Sunday, January 06, 2008

Quotes from The Brothers Karamazov

The image to the left is of the first page of the first edition of the novel; I stole it from here.

I am about halfway through the dense, tedious and long-winded The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoevsky's last novel (Constance Garnett’s translation). Though reading it hasn't been easy given Dostoevsky's style - which essentially consists of long, digressive and sometimes vague conversations between characters - there still are some splendid themes and quotes in the novel. Here are a few. The first two are by the novel's narrator, while the rest are by Dmitri and Ivan, two of the three Karamazov brothers .

1.“As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.”

2. “There is a silent and long-suffering sorrow to be met with among the [Russian] peasantry. It withdraws into itself and is still. But there is grief that breaks out, and from that minute it bursts into tears and finds vent in wailing...But there is no lighter a grief than the silent. Lamentations comfort only by lacerating the heart still more. Such grief does not desire consolation. It feeds on the sense of its hopelessness. Lamentations spring only from the constant craving to re-open the wound.”

3. Dmitri Karamazov, the eldest of the three brothers says in the novel: “Man is broad, too broad. I’d have him narrower.”

4. Ivan Karamazov, the most learned and intellectual of the brothers, makes this excellent point on how we often tend to express things stupidly because stupidity is sometimes more truthful and direct:

“Russian conversations…are always carried on inconceivably stupidly…the stupider one is the closer one is to reality. The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.”

5. Ivan Karamazov again - from the famous chapter The Grand Inquisitor, which has the toughest prose I’ve plodded through in recent times - on how the Roman Catholic Church is about capturing God’s word, and allowing God to have no say at all. The Catholic Church, in short, reigns supreme and is the authority on all matters practical and divine. Dostoevsky was critical of Catholicism.
“One may say it is the most fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism, in my opinion at least. ‘All has been given by Thee [God] to the Pope,’ they say, ‘and all, therefore, is still in the Pope’s hands, and there is no need for Thee to come now at all. Thou must not meddle for the time being, at least.’”

6. And Ivan yet again: this time commenting on how beasts are unfairly accused of depravities that are very uniquely human:

“People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as man, so artistically cruel.”


Two other of my Dostoevsky posts are here and here.


Pallavi said...

Excellent quotes Hari! I particularly liked the 4th and the 6th. I think stupidity is guileless and probably another way of putting simplicity.

Hari said...

Thanks, Pallavi! I love the quotes too. I'd always believed in the 6th one, so it was a pleasure to see it in the novel.

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