Columbia College Alumni Association

Close Search

You are here

Fall 2016: The Brothers Karamazov

Course Details

Like all great works of literature, The Brothers Karamazov transcends its local setting (Russia) and time (the 1860s) to tell a story that is both particular yet universal. A family novel that incorporates genres as diverse as murder mysteries, fairy tales, theodicy, legends, saints’ lives and juridical trials, Dostoevsky’s masterwork raises social, psychological and metaphysical issues: parents and children, justice and judgement, shame and guilt, memory and forgetting, unity and discord, good and evil, confession and forgiveness, faith and miracle, to name a few. Like Greek or Shakespearean drama, The Brothers Karamazov is full of scandal: one family’s story exposes the social ills racking an entire nation. An apparent parricide raises the specter of regicide (Tsar Paul I) but also of deicide (if there is no God, is all permitted?). One son is accused of his father’s murder, but Dostoevsky puts us all on trial.

In this course, we will examine the characters, themes, and structures that help account for this novel’s enduring greatness. Dostoevsky’s life (1821-81) was as turbulent as that of any of his characters, but two events particularly shaped The Brothers Karamazov – the death of his father in 1839 and the death of his three-year-old son Alexei in 1878. When he heard the news that his father had been brutally murdered by his peasants, Dostoevsky was studying in Petersburg at the Military Engineering Academy, the site of Tsar Paul I’s murder. After his three-year-old son Alexei died of an epileptic seizure (Dostoevsky’s illness), Dostoevsky went on a pilgrimage to Optina Pustyn, where he met Elder Amvrosy, a prototype for Elder Zosima. With incredible power and penetrating psychological depth, Dostoevsky transforms personal trauma into national drama, his own ongoing theodicy into a universal spiritual quest.

Each evening will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. in a midtown location, to be confirmed upon registration.

Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80)

The class will use the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of The Brothers Karamazov, which was published first by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, then by Vintage, now in hardcover by Everyman’s Library. All editions have the same pagination.

Farrar: 978-0374-52837-9
Vintage: 0-679-72925-9
Everyman's: 0-679-410031 or 978-067-9410034

October 26: Epigraph, From the Author, Books 1-4
November 9: Books 5-8
November 30: Books 9-12 and Epilogue


Deborah Martinsen, Adjunct Associate Professor of Slavic Studies and former Director of the Core Curriculum


Wednesdays, October 26, November 9 and November 30 at 6:30- 8:30 p.m.


Questions? Contact Us

Registration opens about five weeks prior to the start of class. Have questions about the course or registration?

Contact us

Share This Page