Forget America, America means vanity again! And there’s a lot of swindling in America, too, I think.
That screamer, and the title of the post, are from p. 595 of The Brothers Karamazov, “A Hymn and a Secret,” in which Dmitri considers his future as an escaped convict. Dostoevsky was, politically, a devoted Russian nationalist and a dedicated America-hater, and Dmitri, the character, has no idea what he’s talking about. So the discussion of America is a fantasy, a good one. Here, almost 200 pages later, Dmitri tells us what he might do in America:
Grusha and I will arrive there – and there we’ll immediately set to work, digging the land, with the wild bears, in solitude, in some remote place. Surely there must be some remote places there… And we’ll immediately start on the grammar, Grusha and I. Work and grammar – about three years like that. (765)
The next step in the plan, after learning English as well as an Englishman, is to sneak back to Russia to live incognito, pretending to be Americans. “That’s my plan and it will not be changed.”
So what I want to know is, has anyone written this novel, the novel of Dmitri and Grushenka in America? I want to read it, I mean, if it’s good. Should they stall in New York, with the “wild bears” a perpetual fantasy? Or should the novel be Prairie Karamazov? Myself, I would send them to California. At some point Ivan arrives, and becomes a revivalist preacher. Alyosha, when he shows up, gets involved with unions and enters politics. Or else teams up with John Muir to help create Yosemite National Park. Dmitri never learns English as well as an Englishman, so, according to the unchangeable plan, he can never go back to Russia.
Speaking of novels, Leonid Tsypkin’s Summer in Baden Baden (1981, New Directions ed. published 2001) is simply a great one, worth reading regardless of one’s interest in Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky is the protagonist, or one of them, with much of the story about his gambling addiction and his marriage. The other central character is the author, the “author,” a Soviet physician, who visits Dostoevsky-related sites and tries to understand his own entanglement with the writer:
‘Now, that’s what I call a real beating!’ I heard someone say behind me – and tearing my eyes away from the screen, I turned around and saw them, sitting there, taking it in turns to swig from a bottle, and this gulping noise continued until the end of the film – and from various corners of the auditorium, like the plopping of stagnant water, you could hear sniggers and cackles, especially during Ivan’s conversation with the devil about faith and the immortality of the soul – and they guzzled beer and vodka like a group on that trade-union trip ‘In Dostoevsky’s Footsteps through Staraya River’, who would arrive at the place, dive into the River Pererytitsa and then, taking another swig, swim up to the ship’s propeller and thrash about in the waves it created. (66-7)
When I began this pass through The Brothers Karamazov, I had also just begun Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, a novel written on entirely different principles. Ford gives the very last page of his enormous, eccentric literary history The March of Literature (1938) to Dostoevsky, “the greatest single influence on the world of today” (850). Ford compares Karamazov to Sophocles, and Villon, and “The Victory of Samothrace.” He imagines the future of literature as “the fusion of the genius of Dostoevsky with the art of the impressionists.” I have no idea what that means, but it would be a novel that blends the psychology of Dostoevsky with the “crowd form” of Flaubert, the “mental subtlety” of Henry James, the “kindliness” of Turgenev, the “panache” of Conrad, and the “minute observation” of William Henry Hudson (I mentioned that Ford is eccentric?) I still don’t know what he means, but I want to read that book.