The Brothers Karamazov has the reputation of a great philosophical and psychological novel, and that was the main reason I chose to read it, but I have to admit I was disappointed on both counts.
Dostoevsky’s philosophical arguments lack clarity and logical coherence. He shares this characteristic with another Existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who was no doubt influenced by him. His psychological portraits, while perspicacious in many aspects, lack the type of coherence that would render his characters as real people, not allegorical and often exaggerated representations of the human soul — the three brothers Dimitri, Ivan and Alyosha representing passion, reason and faith, respectively. Their portraits are so out of proportion and out of joint that, for the most part, they evoke no feelings of pity or fear, or anything else one might feel toward well-rendered characters.
As a writer, Dostoevsky seems unwilling or unable to give his readers the time and space to make observations and connections on their own, but insists on controlling what they see, hear and think. I find it very ironic that he argues passionately for freedom in the most famous chapter of his book.
The major portion of TBK consists in dialogues and speeches, in which the characters pour out their innards on you whether you like it or not. There are no descriptions of the natural and social environment in which the characters live. There are very few factual descriptions of the significant events in their lives, such as one would expect from a conscientious journalist, but almost everything is interpreted and biased by the opinions of other characters and the narrator.
In Convivio, Dante writes that a literary text or sacred text can be understood in at least one of four senses: literal, allegorical, moral and spiritual, with the literal being the foundation upon which the other three are built. The greatest works are those that develop meanings on all four levels. The problem with TBK is that the literal foundation is largely missing, and the readers are left grappling with the allegorical, moral and spiritual, but without the literal, the text has no ground to engage the readers, and lacks coherence and relevance.
Imagine being alone in a windowless room with a very talkative person, perhaps one with multiple personality disorder, who talks on and on and on, such that the air feels stuffy, and you just want to escape into the open and get some fresh air.
This is my first impression of Dostoevsky. By contrast with whom, Tolstoy is the breath of nature.