The Idiot

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This article is about the Dostoyevsky novel. For other uses, see The Idiot (disambiguation).
The Idiot
The Idiot (book cover).jpg
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of The Idiot
Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Original title Идиот[1]
Country Russia
Language Russian language
Genre Philosophical novel
Published 1869

The Idiot (Russian: Идио́т, Idiot) is a novel written by the 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was first published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869. The Idiot, alongside some of Dostoyevsky's other works, is often considered one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the "Golden Age" of Russian literature.

Plot introduction[edit]

The 26-year-old Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin returns to Russia after spending several years at a Swiss sanatorium. Scorned by the society of Saint Petersburg for his trusting nature and naiveté, he finds himself at the center of a struggle between a beautiful kept woman and a virtuous and pretty young girl, both of whom win his affection. Unfortunately, Myshkin's very goodness precipitates disaster, leaving the impression that, in a world obsessed with money, power, and sexual conquest, a sanatorium may be the only place for a saint.

Plot summary[edit]

Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, a fair-haired young man in his mid-twenties and a descendant of one of the oldest Russian lines of nobility, arrives in Saint Petersburg on a November morning. He has spent the past four years in a Swiss clinic for treatment of his epilepsy. On the train journey to Russia, Myshkin meets Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin, and is struck by his passionate intensity, particularly in relation to a beautiful woman with whom he is obsessed.

Myshkin's only relation in St. Petersburg is the very distant Lizaveta Prokofyevna Yepanchina. Madame Yepanchina is the wife of General Yepanchin, a wealthy and respected man in his late fifties. The prince makes the acquaintance of the Yepanchins, who have three daughters—Alexandra, Adelaida, and Aglaya, the last being the youngest and the most beautiful.

General Yepanchin has an ambitious and vain assistant named Gavril Ardalionovich Ivolgin (nicknamed Ganya) whom Myshkin also meets during his visit to the household. Ganya, though actually in love with Aglaya, is trying to marry Nastassya Filippovna Barashkov, an extraordinarily beautiful femme fatale. Nastassya Filipovna is a former protegé of the aristocrat Totsky - a libertine who had taken advantage of her when she was still little more than a vulnerable child. Totsky has promised Ganya 75,000 rubles if he marries the "fallen" Nastassya Filippovna. As Myshkin seems to be innocent and naïve, Ganya openly discusses the subject of the proposed marriage in front of him. It turns out that Nastassya Filippovna is the same woman pursued obsessively by Rogozhin, and Ganya asks the Prince whether Rogozhin would marry her. The Prince replies that he might well marry her and then murder her a week later.

The prince rents a room in the Ivolgin apartment, also occupied by Ganya; Ganya's sister Varvara Ardalyonovna (Varya); his mother, Nina Alexandrovna; his teenage brother, Nikolai (Kolya); his father, General Ivolgin; and another lodger named Ferdyshchenko.

Nastassya Filippovna arrives and insults Ganya's family, which has refused to accept her as a possible wife for Ganya. Myshkin restrains her from continuing. The insult is compounded by the arrival of Rogozhin accompanied by a rowdy crowd of drunks and rogues. On the strength of his newly inherited fortune, Rogozhin promises to bring 100,000 rubles to Nastassya Filippovna's birthday party that evening, at which she is to announce whom she will marry.

Among the guests at the party are Totsky, General Yepanchin, Ganya, Ferdyshchenko, Ptitsyn—a usurer friend of Ganya's who is a suitor to Varya Ivolgin—and others. With the acquiescence of Kolya, Prince Myshkin arrives, uninvited. Following Myshkin's advice, Nastassya Filippovna refuses Ganya's proposal. Rogozhin arrives with the promised 100,000 rubles, but Myshkin himself offers to marry Nastassya Filippovna instead, announcing that he has recently received a large inheritance. Though surprised and deeply touched by Myshkin's love, Nastassya Filippovna, after throwing the 100,000 rubles in the fire and telling Ganya they are his if he wants to get them out, chooses to leave with Rogozhin. Myshkin follows them.

For the next six months Nastassya Filippovna is torn between Myshkin's compassionate and insightful love for her and a self-punishing desire to ruin herself by submitting to Rogozhin's passion. Myshkin is tormented by her suffering, and Rogozhin is tormented by her love for Myshkin and her frequently expressed disdain for his own claims on her. Myshkin's inheritance turns out to be smaller than expected and shrinks further as he satisfies the often fraudulent claims of creditors and alleged relatives. Finally, he returns to St. Petersburg and visits Rogozhin's house. They discuss religion and exchange crosses, but Nastassya Filippovna remains between them. Myshkin becomes increasingly horrified at Rogozhin's attitude to her. Rogozhin confesses to beating her in a jealous rage, and raises the possibility of cutting her throat.

Later that day, Rogozhin, motivated by jealousy, attempts to stab Myshkin in the hall of the prince's hotel, but a sudden epileptic fit saves the prince. Myshkin then leaves St. Petersburg for Pavlovsk, a nearby town popular as a summer residence of St. Petersburg nobility. The prince rents several rooms from Lebedev, a rogue functionary who is, however, a highly complex character, first introduced at the time Myshkin meets Rogozhin on the train to Petersburg. Most of the novel's characters—the Yepanchins, the Ivolgins, Varya and her husband Ptitsyn, and Nastassya Filippovna—spend the summer in Pavlovsk as well.

Burdovsky, a young man who claims to be the illegitimate son of Myshkin's late benefactor, Pavlishchev, demands money from Myshkin as a "just" reimbursement for Pavlishchev's support. Burdovsky is supported by a group of insolent young men, including the consumptive seventeen-year-old Hippolite Terentyev, a friend of Kolya Ivolgin. Although Burdovsky's claim turns out to be based on a false rumour—he is not Pavlishchev's son at all—Myshkin feels compassion for him and is willing to help him financially.

The prince now spends much of his time at the Yepanchins' home. He falls in love with Aglaya and she appears to reciprocate his feelings. A haughty, willful, and capricious girl, she refuses to publicly admit her love and in fact often openly mocks him. Yet her family begins to acknowledge him as her fiancé and even stages a dinner party in the couple's honor for members of the Russian nobility.

Over the course of an ardent speech on religion and the future of aristocracy, Myshkin accidentally breaks a beautiful Chinese vase. Later that evening he suffers a mild epileptic fit. Guests and family agree that the sickly prince is not a good match for Aglaya.

Yet Aglaya does not renounce Myshkin and even arranges to meet Nastassya Filippovna, who has been writing her letters in an attempt to persuade her to marry Myshkin. At the meeting the two women confront the Prince and demand that he choose between Aglaya, whom he loves romantically, and Nastassya Filippovna, for whom he has compassionate pity. Myshkin demurs, prompting Aglaya to depart, ending all hope for an engagement between them. Nastassya Filippovna then renews her vow to marry the Prince, but goes off with Rogozhin instead.

The prince follows Nastassya and Rogozhin to Saint Petersburg and learns that Rogozhin has slain Nastassya Filippovna during the night. The two men keep vigil over her body, which Rogozhin has laid out in his study. Rogozhin is sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in Siberia, Myshkin goes mad and returns to the sanatorium and Aglaya, against the wishes of her family, marries a wealthy, exiled Polish count who later is discovered to be neither wealthy, nor a count, nor an exile—at least, not a political exile—and who, along with a Catholic priest, has turned her against her family.

Characters[edit]

  • Lev Nikoláyevich Mýshkin (Лев Никола́евич Мы́шкин)
  • Nastásya Philíppovna Baráshkova (Наста́сья Фили́пповна Бара́шкова)
  • Parfyón Semyónovich Rogózhin (Парфён Семёнович Рого́жин)
  • General Iván Fyódorovich Epanchín
  • Elizavéta (Lizavéta) Prokófyevna
  • Alexándra Ivánovna
  • Adelaída Ivánovna
  • Agláya Ivánovna
  • General Ardalión Alexándrovich
  • Nína Alexándrovna
  • Gavríla Ardaliónovich (Gánya, Gánechka, Gánka)
  • Varvára Ardaliónovich
  • Lukyán Timoféevich Lébedev
  • Véra Lukyánovna
  • Ippolít Teréntyev
  • Iván Petróvich Ptítisyn
  • Evgény Pávlovich Radómsky
  • Prince Shch.
  • Afanásy Ivánovich Tótsky
  • Ferdýshchenko
  • Lieutenant, ret. Keller
  • Nikolái Andréevich Pavlíschev
  • Dárya Alexéevna
  • Antíp Burdóvsky
  • Princess Belokónsky

Criticism[edit]

Joseph Frank has called The Idiot "perhaps the most original of Dostoevsky's great novels, and certainly the most artistically uneven of them all," and he admitted of "the inconsistencies and awkwardnesses of its structures and motivation."[2]

In her essay "The Epileptic Mode of Being," Elizabeth Dalton wrote that in The Idiot, more than in any other of Dostoevsky's works, we are shown "the actual experience itself" of one mind wrestling with the various tensions of life – rather than simply dwelling on "intellectual speculation," as we see in Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground.[3]

Richard Pevear called The Idiot "Dostoevsky's most autobiographical novel," and notes that, in contrast to Crime and Punishment, setting has very little importance in this novel: "Russia is present in the novel not as a place but as a question – the essence of Russia, the role of Russia and the "Russian Christ" in Europe and in the world."[4]

Adaptations and tributes[edit]

English translations[edit]

Since The Idiot was first published in Russian, there have been a number of translations into English over the years, including those by:

The Constance Garnett translation was for many years accepted as the definitive English translation, but more recently it has come under criticism for being dated. The Garnett translation, however, still remains widely available because it is now in the public domain. Some writers, such as Anna Brailouvsky, have based their translations on Garnett's. Since the 1990s, new English translations have appeared that have made the novel more accessible to English readers. The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation (2000) states that the Alan Myers version is the best currently available, though since then, new translations by David McDuff and Pevear & Volokhonsky have also been well received.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Идіотъ in original, pre-1920s spelling
  2. ^ Frank, Joseph (1995). Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871. Princeton University Press. p. 340. ISBN 9780691043647. 
  3. ^ Bloom, Harold (1988). Fyodor Dostoevsky: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. p. 183. ISBN 1555462944. 
  4. ^ Pevear, Richard (2003). Introduction to The Idiot. New York: Vintage Classics. pp. xix, vii. ISBN 0375702245. 
  5. ^ http://www.dfi.dk/faktaomfilm/film/en/41894.aspx?id=41894
  6. ^ Bruckner, D.J.R. (December 21, 1992). "The Idiot: Theater in Review". The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2013.
  7. ^ Playbill (October 15, 2003). "Who's Who in the Cast". Playbill. Retrieved May 18, 2013.
  8. ^ "Idiot (TV Mini-Series 2003)". IMDB. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Idiot Returns". IMDB. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  10. ^ "London Theater". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  11. ^ Hesse, Hermann. "Thoughts on The Idiot by Dostoevsky" (PDF). German, Slavic, and Semitic Studies. University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  12. ^ "L'amour braque". IMDB. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  13. ^ "Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Idiot". BBC. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 

External links[edit]