Dostoevsky, The Idiot

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
i'll start it off so by my own analysis of the book:)

The idiot is perhaps Dostoevsky’s most personal novel as it draws deeply on his own experiences and his deepest convictions. While prince Myshkin is far from a self-portrait of him he is in some ways a sort of idealized self-projection. He is afflicted with epilepsy, the same disease that so marred Dostoevsky’s life and made his work on the idiot a nightmare. In the novel he embodies the same Christian conviction, love of children and faith in humility and compassion that were the corner stones of the writers own philosophical stance. He describes in great detail the feelings of a man condemned to execution in terms which recall Dostoevsky’s own experiences in 1849 when, convicted of a plot against the Tsar, he too faced the firing squad for several agonising minutes before his sentence was commuted to hard labour and Siberian exile. The prince is also drawn into a nerve racking relationship with a proud and sensual woman, Nastasya Filippovna, which has much in common with Dostoevsky’s own painful experience with Polina Suslova with whom he had travelled with in Europe and drove him to extremes of passionate jealousy comparable to those of rogozhin in the novel. Other biographical influences are Myshkins fascination with calligraphy as Dostoevsky’s own notes are filled with extravagant gothic script. Myshkins return to a strange and unfamiliar Russia mirrors Dostoevsky’s own return from Siberian exile in 1859.

The Idiot was written in a time of great stress and hardship for the writer as he travelled across Europe and tried to stay above financial ruin. He in fact expressed in a number of letters his fear that the novel would be a failure and he was only being pushed to complete the novel by his obligations to his publisher to release a new book. He mentioned in a letter to his niece “if only you knew how hard it is to be a writer, and to carry such a burden. I know for certain that if I had two or three stable years for this novel I would write a work they would talk about for a hundred years!” yet it is clear that during his work on the novel he had no such peace of mind and in fact financial pressures forced him to publish the first part of the novel at a time when he had no idea of how to continue it.


The novel is about the failure of the positively good man in a society beset by the evils of materialism, egoism and dominated by the ethics of self-interest and personal wealth. Prince Myshkin is introduced as a character untouched by these failings and driven by a conviction that ‘meekness is a mighty force’ and that compassion is the most important and perhaps the sole law of human existence. Dostoevsky’s distaste of western capitalism is shown in the part played by money in the novel. The arrival of the distraught prince Myshkin provokes amused contempt in Russian society until he suddenly inherits a fortune from which point be becomes regarded as a man of substance. Money is the primary detachment of social worth in the novel as the character at the top of the social pile are those skilled in investment, the business man Totsky, the financier General Ivolgin and the money lender Ptitsyn. In the society depicted in the novel all are mesmerized by money and one of the most striking features in the novel is the way all characters seem to introduce themselves with a remark about money. In the opening scene on the train Rogozhin speaks of his recent inheritance and quizzes the prince about the cost of his medical treatment in Switzerland. When the prince is lodged in the Ivolgin household he is warned not to lend money to the General, the other lodger Ferdischenko peers around the Princes door to ask for a loan. Berdovsky and his henchmen try to deceive the Prince out of his inheritance and the rivalry between Ganya and Rogozhin for the hand of Nastasya Filippovna accumulates in an auction were both try to outbid the other, Rogozhina winning bid is wrapped in a copy of the stock exchange gazette.


Through the novel the Princes Christian ideals are tested. The Prince is almost from another world as his illness has kept him apart from society and has spent the formative years of his life not amidst the pressures of contemporary life but in the sterile environment of a swiss clinic. His ideals remain bright and intact as they have never being challenged by experience. The Prince is portrayed as an almost Christ lie figure who preaches meekness and compassion. Yet he is a flawed one at that and his mission is doomed to failure. His ideals which translated so effectively into achievements in Switzerland have disruptive and ultimately lethal consequences when tested in the real world. In Switzerland his honesty and truthfulness that wins him friendships in Switzerland only serve offend those he encounters in Russia. The compassion that served to resurrect Marie in Switzerland provokes the insane jealousy of Rogozhin and leads to the death of another woman, Nastasya Filippovna. In Russia the Prince discovers for the first time the gulf between ideals and reality and the impossibility of achieving paradise on earth, his epilepsy becomes a metaphor for this discovery. At the end of the novel the Prince who arrived at the start of it and was hopeful of his recovery and eager to please those around him ends with him gibbering unintelligibly alongside the body of Nastasya Filippovna alongside her murderer, all are destroyed by the passions of the ‘positively good man’.


The destruction of the positively good man through his increasing intimacy and with such symbolically charged characters make The Idiot so much more then another social novel of the 19th century. The trappings of this realistic novel in which the authors deepest beliefs are explored and his artistic sense and psychological insight ensure that The Idiot succeeds as a novel. He was right to anticipate the moral failure of his character but wrong to fear the artistic failure of his work which has lasted for well over a hundred years and will continue to captivate its readers for centuries to come.
i invite so anyone else to share there thoughts on the book and on what there perception of it was
 

ib-issi

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
3,403
just sitting here
I am afraid that this book did not really grip me from the start and so i have only gotten to page 360 , having put it down a couple of times , intending not to read any more , and then being drawn back to it .
but i will make a couple of comments about impressions from where i read up to ,having been through a divorce where my wife got our house , and i kept our business , which then went bust four years later , i must say that the book really brings home to me how lucky i am that i live in a country that has a system , where i have had lots of help and back up, as putting my situation against some of the characters in the book i would now either be a pauper , or inside a debtors prison, whereas i was allowed to get a job , and make arrangements to settle debts, this would have been impossible if i was imprisoned .

I was struck by the fact that although myshkin was a Prince , because of his lack of money , militarymen, and even money exchangers seemed to feel they were on a level with the Aristocrat, or even better than him, i wonder if this was just a sign of the times in Russia , or whether this was a worldwide trend at this time , i would have expected at that time that Princes were still the elite of society , and found that quite surprising .

The compassion that Myshkin showed to Marie , and which he taught to the children was a moving part of the book , i felt very sorry for marie, and proud of Myshkin , but it was very sad how the other adults did not see any reason to help her , because of her percieved disgression , how you were viewed by your peers seemed to be the only important thing to most of the characters in the book , and i found it quite hard to like any of them ,as they did not seem to be trying to live up to what they thought was right or wrong morally , although it also makes me realise how far our morals as a collective have moved on since those times .

Lastly only because Crusader did not mention it , i thought i could detect a theme with the Prince , although having these fits , had also gained a gift of foresight, or visions, as in when he picked up the knife twice from the table , where he felt the eyes watching him, and the dreams he had of the cutlers shop , and the price of items in the window, until i read crusaders post , i did not know dostoevsky suffered from this illness , so as he built this ability into the Prince , i wonder if he thought he had this ability as some sort of compensation or effect of his illness ?

like i said i only got a third of the way into the book so maybe some of the above was more of a build up of the plot of the later parts of the book , i dont think i will trouble to read the rest of the book , but then i have already decided this twice , and then continued , so who knows .
 

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
I am afraid that this book did not really grip me from the start and so i have only gotten to page 360 , having put it down a couple of times , intending not to read any more , and then being drawn back to it .
but i will make a couple of comments about impressions from where i read up to ,having been through a divorce where my wife got our house , and i kept our business , which then went bust four years later , i must say that the book really brings home to me how lucky i am that i live in a country that has a system , where i have had lots of help and back up, as putting my situation against some of the characters in the book i would now either be a pauper , or inside a debtors prison, whereas i was allowed to get a job , and make arrangements to settle debts, this would have been impossible if i was imprisoned .

I was struck by the fact that although myshkin was a Prince , because of his lack of money , military men, and even money exchangers seemed to feel they were on a level with the Aristocrat, or even better than him, i wonder if this was just a sign of the times in Russia , or whether this was a worldwide trend at this time , i would have expected at that time that Princes were still the elite of society , and found that quite surprising .

The compassion that Myshkin showed to Marie , and which he taught to the children was a moving part of the book , i felt very sorry for marie, and proud of Myshkin , but it was very sad how the other adults did not see any reason to help her , because of her perceived discretion , how you were viewed by your peers seemed to be the only important thing to most of the characters in the book , and i found it quite hard to like any of them ,as they did not seem to be trying to live up to what they thought was right or wrong morally , although it also makes me realise how far our morals as a collective have moved on since those times .

Lastly only because Crusader did not mention it , i thought i could detect a theme with the Prince , although having these fits , had also gained a gift of foresight, or visions, as in when he picked up the knife twice from the table , where he felt the eyes watching him, and the dreams he had of the cutlers shop , and the price of items in the window, until i read crusaders post , i did not know dostoevsky suffered from this illness , so as he built this ability into the Prince , i wonder if he thought he had this ability as some sort of compensation or effect of his illness ?

like i said i only got a third of the way into the book so maybe some of the above was more of a build up of the plot of the later parts of the book , i don't think i will trouble to read the rest of the book , but then i have already decided this twice , and then continued , so who knows .
i know what you mean and i really had to force myself to finish the book as i could not see where the plot was going. the first book was really good and the scene at the house party had me gripped at the madness of it all. latter on though i couldn't understand where the book was going or even pin down what exactly the plot was, unlike in crime and punishment in which its clear the plot id the murder and whether the main character will get away with it but with the idiot i couldn't see what was the point of much of it. yet as i predicted its only on finishing t and then reflecting on it over a few days that you see the greatness of the book. i still preferred crime and punishment to it but i was still amazed by Dostoevsky artistic writing skill like for instance i was quite surprised to learn that Rogozhin is a alternate ego to Myshkin. even at the start of the book when on the train they sit at opposite sides and at the end as they walk to Rogozhins house to walk on opposite sides of the street.

what really bugged the crap out of me was the behaviour of Alexandra Ivanovna Yepanchin as she might at one moment be kind to the Prince but then others be really mean. she seems to have almost gone a bit crazy at the end like Nastassya Filippovna who was very eccentric all through the book.
 

ib-issi

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
3,403
just sitting here
i know what you mean and i really had to force myself to finish the book.
From what you wrote in your first analysis , it would seem to me that although the man had a great skill at using words , he was under great financial pressure to finish it , and it may suffer because of this . ie :- lets get the number of words written , and go collect the money.

from where i got to , i had the feeling his rival could kill him for taking him seriously , that he had given her up to him, or he could kill her ,or that myshkin really loved the Generals youngest daughter , but to be honest it did not build up enough need in me to find out either way.

i did not like the spoiled nature of the young daughter , so would not have wanted it to go that way, and i thought dostoevsky had built up the story so that both the heroine , and the princes rival could be mentally unballanced by what had happened to them, in which case both could be excused somewhat , and therefore i could not hate either of them ,which i think you need to be able to do to a certain extent with any villain.
 

unclefred

Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
6,731
Oregon coastal mountains
It's one of my favorite comedies, right up there with Cervantes. And I'd bet Kosinski was thinking of it when he wrote Being There.
 
Apr 2010
16,748
Slovakia
I finished this book in one day. I started reading and just could not stop. I was 16.

I was reading books back then. Then came internet :)
 

irishcrusader95

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
6,740
Ireland
how would people rate the Idiot when comparing it to Dostoevsky's other books? i preferred crime and punishment yet these two books are the only ones of dostoevsky i have read so far. i felt that The Idiot started out very well and just as it crime and punishment i found it almost impossible to predict how events would unfold as the book progressed. yet the book really felt like it was pointlessly dragging on for much of it with no real aim in sight and its only near the end that things get interesting again.