress. So the poor girl traded a benefactress for a benefactor. Fyodor Pavlovich did not get a penny this time, because the general's widow was furious, refused to give anything, and, moreover, cursed them both; yet this time he did not even count on getting anything, but was tempted only by the innocent girl's remarkable beauty, and above all by her innocent look, which struck the sensualist who until then had been a depraved admirer only of the coarser kind of feminine beauty. "Those innocent eyes cut my soul like a razor," he used to say afterwards with his disgusting little snigger. However, in a depraved man this, too, might be only a sensual attraction. As he had gotten no reward, Fyodor Pavlovich did not stand on ceremony with his wife, and taking advantage of the fact that she was, so to speak, "guilty" before him, and that he had practically "saved her from the noose," taking advantage, besides that, of her phenomenal humility and meekness, he even trampled with both feet on the ordinary decencies of marriage. Loose women would gather in the house right in front of his wife, and orgies took place. I should report, as a characteristic feature, that the servant Grigory, a gloomy, stupid, and obstinate pedant, who had hated his former mistress, Adelaida Ivanovna, this time took the side of the new mistress, defended her, and abused Fyodor Pavlovich because of her in a manner hardly befitting a servant; and on one occasion even broke up the orgy and drove all the scandalous women out of the house. Later this unhappy young woman, who had been terrorized since childhood, came down with something like a kind of feminine nervous disorder, most often found among simple village women, who are known as shriekers because of it. From this disorder, accompanied by terrible hysterical fits, the sick woman would sometimes even lose her reason. Nevertheless she bore Fyodor Pavlovich two sons, Ivan and Alexei, the first in the first year of marriage, the second three years later. When she died, the boy Alexei was in his fourth year, and, though it is strange, I know that he remembered his mother all his life--as if through sleep, of course. After her death, almost exactly the same thing happened with both boys as had happened with the first one, Mitya: they were totally forgotten and forsaken by their father and wound up in the same cottage with the same servant, Grigory. It was in this cottage that they were found by that old crank, the general's widow, their mother's mistress and benefactress. She was still alive, and in all that time, for all those eight years, had not forgotten the injury done her. For all those eight years, she had been receiving underhandedly the most exact information about "her Sofia's" life, and, hearing how ill she was and in what outrageous surroundings, she said aloud two or three times to her lady companions: "It serves her right. God has sent it to her for her ingratitude."
Exactly three months after Sofia Ivanovna's death, the general's widow suddenly appeared in person in our town, right at Fyodor Pavlovich's house. She spent only about half an hour in our little town, but she accomplished a great deal. It was evening. Fyodor Pavlovich, whom she had not seen for all those eight years, was tipsy when he came out to her. They say that the moment she saw him, without any explanations, she at once delivered him two good, resounding slaps and jerked him three times by his forelock; then, without adding a word, she made straight for the cottage and the two boys. Seeing at a glance that they were unwashed and in dirty shirts, she gave one more slap to Grigory himself and announced to him that she was taking both children home with her, then carried them outside just as they were, wrapped them in a plaid, put them in the carriage, and took them to her own town. Grigory bore his slap like a devoted slave, without a word of abuse, and while helping the old lady to her carriage, he bowed low and said imposingly that "God would reward her for the orphans." "And you are a lout all the same! the general's widow shouted as she drove away. Fyodor Pavlovich, thinking the whole thing over, found that it was a good thing, and in a formal agreement regarding his children's education by the general's widow did not afterwards object to any point. As for the slaps he had gotten, he drove all over town telling the story himself.
It so happened that the general's widow, too, died soon after that. In her will, however, she set aside a thousand roubles for each of the little ones, "for their education, and so that the money will be spent only on them, but in a way that will make it last until their coming of age, for it is quite enough of a handout for such children, and if anyone else wants to, let him loosen his own purse-strings," and so on and so forth. I did not read the will myself, but I've heard that there was indeed something strange of this sort in it, and rather peculiarly expressed. The old woman's principal heir, however, turned out to be an honest man, the provincial marshal of nobility of that province,1 Yefim Petrovich Polenov. After an exchange of letters with Fyodor Pavlovich, he guessed at once that no one could drag any money out of him even for the education of his own children (though he never refused directly, but in such cases always simply delayed, sometimes even pouring out sentimentalities).