The Brothers Karamazov 

The place of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s final and greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov (1880), is firmly set in the annals of literary history. Not only did it help to redefine the novel genre, but it has remained a classic of Western literature for over 125 years. But why should you spend two weeks of your summer reading and discussing it? Here are just a few of many reasons:

The Brothers Karamazov is a family novel, the compelling story of the struggle between generations, primarily between Fyodor Karamazov and his three sons.

Dostoevsky creates a fictional world populated by unforgettable characters who are concerned with nothing less than their personal salvation and the fate of all humankind.

You will find some of the most profound and illuminating statements ever made on a variety of topics, from the nature of God and faith to the challenges posed by the growing culture of late nineteenth-century materialism, from the spiritual liberation found in the power of love and suffering to the moral and psychological destructiveness of false utopias.

Dostoevsky will make you work hard because he never gives an easy answer to any of these questions. On the contrary, he aims to have us recreate his spiritual journey in which he put his most precious assumptions about life through what he called the “crucible of doubt.”

Working together, we will strive to unlock Dostoevsky’s structural innovations, analyze his complex psychological characterizations, and interpret his rich system of symbols and allegories in order to get a clearer understanding of his views of the individual, of society, and of life itself – both in this world and the next.

And perhaps by the end of our seminar we, too, will rise up as “resolute champions” like Dostoevsky’s 19-year-old hero, Alyosha Karamazov.

Readings include:

  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Dostoevsky’s Polyphonic Novel” (short excerpt)
  • Excerpts from the Gospels of John and Matthew
  • Merton, Thomas. Seeds of Contemplation (selections)
  • The Saint’s Life, “Alexis, Man of God”

In addition:

  • Slides of paintings and photographs of the period to give a sense of the time and place of The Brothers Karamazov
  • Guest Lectures by Notre Dame faculty members on the history of the era and the theology of the novel
  • Cultural excursion to Chicago: some options include the Art Institute, other museums, a Russian Orthodox Church, Russian restaurant, a river tour of the city.

Academic Director

David Gasperetti

David Gasperetti, an associate professor of Russian, has been a member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1989. His teaching and research interests focus on Russian novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. In his book, The Rise of the Russian Novel: Carnival, Stylization, and Mockery of the West (a Choice Outstanding Academic Book), Professor Gasperetti examines the transformation, mockery, and rejection of West European literary norms in the first Russian novels.

In various articles, he has also investigated the relationship between parody and literary evolution and the role of narrative in shaping systems of belief. Professor Gasperetti’s teaching has been recognized at the University of Tulsa, where he was named the Senior Mortar Board Teacher of the Year in the College of Arts and Sciences (1988), and at the University of Notre Dame, where he received a Kaneb Award for Undergraduate Teaching (1999).