My Dostoevksy problem, or one of them:
Lately he had somehow become bloated; he began somehow to be erratic, lost his self-control, and even fell into a sort of lightheadedness; he would start one thing and end up with another; he somehow became scattered; and he got drunk more and more often. (I.i.4., 22)
Or how about this jewel:
One could see by her eyes that she had come for some purpose and had something on her mind. (I.ii.3, 50)
Quotations from the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of The Brothers Karamazov, page numbers from the 1990 North Point Press edition. My impression, based perhaps on misremembering and misreading, is that Dostoevsky's best, or most fervent, readers, treat him as a wisdom writer, or a psychologist, but not necessarily as a first-rate literary craftsman.
The ethical content of the Grand Inquisitor section or the Elder Zosima section are, then, the real substance of the novel. Aesthetic matters are of secondary, or no, importance. Whether or not that second quotation above is in and of itself execrable (it is) is inconsequential. Maybe that's right. Maybe this time through I'll learn how to read Karamazov. Nonsuch Frances mentions "surrendering to the flow" of the book. I have not the slightest idea how to do that. The Karamazov I'm reading is full of ruts and roots and switchbacks and dust. There is no flow. I proceed slowly, with great caution. Perhaps, in the company of other readers, I will somehow learn to relax into Karamazov.
Somehow. Please recall the first quotation. What is missing in that sentence? What is present? With minor edits, the vague "somehow"s can be removed with no change in sense: "Lately he had become bloated; he began to be erratic," and so on. The incessant vagueness ("one thing," "another") is intentional, an aesthetic effect, meant to do, ahem, something. I'm not sure what. The Brothers Karamazov has a not-actually-Dostoevsky narrator, so the "some"s come from him. I guess.
From the rectory had come the immense scarlet and lapis lazuli carpet, the great brass fire-basket and appendages, the great curtains that, in the three long windows, on their peacock-blue Chinese silk showed parti-coloured cranes ascending in long flights - and all the polished Chippendale armchairs. (II.iv., 245)
That's an almost randomly chosen bit of Some Do Not... (1924) by Ford Madox Ford, my other 800 page readalong novel (thanks to mel u at The Reading Life for organizing). Soon after we find "peculiarly scented tea" and "a chin curved like the bow of a Greek boat" and "a great walnut-wood fluted chair." And on and on like that. The organizing aesthetic principle could hardly be more different than Dostoevsky's. There is no somehow. Ford's function as a novelist is to tell us exactly how, within the limits of the language.
It will take me all month to read both of these books, so expect more Dostoevsky-Ford Ford juxtapositions, regardless of utility or sense. That's what I've got!
Except for next week, which will be devoted to the lovely, odd Christian fantasy writer George MacDonald. The week begins with an exciting event, with a special guest providing the very first Wuthering Expectations Guest Post.