Nyssa's Hobbit Hole

Date: March 25, 2013

Reading The Brothers Karamazov

On December 26, I wrote to a friend that I had just started reading The Brothers Karamazov.  I was on page 60 and I loved it so far.  The writing style, the humor–and all the Orthodox stuff! Icons, a monastery, even a starets (the elder, Father Zossima).  I already identified with Alexei Karamazov.

On December 31, as I wrote, I spent part of the afternoon reading The Brothers Karamazov, the first 100 pages of which are so wonderful I want to savor every word:

The rich characterizations, the humor of the narrator, the character Alyoshev (Alexey)–whom I identify with….

The father, Fyodor Karamazov, is a narcissistic sociopath….

The brothers and the people who visit the starets (elder), Father Zossima, have the same questions and concerns I do–the same overriding question, How can we prove immortality does or does not exist?  And the scenes from Russian Orthodoxy are very appealing to this convert….

On January 28, I wrote that my very same doubts and questions about God and immortality, are expressed in The Brothers Karamazov.  Though Dostoyevsky was a Christian and loved his Orthodox faith, he, too, suffered from doubts.  In the foreword of my copy of the book, written by Manuel Komroff, page xv reads,

The theme and philosophy of The Brothers Karamazov occupied Dostoyevsky’s mind for many years.  In a letter to a friend he writes:

“The chief problem dealt with throughout this particular work is the very one which has, my whole life long, tormented my conscious and subconscious being: The question of the existence of God.”

What if God does not exist?  Then for Dostoyevsky the world is nothing but a “vaudeville of devils” and “all things are lawful,” even crime.

I also found a lovely quote on jealousy: “One might wonder what there is in a love that has to be so watched over, what a love can be worth that needs such strenuous guarding.  But this the jealous will never understand” (p. 440).

As I wrote here,

In The Brothers Karamazov, the character Grushenka had been mourning for years for the love of her life, after he married someone else.  But the wife died, and he came back, wanting to marry Grushenka.

However, in the course of one evening, Grushenka discovered that this guy was actually a scoundrel and a con man, who only wanted to marry her because she had done fairly well for herself financially.

That evening was sufficient to break her of her grief, and make her wonder how she could have spent all those years mourning this guy who clearly did not deserve her love.  Then she was free to pursue her passion for Dmitri Karamazov.

It is the same when we mourn a narcissist.  I have grieved and waited for exes to come back to me, exes who lied to me, who abused me, then dumped me.  When it finally hit me just what I was grieving and waiting for, the grief began to go away.

I have grieved and waited for Richard to come wanting to restore a friendship with us.  Two and a half years I’ve waited for this!  But when the character of the narcissist becomes clear to us, we can finally stop grieving and move on with our lives.

I am now finished with the book.  I especially love how Orthodoxy is woven into the book.  So many things I understood instantly because of their connection to the faith.  Things that, ten years ago, before my conversion, I would have missed.

Such as, understanding why they were so devastated when the starets immediately began stinking after he died: They expected him to be incorrupt, because in Orthodoxy, many dead saints are discovered to be incorrupt long after burial, with healing myrrh streaming from their bodies.  Yet a little child who died did not decay after 3 days.

It was a huge crisis of faith for the town after the starets died and this happened.  Those who loved him, questioned their belief in God and miracles; those who hated him, were smug.

Alyosha is the mystic of the family, and very close to the starets.  Yet he does not seem to abandon his beliefs.

As I read in the foreword, Dostoyevsky was called by Turgeniev the most “evil Christian” he had ever met.  And yet I had felt such a kinship to him when I read the religious sections.  He wrote Alyosha so well for an “evil Christian.”

I sense from what I read here of his biography that if I knew him, I would not like him, because of his bad fruit: He was wicked, vicious, unfaithful to his wife, abusive to servants….

If only he had repented of these things and done as his faith required, the faith he loved so fervently.  If only he had been more like the righteous characters he created.

But fortunately, I only have to deal with his writings.  So far, I loved Crime and Punishment, and I love The Brothers Karamazov.

Converts to Orthodoxy also love Karamazov, mentioning it often on online forums, which is how I heard about it in the first place.  No, wait, I did read part of it in a college class, but did not remember where it came from.

In short, I recommend it.

 

 

Reflections on Emily Yoffe’s article: Why I keep perseverating on the abuse, and why forgiving the abusers may be unneeded

Emily Yoffe recently wrote in The Debt: When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them?:

Bruce Springsteen’s frustrated, depressive father took out much of his rage on his son.

In a New Yorker profile, David Remnick writes that long after Springsteen’s family had left his unhappy childhood home, he would obsessively drive by the old house.

A therapist said to him, “Something went wrong, and you keep going back to see if you can fix it or somehow make it right.”

Springsteen finally came to accept he couldn’t. When he became successful he did give his parents the money to buy their dream house.

But Springsteen says of this seeming reconciliation, “Of course, all the deeper things go unsaid, that it all could have been a little different.”

I get this.  This explains everything.  He kept driving past the old house because he wanted to fix it somehow.

This explains why my mind has had so much trouble closing the door on Richard and Tracy: Not only did their constant presence on my blog keep me mired in the past and their hard-heartedness, seeing all the proof I put up that they were abusive, but refusing to apologize and make it right–

–but I kept going back to the situation because I wanted to fix it somehow, make it right.

Figure out what happened.

Figure out if I had it pegged correctly or was way off.

Figure out if I could post just the right thing which would get Tracy to realize how badly she had treated and misjudged me.

More importantly, figure out if I could post just the right thing to get Richard to realize how badly he had treated a loyal and devoted friend who would have done anything for him.

Yoffe also writes:

In a 2008 essay in the journal In Character, history professor Wilfred McClay writes that as a society we have twisted the meaning of forgiveness into a therapeutic act for the victim:

“[F]orgiveness is in danger of being debased into a kind of cheap grace, a waiving of standards of justice without which such transactions have no meaning.”

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, writes that,

“There is a watered-down but widespread form of ‘forgiveness’ best tagged preemptory or exculpatory forgiveness. That is, without any indication of regret or remorse from perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes, we are enjoined by many not to harden our hearts but rather to ‘forgive.’

I agree with these more bracing views about what forgiveness should entail. Choosing not to forgive does not doom someone to being mired in the past forever. Accepting what happened and moving on is a good general principle.

But it can be comforting for those being browbeaten to absolve their parents to recognize that forgiveness works best as a mutual endeavor.

After all, many adult children of abusers have never heard a word of regret from their parent or parents. People who have the capacity to ruthlessly maltreat their children tend toward self-justification, not shame…..

It’s wonderful when there can be true reconciliation and healing, when all parties can feel the past has been somehow redeemed. But I don’t think Rochelle, Beatrice, and others like them should be hammered with lectures about the benefits of—here comes that dread word—closure.

Sometimes the best thing to do is just close the door.

How can I forgive someone who refuses to repent? who would continue to violate my boundaries of being left alone, if I hadn’t switched to self-hosted Wordpress and blocked them at the server level?

Even though my old blog is no longer maintained, and even though they are blocked from the new one, my abusers/stalkers continue to check my old blog at least every other day.  They know about the new blog, so I am quite certain they have tried to come here, but can’t get in.

The biblical passages on forgiveness seem to refer to, forgiving someone who has repented.  If my abuser refuses to admit to abusing me, how can I absolve her of it, treat her as if she never abused me?

Even a simple “hello” if I see her at church, would feel like soul murder.  How can I possibly do that?

I can, however, accept that she abused me, accept that she refuses to admit to it, and treat her as I would a rattlesnake. 

You don’t need to forgive the rattlesnake if it bites you; it’s doing what comes naturally, and would not be sorry for it.  You don’t say hello to a rattlesnake; you give it a wide berth and then run the heck away from it.

 

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