The Superfluous Brothers Karamazov Read-Along Part 3: Father Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

If you find yourself in perplexity, go to the master post for the read-along schedule.

Reading Dostoyevsky can feel a bit like a Grandpa Simpson story at times. Back to the murder plot, please!

In Part 3, after some preliminaries with Alyosha, who is disillusioned when his hero Elder Zozima turns out to be just human after all (i.e. smelly), and after learning the phrase “to give an onion” (which was the style at the time) we finally get to Mitya’s money-making schemes, murder, and mayhem. When then kids say “last night was a movie”, I think they were talking about Mitya’s post-murder “spree” to Mokroye, complete with champagne, singing peasants, crooked card games, and white-girl-wasted Grushenka.

Speaking of disillusionment, I really felt for Grushenka when she realized the guy she had been pining for these past five years is… just a guy. With an annoying friend who won’t stop hanging around. It happens to the best of us.

In my scramble to catch up with the reading (don’t ask where I am in Part 4), I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the P&V and the McDuff translations, and was struck by a difference in what Grigory calls Mitya moments after the murder: P&V translate it as “Parricide!” while McDuff has him shout “Father-murderer!” This sums up the difference between the two translations, for me. P&V never hesitate to use an obscure or old fashioned word, but somehow, I think it works better than the awkwardly-hyphenated “father-killer”.

The latter chapters of Part 3 are a police procedural, with various officials questioning the drunk and disorderly crew at Mokroye. Things aren’t looking good for Mitya, and I don’t read murder mysteries much, so I can’t tell if the eventual court case will resolve itself the obvious way, or with a twist, or maybe not resolve at all.

This all reminds me of my favourite real-life parricide, Dennis Oland. If you’re not Canadian (and even if you are), you might have missed this story (I read about it in Shadow of a Doubt, a true crime book, in 2017). Prominent Saint John business man Richard Oland was violently murdered by his son Dennis in 2011… probably. All the evidence pointed to Dennis from the beginning, like Mitya, and Richard was not well liked, carried on with mistresses, and was known to be stingy, like Fyodor.  The book outlines in great detail how Dennis felt entitled to financial help from his dad – and how Richard was increasingly reluctant to give Dennis money. At the time of the murder, Dennis was sinking fast (he needed way more than Mitya’s 3000 roubles). There aren’t any brothers, and as far as I know there was no Grushenka between them, but both cases seem to point squarely at the son, with the exception of a few details. In fact, with the Olands, one of those details involves a door and whether it was open or closed – just like the gate at Fyodor’s house.

I get the feeling that the Karamazov case might end up like the Oland one – Dennis was convicted and went to jail, but was found not guilty on appeal. Officially, it’s resolved, but to this day I go back and forth between thinking he *must* have done it, and thinking there might be another explanation. I assume the Karamazov story will resolve too, but will we find out what truly happened?

(Another difference worth noting is that Dennis did not go on a “spree” after the murder. Security camera footage showed that he went grocery shopping, and, in true maritimer fashion, to Tim Hortons.)

Anyway, onward to Part 4, where we suddenly turn the story back to a bunch of school kids, for some reason. Dostoyevsky is trying my patience again!


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