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April 11, 2018

*Laurus* and Dostoevsky

The further I go in Laurus, the more I see Dostoevsky all over the place. That’s not surprising—you can’t write a work of fiction about Orthodoxy set in Russia and without reflecting deeply on Dostoevsky. In some ways, it’s as if Laurus is a sequel to The Brothers Karamazov, with Arseny an Alyosha figure shaped by a holy elder who dies early on (Christopher / Fr. Zosima).

Moreover, death hangs over both books, intensely. I’ve struggled to read sections of Laurus, it’s so heavy (in fact, literal heaviness is a recurring image in Laurus). Imagine if Alyosha had in fact married Liza: the progression of the novel might look something like Laurus. The death of Dostoesky’s own son pervades Brothers, just as the death of Ustina and his son shapes the course of Arseny’s life in profound ways.

Dostoevsky had planned for The Brothers Karamazov to be the first of a multi-volume work; the whole work was to be called The Life of a Great Sinner. From his notes describing the work, it wouldn’t have looked anything like Laurus. But Laurus isn’t really even a novel (more on this idea later). Thematically, though, it’s reflecting on many of the same themes:

  • holiness in a secular age
  • universal responsibility for one another’s sins
  • the infusion of God’s grace into creation

Which makes both books sound overbearingly pious. But I find both to be refreshingly honest. Arseny, in Laurus, is like Alyosha in another way: everyone assumes he’s holy, insusceptible to sin and temptation—but he knows that the opposite is true, and he’s as or more vulnerable than anyone, precisely because he’s so renowned for his “holiness.”