The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part I Book III - The Sensualists (Chapters 1-11)

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Part I Book III - The Sensualists (Chapters 1-11)

Chapter 1: In the servants' quarters
The narrator describes the history of Fyodor Pavlovich's old servant, Grigory Vasilievich Kutuzov, who lives in a cottage in the grounds of Fyodor Pavlovich's house. Grigory shares the cottage with his wife, Marfa Ignatievna, and another of Fyodor Pavlovich's servants, the young man Smerdyakov. Grigory loyally remains with his master even after the emancipation of the serfs (in 1861), and Fyodor Pavlovich grants him a small salary. Like Alyosha, Grigory sees everything that goes on in Fyodor Pavlovich's life but condemns nothing, and both men seem to help Fyodor Pavlovich in his attacks of "spiritual fear."
Grigory looks after the three Karamazov boys for a short time. Marfa Ignatievna gives birth to a baby boy with six fingers. Grigory cannot bear to look at him, and the sickly child dies at two weeks old. The same day that they bury him, Marfa Ignatievna is woken in the night by the sound of a baby crying. Grigory follows the sound to the bathhouse in Fyodor Pavlovich's garden. He finds a local girl lying close to death, with a newborn baby next to her. The girl is a slow-witted mute known as Stinking Lizaveta.
Chapter 2: Stinking Lizaveta
The narrator tells the story of Stinking Lizaveta. She is the daughter of a homeless alcoholic man who used to beat her. She wanders about the town dressed only in a shift, begging. The townspeople are fond of her and view her as a "holy fool." They adopt her and try to clothe her more warmly, but she always removes the clothes and abandons them. When people give her money or food, she gives it away.
One night, a band of drunken men, including Fyodor Pavlovich, happen upon Lizaveta sleeping by a fence. Fyodor Pavlovich makes lewd remarks about her and the band passes on, though later, no one can remember whether Fyodor Pavlovich remains with them, as he later claims, or stays back on his own with Lizaveta. Soon, it becomes obvious that Lizaveta is pregnant, and the rumor spreads that the father is Fyodor Pavlovich. A wealthy widow takes Lizaveta into her house to give birth, but Lizaveta escapes and turns up in Fyodor Pavlovich's garden.
After Grigory finds Lizaveta and her baby, he goes to fetch the midwife while his wife helps Lizaveta. The baby is saved, but Lizaveta dies. Grigory and his wife raise the child, and Fyodor Pavlovich names him Smerdyakov after the surname of his mother. Smerdyakov becomes Fyodor Pavlovich's second servant.
Chapter 3: The confession of an ardent heart. In verse
Alyosha leaves the monastery, as he has been instructed by Zosima and his father. Katerina has requested him, via a note given to him by Madame Khokhlakov, to come and visit her. Alyosha knows that she is trying to save Dmitri, who has done her a great wrong by abandoning her after becoming engaged to marry her. Alyosha feels an unidentifiable fear around meeting her. He takes a shortcut to Katerina's house and meets Dmitri in a drunken and ecstatic state. Dmitri has been hoping that Alyosha would turn up because he wants to send him as a messenger to his father and to Katerina, to break off relations with them both. He feels it is important to send "an angel" (Alyosha) to convey this news. Dmitri says he has fallen in love with a "low woman," meaning Grushenka. He has plunged into a shameful "abyss," but finds the experience beautiful and joyful.
Dmitri goes on to describe himself and the rest of the Karamazovs as "insects," using insects as a symbol of sensuality. He says that even Alyosha has an insect that "lives and stirs up storms in your blood."
Chapter 4: The confession of an ardent heart. In anecdotes
Dmitri tells Alyosha the story of his relationship with Katerina. He meets her when he is in the army, living a life of womanizing and reckless spending of money. Alyosha insists that he is the same as Dmitri in terms of sensual appetite.
Katerina is the proud, virtuous daughter of a colonel in charge of the battalion where Dmitri is stationed. Dmitri notices her, but she ignores him. At this time, Fyodor Pavlovich sends Dmitri six thousand roubles in return for Dmitri's promise that he would make no further demands for money.
Dmitri hears that the colonel, Katerina's father, has been implicated in a scandal involving the disappearance of four thousand five hundred roubles of government money, with which he has been entrusted. Dmitri knows that the colonel is in the habit of secretly lending government money to a reliable local merchant. The merchant briefly invests it and then returns it to the colonel with interest. It is implied that the colonel keeps the interest and returns the capital sum to the government without their knowing anything about these deals. This time, the merchant denies receipt of any money from the colonel and the government wants its money back. The colonel tries to commit suicide but is prevented by one of his daughters. Katerina asks Dmitri for the four thousand five hundred roubles to save her father. Dmitri considers persuading Katerina to give him her sexual favors in return for the money, but he soon abandons this idea and gives her the money free of obligation. Katerina is so moved that she falls at Dmitri's feet before running out.
Chapter 5: The confession of an ardent heart. "Heels up"
Katerina's father, the colonel, pays Dmitri's four thousand five hundred roubles back to the government, then falls sick and dies. Shortly afterwards, while Katerina is in Moscow, she is left money in a will. Now a wealthy woman, she repays Dmitri. In a letter, she tells Dmitri that she is madly in love with him and offers to become his fianc�e, even if he does not love her. She explains that she wants to save him from himself. Dmitri agrees to become engaged to her, apparently without much enthusiasm, and promises that he will reform. Meanwhile, he sends Ivan to talk with her, and Ivan falls in love with her. Dmitri sneers at Katerina's lofty feelings, claiming that she is in love not with him, but with her own virtue. At the same time, he feels that he is worthless compared with her. He thinks that she is sacrificing herself and denying her true destiny (to marry Ivan) out of gratitude.
Now, Dmitri asks Alyosha to go to Katerina, bow to her on his behalf, and break off the engagement. He intends to continue to see Grushenka and even hopes to marry her. He says that he fell in love with Grushenka the first time he saw her, even though he had gone to give her a beating after he heard that she had taken over Dmitri's debts to Fyodor Pavlovich (a deal in which the retired sea captain had acted as Fyodor Pavlovich's agent). Dmitri confesses that he stole three thousand roubles from Katerina, which she had given him to send to her sister in Moscow. He frittered away the money on a debauched night of entertainment with Grushenka. He wants to pay Katerina back and has thought of asking Fyodor Pavlovich for the money. Smerdyakov has told Dmitri that Fyodor Pavlovich has prepared an envelope containing three thousand roubles for Grushenka, in the hope of buying her affections. Dmitri has left orders with Smerdyakov to let him know if Grushenka visits Fyodor Pavlovich, as Dmitri feels he could not marry her if she does. Dmitri asks Alyosha to go to Fyodor Pavlovich and ask him to for the three thousand roubles, on Dmitri's behalf. Dmitri knows that such generosity on Fyodor Pavlovich's part would be a "miracle," but he is hopeful. Alyosha leaves for Fyodor Pavlovich's house.
Chapter 6: Smerdyakov
Alyosha arrives at Fyodor Pavlovich's house and finds his father drinking after dinner. Ivan and Smerdyakov are also present.
The narrator gives some details of Smerdyakov's upbringing and character: as a child, he used to hang cats and bury them with religious ceremony. When Grigory tried to teach him scripture, Smerdyakov contemptuously pointed out the illogicality of God's creating light on the first day, when the sun (the source of light) was only created on the fourth day. Grigory had beaten the boy, and shortly afterwards, Smerdyakov had become epileptic, an affliction that stayed with him for the rest of his life. In general, Smerdyakov was sullen and unsociable. However, Fyodor Pavlovich trusted Smerdyakov, ever since Smerdyakov had picked up three hundred roubles, which Fyodor Pavlovich had carelessly dropped, and returned them to his master.
The narrator comments that the silent Smerdyakov is contemplating something, though no one knows what. Finally, either "he will drop everything and wander off to Jerusalem to save his soul, or perhaps he will suddenly burn down his native village, or perhaps he will do both."
Chapter 7: Disputation
At Fyodor Pavlovich's house, Grigory brings up the topic of a Russian soldier who was captured by Asians. The Asians tried to force him to convert from Christianity to Islam, but the soldier refused and was tortured and killed for his faith. Smerdyakov says that in his view, there would have been no sin if the soldier had renounced his faith and lived to atone for his cowardice by good deeds. He points out that the minute the soldier renounced Christianity, he would be excommunicated from the church and would therefore not be lying to his captors when he told them he was not a Christian. God would no more punish such a man than He would punish an unbaptized Tartar.
Grigory is horrified by Smerdyakov's lack of faith. Smerdyakov continues his argument. He says that according to the Scriptures, if a person has the tiniest amount of faith and tells a mountain to go down into the sea, it would happen. Yet Smerdyakov is sure that if Grigory, along with most other persons who claim to have faith, were to tell a mountain to do this, nothing would happen. Therefore Grigory cannot have proper faith and has no right to scold others for lacking faith. Smerdyakov thinks that if there are any persons of true faith, who could really move mountains, they number perhaps two on the entire earth and are practicing austerities in the desert. Are we to believe that the rest of mankind is cursed by God? Smerdyakov cannot accept this, and has concluded that if a man were to doubt once and then repent, God would forgive him.
Moreover, if the soldier had had true faith, he could have saved himself by asking a mountain to crush his tormentors. If the mountain failed to do this, then the soldier would be justified in his doubt. So why would he then persist in declaring himself a Christian if he were to be tortured for it?
During Smerdyakov's tirade, though he seems to be arguing with Grigory, Fyodor Pavlovich comments that his arguments are really meant for Ivan. Smerdyakov is angling for praise from Ivan.
Chapter 8: Over the cognac
Fyodor Pavlovich tires of the dispute and sends his servants away. He announces that all peasants are cheats and advocates abolishing the monasteries. He asks Ivan and Alyosha whether there is a God and immortality; Ivan says no, Alyosha, yes.
Fyodor Pavlovich begins to mock his second wife, the "shrieker." He tells Alyosha he used to spit on her icon to show her there was nothing miraculous about it. Alyosha is so upset that he has a seizure exactly like his mother had suffered. Ivan angrily tells Fyodor Pavlovich that she was also his own mother, a fact that Fyodor Pavlovich has forgotten.
At that moment, Dmitri bursts into the room, shouting. Fyodor Pavlovich runs to Ivan for protection, crying that Dmitri will kill him.
Chapter 9: The sensualists
Dmitri runs through the rooms looking for Grushenka, whom he thinks his father is hiding in the house. He is pursued by Grigory and Smerdyakov, who had tried and failed to keep him out, on Fyodor Pavlovich's orders. Grigory tries to defend the door to the inner rooms, and Dmitri knocks him down. Fyodor Pavlovich runs at Dmitri; Dmitri seizes him and smashes him against the floor. Ivan and Alyosha pull Dmitri off the old man. Dmitri cries that if he has not killed his father this time, he will come back and kill him. He asks Alyosha if Grushenka has been here, and Alyosha swears she has not.
Dmitri asks Alyosha to go to Katerina, to tell her that Dmitri bows to her, and to tell her about this incident. Dmitri leaves.
Ivan and Alyosha tend to Fyodor Pavlovich and put him to bed. Ivan muses that if he had not pulled Dmitri away, Dmitri might have killed the old man. He seems to relish the prospect, commenting, "Viper will eat viper, and it would serve them both right!" Alyosha is shocked.
As Fyodor Pavlovich comes round, he tells Alyosha that he is frightened of Ivan as well as of Dmitri. He asks Alyosha to go to Grushenka and find out who she wants to be with - Fyodor Pavlovich, or Dmitri. He also permits Alyosha to go back to the monastery.
Alyosha asks Ivan if anyone has the right to decide that another person is unworthy to live. He is referring to Ivan's comment about the vipers. Ivan replies that anyone has the right to wish, but reassures Alyosha that he will always protect their father. The brothers shake hands more warmly than they have ever done before.
Chapter 10: The two together
Alyosha leaves his father's house haunted by a terrible question: how would the rivalry between Fyodor Pavlovich and Dmitri over Grushenka ("this terrible woman") end? He wonders also why Ivan has taken a step towards him in intimacy.
Alyosha arrives at Katerina's house and tells her that Dmitri bows to her and that he is torturing himself about stealing her three thousand roubles. He tells her too that Dmitri may marry Grushenka. Katerina praises Grushenka as "an angel," and to Alyosha's surprise, Grushenka emerges from another room. Alyosha is struck by how kind she seems, as well as by her beauty. Katerina repeatedly kisses Grushenka on the lips, and calls her noble and magnanimous; it seems to Alyosha that she is in love with her. Katerina reveals that she invited Grushenka to her house in order to find out her intentions regarding Dmitri. Grushenka has told Katerina that she is going back to a former lover who abandoned her and married another woman five years ago. Now that his wife has died, he wants Grushenka back.
Grushenka warns Katerina that she does not deserve such a defense, as she (Grushenka) has a wicked heart. She says that she charmed Dmitri just to laugh at him. Katerina says that now Grushenka will save him by telling him that she loves another. Grushenka says that she did not promise to do this; she is fickle, and may decide that she likes Dmitri again. She makes as if to kiss Katerina's hand, but at the last moment, holds back. Then she taunts Katerina, revealing that Dmitri has told her about Katerina's being prepared to offer herself to Dmitri in return for money. A furious Katerina is about to leap at her, but Alyosha holds her back.
As Alyosha leaves, Katerina's maid runs after him with a note from Madame Khokhlakov.
Chapter 11: One more ruined reputation
As Alyosha is on his way back to the monastery, he meets Dmitri. Alyosha tells him about the scene between Katerina and Grushenka. At first Dmitri seems angry, but then he laughs uncontrollably at Grushenka's insolent behavior. Dmitri almost seems to take pleasure in Katerina's humiliation, suggesting that she brought it upon herself through her self-delusion that she could bewitch Grushenka. Alyosha tells Dmitri that he wronged Katerina by telling Grushenka that Katerina came to him for money. Suddenly serious, Dmitri proclaims himself a scoundrel. He shakes hands with Alyosha and tells him he does not wish to see him again "until some last moment." As he leaves, he strikes his chest and tells Alyosha that "right here a horrible dishonor is being prepared," as if the dishonor were really in that place on his chest. He goes on to say that if he stopped this unnamed dishonorable activity, tomorrow he could recover half his lost honor, but to his shame, he will not stop.
Alyosha arrives at the monastery wondering why Zosima sent him out into the world. He hears that Zosima is close to death. He opens the envelope that Katerina's maid gave him and finds a note from Lise, Madame Khokhlakov's daughter. Lise confesses that she loves Alyosha and hopes to marry him. She begs him to visit her tomorrow. Alyosha laughs with happiness, says a prayer for everyone he has seen today, and falls asleep.
Book III allows us to learn more directly about characters we heard about in Book II from the opinions of others (mainly from Dmitri and Rakitin). We see the members of the Karamazov family interacting amongst themselves and with others. In particular, we see why Rakitin predicted to Alyosha in Book II, Chapter 7 that Dmitri might kill Fyodor Pavlovich, and the meaning of his comment: "In your family sensuality is carried to the point of fever. So these three sensualists [Fyodor Pavlovich, Dmitri and Ivan] are now eying each other with knives in their boots."
The foreshadowing of the future events of the novel is an important aspect of this Book. Chapter 3 contains a revealing visual image of Dmitri's character which also acts as a foreshadowing element. When Alyosha meets him en route to Katerina's house, Dmitri is drunk, quoting poetry and in an ecstatic state. He announces that he has fallen in love with a "low woman" (Grushenka). In one of the novel's most famous speeches, Dmitri admits that he does not know whether he has fallen "into stench and shame, or into light and joy. . . . I'm a Karamazov. . . . when I fall into the abyss, I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I'm even pleased that I'm falling in such a humiliating position, and for me I find it beautiful. And so in that very shame I suddenly begin a hymn. Let me be cursed, let me be base and vile, but let me also kiss the hem of that garment in which my God is clothed; let me be following the devil at the same time, but still I am also your son, Lord, and I love you, and I feel a joy without which the world cannot stand and be."
The image shows Dmitri's complex nature. He is driven by sensuality, plunging into situations without thought or reflection. In this respect, he is like his father, Fyodor Pavlovich. He differs from Fyodor Pavlovich, however, in that he has a conscience. The fact that Dmitri rejects his intended course of allowing Katerina to sell herself in return for the money to save her father, and tortures himself over his shoddy treatment of her, shows that he is keenly aware of the difference between right and wrong.
The image also suggests that Dmitri's redemption will take place through suffering and shame and that he will embrace it ("in that very shame I suddenly begin a hymn"). Dmitri imagines himself kissing the hem of God's garment at the same time as he sees himself as cursed and base. Dmitri loves God. In this respect he is like Alyosha.
Dmitri uses the symbol of insects to represent the Karamazovs' sensuality - a symbol that recurs throughout the novel. In Chapter 3, he claims that the whole family are insects, even the saintly Alyosha, who has an insect within him that "lives and stirs up storms in your blood." Insects crawl upon the ground, an image of lowliness and base existence that contrasts with the novel's lofty spiritual images and themes. In Chapter 4, Dmitri relates the "insect" in his soul to cruelty, as he lives a depraved existence in the army, thoughtlessly using women to gratify his appetites. The insect symbol is implied too in Chapter 8, when Fyodor Pavlovich describes his seduction technique with Alyosha's mother, "crawling on my knees, kissing her feet," a technique that apparently caused an upsurge in her hysterical shrieking tendency. It is noteworthy that while Dmitri acknowledges his insect nature (acknowledging one's faults is, according to Zosima, a significant step towards overcoming them), Fyodor Pavlovich shows no such awareness or remorse.
The Brothers Karamazov raises the question of how Dmitri in particular, and mankind in general, can rise above their insect nature. As will be seen later, it also provides some answers.
In Book III, Alyosha, who has formed only a minor figure in the previous two Books, comes into the foreground. Alyosha spends much of his time acting as a go-between for other characters, and it is useful to ask why. Alyosha seems to have a soothing and harmonizing effect on those with whom he comes into contact. He never gets involved in the disputes, lies and resentments that pass between the other characters, and usually manages to de-escalate situations of anger or fear. Though both Alyosha and Ivan save Fyodor Pavlovich when he is being attacked by Dmitri, Fyodor Pavlovich senses Ivan's hostility and admits to Alyosha that he is as afraid of Ivan as he is of the more openly aggressive Dmitri. Alyosha is the only person whom Fyodor Pavlovich appears to love and trust. Alyosha forms the only line of communication between Katerina and Dmitri at a time when Dmitri cannot face seeing her directly. He also physically holds back Katerina when she tries to attack Grushenka. He never judges or condemns anyone, and he speaks the truth - marking him out as different to, even opposite to, the other characters. In his company, characters (for example, Katerina, Dmitri, and Fyodor Pavlovich) appear to be inspired to tell the truth, much as Zosima inspired people to confess their most shameful secrets. Presumably, these qualities explain why Zosima felt it was so important for Alyosha to be out in the world. However, there are hints that Alyosha's path is not to be entirely predictable or straightforward, both in Rakitin's insistence that Alyosha too is a "sensualist" and in Alyosha's own admission of the same to Dmitri.
The profound gesture of the bow, introduced in Book II with Zosima's bow to Dmitri, is taken up once more. In spite of Dmitri's poor treatment of Katerina, he insists that Alyosha convey to her that he (Dmitri) bows to her. This bow is simultaneously a humble acknowledgement of her nobility of character and a way of 'bowing out' of the relationship. In contrast, the image of Fyodor Pavlovich crawling before his wife, kissing her feet, is not so dignified, since Fyodor Pavlovich only adopts this position as a prelude to sexual relations - truly an insect-like behavior.
Dostoevsky emphasizes in The Brothers Karamazov that what a person believes affects his or her actions and quality of life. Smerdyakov's tirade against religious faith in Chapter 7, though apparently addressed to Grigory, is really meant for Ivan, as Fyodor Pavlovich suggests. Smerdyakov seems to be angling for Ivan's approval, as he knows Ivan to be skeptical over religion. The implicit suggestion is that Smerdyakov's actions later in the novel stem from beliefs that he shares with Ivan. In other words, beliefs are not just intellectual pastimes: they have real consequences.
Many modern readers will find Smerdyakov's arguments compelling and coherent, but it is significant that they, like Ivan's, are based on an intellectual approach to faith. The hypothetical calculating soldier in Smerdyakov's speech might forswear God and still escape damnation - his logic is hard to fault - but what is lacking from the soldier's case is love - love of God, love of self, love of mankind. The unsociable and sullen Smerdyakov similarly expresses no love for God, self or man. He has taken to intellectualism instead. Nevertheless, Dostoevsky shows that love, or more precisely the lack of love, is the deciding factor in Smerdyakov's life. Smerdyakov has known no love from his father, Fyodor Pavlovich. His qualities of heart were from the beginning so undeveloped that his favorite pastime was hanging cats. Later, he is beaten by his adoptive father Grigory for doubting the Scriptures. The consequence is that Smerdyakov becomes epileptic. Presumably also, his lack of love for his fellow man is compounded by the beating. This is a process of emotional strangulation that owes nothing to logic. The episode shows that there are forces more fundamental than Smerdyakov's and Ivan's precious intellectualism.
Smerdyakov's hypothetical soldier also lacks a sense of integrity and responsibility. Nothing matters to him except saving his own skin. Because he does not believe in absolute truth, he seeks to do not what is right, but what is expedient. In the soldier, Smerdyakov is painting a picture of alienation from society, from mankind, and from God, which perfectly mirrors his own situation. He does not see himself as a part of a harmonious whole, as Alyosha does, but as a separate being who is allowed to do as he wishes without reference to any higher or broader values.

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