Posts Tagged ‘the brothers karamazov’

The Eternal Husband and Dostoevskian Simplicity

The Eternal Husband is the kind of novel I imagine Fyodor Dostoevsky came up with in a weekend. It could even work as a one-act play with its three basic steps: Take a wife who cheats on her husband, kill her off (before the start of the novel of course), and put the husband in the same room with the adulterer. And oh, nobody’s sure how much the husband knows.

This is the simple plot in Dostoevsky’s short novel(la).* Of course, many of Dostoevsky’s short novels have plots built on simple premises. The Double is about a guy who sees his double, The Gambler is about a guy who gambles, etc. These shorter works also tend to start from the same set-up, focusing on a mentally unstable protagonist who lives in a confined residence in St. Petersburg. Yakov Petrovich Goliadkin of The Double and, more famously, the Underground Man from Notes from Underground come to mind here.**

*I don’t know exactly where the cut-off between short novel and novella is.

**As, of course, does Raskolnikov, but I can’t really call Crime and Punishment a “short work,” can I?

The Eternal Husband is different from its predecessors—it was written in 1870, before only Demons, The Adolescent, and The Brothers Karamazov, none of which really fit the above pattern—in two key ways. First, it is perhaps Dostoevsky’s most economical novel. The secondary characters—you know, the kind that get entire books dedicated to them in The Brothers Karamazov—are, for the most part, negligible. The tertiary and quaternary characters are non-existent. I suppose there are a maid and a little girl who doesn’t talk much, but it isn’t really a Dostoevsky novel without a maid and a little girl who doesn’t talk much.

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I Think My Logic Is Beyond Reproach

First off, John, thanks for pointing out that you’re kind of a contrarian. Based on your posts earlier this week that attacked typical American villains in Atticus Finch and checks and balances, I was afraid you were going too mainstream. I was waiting for your next post: “How To Strangle Puppies.”*

*With special co-blogger… that’s too easy.

Second, it is interesting to note, as I did oh so long ago, that it’s far easier to hold the stance you do—that some things’ greatness is ineffable—when those things are considered great by the general populace. It’s not often that one really challenges you on your love for The Beatles, Dylan, Shakespeare, The Godfather, or The Wire. They are all part of the cultural canon by now, perceived as the best of the best. (It’s also notable that another work of culture that you once explained in your typical terse “You just don’t get it” manner, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” didn’t make this list; maybe because it’s not considered part of the canon, and you know how ludicrous it sounds now to claim that the song is great because it just is.)

The point is it’s a lot harder to say these things about less beloved artists; someone along the lines of, oh I don’t know, Barenaked Ladies. Individuals with non-conformist tastes are forced to defend them far more often; how many times have you or Josh condemned my preference for BnL? And how many times have you been condemned for your disbelief in God?

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Symposium: …and CUT.

First off, I am offended at your two’s vocabulary. If you were an experienced film writer such as myself, you’d know never to use the word “movie.”

I don’t mean to caricature John’s argument, but I’m sure it’s what he’ll claim afterward. It seems to me that John is arguing that a film’s quality is entirely dependent on the response it evokes not in its collective audience, but in the individual member of that audience. Hence, “Calling a movie ‘great’…is ALWAYS a subjective judgment. If you enjoy a movie, then you think it’s a good movie.”

John’s myopic take on film quality, in which each individual acts as the arbiter of overall quality, essentially makes any and all comments about film both conceivable and credible.

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