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 St. 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 and supposed intellectual deficiencies. 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 who was once the mistress of the aristocrat Totsky. Totsky has promised Ganya 75,000 rubles if he marries the "fallen" Nastassya Filippovna instead. 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 shall 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 or so 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 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 the main topic of their discussion is Nastassya Filippovna. 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 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 who include the consumptive seventeen-year-old Hippolite Terentyev, a friend of Kolya Ivolgin. Although Burdovsky's claim is obviously fraudulent—he is not Pavlishchev's son at all—Myshkin is willing to help Burdovsky 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.


  • 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


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]

  • Several filmmakers have produced adaptations of the novel, among them Wandering Souls (Carl Froelich; 1921)[5] L'idiot (Georges Lampin; 1946), a 1951 version by Akira Kurosawa, a 1958 version by Russian director Ivan Pyryev, the Bengali film Aparichito (Salil Dutta; 1969), and a 1992 Hindi version by Mani Kaul. An unfinished silent version by Sergei Eisenstein was once shown, the last reel "lost" over a disagreement with Joseph Stalin on the ending.[citation needed] Robert Bresson's 1966 film Au hasard Balthazar is also a loose adaptation of the novel.
  • In 1992–3, David Fishelson's stage adaptation was produced at Jean Cocteau Repertory at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre. After a favorable review in The New York Times,[6] the play was published by Dramatists Play Service, dramatized by L.A. Theatre Works, and later broadcast on NPR on the NPR Playhouse series.[7]
  • In 2001, Down House, a tongue-in-cheek modern adaptation/parody of the novel, was filmed by the Russian director Roman Kachanov, using the late 1990s Moscow underworld of mafia and drug addicts as the setting; it featured Fyodor Bondarchuk as the Prince and the co-writer of the script, Ivan Okhlobystin as Rogozhin.
  • Christian Bale's character in The Machinist is seen reading The Idiot at various points throughout the film.[8]
  • Iggy Pop's 1977 album The Idiot is titled in reference to James Osterberg, Tony Visconti and David Bowie's love of the book.[9]
  • In 2003, Russian State Television produced a 10-part, 8-hour mini-series of the work, directed by Vladimir Bortko for Russia 1, which is available with English subtitles.[10]
  • In 1998, Bollywood movie Yugpurush is an adaptation of the novel
  • In 1999, the Tabakov Theatre produced an adaptation of the novel, adapted and directed by Alexandre Marine with the show later airing on the Kultura television as TV-play.
  • In 1999, the Czech director Saša Gedeon produced a modern cinematic reinterpretation of The Idiot entitled The Return of the Idiot ( Návrat idiota ).[11]
  • The Polish director Andrzej Wajda adapted the last chapter of The Idiot as the feature film Nastasja in 1994.
  • The Harlan Ellison short story "Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish" features a friendly debate on Dostoyevsky and The Idiot between the narrator and a vendor at Pink's Hot Dogs in Los Angeles.[12]
  • In 2008, the theatre director Katie Mitchell premiered "...some trace of her", a multimedia exploration of the novel's central themes.[13]
  • The German novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in 1919 a short piece about the book called "Thoughts on The Idiot of Dostoevsky," later released in a compilation of essays called My Belief: Essays on Life and Art.[14]
  • In Act 1, Scene 2 of Mel Brooks' musical The Producers, Max Bialystock jokingly addresses Leo Bloom as "Prince Miskin." This also occurs in the original film.[15]
  • In 1985, the Polish director Andrzej Zulawski directed the feature film L'amour braque (Limpet Love), as a homage to Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. Its end credits state that "The film is inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Idiot and intended as a homage to the great writer". It stars Sophie Marceau as what most likely is the part of Nastasja Philipovna.[16]
  • BBC Radio 7 broadcast a 4-episode adaptation of The Idiot entitled Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot, in June 2010. It starred Paul Rhys as Prince Myshkin.[17]
  • Simon Gray's stage adaptation was produced by the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic Theatre, London, in 1970, starring Derek Jacobi.
  • In June 2011, the Russian director Victor Sobchak adapted this story into a short two-hour play at The Theatre Collection in Camden, above The Lord Stanley Arms pub. London born, Indian actor Ajay Nayyar played the role of Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin.[18]ry Greenwood played the role of Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin.
  • In October 2011, the Estonian director Rainer Sarnet adapted the book to a feature film The Idiot, starring Risto Kübar as Prince Myshkin.
  • In 2014, Theatre company Caligula's Alibi adapted the novel for the London stage, making Dostoevsky himself a core part of the piece and retelling the story using surreal juxtapositions and original music.

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.


  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. ^
  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. ^ Koban, Craig J. "The Machinist: 5th Anniversary Retrospective Review". Retrospective Series. 
  9. ^ Paul Trynka (2007). Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed: pp.242–250
  10. ^ "Idiot (TV Mini-Series 2003)". IMDB. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "The Idiot Returns". IMDB. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Lomax, Benjamin. "Prince Myshkin by Harlan Ellison". Humanities 360. Helium Publishing. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  13. ^ "London Theater". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  14. ^ Hesse, Hermann. "Thoughts on The Idiot by Dostoevsky" (PDF). German, Slavic, and Semitic Studies. University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  15. ^ Karam, Edward. "Breaking the Code: An Insiders' Guide to the Parodies, Homages and Allusions in The Producers". Playbill. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  16. ^ "L'amour braque". IMDB. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Idiot". BBC. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  18. ^ "Ambitious adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Idiot". Retrieved 18 February 2014. 

External links[edit]