The Brothers Karamazov

“. . . but it seemed to me that Alyosha was even more of a realist than the rest of us. Oh, of course, in the monastery he believed absolutely in miracles, but in my opinion miracles will never confound a realist. It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith. A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith. Once the realist comes to believe, then, precisely because of his realism, he must also allow for miracles.
As soon as [Alyosha] reflected seriously and was struck by the conviction that immortality and God exist, he naturally said at once to himself: ‘I want to live for immortality and I reject any halfway compromise.’ In just the same way, if he had decided that immortality and God do not exist, he would immediately have joined the atheists and socialists (for socialism is not only the labor question or the question of the so-called fourth estate, but first of all the question of atheism, the question of the modern embodiment of atheism, the question of the Tower of Babel built precisely without God, not to go from earth to heaven, but to bring heaven down to earth.)”


I’m reading a wonderful, joyful (yes, joyful) translation of The Brothers Karamazov. I love it very much, and cannot put it down. Highly recommend it, folks. Highly.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Anne B.

    I’ve never been able to read Dostoyevsky. Can I blame it on the Constance Garnett translations? Anyway, glad to hear that someone has taken another shot at it.

  • Frank La Rocca

    It was, in the opinion of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the greatest novel ever written.

    [And on this, as with so many other things, I wholly agree w/ Neuhaus -admin]

  • A Red State Mystic

    I’m reading it right now, too!

    (Long-time Lurker and first time commenter. Thanks for the good work, Anchoress!) :D

  • Mack Hall

    I love the Constance Garnett translation of THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, though many tell me it’s somewhat obscure. I will try the new one.

    The book is wonderful, but it is not a beach-read. Dostoyevsky respects the reader, and in return the reader cannot approach D. casually or with frequent absences. The journey through the hundreds of pages of redemption is not unlike following Frodo as he takes that ring to Mordor.

    An Orthodox friend suggests that the holy Fr. Zossima is a fictionalized St. Seraphim of Sarov.

    Some have argued that the Grand Inquisitor part is a criticism of organized religion. Since D. was a Russian Orthodox, his Grand Inquisitor part is surely a good ol’ Orthodox bashing of Catholicism. And, hey, why not; everyone bashes us, right? Especially each other! We could learn from Alyosha.

    [It is definitely not beach reading, but my hubby and I are leaving on a last-minute getaway and I am bringing it and a notebook, for late-night fun. -admin]

  • Reader

    I also heartily recommend this particular translation.

  • Aimee

    Have not read it, but will. Have read Crime and Punishment several times, and am always brought to tears when Sonja tells Raskolnikov to lay himself down in the middle of the city and kiss the earth. Such a wonderful, wonderful novel.

  • Feeney

    Always wanted to read the book. I read Garnett’s “Crime and Punishment” years ago and enjoyed it. On your recommendation, and Neuhaus’, I will embark on this great adventure. By the way, does anyone remember the PBS series of Dostoevski’s “The Devils”, which I believe came out in the ’70s? Along with “I Claudius”, one of the best PBS productions ever.

  • Jeff Z

    I have loved D for many years, and the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations have exponentially increased that enjoyment. Of the old translations, Crime and Punishment was the best, but the new translation far improves it. From a religious point of view, I very much recommend these translators’ War and Peace. They manage to make even the opening party scene not just bearable (an accomplishment in itself), but quite interesting.

    Along these lines, may I recommend, with the highest possible, uh, er, recommendation… well, anyway, the new translation of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus? I found the old translation virtually unreadable, but the new one, by Woods, is tremendous. (To be fair, the old translation was done literally, at Mann’s insistence. Bad idea.)

  • Manny

    “I’m reading a wonderful, joyful (yes, joyful) translation of The Brothers Karamazov. I love it very much, and cannot put it down. Highly recommend it, folks. Highly.”

    I’m reading the very same translation right now! It’s fabulous! I’m about up to page 600. Now only joyful and thought provoking, but extremely funny in places. Mitya is a blast of a character. Those interrogation chapters were hilarious…lol. I highly recommend it too.

  • Manny

    “Some have argued that the Grand Inquisitor part is a criticism of organized religion. Since D. was a Russian Orthodox, his Grand Inquisitor part is surely a good ol’ Orthodox bashing of Catholicism.” – Mack Hall

    Yes, but it’s part of D.’s xenophobia. You’ll see he’s also anti-semitic and anti-German and French and even anti-Polish, who are fellow slavs.

    I see I had a typo up above. I meant to say “Not only joyful…” Too bad one can edit one’s post on your blog Anchoress.

  • Ryan Haber

    OK. I admit it. Bros. K. has the rare distinction of having defeated me. I’ve put down books for lacking any merit – either literary or raw enjoyment. But Bros. K. just wore me into the ground. I got about 2/5 read over a summer, and then another 1/5 – into the Grand Inquistor scene – a summer or so later. But then I just folded. I gave up. I broke.

    Honestly, I thought, “The KGB might have used this book very effectively.”

    But I also admit that after reading and rereading my Knox and Fitzgerald translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey in high school and for my classical history degree, I happily chucked them both in favor of the much more readable and still reasonably accurate Fagles translations.

    Is the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation so much better than the Garnett translation? I bought Garnett because, on the B&N Classics series, it was inexpensive. Should I invest in a good-condition used P-V?

  • Maureen

    That’s the thing about Russian literature. A lot of it is borrrrring and depressing, thanks solely to bad translators, whereas in Russian it’s got a lot of spirit, fun, and attitude to offset the sadness. It’s also annoying when they cut out huge chunks of the action, the symbolic descriptions, and the banter, and plaster over the holes with curt paraphrases.

    They do this to Dumas and Verne, too, but everybody knows Dumas and Verne are supposed to be fun. Russian writers don’t have that advantage.

  • Peter

    Concerning “the Grand Inquisitor” chapter, I think readers should keep in mind that Dostoevsky is placing this critique of the Church in the mouth of Ivan, who is really the “great sinner” of book (Dostoevsky himself has remarked this, and pointed out that the original title of the books was “The Great Sinner”). I think we should read the following chapter, “The Russian Monk”, as Dostoevsky’s own thought and answer to both “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” chapters. Many readers miss this, as I did, on the first read. Part of the very heart of the novel lies in the critique of Ivan’s almost wholesale (at least attempted) rejection of his own humanity. Mitya, on the otherhand, embraces both sides of himself, though he cannot heal the division between his love for “the Madonna” and for “Sodom”. Alyosha not only embraces both sides of himself, but unifies them. Thus, where Ivan can only sneer, Alyosha can love and suffer because he recognizes his solidarity with fallen nature.

    This truly is one of the greatest novels of all time. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Dostoevsky has insights on the soul that are nearly completely lost on our century, or at least largely ignored.

  • Manny

    “Is the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation so much better than the Garnett translation? I bought Garnett because, on the B&N Classics series, it was inexpensive. Should I invest in a good-condition used P-V?” -Ryan Haber

    To be honest, I’m not sure I see much of a difference. I’ve actually had both side by side and while I see subtle differences, I don’t think much of the meaning changes. I could not tell you which is more accurate. I suspect the P-V.

    Maureen – I never buy abridged editions.

  • Katherine Harms

    I LOVE Brothers Karamazov. As I read it this summer (my fifth time through) I thought how timely the conflicts between socialism and faith that Dostoevsky saw in their infancy.
    I have always interpreted the Grand Inquisitor as an indictment both of fraudulent religious leadership of all strips and of followers willing to settle for anything that makes no demands on them.
    I also read two Tolstoy novels again this summer — War and Peace, and Anna Karenina. Coupled with the Brothers, I found myself deeply immersed in some of the foundational thinking that is bearing political fruit in the USA today. The Grand Inquisitor actually works just as well as a metaphor for contemporary politics, don’t you think? The people of the USA today probably would not be so proud of a president who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

  • Joi

    Oddly enough, I adore my Constance Garnett translation of this book –it’s been my favorite novel since I picked it up at age 16.

    The Penguin translation, however, is pure dreck. Ugh. Dunno who the translator was, but it’s incredibly clunky writing.

  • Perfected democrat

    Been eyeing it for years, so ordered your recommended edition this morning, thanks.

  • JenniferL33

    Wow….just decided to read this novel for the first time a few days ago and everywhere I turn, I’m suddenly finding references to it. Can’t wait to dig into it!

  • F

    I like the Russian kick you’ve been on: the Vladivostok mission, the nuns from Kansas going to Vladivostok, and now Dostoevsky.

    Late in May I said to a retired prof friend that I needed to make my 1st foray into Russian lit, namely, the Bros Karmazov. He lit up and came alive at the mention of the name. Its one of his favorites. So, I am going to get this new translation that you recommended and read it while having him tutor me through it. Hopefully he won’t regret agreeing to that.

    Next, I want to get a language program to learn Russian. I want to have basic conversation when I finally go there to meet the girl I’m sponsoring.

    Now, how can you say you are bringing a thick Russian tome for late night fun when you have a nice hubby with you? Sorry, I’m single. Does not compute. ;D

  • Erin D.

    I have never heard of Dostoyevsky before, but the passage you included seemed intriguing. I may just have to go out and give this one a shot. I’ve been looking for a good book to get into lately. Thanks for sharing that with all of us!

  • Mack Hall


    Perhaps. A friend reminds me that The Grand Inquisitor is Dimitri’s invention, so it could be a bit of both.

  • Mary

    I read your blog all the time, but it took the Brothers Karamozov to bring this lurker to the combox.

    Brothers Karamozov was an assigned text when I was an English major in college, and I even wrote a paper on it, but had never read the whole thing. I picked up the Garnett translation last summer at Barnes & Noble, read it, finished it, and started right from the beginning and read it again. That’s a first for me, but I felt like there was so much in there that I couldn’t absorb it all in one reading. Of course, I didn’t absorb it all in two readings either, so I’m sure I’ll read it again sometime soon. I keep thinking about the issue of fatherhood in the book, the different “father-son” relationships, and what this says about the fatherhood of God. I don’t have any grand insights, but that’s what keeps rolling around in my brain.

  • aric@israel

    i am sorry-but in translation this book looses its charm, its mentality. russian is very specific language, with totally different logic of grammar constractions.

    [Try this translation. I find it very charming and very humorouse -admin]

  • Estragon

    The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment are two of the greatest novels ever written. Notes from the Underground is also quite powerful. I’ve meant to read The House of the Dead for years and never have managed it.

  • Mary

    Of course that should be “Karamazov” in my comment above. Never can get that right!

  • ahem

    Fr. Zossima is, what is called in the Russian Orthodox church, a staretz, a particularly holy spiritual leader hovering near sainthood. That D. was able to portray him so convincingly is testimony to the greatness of his own soul. It is inspired writing.