Friday, May 20, 2011

Readalong: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky Post 1

I am participating in the readalong for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. I read The Idiot once before in high school, after I read Crime and Punishment, which began my everlasting love of 19th century Russian literature. Since it's been quite a few years since I had forgotten the plot, although as I read it certain parts come back to me.

Like I said, I LOVE 19th century Russian literature, I even took a class on it in college two years ago. In that class we read War and Peace (Tolstory), Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky), Dead Souls (Gogol), and select short stories and poems by Pushkin. I even saw Eugene Onegin at the opera- based off of Pushkin's story. It was a great class and I loved everything we read. I just wish that I had taken a Russian history course so I would have more of a background to some of the novels.

Anyways, onto The Idiot.

The Idiot is about a Russian Prince's, who spent many years at a sanatorium in Switzerland, return to Russia. Prince Myshkin arrives in St. Petersburg and sets off to introduce himself to his very distant relatives and find a place to live. The husband of his distant relative is a General and helps find him accomodations. Along the way, Prince Myshkin is introduced to some of the General's family and staff, as well as the potential fiance of Ganya, one of the General's staff. Upon seeing a picture of Nastasya, Ganya's almost fiance, the Prince feels an immediate connection to the beautiful woman.

Nastasya is an interesting character. She is a kept woman by a rich man, Totsky, in St. Petersburg. Totsky is attempting to pay Ganya 75,000 rubles to marry Nastasya so that he can be free from her. Another man, Rogozhin, has also fallen in love with Nastasya and is able to collect 100,000 rubles, even though he is from the poorer class, to buy Nastasya for himself. At Nastasya's birthday party, she has a mental breakdown from the three men there who want her- Ganya, Rogozhin, and Prince Myshkin. They all want her for different reasons, money, sexuality, and innocent goodness. Natasya's birthday party is definitely the most interesting scene in Part 1 of The Idiot.
The title of the book comes from the assumption that everyone makes with regard to Prince Myshkin. Most people believe that the Prince is an idiot because he is simple and innocent. However, we see that often reads people better than anyone else and perhaps his simplicity allows him to see the world clearer than others and he is not stupid at all. Therefore, we are suppose to question the assumed link between innocence and idiocy, do they go together or can you be innocent without being stupid? There are still three more parts in The Idiot to find out.

Another part that I found interesting is the time that Prince Myshkin tells people  about his thoughts on capital punishment (which just happened to come up in conversation). Prince Myskin thinks capital punishment is far worse than committing murder because the victim of murder can cling to hope that they may survive while someone being killed under capital punishment spends there last moments knowing that they face certain death. These passages are haunting in their detail and passion. Furthermore, Prince Myskin's take on more depth when the reader knows that Dostoevsky was actually sentenced to death by firing squad for taking part in a revolutionary act. He was actually led in front of the firing squad and prepared for death before he found out that his sentence had been commuted to several years of hard labor in Siberia. Therefore, we may believe that Prince Myshkin's thoughts on the moments before certain death may actually be what Dostoevsky experienced- which is quite fascinating...

Overall, I love this book and can't wait to read more!


  1. Hi KC,
    Glad to have a 're-reader' along with us for this one. Good thoughts on his capital punishment 'discourse.' I wasn't aware of the author's facing a firing squad at one point in real life. Interesting.

    I'm a fan of Russian Literature as well and was happy to have an 'excuse' to finally read this book.


  2. Hi KC, I'm rereading The Idiot along with you; just posted today, a little behind schedule. Like you, I love Russian literature, especially Dostoevsky.