Heart-searching and bloody hands

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Complete Works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Novels, Short Stories and Autobiographical Writings: The Entire Opus of the Great Russian Novelist, Journalist ... from Underground, The Brothers Karamazov… by [Fyodor Dostoyevsky]

Struggling through this huge work is a great challenge; the style and tone are so unfamiliar.

What is it about?

The carefree buffoon Fyodor Karamazov, living off his widow’s inheritance, is infatuated by the beautiful but shameless Grushenka. Could it be one of his three, neglected sons who murders him from jealousy or avarice? Both the military Dmitri and the intellectual Ivan have possible motives.

The devout younger son Alexey is a fervent disciple of the leader of a religious order of Elders, and shows much uprightness and kindness in many situations. Not only the monks, but the entire population seems to be strongly influenced by a deep-seated fear of God, coupled with a surprising familiarity with the teachings of the Bible. Theological issues discussed range from predestination, free will, morality and the merits or otherwise of the Spanish Inquisition. Questions of law and order, east-west politics and other social issues recur.

Desperate poverty and widespread illness characterise the lives of many of the characters. The fate of Captain Snegiryov and his family pops in as a secondary theme. His young son Ilyusha is first bullied by his schoolmates but fondly cared for, when they realise he is dying of epilepsy.

The story is dominated by the raging passion to win Grushenka’s love. And although several intense and overlapping romances thread their way through the story, the author avoids all sexual interactions – a sharp contrast to contemporary novels.

Apart from the sheer length of the book, another difficulty for the modern western reader is the author’s habit of referring to people with several different, long, and hard-to-pronounce names.


This is undoubtably a masterly portrayal of life in a nineteenth century Russian town, highlighting the dramatic interactions between a variety of strong characters. But reading it to the end is a real challenge.

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