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The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoevsky


Book XII: A Judicial Error, Chapters 1–14

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Summary—Chapter 1: The Fatal Day

Dmitri’s trial opens at ten o’clock the next morning, amid an atmosphere of widespread curiosity. All Russia seems to be interested in the outcome, and the legendary defense attorney Fetyukovich has traveled all the way from Moscow to defend Dmitri. The judge is known to be an educated man, but the jury is made up of peasants, leading to some concern that Fetyukovich’s defense will be above the heads of the jury members.

The judge asks Dmitri for his plea, and he again asserts his innocence. The general consensus in the courtroom, given what most people consider to be overwhelming evidence, is that he is guilty.

Summary—Chapter 2: Dangerous Witnesses

A sequence of witnesses is called, and one by one, through masterful cross-examinations, Fetyukovich casts suspicion on their words, discrediting their claims that Dmitri is guilty. Grigory, Fetyukovich notes, had taken a strong medicine on the night of the murder, and his senses may have been unreliable.

Summary—Chapter 3: Medical Expertise

Three doctors offer contradicting theories about what might have led Dmitri to commit the murder, and about the condition of his mind. One doctor, a German who has lived in the town for many years, tells a story about buying Dmitri a bag of nuts when he was a little boy. Dmitri weeps, evoking a new sympathy in the minds of his listeners.

Summary—Chapter 4: Fortune Smiles on Mitya

Alyosha next offers some useful evidence: he remembers that Dmitri used to hit the locket on his chest in moments of self-loathing, implying that perhaps he really was wearing the money around his neck, and did not steal it from Fyodor Pavlovich. Alyosha also admits that he believes Smerdyakov may be the real murderer.

Katerina tells the story of Dmitri saving her father from prison. The crowd, which was impressed with Alyosha’s testimony, is slightly disgusted with Katerina because she has so thoroughly debased herself before Dmitri, who does not love her. Grushenka is questioned and vehemently insists on Dmitri’s innocence.

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