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Идиот Translated by Constance Garnett with an Introduction and Notes by Agnes Cardinal Honorary Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of KentPrince Myshkin returns to Russia from an asylum in Switzerland As he becomes embroiled in the frantic amatory and financial intrigues which centre around a cast of brilliantly realised characters and which ultimately lead to tragedy he emerges as a uniue combination of the Christian ideal of perfection and Dostoevsky's own views afflictions and manners His serene selflessness is contrasted with the worldly ualities of every other character in the novel Dostoevsky supplies a harsh indictment of the Russian ruling class of his day who have created a world which cannot accomodate the goodness of this idiotAlternate edition of ISBN 10 1853261750; ISBN 13 9781853261756 We tend to view innocence as an uplifting cleansing virtue Contact with it is supposed to improve the soul But this isn’t always the case Sometimes in company my five year old son will blurt out something I don’t want outsiders to know and I end up blushing His innocence causes me discomfort I also remember that little girl from Aleppo who every day updated online the situation in the besieged city Imagine the reactions of Assad’s regime to her online posts Would they have been won over by her innocence No way They would have been made deeply uncomfortable by her innocence They would have wanted to shut her up The idiot here has a similar effect on Russian society Dostoevsky’s idea was that if Christ returned to 19th century Russian society he would be treated as a simpleton an idiot So he has created a character who always endeavours to be honest to tell the truth as he sees it He has a “noble simplicity and is boundlessly trusting” His innocence though causes as much hatred as admiration anarchy than goodwill He makes you realise there are many situations in life where a lie is preferable to the truth if the boat isn’t to be rocked Because there’s nearly always something expedient in a lie especially in what we call white lies There’s usually some personal gain to be had from shunning the truth Usually these are small private lies; sometimes bigger public lies like Trump denying climate change because it’s in his financial interests to take this stand He doesn’t want to look at images of innocent nature devastated by oil spills from leaking pipes One of the most interesting things I learned while reading this is how the novel has evolved for the better since the 19th century As brilliant as this is there’s a lot of rambling waffle as if all the characters are on amphetamines and don’t know when to shut up Dostoevsky resorts to rather cheap tactics too – a character arrives breathless with the urgency to convey news but instead of getting to the point embarks on a completely different discourse and finally decides now is not the time to share his news Or the narrator will coyly tell us he doesn’t know what two characters spoke about when they were alone together even though on the previous page he told us what a character thought in the privacy of his own mind I wondered if this was mischief on the part of Dostoevsky or just sloppiness Apparently this was serialised and Dostoevsky was under great duress when he wrote it Also all the women are bonkers They’re so volatile and capricious that it’s impossible to know what they want They seem to be overloaded with stoppered sexual energy Sexual emotions in Dostoevsky’s novel seem to deny the female characters access not only to innocence but also measured reflection a subtext I wasn’t entirely comfortable with The women sometimes confused the clarity of the theme of this novel And ultimately it’s the sexual jealousy of an essentially innocent young woman that causes the concluding mayhem This is not a seamless great read It can be baggy chaotic digressive but the best bits are simply brilliant and overall I found it a tremendously edifying read I’ve been trying to review this book for over a week now but I can’t I’m struggling with something How do I review a Russian literature classic Better yet how do I review a Russian literature classic without sounding like a total dumbass Hint It’s probably not going to happenFirst I suppose a short plot synopsis should be in order The Idiot portrays young childlike Prince Myshkin who returns to his native Russia to seek out distant relatives after he has spent several years in a Swiss sanatorium While on the train to Russia he meets and befriends a man of dubious character called Rogozhin Rogozhin is unhealthily obsessed with the mysterious beauty Nastasya Filippovna to the point where the reader just knows nothing good will come of it Of course the prince gets caught up with Rogozhin Filippovna and the society around themThe only other Dostoevsky novel I’ve read was Crime and Punishment so of course my brain is going to compare the two Where Crime and Punishment deals with Raskolnikov’s internal struggle The Idiot deals with Prince Myshkin’s effect on the society he finds himself a part of And what a money hungry power hungry cold and manipulative society it isI admit that in the beginning and throughout much of the novel I felt intensely protective of Prince Myshkin I got pissed off when people would laugh at him or call him an idiot Then towards the end of the novel I even ended up calling him an idiot a few times Out loud One time I actually said “Oh you are an idiot” But then I felt badPoor Prince Myshkin I think he was simply too good and too naïve for the world around himNow here is where my thought process starts to fall apart There’s just so much to write about that I can’t even begin to write anything There were so many themes that were explored in the novel such as nihilism Christ as man rather than deity losing one’s faith and capital punishment among other things And I haven’t even mentioned Dostoevsky’s peripheral characters yet which like those in Crime and Punishment are at least as interesting if not interesting than the main characters My favorite character was Aglaya Ivanovna She was so conflicted with regard to her feelings about the prince and loved him in spite of herself I had mixed feelings toward Ganya I mostly disliked him but I grew to like him towards the end The entire novel was much like a soap opera but a good soap opera if that makes sense Well at this point I’ve been moving paragraphs around for far too long and I realize there’s no way this review will do the book any justice I wanted to write about the symbolism of the Holbein painting and how I love that in both Dostoevsky books I've read he references dreams the characters have but I just have too many uestions and not enough answers Instead I'll just say that it was truly an excellent read and definitely worth your time If Raskolnikov was the charismatic murderer whose side I took despite myself when he killed an old woman out of greed and broke down psychologically afterwards Prince Myshkin is the supposedly good childlike Christ figure whom I failed to like at all Just do make it clear from the beginning I liked the novel just as much as Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground and I found it just as compulsively readable The cast of characters is magnificent My sole problem is the character of Myshkin We are not a likely pair to hit it off of courseHe is a religious fanatic whose conviction is so narrow minded that he hates other variations of Christian dogma even than atheists “Yes that’s my opinion Atheism only preaches a negation but Catholicism goes further it preaches a distorted Christ a Christ calumniated and defamed by themselves the opposite of Christ It preaches the Antichrist I declare it does I assure you it does” I am an atheist but strongly in support of tolerance and respect beyond the narrow boundaries of one’s own convictions So I will give Myshkin a pass on his fanaticism knowing full well he wouldn’t give me one considering his reaction when he heard his benefactor had converted to CatholicismHe is a Russian nationalist believing in expanding Russian dogma to the West “Not letting ourselves be slavishly caught by the wiles of the Jesuits but carrying our Russian civilisation to them we ought to stand before them and not let it be said among us as it was just now that their preaching is skilful” I believe in global citizenship and consider nationalism to be the greatest evil in world history But I will give him a pass on that one knowing the historical framework in which it was utteredHe is proud of his lack of education and does absolutely nothing to enhance his own understanding despite having leisure to spend all day studying I believe in lifelong learning to develop as a human being But I will give him a pass on that one knowing he suffers from epilepsy and maybe from other conditions as well which might make learning impossible for himHe is an elitist openly rejecting euality and democracy in favour of his own idle class “I am a prince myself of ancient family and I am sitting with princes I speak to save us all that our class may not be vanishing in vain; in darkness without realising anything abusing everything and losing everything Why disappear and make way for others when we might remain in advance and be the leaders” I am for euality and democracy for a classless society without any privilegesHe is utterly afraid of female sexuality and almost pathological in his attempt to ignore the fact that it exists admiring childlike behaviour and the inexperienced beauty of virgins I am a grown up womanI will let all of that pass there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to identify with that as much as with a raving murderer right What I can’t accept is his posturing as a “truly good” almost holy person That is too much His social ineptitude his lack of imagination his literal mindedness his prejudices all of that might be fitting the time and place where he lives but it is not objectively good In fact I don’t see any goodness in him at all Even Raskolnikov poor and under supreme stress was able to spontaneously give his last money to a desperate family to finance a funeral Myshkin does nothing helpful with his fortune which conveniently fell into his over privileged lap On the contrary He uses the money to cruise in the Russian upper class society and to mingle with distinguished families He doesn’t work and isn’t even remotely interested in anything to do with actual progress in society Instead he gives credit to whoever happens to be in the room with him at the moment without engaging or giving any active help and he changes his mind when another person steps into the room Critics are eager to call this his “innocence” and gullibility and to use it as proof that he is a “better person” than the characters who have motives and agendas for their actions Since when is cluelessness a virtue And what if he is not an idiot If you for one second step out of that thought pattern you can also call his change of mind hypocrisy or opportunism or fear of conflict or flattery Some might call it Christian meekness I call it condescension Myshkin is incredibly one dimensional in his value system fearing sexuality and human interaction To compensate for his fears he puts himself “above” them looking down on “weak” people forgiving and pitying them But what right has he to “forgive” other people for engaging in conflicts that are caused by his own social ineptitude If I could see in Myshkin a person who is on the autistic spectrum I would feel compassion for him and be frustrated that his community is not capable of helping him communicate according to his abilities But whenever that idea comes to mind the big DOSTOYEVSKY LITERARY CRITICISM stands in the way Under no circumstances am I to forget that Dostoyevsky truly saw in Myshkin a Christlike figure and that he himself was committed to orthodox Christian dogma to the point of writing in a letter in 1854“If someone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth and it was really true that the truth was outside Christ then I would still prefer to remain with Christ than with truth”Well to be honest I think that is precisely what this novel shows Dostoyevsky the brilliant realist writer writes a story containing the truth of social life as he has accurately observed it and his Christ is moping around on the fringes causing trouble rather than offering ethical guidelines He is absolutely passive incapable of one single motivated proactive good deed Only criminals and ignorant peasants invoke the name of Christ in the novel The educated people with whom Myshkin mingles are concerned with their own nervous modernity They act like neglected children drawing negative attention to themselves to make the God father figure notice them But he remains silent ignoring even his most cherished child the one he sacrificed for all the others Christ It is Holbein’s dead Christ brutally shown in his human insignificance that stands as a symbol for the religious vacuum in the novel a Christ figure that can make people lose their faith as Myshkin admits himself The characters argue and discuss their respective positions on philosophy and religion throughout the long digressive plot and Myshkin mourns earlier times when people were of a simpler mind“In those days they were men of one idea but now we are nervous developed sensitive; men capable of two or three ideas at once Modern men are broader minded and I swear that this prevents their being so all of a piece as they were in those days”That is what he says to Ippolyt a poor cynical 18 year old boy dying but not fast enough of consumption When the young man asks Myshkin how to die with decency the idiotic Christ figure doesn’t offer him his house or moral support even though he knows that Ippolyt is in a conflict with Ganya with whom he is currently staying No help can’t be offered just this“Pass us by and forgive us our happiness” said Myshkin in a low voice”Oh the goodness of that non actionAnother telling situation occurs when Myshkin receives the clearly confused general Ivolgin in a state of rage whose Münchhausen stories of meeting Napoleon are evidently hysterical lies Even the idiotic Myshkin understands that something is wrong with the general but he lets him rave on encouraging him in his folly If that was all I could argue that two fools had met and that Myshkin couldn’t be expected to show compassion and try to calm down the ill man who has a stroke in the street shortly afterwards supported by the “malignant” atheists rather than the Christian elitist characters But Myshkin is not a fool in that respect just a passively condescending man His reaction is outrageous“Haven’t I made it worse by leading him on to such flights” Myshkin wondered uneasily and suddenly he could not restrain himself and laughed violently for ten minutes He was nearly beginning to reproach himself for his laughter but at once realised that he had nothing to reproach himself with since he had an infinite pity for the general”Right How convenient for you Prince And you suffer so much when others laugh at your inadeuacies I have an infinite pity for you Sir But I won’t raise a finger to help you all the same Because being a completely innocent little idiot I don’t know how to do thatWhich leads me to my last comment on the character of Myshkin who repeatedly was compared to Don uixote in the novel He is NOT AT ALL LIKE THE DONDon uixote has imagination and erudition than his contemporaries Myshkin has none at allDon uixote actively wants to change the world for the better Myshkin wants to passively enjoy his privileged statusDon uixote is generous and open minded Myshkin is aloof and uninterestedDon uixote has a mission Myshkin floats in upper class meaninglessnessDon uixote loves his ugly Dulcinea Myshkin can’t choose between the two prettiest girls in society but wants them to remain children to be able to worship them as virginsSo who were my favourite characters then As often happens to me while reading Dickens as well I found much satisfaction following the minor characters Kolya Ippolyt Lebedyev Rogozhin Aglaia Nastasya all these people experiencing Russian society in the process of moving towards modernity are affected by one or several of its aspects They try to deal with modernity ad hoc without a recipe and suffer from confusionAglaiaWhen she says she wants to become an educator to DO something she shows the spirit of future entrepreneurship including women in active life When she goes from one emotional state to another not willing to be a negotiable good in her parents’ marriage plans a piece of property moving from one domestic jail to another she is a true hero But she embraces the idea of ownership and control and in order to own Myshkin she acts out a despicably arrogant farce in front of a vulnerable rival using as a weapon her privilege and chastity A flawed but interesting character for sure She would have been utterly unhappy had she reached her goalKolya Trying to navigate his hysterical environment and to build bridges between his family’s needs and the society they depend on and to support parents siblings and friends with actions rather than words he is a truly good personRogozhin Blinded by passion but capable of sincere feeling and fidelity he is a true lover yet driven to madness and criminal behaviour He admits to his crimes and accepts the following punishmentNastasya The abused child who takes out the punishment on herself like anorexic or self harming young girls nowadays convinced that the harm done to them is a sign of their own filthiness Myshkin drives her over the edge with his condescending pity and forgiveness by enforcing her idea of guilt and worthlessness As if Myshkin had any right to claim superiority He seals her fate when he remains completely passive in the showdown between her and arrogant impertinent Aglaia and then creates an atmosphere of self sacrifice during the wedding preparations“He seemed really to look on his marriage as some insignificant formality he held his own future so cheap”So what am I to make of my reading of the Idiot What is the ultimate feeling closing the book after days of frenzied engagement with the charactersI loved the novel hated the main character but I’ll FORGIVE him of course feeling PITY for his suffering and am prepared for another Dostoyevsky Let the Devils haunt me next There are many reviews of this book making out that Prince Myshkin was Christ like a truly good man who lived for the moment A holy idiot or accurately wholly idiot indeed is what he really was Why did they think Dostoyevsky entitled the book The Idiot if he meant 'The Man who was Innocent and Really Good or The Man who was like Jesus The title wasn't any kind of irony it was about an idiotPrince Myshkin had spent years in a sanitarium for his epilepsy and returns to Russia where he trusts untrustworthy people falls for all their plots where he is the patsy and falls in love with a rather uppity girl who returns his affections and then when it comes to the moment chooses another woman for all the wrong reasons and thereby ends up rejected by both He is the very definition of an idiot he never ever learns and what intelligence he has he doesn't put to working out the truth of a situation and what he should do to benefit himself He always falls for the next plot the next plan the next person with a glint in their eye for how they can use him to further their own ends And he goes just like a lamb to the slaughterSadly the debacle written in a time when not even the word 'neurology' had been invented let alone the science is rather idiotic On getting drawn into a crime committed by a man mad in every sense crazy and angry his epilepsy degenerates into a mental illness so deep he crosses over into another land Bye bye gentle idiot I was glad to read of you I'm glad I didn't know you

  • Paperback
  • 567 pages
  • Идиот
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • English
  • 09 December 2016

About the Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский see

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