The Brothers Karamazov


The Brothers Karamazov has had a deep influence on many public figures over the years for widely varying reasons. Admirers include scientists such as Albert Einstein,[9] philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein[10] and Martin Heidegger,[11] as well as writers such as Virginia Woolf,[12] Cormac McCarthy,[13] Kurt Vonnegut,[14] Haruki Murakami,[15] and Frederick Buechner.[16]

British writer C.P. Snow writes of Einstein's admiration for the novel: "The Brothers Karamazov—that for him in 1919 was the supreme summit of all literature. It remained so when I talked to him in 1937, and probably until the end of his life."[17]

Sigmund Freud called it "the most magnificent novel ever written" and was fascinated with what he saw as its Oedipal themes. In 1928 Freud published a paper titled "Dostoevsky and Parricide" in which he investigated Dostoevsky's own neuroses.[18] Freud claimed that Dostoevsky's epilepsy was not a natural condition but instead a physical manifestation of the author's hidden guilt over his own father's death. According to Freud, Dostoevsky (and all other sons) wished for the death of his father because of latent desire for his mother; citing the fact that Dostoevsky's epileptic fits began at age 18, the year his father died. It followed that more obvious themes of patricide and guilt, especially in the form of the moral guilt illustrated by Ivan Karamazov, were further literary evidence of his theory.

Franz Kafka felt indebted to Dostoevsky and The Brothers Karamazov for its influence on his own work. Kafka called himself and Dostoevsky "blood relatives", perhaps because of the Russian writer's similar existential motifs. Kafka felt immensely drawn to the hatred the brothers demonstrated toward their father in the novel, dealing with his version of the strained father-son relationship, such as he personally experienced, in many of his works (most explicitly in the short story "The Judgment").[19]

James Joyce wrote:

[Leo] Tolstoy admired him but he thought that he had little artistic accomplishment or mind. Yet, as he said, 'he admired his heart', a criticism which contains a great deal of truth, for though his characters do act extravagantly, madly, almost, still their basis is firm enough underneath...The Brothers Karamazov...made a deep impression on me...he created some unforgettable scenes [detail]...Madness you may call it, but therein may be the secret of his genius...I prefer the word exaltation, exaltation which can merge into madness, perhaps. In fact all great men have had that vein in them; it was the source of their greatness; the reasonable man achieves nothing.[20]

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is said to have read The Brothers Karamazov "so often he knew whole passages of it by heart.”[21] A copy of the novel was one of the few possessions Wittgenstein brought with him to the front during World War I.[21]

Martin Heidegger, a seminal figure of existentialism, identified Dostoevsky's thought as one of the most important sources for his early and best known book, Being and Time.[22] Of the two portraits Heidegger kept on the wall of his office, one was of Dostoevsky.[23]

According to philosopher Charles B. Guignon, the novel's most fascinating character, Ivan Karamazov, had by the middle of the twentieth century become the icon of existentialist rebellion in the writings of existentialist philosophers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.[23] Camus centered on a discussion of Ivan Karamazov's revolt in his 1951 book Rebel. Ivan's poem "The Grand Inquisitor" is arguably one of the best-known passages in modern literature due to its ideas about human nature, freedom, power, authority, and religion, as well as for its fundamental ambiguity.[23] A reference to the poem can be found in English novelist Aldous Huxley's Brave New World Revisited and American writer David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.

Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner reread the book regularly, claiming it as his greatest literary inspiration next to Shakespeare's works and the Bible. He once wrote that he felt American literature had produced nothing yet great enough that might compare to Dostoyevsky's novel.[12]

In an essay on The Brothers Karamazov, written after the Russian Revolution and the First World War, Nobel Prize-winning author Hermann Hesse described Dostoevsky as not a "poet" but a "prophet".[24] British writer W. Somerset Maugham included the book in his list of ten greatest novels in the world.[25]

Contemporary Turkish Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk said during a lecture in St. Petersburg that the first time he read The Brothers Karamazov, his life was changed. He felt Dostoyevsky, through his storytelling, revealed completely unique insight into life and human nature.[12]

American philosophical novelist Walker Percy said in an interview:[26]

I suppose my model is nearly always Dostoevsky, who was a man of very strong convictions, but his characters illustrated and incarnated the most powerful themes and issues and trends of his day. I think maybe the greatest novel of all time is The Brothers Karamazov which...almost prophesies and prefigures everything—all the bloody mess and the issues of the 20th century.

Pope Benedict XVI cited the book in the 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi.[27]

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had read Dostoevsky since his youth and considered the author as a great psychologist. His copy of The Brothers Karamazov reveals extensive highlights and notes in the margins that he made while reading the work, which have been studied and analyzed by multiple researchers.[28][29] Russian politician Vladimir Putin has described The Brothers Karamazov as one of his favorite books.[30]

According to Serbian state news agency Tanjug, Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić described Dostoevsky as his best-loved novelist, saying: "The Brothers Karamazov may be the best work of world literature."[31] American First Lady Laura Bush has said she is an admirer of the novel.[32]

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