Guest Post: Fyodor Dosteovsky

My husband and I have started rereading The Brothers Karamazov, and are zipping through it  the blinding pace of nearly 2-3 chapters per week.  At this rate, we’ll have it finished before our kids borrow the book for college.  I thought you guys might appreciate this passage, as the monk Fr. Zosima recounts a conversation  with a famous doctor:

‘I love mankind,’ [the doctor] said, ‘but I marvel at myself:  the more  I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons.  In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else, and this I know from experience.  No sooner is that someone else close to me than her personality crushes my self-esteem and hampers my freedom.  In the space of a day and a night I am capable of coming to hate even the best of human beings:  one because he takes too long over dinner, another because he has a cold and is perpetually blowing his nose.  I become the enemy of others,’ he said, ‘very nearly as soon as they come into contact with me.  To compensate for this, however, it has always happened that the more I have hated human beings in particular, the more ardent has become my love for mankind in general.’

‘But then what is to be done?  What is to be done in such a case?  Is one to give oneself up to despair?’

[and Fr. Zosima responds:]  No, for it sufficient that you grieve over it.  Do what you are able, and it will be taken into consideration.  In your case, much of the work has already been done, for you have been able to understand yourself so deeply and sincerely!  If, however, you have spoken so sincerely to me now only in order to receive the kind of praise I have just given you for your truthfulness, then you will, of course, get nowhere in your heroic attempts at active love; it will all merely remain in your dreams, and the whole of your life will flit by like a wraith.  You will also, of course, forget about the life to come, and you will end by somehow acquiring a kind of calm.

I’m also reading Jurassic Park.  How about you?  What book is currently lulling you to sleep or keeping you awake all night?



  1. In nonfiction, I am enjoying Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures.

    In fiction, I am enjoying Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer. I’ve been directed by a friend to read Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Heard it’s good though.

  2. I like that passage. I’ve never read The Brothers K, but I own the book. It was a Christmas gift from a very fatherly attorney I used to work for. Does the whole book read like that? I should give it a try!
    I just started reading Rediscover Catholicism (as mentioned by one of the ladies at the F&F retreat) by Matthew Kelly. I’m still in the first chapter, but the first few pages are very powerful, and I like what I’m reading so far. I hope it inspires me as much as I want it to!

  3. MrsDarwin…you will love Till We Have Faces, but it seemed so unlike anything else I’d ever read by him. I just finished Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn, which was a great book but a slow read for me–full of vast historical and scientific knowledge in an interesting SciFi setting. I liked it though.

  4. This year I am hacking my way through the lesser-known works of Shakespeare. Should finish Cymbeline today, and then I’m picking up Till We Have Faces along with Mrs. Darwin.

  5. I, too, am slogging my way through The Brothers Karamazov – I got a Kindle for Christmas, downloaded it the next day, and I am now a whopping 26% of the way through (gotta love knowing that – but it’s right at the beginning of Book V). To be fair to myself, if I would just apply myself, I’d be done by now, but I keep getting distracted by other books. Oh well, here’s to hoping that I finish before my eldest starts college in 12 years or so!

  6. I read The Brothers Karamazov exactly a year ago for a class, and it was amazing! Now I’m making my way through Dosteovsky’s The Idiot. And Plato’s Republic.

  7. Wow. Dostoevsky as a guest blogger? I’m so impressed!!

    When I read him, I feel like I get brain fever. The last Dostoevsky I read was “Raw Youth”. Very interesting – especially when you think about his own gambling demon that he dealt with.

    Reading these days? My husband has translated several of our children’s books into Latin. I believe that I know the names of most farm animals in Latin and can count to ten. I plan on working on Shapes next.

  8. We love Brothers K. It took my husband probably two years to finish it. He would read to me at night so I could fall asleep.:( Then he started checking out the audio-version to listen on his way to/from work. That helped him tons to get through the bulk of it. We had great discussions about the characters and plot. He has an incredible esteem for Dostoyevsky and his understanding of human nature. I just finished Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. That was awesome for lack of a better word. I’m thinking about Anna Karenina…just can’t get enough of Russian Lit.:)

  9. I just finished Confessions of an Ex-Feminist by Lorraine V. Murry. The author, who was born in 1947, is 5 years older than I am, so there was a weird feeling of deja vu as I read through the years: of her journey from childhood Catholicism to atheism & feminism, and finally back to the Church. (Not that I had the same faith journey — just that I lived at the same time she did.)

  10. That’s an interesting passage. It reminds me of the quote from the screwtape letters:

    “The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.”


    Lately a priest keeps giving me books by Tugwell, one on prayer and one on the Beatitudes. Great books and I actually have a hard time stopping my reading of them.

    I keep thinking that “when I get an eReader I’ll read more” it doesn’t happen. As it is I have three large bookshelves of books that are started.

  11. I’m reading “Divine Mercy in My Soul” by St. Faustina. She’s easier for me to read the Avila’s “Way of Perfection”, which I’ve been half-heatedly slogging through for four months.

    I think I’ll skip the Brothers Karamozov. Last time I read something off the Fischer book list, it was “Canticle for Leibowitz” and I very nearly died of despair.

  12. I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Very good read.

    I’m starting My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier. I loved Rebecca by DuMaurier, and my mom promises that My Cousin Rachel is even better.

  13. This would be a fun linky party, if you were so inclined–Lenten fiction “what I’m reading” excerpts. I don’t have the traffic to make it worthwhile to host one, or I’d do it. I’m rereading Lord of the Rings right now–I find that it helps fortify my will for everyday drudgery.

      • My husband’s only read Night Watch and Thief of Time, but he’s intimately acquainted with the Discworld through me, and we’re really enjoying Thud! Pratchett reads aloud very well- some authors don’t at all.

        My favourite part so far is the discussion of what constitutes Art and why it’s okay to look at paintings of large nekkid pink women- the conclusion is that as long as there’s a plinth it’s fine. Or an urn. Urns signify Art.

  14. I loved the Brothers K, which I read for a book club a few years ago. Dost. has such insights into the souls of people… And I have to also admit to really liking Jurassic Park! I am now working my way through Sigrid Undset’s Catherine of Sienna. And I just reread a book called To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever, about the UNC-Dook basketball rivalry.

  15. I just finished reading Jane Austen’s Emma…I realized it was kinda bad that the closest I’d come to it was watching “Clueless” when I was supposed to be an English major 🙂 Good stuff. Now I am getting started on I Shall Not Hate…by some Palestinian doctor guy who lost 3 of his daughters to a bomb blast (he lives/lived) in Gaza but didn’t get crazy and mad but still tries to work for peace in the area. We shall see how it goes. I saw it on the new shelf at the library and thought I’d give it a whirl.

  16. Wow, I need to read that! Right now I’m reading ‘Eclipse of the Sun’ by Michael O’Brien. It’s profoundly hopeful and deeply disturbing… but I’ve fallen asleep praying once I’ve managed to put it down the past couple nights. It feeds my soul.

  17. Don Quixote (which I’m teaching) and “La suma de los días” by Isabel Allende. I was wondering if you could tell us what translation you’re reading-it seems quite enjoyable.

    • The translation is by David McDuff. It’s a little peculiar from time to time, but very lively.

      I don’t know what to think about Isabel Allende – I really liked “House of the Spirits,” but some of her others were real turkeys!

      • I don’t like everything she writes either, but what I do like of hers, I like a lot. I think I’ll give this translation you’ve shared with us a try. Thanks.

  18. A collection of short stories under the title of London Noir. Not terribly edifying, but fun. Last thing I finished was “Flapper” by Joshua Zeitz. It had pictures.

  19. My husband and I are doing this too! I won’t tell you exactly how long we’ve been at it but let’s just say that we started before our son was born and the little dear just turned a year old. 🙂
    In the meantime, I have started Watership Down on my own (interestingly enough, prompted by a post of yours or I think, actually, it was the comments to a post…?…can’t remember) and at the rate I’m going those poor rabbits are never going to find a new warren.
    Thanks so much for your writing, Simcha. You are in my google Reader and I read everything you post.

  20. How do you people have the energy to read? When the children go to bed at night, my brain is done and I can’t follow sentences more complex than Green Eggs and Ham, which I can still recite by heart. Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero has been sitting on my night table unopened since November. Sad, really. And I was an English Literature major, 14 years ago.

  21. I just finished Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. It was a fun read. I read to my husband at night and we are reading the Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest. And I’m about to start China Road by Rob Gifford of NPR.

  22. The Brs. K quote demands a pithy Chesterton quote: “Oh, how I love Humanity with love so pure and pringlish, and how I hate the horrid French, who never will be English!”

    I’m reading “Upbringing” by James Stenson. That’s after I read “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” aloud and before I fall asleep.

  23. “Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy” by Rumer Godden and our Holy Father B16’s ” Jesus of Nazareth Volume II”

  24. I just finished “True Grit” by Charles Portis yesterday and watched the 1969 Movie (Justin Beiber did a fine Mattie Ross).

    I always liked the life story of Zosima that came after the Grand Inquisitor chapter of the Brothers Karamzov. I think it was supposed to be the response to Ivan Karamazov’s Grand Inquisitor.

  25. I’m reading Thomas Aquinas by GK Chesterton. I am also part way through “Confessions” by St. Augustine.

    I’m enjoying being able to read again. I am re-appreciating the classics. I read the Ignatius Edition of Wuthering Heights recently. Definitely worth it.

    And I always enjoy a re-read of Fr. Elijah by Michael O’Brien.

    Oh, and dinosaur books. Can’t forget those!

    • Our oldest son is named for two Michael O’Brien characters. Nathaniel Elijah. I love Father Elijah but I always feel slightly hallucinogenic after I finish reading it.

  26. First time commenter! Hi Simcha! My fiance and I (both Catholic converts) are completely hooked on your blog.

    I’m currently reading Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. I haven’t been Catholic long enough to need to REdiscover it, so I’m mostly just discovering it 🙂 But it’s an excellent read! I’m recognizing a lot of characteristics of my lapsed Catholic friends and it helps me clarify my own thinking in the process.

  27. I’m currently slogging through Tim Power’s “Declare”, which I’m told is awesome, and it probably is, but it’s taking me forever to finish. I start reading it at night, and fall asleep quicker than you can say “lollapalooza”.

    Once I finish it I will have my badly needed yearly Bronte fix with “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre”, and a couple of Georgette Heyer books: “Arabella” and “Venetia”. Can’t wait for that!

  28. Just finished Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair.” Very good. It’s the first of his novels I’ve read, and for some reason I wasn’t expecting much. I’m not sure why I was totally biased against him, but know better now.

  29. Come Rack, Come Rope by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, a historical novel set during the recusant period in England. It is charmingly written. I am struck by how, in some ways, we are further removed culturally from Benson’s time than from Elizabeth’s. Did anyone else experience this? I’m about 2/3 through, and would highly recommend this for teens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s