Courses

In English. No prerequisites.

The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80), Fyodor Dostoevsky's final novel, is a classic of world literature. It also helped crystallize an influential set of ideas about Russia in particular – its spiritual, cultural, national, and political identity and its place in the wider world. It is a family novel and a murder mystery, a legal thriller and a philosophical treatise, a contribution to a national myth and a sweeping vision of the experience and dimensions of human being itself. Most of all, it poses the basic question of whether we live in a just or ordered universe – and whether this is something we can know. This seminar is devoted to an attentive reading of The Brothers Karamazov and an exploration of the hard questions it asks and tries to answer. We will place The Brothers Karamazov in the context of Dostoevsky’s career as a whole, reading selections from his earlier short fiction and journalism. We will also consider some of the texts that shaped Dostoevsky’s moral and aesthetic universe, including the Book of Job, excerpts from saints’ lives, and selections from works of Friedrich Schiller, Alexander Pushkin, and Nikolai Gogol. Finally, we will discuss echoes of The Brothers Karamazov into the 20th and 21st centuries: responses to Dostoevsky from writers like Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Ralph Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin. All readings and discussion in English; no previous knowledge of Russian literature required. Satisfies the Russian Major requirement of a 400-level course.

In Fall 2021, this course is scheduled to meet face to face (with appropriate distancing measures) twice per week. Please consult the instructor well before the beginning of the semester with any concerns about participation.