This morning I have an essay appearing on The Millions about the sources of power that parents hold over their kids. It’s based on The Brothers Karamazov, which I’ve been reading each night for the last month, and it explains how Caroline and I rule Jay and Wally’s worlds through a combination of miracle, mystery, and authority. Excerpt below. You can read the whole thing at The Millions.
Each winter for the last several years I’ve read a long a novel. With one exception they’ve been Russian. Anna Karenina in 2008. Middlemarch in 2009 (which I wrote about here). War and Peace in 2010 (which I wrote about here). This year it’s The Brothers Karamazov, which I had a false start with a decade ago on a beach vacation, and which has been staring at me on our bookshelf ever since. It also bears the potentially significant distinction of being the very last work of fiction my wife Caroline read before we met in 2002.
Last night I hustled my two young sons Jay and Wally off to bed (or at least tried to — Jay, who is two-and-a-haaaaalf, wont be hustled anywhere) in anticipation of reading the famous “Grand Inquisitor” chapter. A decade earlier I’d been assigned “The Grand Inquisitor” as a standalone text in a college class on moral reasoning. Then I hadn’t gotten much out of it. Last night I was excited to see if it had improved in the intervening years.
“The Grand Inquisitor” is a supremely strange chapter — one of the most unique things I’ve read in literature. It takes the form of a parable, told by the atheist Ivan Karamazov to his younger brother Alyosha, a novice monk. The parable is set in 16th-century Portugal and it recounts a conversation between an aged high-ranking official in the Catholic Church known as the Grand Inquisitor and a man who arrives in town performing miracles that give rise to the suspicion that he’s the Second Coming of Christ…[keep reading]