I have to start off this post by telling you all that Dostoevsky sent me a “tweet” this past weekend, saying “you’re not so good too, ok?” after which, of course, I felt bad being so rough on this poor dead Russian writer.
The good news is that Part Two was a huge improvement. Thanks again, Dolce. Were there still incredibly long, dry treatises? Yes. Did I find myself skimming the hundred or so pages of Zosima’s life? Of course. However, I don’t want Dostoevsky haunting me anymore, so let me tell you what I liked.
First of all, the women enter the picture in Part Two. Yes, there are a few women in Part One, but they’re mostly used in reference to beatings or deaths. In Part Two, you see some saucy women. Katerina, betrothed to Dmitry who doesn’t love her, and friends with Ivan who does love her, shows women are something other than punching bags (thank goodness). She understands her situation is precarious, but she is also not blind to what is going on around her. She uses the three brothers to gain more information about them as well as about herself.
On the other hand, you have Lise playing games with Alexei and falling into hysterical fits when it suits her needs. She draws Alexei away from the monastery, laughs at him, and makes him totally uncomfortable. Although she is about as annoying as a 13-year-old girl going on about a Jonas brother, there is something very likeable, too. She knows what she wants; Lise, at a young age, is prepared to make a fool of herself over a monk with whom she grew up and fell in love.
Mrs. Khokhlakov, her mother, is constantly exasperated. She acts as a go-between amongst the men and women and helps the plot to flow as all of this in-and-out-of-love stuff can be pretty boring and trying.
Grushenka, last but not least, is not present in Book Two, but she’s the kind of woman whose name and embodiment is constant in the rooms of those she offends. As a woman of the night, Grushenka is intelligent and deceptive and honest, and I like her. She pits father against brother, and although she may enjoy it, she is ensuring that she is never without anything she desires. As despicable as the other characters seem to find her, I relish in her frankness amid a cast of characters who seem anything but frank.
The rest of Book Two moves fairly quickly, and I certainly feel the tension building to what I know is inevitable in the next portions of the book.
I have to also say, as much as I glazed over during the latter part of Alexei’s account of Zosima’s life, I really enjoyed Zosima’s character. At the beginning of Book Two, his students and friends gather as his death is expected at any time. He gives them hope for the future but also humbles them, telling all:
Love God’s people. We are no holier than those outside, just because we have shut ourselves up behind these walls. Just the opposite, by coming here, each of us has acknowledged to himself that he is worse than those who remain outside, worse than anyone in the world. The longer a monk lives within the monastery walls, the more acutely must he be aware of this. Otherwise there was no reason for him to come here. It is only when it is revealed to him that not only is he worse than all those outside these walls, but also that he is responsible to all men for everyone and everything, for all human sins, universal and individual – only then will he have achieved the purpose of his seclusion.
This, in such stark contrast, to what Ivan believes. In a long conversation with Alexei, he admits that
“I have never been able to understand how it was possible to love one’s neighbors. And I mean precisely one’s neighbors, because I can conceive of the possibility of loving those who are far away….If I must love my fellow man, he had better hide himself, for no sooner do I see his face than there’s an end to my love for him.”
I think this is a fairly common attitude. The idea of helping, the idea of charitable giving affects us precisely because we see it affecting the whole of humanity. When faced with one particular person in need, though, it becomes more personable, more intimate, and more difficult. We judge individuals whereas we feel more compassionate to groups. We love humanity but not humans. Regardless, it’s an interesting juxtaposition, and I found myself really enjoying this part of the book.