The Brothers Karamazov

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The Narrator’s Desk

On top of the narrator’s desk, you see a letter:


Leo Tolstoy, Letter to N. N. Strakhov, 5-10 February 1881


How I should like to be able to say all I feel about [the author of Brothers Karamazov]? I never saw the man and never had any direct relations with him, and suddenly … I realised that he was the very closest, dearest and most necessary man for me. I was a writer, and all writers are vain and envious – I at least was that sort of writer. But it never occurred to me to measure myself against him, never. Everything that he did (every good and real thing that he did) was such that the more he did it, the happier I was. Art arouses envy in me, and so does intelligence, but the things of the heart arouse only joy. I always considered him my friend… It became clear how precious he was to me, and I cried and am still crying.


Inside the narrator’s desk, you see two letters:


Leo Tolstoy, Letter to N. N. Strakhov, 5 December 1883


… It seems to me that you have been the victim of a false and erroneous attitude – not on your part but on everybody’s part – towards [the author of Brothers Karamazov] – an exaggeration of his importance, an exaggeration to fit a pattern, the elevation into a prophet and saint of a man who [was] in the very feverish process of an inner struggle between good and evil. He is touching and interesting, but one cannot set of a pedestal for the edification of posterity a man who was all struggle.


Leo Tolstoy, Letter to A. K. Chertkova, 23 October 1923 (after Tolstoy re-read the novel years later)


A strange coincidence has happened… I started to read The Brothers Karamazov. I began to read it and I can’t get over my dislike of its anti-artistic nature, its frivolity, affectation, and unseemly attitude to important subjects.


What do we make of these letters?


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