Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov is the third son of the local landowner, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov—a “muddleheaded” man who starts out as a small landowner and then acquires a small fortune as a result of “having dinner at other men’s tables.” Fyodor was married twice and has three sons—Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei. Dmitri, also called Mitya, was born to Fyodor’s first wife—the beautiful, wealthy, and aristocratic Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov. It’s unclear what Adelaida wanted with Fyodor beyond the “piquancy from elopement.” As for Fyodor, he wished to “squeeze into a good family and get a dowry.” There seemed to be little love between them. Though Fyodor is a sensualist during much of his life, Adelaida was the one woman who “made no particular impression on him.”
In the first pages, Dostoevsky establishes Alexei as his protagonist. He also establishes how the Karamazov family came into its wealth—through Fyodor’s dishonest means of sponging off of others and marrying Adelaida because she had money and not because he loved her. Thus, the reader understands that the concept of family was corrupted by Fyodor long before his children were born. Adelaida only married Fyodor because she wanted to anger and frustrate her family by marrying someone from a lower class.
Immediately after their marriage, Adelaida realizes that she feels contempt for Fyodor, who “filched” twenty-five thousand roubles in cash from her and tries to have the little village and the town house that came with her dowry transferred to his name. Adelaida’s family intervenes to put a stop to this. If this weren’t enough, there are frequent fights between the couple in which Adelaida does most of the beating. She is “a hot-tempered lady,” and “endowed with remarkable physical strength.” She finally leaves the house and runs away with “a destitute seminarian, leaving the three-year-old Dmitri in his father’s hands.”
Adelaida realized that Fyodor was greedy and had no genuine love for her or interest in her. Fortunately, the feeling was mutual, allowing Adelaida to leave the marriage without feeling hurt. However, the frequent violence between the couple as well as her eventual abandonment of Dmitri must have left a mark on him. By leaving him “in his father’s hands,” she allowed for Fyodor to make the boy into whatever he wanted, risking that he’d learn his father’s habits. A seminarian—the person Adelaida left Fyodor for—is someone in training for the priesthood or ministry.
Soon after Adelaida’s departure, Fyodor sets up “a regular harem” in his home and drinks constantly. During his intermissions, he drives all over the province, tearfully complaining to all who will listen, saying that Adelaida abandoned him. He seems even to enjoy playing the role of “the offended husband.” Eventually, he learns that Adelaida is living in Petersburg with her seminarian. When Fyodor is preparing to go there, however, he receives news of Adelaida’s death. In one version of the story, the narrator says, she dies of typhus. In another, she dies of starvation. Fyodor is drunk when he learns of his wife’s death and supposedly he runs down the street, lifts his hands to the sky, and shouts with joy. Others say he sobs like a child. It’s possible that both versions are true.
Fyodor played up the image of the suffering husband to evoke pity from the community while simultaneously showing indifference to his wife’s alienation by taking up with other women regularly. Here, Dostoevsky shows that Fyodor is a man who enjoys playing roles to get what he wants from people, whether it’s money, invitations to free meals, or social acceptance. Like many of Dostoevsky’s characters, Fyodor is a complicated man, and it’s unclear if he is truly capable of love or is only a creature of self-interest.