“Love is such a priceless treasure that you can purchase the whole world with it, and redeem not only your own but other people’s sins too. Go now, and have no fear.”Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Karamazov Brothers* (tr Avsey)
In these days of soundbites and short social media posts, the thought of reading a weighty classic novel can feel somewhat daunting. How on earth does one find the time to get through a book which is 2inches thick and nearly 1000 pages long? This year I have realised that there are two motivations that help me with this problem: the arrival of an author’s significant anniversary; and reading little and often.
I recently finished reading Dante’s The Divine Comedy, a book which I would not have thought I could get through as easily as I did. What helped me? The fact that it is the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death in 2021, and most importantly, that I was able to read it canto by canto with fellow adventurers via Nick Senger’s brilliant readalong project.
When I discovered that 2021 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky, it seemed like the perfect opportunity finally to read his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov, and to tackle this mighty work by reading day by day. So here I am to announce the #KaramazovReadlong!
“Dostoevsky’s last and greatest novel, The Karamazov Brothers (1880) is both a brilliantly told crime story and a passionate philosophical debate. The dissolute landowner Karamazov is murdered; his sons – atheist intellectual Ivan, hot-blooded Dimitry, and saintly novice Alyosha – are all at some level involved.”From the back of the Oxford word classics version
How does a readalong work? Cribbing shamelessly from Nick’s approach, the plan is simply to read a chapter a day, including the epilogue. I’ll be tweeting a line or two from each chapter each day. You can find me on Twitter @LizzieHumphreys. There is absolutely no obligation for anyone to do this, but I find it to be a fun way of keeping myself on track. Please use the hashtag #Karamazovreadalong to make it easy to find any quotes, comments, questions etc that you wish to add in to the mix. And of course you can read slower or faster than I will be. It’s entirely up to you!
Dostoevsky was born on 30 October 1821 (using the Old Style calendar which, at the time of his birth lagged behind the Western European calendar by twelve days). I thought it would be fun to arrange the readalong to finish on his birthday, which means that we will start on Tuesday 27 July.
And which translation to use? It really doesn’t matter – whatever you already have, or which speaks to you, that’s fine. One of the joys of a readalong is comparing different translated versions. I’ll be using the Oxford World Classics edition, with a translation by Ignar Avesy (which you can see in the image at the top of the post). But any one will do.
I am beyond delighted that my dear friends Becky and Elisabeth have enthusiastically joined me for this project, and we really hope others will too. Becky is the mastermind behind the fabulous Tea, Toast and Trivia podcast and to whet your appetite for this project in the run up to the start, you can hear the three of us chatting about the readalong here. The podcast is also available on all the usual platforms.
Elisabeth’s blog A Russian Affair is a treasure-trove of amazing insights and information about Russian literature. It is wonderful that she will be contributing her expertise and enthusiasm as we go along.
Elisabeth knows this novel well and challenges us new readers to look for the humour in the text as well as the suffering for which the book is perhaps better known. This links perfectly with Avsey’s introduction:
“Like all great works of literature The Karamazov Brothers can be read in a variety of ways: for sheer enjoyment of the intricacies of its plot, the comedy, tragedy, the folly and wisdom of men’s ways, the train of human conflicts, intrigues, passions, joys, and disappointments on the one hand; and for the abstract debates, the philosophical speculations, the demonstration of the author’s skill and virtuosity in describing specialist fields (the church and the law in this case), on the other.”
One thing is certain: this is going to be a magnificent adventure. I’ll be posting again before we start on 27 July, but meanwhile let me know what you think in the comments. Will you be joining us?
And in case you want to get reading right away, why not take a look at Dostoevsky In Love by Alex Christofi. Elisabeth recommends this new biography on the podcast, and Becky and I will both be reading it in the lead up to starting the readalong. Since Dostoevsky is said to have drawn on his very eventful life in writing The Brothers Karamazov, it looks like the perfect introduction!
*The traditional translation for this novel is ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, which follows the original word order in Russian. Avsey explains that he has chosen to move away from the constraints of the original Russian with ‘The Karamazov Brothers’, saying that otherwise it would be like saying ‘The Brothers Warner’ or ‘The Brothers Marx’. I have used both in this post to capture that sense of familiarity with the original approach, and for accuracy when quoting Avsey.