Thursday, June 16, 2011

Readalong: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky Post 3

I am participating in the readalong for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. This is the third post of 4 total posts, it covers Part 3 in The Idiot. My previous posts can be found here: First Post Second Post
In this third post on The Idiot, I want to focus on madness and border between sane and insane. I think Dostoevsky is a master at depicting characters who often precariously tread this border, my opinion coming from reading The Idiot, Crime and Punishment (my all-time favorite book!), and Notes from Underground.
There are several characters who display at least some periods of madness throughout The Idiot, including many in Part 3.
First, there is Lizaveta Prokofyevna, who even describes herself as a "'foolish, ill-mannered little kook' and suffered from suspcion, continually lost her bearings, could see no way out of the most ordinary contingencies, and constantly magnified every misfortune." Several times throughout the story, Lizaveta Prokofyevna greatly overreacts to the situation at hand and may even fall in a swoon. While her brand of 'madness' doesn't really separate her from society, she definitely does have some tendencies towards madness.
Both Nastasya and Aglaia also display some madness. Nastasya leans towards a self-destructive and self-blame madness while Aglaia, I think, may be showing more of just a harder time growing up and dealing with the realities of life that are different from her imaginations. Natasya refuses to go with Myshkin, or any other better man, and instead chooses Rogozhin, a man whom she believes will eventually kill her. Nastasya has extremely low self-esteem and works herself up to make decisions that she knows will ruin her. Her letters to Aglaia are also proof that she lives in a fevered state. Nastasya writes to Aglaia stating she looks up to Aglaia as a model of perfection and wishes only she (Aglaia) would marry Prince Myshkin since they both perfect people, whom Nastasya loves but is not good enough to be loved back by either of them. Nastasya's actions so far through the first three parts of The Idiot show that she is insane and unwell.
Another strong instance of insanity is during Prince Myshkin's 'birthday party' when Ippolit begins to read his notes. The beginning of his speech reminded me of Crime and Punsihment, when Ippolit speaks of his 'Ultimate Convinction,' just as Raskolnikov focuses solely on his own theory of superior men, like Napoleon, who are supposedly justified in all of the actions because they are superior. Ippolit describes that his 'Ultimate Conviction' consumed him, just as Raskolnikov's theory ate at him until he had to act on it. Ippolit is determined to kill himself as the sun rises after he reads his explanation to the party. This determination comes from wanting to have one more act of free will before consumption takes him. However, as the moment comes for the histerical Ippolit, since no one believes that he will actually shoot himself, it turns out that Ippolit, accidentally or not, forgot to load the pistol before shooting himself. Clearly this is a moment of insanity for Ippolit since he did try to shoot himself and even detailed the madness of his decision leading up to that moment.
Dostoevsky's works include a lot of madness, which often makes compelling characters. I think a lot of his personal experiences contributed to being able to describe these moments for the characters, he was part of the Petrashevsky Circle, his mock execution and subsequent exile to Siberia, and then his gambling and money problems later in life which probably showed him the underbelly of Russian society.

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