Perceiving Providence in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Elizabeth Blake, Ohio State University

In analyzing F. M. Dostoevsky's final novel, many scholars, such as Curt Whitcomb and Nathan Rosen, have noted the preponderance of references to miraculous intervention in human affairs, most notably by Ivan Karamazov's Grand Inquisitor who governs by the precepts of "miracle, mystery, and authority". Since miracles are associated with the second temptation of the Grand Inquisitor (as Whitcomb has demonstrated in "The Temptation of Miracle in Brat'ja Karamazovy"), their appearance elsewhere in the novel is often linked to a weak faith or a faith crisis (189-90). Still, when Dostoevsky, through the vantage point of characters ranging from the chronicler-narrator to Ivan's Devil, places the miraculous within the context of divine providence, he lends support to Father Zosima's charge to nurture contact with other worlds. As my paper will elucidate, owing in large part to the narrator's shaping of Mitia's and Alësha's stories, events understood ex post facto as miraculous intervention in human affairs ultimately serve to highlight divine providence as a perceptual problem rather than an ontological one. First, an outline of the various understandings of divine providence presented in the novel will show how Dostoevsky plays with this concept to reveal its potential for abuse. Then, in dialogue with Jacques Catteau’s research (published in Dostoevsky and the process of literary creation) on the "biographer novelist" and the "chronicler biographer," I will discuss the narrator's role as a chronicler who, in the tradition of the Pushkinian chronicler Pimen, suggests Christian interpretations to certain events during the course of his narration (314). Then will follow a description of the way in which each brother either embraces or refuses to perceive the presence of the divine in the here and now. An analysis of The Brother's Karamazov will ultimately conclude that in the narrative "time itself is charged with eternity" so that whereas future anticipation of miracles signals a lack of faith, viewing events retroactively as miraculous signs of divine providence distinguishes a healthy spiritual life (Catteau 373).