No holy fool II

Following up on the Karamazovs, an obvious remark. It is said that Dostoevsky’s portrayal of women was lacking next to his male characters. It is not generally true – The Idiot is a counterexample – but The Brothers Karamazov is very much a story of men told by a man. The brothers Karamazov and their father are all “sensualists,” as Alyosha’s buddy Rakitin calls them in Constance Garnett’s Victorian translation:

Let me tell you; he may be honest, our Mitya (he is stupid, but honest), but he’s – a sensualist… It’s your father has handed him on his low sensuality. Do you know, I simply wonder at you, Alyosha, how you can have kept your purity. You’re a Karamazov too, you know! In your family sensuality is carried to a disease. But now, these three sensualists are watching one another, with their knives in their belts. The three of them are knocking their heads together, and you may be the fourth.

The narrator dislikes Rakitin but does nothing to disprove Rakitin’s diagnosis. Moreover, Mitya appears of the same opinion, as he confides to Alyosha:

Enough poetry. I want to tell you now about the insects to whom God gave “sensual lust.”

To insects—sensual lust.

I am that insect, brother, and it is said of me specially. All we Karamazovs are such insects, and, angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood. Tempests, because sensual lust is a tempest—worse than a tempest! Beauty is a terrible and awful thing!

“Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,” from Schiller’s Ode to Joy. “Lust was given to the worm,” literally. The Latinate English word, “concupiscence,” seems to correspond well to Dostoevsky’s сладострастие. Both Rakitin and Mitya Karamazov believe that “sensual lust” runs in the family and, therefore, Alyosha cannot be free of it.

Alyosha’s mentor, Zossima, must have realized it as well. But Zossima’s remedy in this case is not asceticism but a “normal” life: he wants Alyosha to leave the monastery and get married. Perhaps Dostoevsky had had it with the holy fool in The Idiot.

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