The Brothers Karamazov Book summary

Fyodor Dostoevsky




The Brother’s Karamazov is said to be Fyodor Dostoevsky’s magnum opus and by far the largest book he had ever written. It has been widely hailed as the greatest novel of the 19th century, and has influenced some of the greatest minds in our world like Sigmund Freud, and Einstein, to name a few. The Brother’s Karamazov was published in serial form in The Russian Herald from January 1879 to Nov 1880, and it was written during the author’s most prosperous time in life.

Before the writing of this book, Fyodor suffered the loss of his youngest son, and he spent several days dwelling on this loss during a holy pilgrimage. It is believed that Dostoevsky had originally begun the book to write about childhood, and though the book does lay stress on children, it is far more focussed on the murder mystery of a rich landowner, and on the question about which of his sons performed the crime. The Brothers Karamazov includes serval other minor characters and numerous subplots that explore various themes such as religion, spirituality, social discrimination, love, and even animal cruelty. The prologue of the book mentions the narrator’s intent to break down the story into two parts, and it has been argued that Dostoevsky may have intended to create a sequel.


Plot Summary


Fyodor Pavolich Karamazov is a rich landowner in a region of Russia, where he leads a life of debauchery and vice. Fyodor has two wives over the course of his life, and has three children from them, neither one of these wives is capable of withstanding a long life with the horrid Fyodor. His eldest son, Dmitri, grows up severely neglected after his mother elopes with Seminarian, and his care is eventually taken over by one of his mother’s cousins upon her death. Fyodor begets two more sons from his second marriage, Ivan and Alexei, but both of them share a similar fate to Dmitri. They are raised by the mother’s old benefactress, and away from their father. It is also rumored that Fyodor’s manservant, Smerdyakov, is also his son, though illegitimate. Smerdyakov’s mother was called Lizavetta, and she was thought to be a holy fool. She had become pregnant and though no one knew who had fathered the child, Lizavetta had climbed into Fyodor’s house in the middle of the night and given birth to Smerdyakov. She then died immediately after giving birth to him.

Fyodor’s children eventually grow into adults, but Fyodor continues to lead a sinful existence even into his old age. Ivan becomes a well-regarded intellectual in the cities and begins to stay at Fyodor’s house, while Dmitri joins the army, but he is eventually kicked out and he returns to seek his inheritance from his father. Alyosha meets his father as well, and he joins the local monastery under the guidance of Elder Zosima. Trouble begins to brew between Dmitri and Fyodor over the matter of inheritance. Dmitri had expected a much larger sum from his father upon coming to age, but Fyodor had cheated him by misleading him and breaking his inheritance over multiple payments. Dmitri was also in dire need of money because he had expended three thousand roubles that had belonged to his betrothed, Katerina, to woo Grushenka, the woman he now loved. He wished to return the money to Katerina and begin his life with Grushenka, but it turned out that Fyodor was also interested in marrying her. This made Dmitri extremely angry, and he began to shout around town that he was going to murder his father.

Alyosha served as the messenger between several characters and helped characters like Dmitri, Grushenka, Fyodor, and even young children like Kolya to experience faith in God. Smerdyakov supplied Dmitri with the information about Fyodor’s household, and the signals that Fyodor relied on to open the doors to the house, since he was so afraid of Dmitri trying to break into the house. One night, Dmitri becomes convinced that Grushenka has gone to be with his father, and so he races to the house where he learns that she isn’t there. He is seen by Grigory, the manservant, but Dmitry injures him in his attempt to get away. He discovers where Grushenka is and hurries to her, intending to kill himself the following morning after being with her for one final night.

Grushenka and he fall truly in love with one another, but Dmitri is arrested that very night for the murder of his father. Dmitri explains that he had not murdered his father even though he had gone to the house, and been seen there. Several coincidental pieces of evidence accrue against him, and he is presented before a jury for parricide. Meanwhile, Ivan learns that Smerdyakov had been the true murderer of his father, but Smerdyakov claims that he had only done it because he had thought Ivan wanted it. Ivan is driven mad as he tries to understand how his arguments against virtue could have driven someone like Smerdyakov to murder his father. He attempts to confess to the crime, but he suffers a mental breakdown and lies near death at the end of the book. Alyosha supports Dmitri throughout the trial and continues to believe that he could not have murdered their father even after Dmitri is convicted of the crime. Alyosha helps Dmitri escape the punishment through arrangements that Ivan had made before losing his mind.

  • Author(s)

    Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Publication date

    January 1, 1878

  • Language


  • Classification

    Classic Literature

  • Pages



Russian Literature


The Russian Messenger