Seeking some heavenly nourishment, Goethe’s Faust turns to the holy Greek original of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word,” the scholar reads, but he cannot understand this mystery. “In the beginning was the Meaning,” he entertains, but he finds little creative potency in the mere content of a thought. “In the beginning was the Power,” while briefly attractive, won’t do either. Finally der Geist—Spirit, human or divine—inspires him to write, “In the beginning was the Deed.”

Dostoevsky incorporates all of these Faustian variations in his own raw and vital formulation: In the beginning was Fyodor Karamazov. God’s Gift (theo + doron), Fyodor is a man of primordial energies and seemingly insatiable...


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