“The Idiot”, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

DSCN1444 “Every blade of grass grows and is happy! Everything has its path, and everything knows it’s path, and with a song goes forth, and with a song returns. Only he knows nothing, and understands nothing, neither men nor sounds; he is outside it all, an outcast. Oh, of course he could not say it then in those words, could not utter his question. He suffered dumbly, not comprehending; but now it seemed to him that he had said all this at the time, those very words …” (Dostoyevsky, 477)

As I promised in a previous post, I am finally writing an entry on a book that belongs to the fiction category. Thankfully, now this section on my blog will get some much-deserved attention.

Deciding on what novel to read is always a little difficult for me. That’s an understatement, actually…It’s very difficult. I want to make the right choice every time, so that I will enjoy my time reading it. Of course, this is nearly impossible, because there’s always an element of risk involved.

This time, however, I decided fairly quickly, because “The Idiot” has been sitting in my library for almost a year now, waiting to be read. I had made the decision that it probably was worth reading when I bought it, and so I didn’t have to go through the same process once more.

And what an interesting novel it was! It was a bit ironic that I read “The Idiot” right after finishing Ayn Rand’s book, since the protagonist of the novel is a huge contrast to Rand’s ideas.

This novel was the first I had ever read by Dostoyevsky, though I have read “The Double”, which is an interesting novella. However, this novella didn’t quite manage to give me a good idea of Dostoyevsky’s manner of writing, or so I thought at the time. Looking back on it now, I realize that it did a great job at that, but because the main character was so ….out of the ordinary, the story reflected it as well, resulting in a big confusion for me.

But enough with the tangents! “The Idiot” is a book about Prince Myshkin, who suffers from epilepsy, and who, because of his illness, had spent several years in Switzerland. At the beginning of the novel he returns to a Russian society which is as good as foreign to him. When I say “foreign”, I say it referring to the way of life, and the manner in which these Russian people thought.

Prince Myshkin is the portrayal of what Dostoyevsky believed to be “a truly beautiful soul”. Myshkin is nothing but compassion and understanding. Though at times he’s capable of becoming suspicious, he quickly starts blaming himself of it. Throughout the book, the reader can observe with frustration that one of the prince’s main qualities is his capacity to forgive, which he employs all the time. He also sees people’s best sides, and although he is not blind to their faults, he acts as though he is. Lastly, he’s an honest fellow, who doesn’t shy away from saying the truth regardless of the circumstances.

Such a person, thrown in the center of a society that treasures the idea of him, but not him directly, is bound to be regarded as a fool.

Let’s have a look at what one might learn from reading this novel:

1)      People don’t respect truly good individuals

Well, here we must first define what a “truly good” person is. Dostoevsky’s definition seems to be reflected in the traits of Prince Myshkin, which I described above. Yours might be a different one. However, provided we go on with Dostoyevsky’s, this lesson seems to arise. Sure, people might admire good people. But respect is a different matter, and it is what’s lacking in the treatment Prince Myshkin receives from almost all characters.

2)      Complete honesty isn’t good

The events Myshkin goes through seem to show that if he would have learnt to keep things for himself more than he did, he would have arrived at a completely different position. Perhaps it’s not just his honesty that has derailed him, but it seems this is a big problem for him. People can easily manipulate him since they know his manner of thinking so perfectly.

3)      Though people may have good in them, it’s a good idea to look out for their dark side

Not in a paranoid sort of way, but in a careful way. Myshkin, though aware at some level that those around him aren’t perfectly good, concentrates on the good things in them. As such, he overlooks all of their bad behaviors, and is constantly willing to take those people back, even after they’ve wronged him considerably.

There are, of course, a lot of other things one can learn from “The Idiot”, but I don’t want to give any spoilers for those intending to read the book. All in all, if you’re a fan of psychology, you might like the novel. Dostoyevsky is known for his amazing portrayal of the way his characters think. However, be prepared to feel sorry for Myshkin, and then to exchange that sorrow for sheer frustration.

Let me know your opinion on the book if you’ve read it already!

/Larisa

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