Part 1: Prince Myshkin, a young man in his mid-twenties and a descendant of one of the oldest Russian lines of nobility, is on a train to Saint Petersburg on a cold November morning.Part 2: For the next six months, Nastasya Filippovna remains unsettl...
The Idiot is a novel by the 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was first published serially in the journal The Russian Messenger in 1868–69.
The title is an ironic reference to the central character of the novel, Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, a young man whose goodness, open-hearted simplicity and guilelessness lead many of the more worldly characters he encounters to mistakenly assume that he lacks intelligence and insight. In the character of Prince Myshkin, Dostoevsky set himself the task of depicting "the positively good and beautiful man." The novel examines the consequences of placing such a unique individual at the centre of the conflicts, desires, passions and egoism of worldly society, both for the man himself and for those with whom he becomes involved.
Joseph Frank describes The Idiot as "the most personal of all Dostoevsky's major works, the book in which he embodies his most intimate, cherished, and sacred convictions." It includes descriptions of some of his most intense personal ordeals, such as epilepsy and mock execution, and explores moral, spiritual and philosophical themes consequent upon them. His primary motivation in writing the novel was to subject his own highest ideal, that of true Christian love, to the crucible of contemporary Russian society.
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky(11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881), sometimes transliterated Dostoyevsky, was a Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist and philosopher. Dostoevsky's literary works explore human psychology in the troubled political, social, and spiritual atmospheres of 19th-century Russia, and engage with a variety of philosophical and religious themes. His most acclaimed works include Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), Demons (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). Dostoevsky's body of work consists of 11 novels, three novellas, 17 short stories, and numerous other works. Many literary critics rate him as one of the greatest psychologists in world literature. His 1864 novella Notes from Underground is considered to be one of the first works of existentialist literature.
The book has 4 parts
The forms of 19th-century European fictions, including the Russian, have a powerful relation to older Christian stories, from the Bible to Bunyan. The novels meet the old tales with part parody, part dialogue, part rejection and reconstruction. Middlemarch opens with a paradigm of its heroine as a "later-born" St Theresa, "helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul". Dorothea's virtue cannot find a form in her modern world. Unlike Eliot, Dostoevsky was Christian, and increasingly passionate about preserving faith. DH Lawrence, another maker of fictive prophecies and apocalypses, was reading The Idiot in 1915. "I don't like Dostoevsky," he wrote. "He is like the rat, slithering along in hate, in the shadows, and in order to belong to the light professing love, all love." It had become, he shrilled, "a supreme wickedness to set up a Christ worship as Dostoevsky did: it is the outcome of an evil will..."
The central idea of The Idiot as we have it was, as Dostoevsky wrote in a letter, "to depict a completely beautiful human being". Prince Myshkin is a Russian Holy Fool, a descendant of Don Quixote, and a type of Christ in an un-Christian world. Author and character face the problem all good characters face in all novels - good in fiction is just not as interesting as wickedness, and runs the risk of repelling readers, even those less worked up than Lawrence. There is another problem - goodness tends to mean unselfishness, and unselfishness tends to lack sexual energy, another great driving force in fictions. In the letter quoted above, written in 1868 as Dostoevsky was writing and sending out the first chapters of the novel, he acknowledges uneasily that he has seized this ambitious project prematurely, out of financial and professional desperation.
The writing and publication of the novel were certainly both tortured and strained. It was written abroad, unlike his previous novels, for serial publication, put together by his second wife and stenographer, Anna Grigoryevna. Their daughter died during the writing. Dostoevsky gambled suicidally and had epileptic fits. Anna preserved the notebooks, which show that both plot and characters were in a state of fluid and volcanic chaos, even while the book was appearing. The good prince appears in the early notes as proud and demonic, and the rapist of his adopted sister (a prototype of Nastasya Filippovna). He also commits arson and wife-murder. The first part of the novel, as it appeared, is acknowledged to be powerful. Dostoevsky appears not to have had a clear idea of how to proceed. The second two parts are phantasmagoric and rambling, unplotted and fitfully energetic.
John Jones, in his excellent study of Dostoevsky, rejects The Idiot as a major work on the grounds that, alone among Dostoevsky's novels, it does not have the intricate tissue of language and punning Jones makes available to non-Russian readers. Other critics complain that the "good" prince makes everyone's life worse and achieves nothing - though in this he may be compared to the resurrected Christ of Ivan Karamazov's fable of the Grand Inquisitor. The world does not know what to do with him.
I think The Idiot to be a masterpiece - flawed, occasionally tedious or overwrought, like many masterpieces - but a fact of world literature just as important as the densely dramatic Brothers Karamazov or the brilliantly subtle and terrifying Devils . In those two novels, as in the simpler Crime and Punishment , Dostoevsky had plots and political and religious ideas working together. In The Idiot he is straining to grasp a story and a character converting themselves from Gothic to Saint's Life on the run. What makes the greatness is double -the character of the prince, and a powerful series of confrontations with death. The true subject of The Idiot is the imminence and immanence of death. The image of these things is Holbein's portrait of Christ taken down from the cross, a copy of which hangs in Rogozhin's house, and which was seen by both Dostoevsky and Prince Myshkin in Basle. It represents, we are told, a dead man who is totally flesh without life, damaged and destroyed, with no hint of a possible future resurrection. The form of the novel is shaped by the inexorable outbreak of Dostoevsky's deepest preoccupations. It is the quality of Dostoevsky's doubt and fear that is the intense religious emotion in this novel - to which Lawrence was no doubt reacting.
I had known, without fully understanding before I read this excellent new translation, that the idea of death in this novel is peculiarly pinned to the idea of execution - what I had not thought through was that in a materialist world the dead man in the painting is an executed man, whose consciousness has been brutally cut off. There is a rhythmic meditation on murder and execution in this story, at its most powerful and unbearable when Myshkin makes us confront the horror of the certainty of being about to die, of knowing that it is exactly appointed and inevitable, while the body and mind are in ordinary good health. The appalling nature of the close examination of these unimaginable emotions derives from the authority with which Dostoevsky can describe them, since he was himself condemned to death and reprieved, by an imperial whim, or display of power, as he stood in line at the scaffold behind a friend who had indeed just been killed. The novel describes the execution by guillotine of a French murderer. The unholy fool, the talkative Lebedev, takes it into his head to pray for Madame du Barry, elegant and witty, asking for another moment with the executioner's foot on her neck. Connected to the certainty of execution is the plight of the consumptive boy, Ippolit, staring out at a blank wall, trying to make a gesture of his death (he bungles his suicide) with a paper pathetically entitled " Après moi le Déluge ". Rogozhin is not executed but transported to Siberia for his murder of Nastasya Filippovna. The prince recedes into blank idiocy after watching with the killer over the corpse. Connected to the terrible lucidity of the condemned man in the tumbril is the unearthly lucidity of the pre-epileptic aura, bliss without time or space, eternity in an instant. The images are their own meaning.
Part of the problem of the plot of The Idiot is that most of the other characters appear insubstantial, and the women's capriciousness leads to a series of wild and inconclusive gestures to which it is hard to react. Much - not all - of this is to do with the problem I mentioned earlier, of the awkward relation between sexual energy and goodness. The women think they are in a story about seduction, rape, proposals, money and marriage, like most novels in the realm of the passions and economic forces. The prince is in some absolute moral world in which he can instinctively gauge who is being cruel to whom, who is in need and who is tormenting or tormented, without having in him any genuine sexual response of his own to help him to judge his own effect on people. It is the old problem of "How could Jesus be a perfect man if he had no sexual desire or experience?" There is considerable psychological subtlety in the moment-to-moment actions and reactions of Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaya, who both consider "loving" the prince for those qualities of patience and attention and kindness, which do attract both over-experienced and gawkily innocent women. Both are also, I think, repelled without knowing it by something abstract in the prince's practical virtue, which appears alternately as a deficiency of some kind, and as an alarming right to judge impartially. He isn't really in their world, and neither they nor he quite understands this.
He does resemble his comic models, Don Quixote and Mr Pickwick, in that his innocence causes damage. Quixote inhabits the first real novel, in which the old forms of romance and religion become phantasms in his head and on our page, present but shadowy. Myshkin is a later, more riddling and more tragic figure of lost absolutes. In a world where God is simply dead flesh, a good man becomes simply an idiot.
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