The Idiot

Reply Sun 21 Dec, 2008 04:45 pm
The Idiot
Fyodor Dostoevsky
ISBN: 1-59308-347-5
Publisher: Barnes and Noble

OVERVIEW: I first became interested in this book about 20 or so years ago after finishing his Notes from the Underground. Completed in 1868, Dostoevsky completed this after a long and difficult period of financial and physical issues. If you've recently come off the epic and noble Crime and Punishment, hold on to your hats; this one's very different. It does share the same basic tenor of a series of conversations and events, but is couched much more so in the social aspect. The central character (Myshkin) is a prince who has an almost childlike honesty and innocence that completely baffles the mix of social 'elite' he's come home to (after a period of institutionalization where he had 'fits'). The story takes us through his experiences and feelings about those around him with a narrative that is more 'conversation' than anything else; repeatedly contrasting his unashamed honesty and kindness with those enrapt in controversy, scheming, posturing and debauchery. At 564 hardback pages at small print, it's not for the impatient.


  • Dostoevsky's typical style of thorough and flowing descriptions is always welcome
  • Mood setting was especially nice; from the emotions with which a specific phrase was uttered to the setting, surroundings, trappings and even weather all painted a well-understood picture
  • Themes: In Myshkin's behavior, kindness is king and honesty is all he knows. The resulting contrast is a damning editorial on the superficial, posturing, ambitious and affluent superficiality that can plage human social structures.
  • Themes: In examples (and later events), he illustrates quite nicely the pain that can come from judgment of those who've not maintained 'high moral standards'.


  • About three-quarters through the book, I noticed a distinct change. Perhaps it was me, but the entire story stopped being told at a relatively-consistent rate. Suddenly, it was almost as if someone just 'wanted it to be done with' and hurredly summarized through what felt like events that shouldn't be rushed through. Whatever the case may be, there was a distinct change that marginalized the experience for me.
  • Since the majority of The Idiot revolves around social discourse; actions and reactions, an important component is the various characters we see entering and existing. At points, this happens at such break-neck pace and with so vast-an-array of people, that it becomes difficult to discern what's really going on and where the relavance lies.


  • The story of "Marie" (pp 62)
  • Lap Dog flung out the Train Window (pp 191)
  • 'Fit' or Epiphany (pp 207)
  • Success and Originality (pp 300)
  • Man: Simultaneously In and Out of Nature (pp 388)
  • Author's Dilemma: Writing of the Common (pp 423)

NOTABLE QUOTES:[INDENT]"There could be no doubt that her anxieties about her family were groundless; there was very little cause for them and they were ridiculously exaggerated. But if you have a wart on the forehead or on the nose, you always imagine that no one has anything else to do in the world than to start at your wart, make fun of it, and despite you for it..."

"They may, like all other people, be divided into two classes: some of limited intelligence; others much cleverer. The first are happier. Nothing is easier for 'ordinary' people of limited intelligence than to imagine themselves exceptional and original and to revel in that delusion without the slightest misgiving..."
[/INDENT]My Rating (1-10): 6.5
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Reply Mon 22 Dec, 2008 01:48 pm
The Idiot was an attempt by Dostoyevsky to do something that he did not perfect until his crowning opus, The Brothers Karamazov. He wanted to portray a person who was truly good and suffered because of everyone around him. He did a reasonable job with Myshkin, but it was not until you get to Alyosha Karamazov that you see this idea put forth in its most brilliant execution.

If you look at Dostoyevsky's prior works, the characters of Raskolnikov, Sonia, the Underground Man, and Prince Myshkin all seem like etudes before you get to Karamazov when you see his most rich, believable characters.
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