The Last Time I Saw Hell (The Inquisitor, Book 2)

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Father Zossima is propped in bed, surrounded by his friends and followers, when Alyosha returns to the monastery. The elder is weak but is still quite alert and eager to talk with his audience. He greets Alyosha affectionately and asks about Dmitri; he says that the bow made to him was an acknowledgment of the intense suffering he foresees for the boy.

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Alyosha, however, he says, has quite a different future, and again he counsels the young monk to return to the world to look after his brothers. In this way, he says, Alyosha will learn to love all of life, to bless life, and to teach those who suffer to love and bless life. These pleas to Alyosha are Father Zossima's last requests. Now he tells all assembled the reasons why Alyosha is so very special to him.

Once, the elder says, he had an older brother who influenced him tremendously.


Alyosha bears a particularly strong resemblance to that brother — physically and spiritually. Then Zossima begins to reminisce. He was born to a noble family of only moderate means. His father died when he was only two years old, and he was reared with his mother and the brother he spoke of. The brother, eight years older than Zossima, came under the influence of a freethinker and was soon a source of sorrow to the mother.

He ridiculed her religious observances and her devout beliefs. Then, at seventeen, he contracted consumption, and the family was advised that he had but a few months to live. During the months he waited for death, a tremendous spiritual conversion took place in the boy. He became extremely pious and spoke continuously about the need to love all of God's creatures, even the little birds in the garden.

He asked the servants to feel that they were his equal and often said that he wished he could be a servant to the servants. Besides his brother, Zossima says that there has been another influence on him: the Bible.

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This book, he says, is a testament of the extent of God's love for all men. Zossima mourns for those who cannot find the vast love that he finds contained in the Bible. But Zossima's affection for the Bible has not been lifelong.

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As a youth, he was sent to a military academy in St. Petersburg and soon neglected both the Bible and his religious training. After graduation, he led the carefree life that a typical young officer might. He courted a beautiful lady whom, he was sure, returned his affections, but while he was absent she married someone else. Zossima was insulted and immediately challenged her husband to a duel.

But, waking on the morning of the duel, he looked out, saw a fresh, clean beauty on all of God's world, and remembered his dying brother's exhortation: love all of God's creatures. He leaped from his bed, apologized to a servant whom he had beaten the night before, and made plans for his duel. He would allow his opponent to take the first shot; afterward, Zossima would drop his pistols and beg the man's forgiveness.

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This he did. But the officers accompanying Zossima were shocked by the strange behavior. They questioned him and were even more surprised at the explanation: he had, he said, decided to resign his military commission and enter a monastery. Zossima fast became the talk of the town. One night a mysterious stranger visited him and begged to hear the motives that prompted Zossima's actions.

Zossima talked at length to the man and for many nights afterward. Then, after hearing the whole of Zossima's story, the man made a confession of his own: years ago he killed a woman out of passion, and someone else was blamed for the deed. The man in question, however, died before he was tried. Now the perpetrator of the deed has wife and children and has become one of the most respected philanthropists in the community. But, he moans to Zossima, he has never found happiness for himself. In spite of an apparently successful life, he has always needed to confess.

This, in fact, he finally did, and in public, but no one believed him; they thought that he was temporarily deranged. Not long after his confession to Zossima, the man falls ill. The elder visits him and is thanked greatly for his guidance. Zossima, until now, has never revealed the man's secret.

The elder pauses and begins to speak to Alyosha of what it has meant to be a monk. Zossima feels that the Russian monk is, of all persons, closest to the Russian folk and that ultimately the salvation of Russia will come through these common people who, he feels sure, will always remain orthodox in their beliefs. He also talks of the equality of all people and hopes that everyone can someday be truly meek and can accept a servant as an equal and, in turn, function as a servant to others. True equality, he says, is found only in the "spiritual dignity of man.

This, the elder reveals, is the ideal reversal in action; a master-servant relationship exists no longer. Zossima admonishes his listeners to love all of God's creatures and to take on the responsibility of all men's sins. He explains that often God expects many things that we cannot understand with human logic.

Man, for example, should not judge his fellow men — even criminals — says Zossima; man must pray for those who are outside the church, for there does not exist a material hell. There is only a spiritual hell, he says. He then collapses to the floor and reaches out as though to embrace the earth.

Joyfully he gives up his soul to God. Because of their positive quality, Dostoevsky inserts the final views of Father Zossima next to the questioning disbeliefs of Ivan Karamazov. They act somewhat like a counterbalance to the many ideas presented in Book V. Unlike Ivan, Zossima is didactic — the most didactic character in the novel, perhaps in all of Dostoevsky's writings. His ideas are too abstract to be presented as Ivan's were; his ideas are too profound to be presented in any other way than by simple exhortation.

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Parts of Zossima's philosophy have, of course, been discussed in earlier books, but here almost all of his tenets are gathered together and presented either by examples from his own life or through exhortations and miniature sermons. In one sense, Zossima is an extension of earlier Dostoevskian characters, but, because of his personal history, he is much more than a mere abstraction of the author's ideas.

Surprisingly, Father Zossima is a rather robust character, one who undergoes many diverse experiences before dedicating his life to the monastery. There are reasons for his convictions; he is no conventional saint. Concerning the amount of background material that Zossima gives, it is most important that we see him against such relief. If the elder's theories are to be accepted as valid, we cannot view him as an isolated or even as a repressed person who turns to religion in order to escape the world's rejection.

Zossima was not an introvert; his youth was wild and reckless, filled with "drunkenness, debauchery, and devilry. His conversion and his subsequent religious dedication, therefore, are grounded in motivated reality. The account of the duel and Zossima's actions show him to be a person of physical courage as well as of moral courage. It is significant that the conversion was brought about by his remembering some of his dead brother's ideas about loving life and respecting all things in this world.

From this time onward, these ideas become more and more central to Zossima's final philosophy of life.

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Concerning suffering, Zossima's explanation of why he bowed down to Dmitri has its roots deep in Dostoevskian philosophy. In Crime and Punishment, for example, the protagonist bows down before a prostitute because he sees in her "the suffering of all humanity. Only through great suffering can a man be purified of his sins, and it is this process that Zossima sees within Dmitri. In speaking of his love for the Bible, Zossima says that the book's basic lesson is this: one must realize the vast love that God has for mankind.

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

At first, admittedly, such a realization is not easy. It is difficult to accept God giving his beloved Job to the devil for no other reason than to boast to his opponent.

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  4. But the value of the parable, says Zossima, lies in the fact that it is a mystery "that the passing earthly show and the eternal verity are brought together. He refuses to accept any idea that cannot be comprehended by earthly logic. It was Smith's fourth and, to date, last nomination. Destined, at least so far, to always be a bridesmaid. Post a Comment. Subscribe to Too Much Horror Fiction. Wednesday, September 6, The Inquisitor Series, Posted by Will Errickson at AM. Labels: '70s , dell books , martin cruz smith , novel , occult horror , unread.

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