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Book 3: Voluptuaries 
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Post Book 3: Voluptuaries
The Brothers Karamazov
Book 3: Voluptuaries



Sun Feb 20, 2011 3:59 am
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Post Re: Book 3: Voluptuaries
("Voluptuaries" is translated by Constance Garnett as "Sensualists)

Book III. The Sensualists
Chapter I. In The Servants’ Quarters
Chapter II. Lizaveta
Chapter III. The Confession Of A Passionate Heart—In Verse
Chapter IV. The Confession Of A Passionate Heart—In Anecdote
Chapter V. The Confession Of A Passionate Heart—"Heels Up"
Chapter VI. Smerdyakov
Chapter VII. The Controversy
Chapter VIII. Over The Brandy
Chapter IX. The Sensualists
Chapter X. Both Together
Chapter XI. Another Reputation Ruined

Picking up on Camacho's suggestion that Smerdyakov is a representative of the emerging middle class, it is interesting to consider this chapter to see Smerdy's origins. I think Camacho has misread Dostoyevsky's intent regarding Smerdy. My reading is that Smerdy represents the hidden degradation of Russian society. His mother Lizaveta is a stinking idiot who is regarded with compassionate pity by the town. His father, or at least his apparent father given Fyodor's denial of paternity, is a buffoon who is alleged to have raped the idiot. Lizaveta jumps the wall of the Karamazov garden to give birth to Smerdy, effectively saying, even though she cannot speak, that she accuses Fyodor of her rape. Everyone then calls Smerdy 'Fyodorovitch', and Fyodor accepts the guilt implicitly by allowing Smerdy to live as a servant in his household, although the shame of the story is so great that he never confesses to the truth.

I don't think all of this says 'middle class'. Rather, what it says is 'hidden degraded reality'. The meaning is that Russia is living a lie, deluding itself that its public fantasy of moral uprightness is justified. D is saying that everyone knows Russia is living a lie, and the denial will come back to bite in a big way. This is all part of his prescience regarding the communist revolution. It is like the demon spawn of centuries of denial achieved a fanatical fury that entirely swept aside the past that had generated it.

Nietzsche equated communism and Christianity as ideologies of resentment and envy. We can see that Smerdy had abundant motive for resentment at how Fyodor had treated his mother and himself, for shame about the story of his origins, and for envy towards his legitimate half-brothers. All this is abundant grounds for a cocktail of hatred, for seething hidden fury, and for a coldly calculated plot to revenge himself against his mockers.

Rather than symbolising the middle class, I see Smerdy as more like Lenin, a boor and fool who claims to be a philosopher, but whose logic conceals pure malice, and whose fruit is pure destruction.

The real middle class symbol here is Dmitri (Mitya). He maintains a pretense of nobility and honor, but has his hidden shame, the remains of Katya's gift to him, hanging from his neck like Coleridge's albatross. Mitya gets the blame for destroying the old order, but claims it is not really him. Right to the end, the public verdict remains that he is the guilty one. Like Mitya's hatred for his father, the middle class was ashamed at its Russian origins, and futilely sought to overcome the inertia of the old serf order. We can see these efforts dating from Peter the Great's efforts to Europeanize Russia by building Petrograd as his modern showcase capital and window to the West. But even the middle class has its hidden squalor, seen in Mitya's entirely contradictory and emotional outbursts, his riotous profligacy, and his angry violence. Mitya is the sensualist of the chapter title, following the instinctive path of pleasure even though it leads him to public condemnation as a parricide and nihilist.



Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:28 pm
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Post Re: Book 3: Voluptuaries
It was a disturbing thought to consider classes mingling blood. Marriage at one time between classes was forbidden and children begot between classes were usually either abandoned or brought up illegitimately. That was common practice. The emerging middle class is represented by Smerdy because he is the mingling of these two classes - the poor and the landed rich. His birth is an abomination made even more abhorrent by his Mother's idiocy and the way in which he was conceived. It's a direct attack on the mingling of the classes and it's in defense of conservatism and in trying to keep the country in an organic rather than a critical epoch. This is D.'s whole intent by the book - to unite Russia under a common ideology. He's selling a way of life.

By saying Smerdy is the hidden degradation of Russia is saying that materialism, individuality, and ambition are causing Russia's decline. Smerdy as we are introduced to him is a hard worker (a cook!), honest, and just beginning to understand the world around him. He's also the bastard son of a landed Russian who won't admit he's his own (won't acknowledge him). He knows this deep down. He never kept a cent, though. He rebelled against the person who should have been his greatest benefactor - a man that did not even help his legitimate children.

The real degradation of Russia is the main character. He's the greedy, lustful, clown that does the least he possibly can for his family - even going so far as to try and steal the woman his son loves.

Smerdy's role is destruction. He rebels and finds an answer through blood. It's logical. The middle class represents change and when change comes we see a destruction of institutions and ways of life. There is often bloodshed in revolutions. D. doesn't want this. He's very conservative and conscious of the destruction that this shift from organic to critical epochs will bring with it. That's really the reason he's writing the book. Russia is having growing pains as it becomes increasingly more liberal. D. is fighting to keep some vestiges of what he considers the righteous way a society should live - together and under god.

I don't have my notes with me... I'll write a longer post later but this will be the gist of it.

Mitya represents the falling or lame nobility. The nobility which is only noble by birth but which can not uphold the honor, intelligence, fortitude, and 100 other virtues which are supposed to be inherent in the blood and a product of breeding. Dmitry is actually a case against feudalism in my opinion. D. is conservative but he is liberal in the sense that he does not like serfdom or a feudalistic way of life. He wants some freedoms but he wants them under god. He wants secular religion and equality under god. Mitya does not represent the middle class because he is unemployed and is falling rather than climbing. That should be obvious.

Fyodor's fall is fated when feudalism fell. He's good for nothing and must be chopped down but D. wants the reader to be aware that the country needs unification now. The turmoil brought about by the end of the old ways has created a momentum which must be checked by some way to save the soul and unite Russia. He does not feel that the way is capitalism. He thinks it will breed materialism and individualism and will bring the country to a place where it's every man for himself. This is exactly the opposite of what he wants.



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Robert Tulip
Sat Apr 16, 2011 10:37 am
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Post Re: Book 3: Voluptuaries
I don't know if anyone has posted this yet but 'Russia' in my opinion is represented by a secondary character, Lise. She was once in a wheel chair and fettered by the old ways of serfdom and had her heart filled with religion (Alyosha)... but now she has her freedom and is flirting with new ideas (Ivan). Her only hope is that Alyosha (Dos.) will not give up on her even though she may be scared, insecure, fickle, etc. Alyosha must win her back.



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Sat Apr 16, 2011 11:07 am
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Post Re: Book 3: Voluptuaries
There's a difference in what D. wants and what happened to Russia. I think he not only wanted unity through religion but also a government which embodied the principles and morals of it. This is completely opposite to secular religion and is what despots want and what Russia was given. I feel D.'s work may have been used for an end that he did not want and which he could not foresee. I'm no Russian historian, though, and I'm talking from my very limited knowledge (out of my ass).



Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:47 pm
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Post Re: Book 3: Voluptuaries
President Camacho wrote:
I don't know if anyone has posted this yet but 'Russia' in my opinion is represented by a secondary character, Lise. She was once in a wheel chair and fettered by the old ways of serfdom and had her heart filled with religion (Alyosha)... but now she has her freedom and is flirting with new ideas (Ivan). Her only hope is that Alyosha (Dos.) will not give up on her even though she may be scared, insecure, fickle, etc. Alyosha must win her back.


I agree with this reading of Lise. She is one of several characters who provide an angle on Russia as a whole. I think of Katerina, the beautiful lady who lends Dmitri the money, as like a symbol of 'mother Russia', the pure integrity of an ideal, whom Dmitri loves deep down but betrays because of his shallow fickle emotion and his hedonistic preference for the tart Grushenka. So the question becomes who/what does Dmitri really love, depth of soul or shallow pleasure? At the trial Katerina behaves like a force of nature, a representative of fate who condemns Dmitri regardless of justice and truth to repay his impiety towards her.

Similarly, Father Païssy seemed to represent an authentic spirituality, expressing Dostoyevsky's own views. I may comment further on him in the Zossima thread.

Dmitri is complex. You are right that his dissolute behavior does look like a fallen nobility, with an assumption that the world owes him a living and a fury that he is not given what he sees as his by right. Maybe though, the Russian bourgeoisie also shared these characteristics, which is why Russia never got off the ground economically? It is like the sound and fury of the middle class and the fallen nobility took all the headlines but was as nothing compared to the real grievance of the inarticulate masses (Smerdy).



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President Camacho
Sat Apr 16, 2011 9:09 pm
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Post Re: Book 3: Voluptuaries
Yes, exactly. They've been accustomed to receiving or relying on slaves, as I see it. The conservatism/traditionalism/stubbornness that is intrinsic in human nature did not allow for such a radical change without the inevitable reprecussions of a critical epoch. The monster WAS Dmitry but through no fault of his own - he was something which didn't fit the new mold. Sadly, the rest of society followed suit and feudalism was replaced with despotism as freedom was unachievable without some form of religion which came through secular channels under tyranny rather than through a soul saving and unifying religion as what Dos hoped for.

Your second point, you have freed slaves which want. They're skilled already and can blend easily into Russian culture and society unlike Blacks in the United States which carry around with them a skin color which betrays their past. There's probably more to it but my limited knowledge of Russian history makes me apprehensive about jumping to too many conclusions.

Dmitry can also be seen as something natural in the book, in my opinion. He is THE most reeeeeal character. He is the heart of the story in a literal sense. This is made evident when the women come to his protection. He's not logic. Most of the men shun him. He's passion; he's nature... natural. And like everything about nature, it is condemned by civilization and yet completely innocent.



Sun Apr 17, 2011 5:31 pm
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