A Woman Under the Influence
Still under the spell of this great book, I've been doing my usual desultory research on the internet, simply because I don't want to stop thinking about it. I wish there were more discussion to be found, especially of the tantalizing claim in the preface of the novel that this was to be only the first of two books about Alexei Karamazov:
The main novel is the second one—about the activities of my hero in our time, that is, in our present, current moment. As for the first novel, it already took place thirteen years ago and is even almost not a novel at all but just one moment from my hero's early youth. It is impossible for me to do without this first novel, or much in the second novel will be incomprehensible.
This idea is given strength by the peculiar openness of the end of the book, which introduces a new, very young character and blatantly addresses the future. (For film lovers still reading, it's Tony Leung in Days of Being Wild
, only more so.) While this works, as is, to tie the story into the history of the Russian people (or, even, when added to Dmitri's plans to go to America, into a broader human canvas), the reader can't help but think about that promised second book. Because Dostoevsky died only a few months after publishing The Brothers Karamazov
, we'll never know that next chapter, that main novel to which this magnificent books is mere introduction, almost not a novel at all
. How amazing would that next book have been? It's mind-boggling! I'm filled with longing for this impossible thing.
But, back to that research. Various sources mention an unfinished epic called "The Life of a Great Sinner," with hints that Karamazov
was to be the first piece of the larger project. I had to know more, and turned to a little book called Stavrogin's Confession and the Plan of The Life of a Great Sinner
, which includes Dostoevsky's notes about the project. It turns out that the link between Karamazov
and Great Sinner
is not nearly so direct, despite that tantalizing preface. All his life, Dostoevsky had a profusion of ideas that never made it into finished form. In fact, he spoke of two epic novels in the last years of his life, and spent time planning them: Atheism
and The Life of a Great Sinner
, neither of which ever took shape. An essay by Nicolai Brodsky in the book above shares my longing for the unwritten works:
The novels Atheism and The Life of a Great sinner clearly prove that Dostoevsky could not cope with the swarm of his creative imagination. He could not tame and conquer the rush of elemental visions. His soul burnt too fiercely to be satisfied with an inferior light. All in flames, his soul set on fire and destroyed the flashing visions. And it seems as if iron necessity alone chained the writer to the desk and made it possible for us to read his works. There is something accidental in the published works of Dostoevsky. They do not represent the whole creator; they are paler than his original conceptions.
Whoa, wait minute! What a terrible, pessimistic way to look at his finished works! Why give his notes precedence over the hard work that goes into writing an actual book? No matter how attractive his plans, who is to say that the ideas that made it past internal censors, that made it onto the page in published form, aren't better, more truly Dostoevsky, than his ambitions and notes? It's clear to me, at any rate, that The Brothers Karamazov is no pale shadow of a greater idea. In fact, his notebooks make clear that it contains many of his best ideas. Scholars have had a field day linking those notes and letters to his various novels, teasing out the vast and confusing middle ground between Dostoevsky's life experiences and their final fictional forms. And, this is where I have to confront my earlier yearnings; it's ridiculous to imply that those years of thought and planning were wasted, when so much of that work (in terms of characters, plots, and ideas) made it into print in at least three novels: The Raw Youth, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov. The latter, at least, is magnificent, one of the greatest books I've ever read. Dreams of another, better book are truly unnecessary.
Stay tuned for the next step in my immersion in all things Karamazov: Movie adaptations