The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
Worthless. Depraved. Muddleheaded.
This is how Dostoevsky introduces us to Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the father of the Karamazov brothers. How could he possibly live down such an introduction?
And yet the novel seems to take a perverse pleasure in revealing layer after layer of Fyodor's total despicableness. He humiliates his wives with his open philandering. He dumps his sons off on distant relatives as he continues living his bachelor's life of debauchery. He's also cunning, wily, wealthy, and greedy – so greedy, in fact, that he isn't above cheating his own son Dmitri out of his inheritance. He's a drunkard and a clown. He can't resist making a spectacle of himself whenever he's out. He's shameless in his pursuit of women and even attempts to seduce the woman his son Dmitri desires. The worst thing he's ever done? Well, if the rumors are to be believed, it would be the alleged rape of the village idiot girl, Stinking Lizaveta, a rape that produces his oily servant Smerdyakov.
In the face of such awfulness, it's easy to feel that here is a case where murder just might be justified. Wouldn't the world be a better place without such a man? Many of the novel's characters seem to think so. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney share the view that Fyodor represents everything wrong in Russian society. To them, his failure as a father and a human being points to a great gaping lack of a moral and spiritual core in Russian society. The prosecutor goes so far as to claim that Fyodor's extravagantly sinful life indicates how Russians have a capacity for greatness that, instead of being directed toward higher, more spiritual ideals, is thrust deep into the muck and mire of earthly desires such as sex and money.
Indeed, Fyodor's persona is so expansive – so "broad," as Dmitri might say – that it can hold such contradictory impulses as Dmitri's earthy passion, Ivan's capacity for intellectual thought, and even Alyosha's capacity for faith. It's just that these impulses are twisted and distorted to the point that Dmitri's passion for life expresses itself as mere lust in Fyodor, Ivan's logic expresses itself as cunning, and Alyosha's capacity for faith is turned upside down into an unapologetic embrace of all that is sinful.
Perhaps that's why Fyodor isn't so easy to dismiss as a mere anomaly or a monster. In his grotesqueness, he holds a funhouse mirror up to our own failings. Although we can't be all that pleased with the reflection, we can't reject it as entirely untrue.Timeline