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The Idiot

READING AGE 16+

Fyodor Dostoevsky Other

4 reads

(1868)
Translated by Eva Martin in 1915
First published in The Russian Messenger between the years 1868 and 1869, this novel is often considered one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the "Golden Age" of Russian literature. It has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times. It has gone on through the years to inspire numerous authors, poets, and musicians. Christian Bale's character in the film "The Machinist" is seen reading The Idiot at various points. Musician Iggy Pop's 1977 album is called "The Idiot" in reference to the book.
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 naivet , 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.
The novel begins with three strangers in a train en route to Petersburg. A young man named Prince Myshkin is returning from a Swiss sanatorium where he has been treated for the past few years for some malady similar to epilepsy. He meets a roguish young man named Rogozhin, who has an unhealthy obsession with a beautiful young woman named Nastasya Filippovna, and a nosy government official named Lebedyev, who figures prominently throughout the novel. Upon arriving in Petersburg, Myshkin acquaints himself with many of the citizens and eventually meets, and is infatuated by, Nastasya. She is pushy, fickle, and impetuous, and bounces from fiance to fiance like a fortune hunter. Her irresistible and psychological stronghold on the men in her life leads to her downfall. The basis of the novel is that Myshkin is not bright, has not had much education, and traverses society with a mentality of simplistic innocence. When speaking his opinion, he struggles to articulate himself with Charlie Brown-like stammering and wishy-washiness. For this reason, people consider him an idiot, but he is a good, honest, sympathetic, and gracious person. When he comes into a large inheritance, he is blacked by a man who claims to be the illegitimate son of Myshkin's benefactor; but when the man's story is debunked, Myshkin befriends rather than chastises the culprit and his accomplices. Myshkin also falls in love with and becomes betrothed to a giddy girl named Aglaia, who uses his ingenuousness as a foil for her jokes and sarcasm, despite his undying devotion to her.
The novel seems to say that a saintly man, making his way in a society that is concerned with materialism and cutthroat avarice, will be considered a childish idiot for valuing honesty, kindness, and the simple things in life. Like I said, the ending is a shocker and sends a plaintive message, that in a crazy world, a sanatorium is the only place for a saint. Can a pure heart function in society? Apparently Dostoevsky thinks not except within the boundaries of a mental institution or monastery! This book introduces one of the great figures in fiction and surprisingly one you might like knowing. "Prince Myshkin" is so well intentioned as to be clownish. The author's greatest strength was his humanity and his protagonist is a lasting legacy for all of us to enjoy.--Submitted by Anonymous

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Chapter 50

When the widow hurried away to Pavlofsk, she went straight to Daria Alexeyevna's house, and telling all she knew, threw her into a state of great alarm. Both ladies decided to communicate at once with Lebedeff, who, as the friend and landlord of the prince, was also much agitated. Vera Lebedeff told all she knew, and by Lebedeff's advice it was ……

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