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The Brothers Karamazov | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Brothers Karamazov | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, published in 1879–80, was the Russian author's final novel. It contains 12 separate parts, along with an epilogue, and chronicles the complex relationships among four sons and their distant, seemingly unloving father, Fyodor Karamazov.

Like Dostoevsky's previous novels, The Brothers Karamazov is a deep, morally thought-provoking text that combines philosophy, psychology, and narrative fiction. Many critics consider it to be Dostoevsky's greatest novel, and it has been praised by scholars, religious figures, and heads of state for the moral questions it forces the reader to ponder.

1. Dostoevsky barely completed The Brothers Karamazov before his death.

The Brothers Karamazov was written near the end of Dostoevsky's life—he died a mere four months after the publication of its final part in 1880. Dostoevsky was already popular for his work as both an author and a journalist at the time of his death, and more than 30,000 people attended his funeral at the Vladimirskaya Church in St. Petersburg. He was buried in the Tikhvinskoe cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

2. The hero in The Brothers Karamazov was named after Dostoevsky's dead son.

Dostoevsky intended for the character Alyosha to be the moral center of the novel. The character shares his name with the author's son, who died from a seizure at age two and nine months while Dostoevsky was writing The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky himself suffered from epilepsy.

3. Iconic actress Marilyn Monroe wanted to star in the film adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov.

The actress stated publicly she wanted to play Grushenka in a film version of The Brothers Karamazov, but 20th Century Fox would not allow it because they felt it would alter her image as a bubbly blond.

The paparazzi were no more supportive. One asked, "Do you even know how to spell Dostoevsky, Marilyn?"

Monroe replied, "Actually, have you read the book?"

Director Billy Wilder joined Monroe's defense, stating, "People who haven't read the book don't know that Grushenka is a sexpot. ... Marilyn knows what she is doing, too. She would be a Grushenka to end all Grushenkas."

4. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin highly recommended The Brothers Karamazov.

The Soviet dictator read The Brothers Karamazov repeatedly when he was a young man. He considered Dostoevsky to be a capable and thorough psychoanalytic writer and was fascinated by the author's works. Stalin was known to be a great admirer of philosophical and psychological literature, particularly by Russian authors.

An annotated copy of Stalin's 1927 edition reveals a particular interest in the passages that recount the end of Zosima's life.

5. The Brothers Karamazov was extremely difficult to translate.

Translations of The Brothers Karamazov have differed greatly, and translators have found the novel particularly challenging to translate from Russian to English. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that each character in the novel uses a different and unique speech pattern a translator must identify and treat accordingly. For example, Alyosha speaks in concise, direct sentences, while Mitya speaks with imagery and profanity, and Ivan speaks with academic self-importance.

6. A Russian monastery helped Dostoevsky overcome the grief of his son's death.

Dostoevsky spent time at the Optina Pustyn monastery south of Moscow while working on The Brothers Karamazov in 1878. His journey to the monastery immediately followed the death of his young son Alyosha and, according to his wife, he returned from the monastery in better spirits, no longer overwhelmed by grief.

7. The parricide in The Brothers Karamazov was based on a real murder.

Dostoevsky wrote several unfinished works that were later incorporated into The Brothers Karamazov. In Drama in Tobolsk, 1874, a son murders his father. This plot event was inspired by the story of a Russian soldier from the city of Omsk. In Dostoevsky's story, the soldier Dmitry Ilynskov murders his father for unknown reasons and hides the body in a pit under his house. This story largely served as the first draft of the first chapter of The Brothers Karamazov.

8. The Brothers Karamazov led another famous author to call Dostoevsky his "blood relative."

Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, was so impressed with The Brothers Karamazov he considered Dostoevsky part of his family, based on his philosophical and psychological prowess. In a letter to his fiancée, Kafka wrote, "The four men, Grillparzer, Dostoevsky, Kleist and Flaubert, I consider to be my true blood-relations."

9. The Brothers Karamazov inspired Sigmund Freud to write a psychoanalysis of Dostoevsky.

After reading The Brothers Karamazov, the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was particularly fascinated with the novel's reflection of Dostoevsky's relationship with his own stern father. Dostoevsky's father, who many believe suffered from an undiagnosed nervous condition, was extremely controlling and prone to outbursts of rage, worry, and chronic drinking. There are even unsubstantiated rumors Dostoevsky's father was murdered by his serfs. Freud also believed Dostoevsky's epileptic seizures were the result of an unresolved Oedipus complex.

10. Pope Francis recommended everyone read The Brothers Karamazov.

In 2015 during a flight back from Brazil, the Pope told reporters that he believed everyone should "read and reread Dostoevsky." He expressed a particular fascination with a scene in which Elder Zosima provides spiritual counsel to a woman, and he has quoted Zosima's line, "Man is unable to commit a sin that is too great for God's unending love."

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