“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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Horror Short Stories Time!

Since Halloween is this Thursday, I decided to turn away from the usual content I post here, and work with something that’s related to Halloween.  So, despite not being a huge fan of the horror genre in general, I decided to ease my way into it by reading some horror short stories.

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (TV special)
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (TV special) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think I read about five, and ….big surprise… I didn’t like any of them. That is, until I somehow got the wonderful idea of looking up horror stories that are two sentences long. I had heard about them a few years ago, but I was never very interested in them, so I didn’t look ‘em up.

Big mistake. Seriously! Despite not being too keen in the whole horror thing, I found I loved them! It’s amazing just how they can tell stories that gave me the creeps in such a short amount of space. Absolutely wonderful!

Just a few examples, along with the users who created them:

jmperson : The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her long rotting nails through my chest, her other hand muffling my screams. I sat bolt upright, relieved it was only a dream, but as I saw my alarm clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.

skuppy : My daughter won’t stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night. I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn’t help.

Xresident :I reach my hand out to the mirror in front of me to offer some stability, but instead of cold glass against my hand, I feel the warm flesh of a palm, and looking up I see my reflection. Funny, it doesn’t feel like I’m smiling, but I must be.

After I finished reading some (a lot) of these, I worked up the energy to read just one more horror  short story (one of a more regular length). Thankfully, I ended up liking it, and I’m quite sure it isn’t just because I was “primed” by all these super short stories.

The story I’m talking about is called The Monkey’s Paw , by W.W. Jacobs, and it is the most interesting horror short stories I’ve read. I know that might not be saying much, since it just so happened that it was only the 6th one, but quite frankly, I wasn’t expecting to be so taken with it. ( Click here to read it.)

 

The simple fact that it carries deeper meaning and life lessons makes it very valuable in my eyes. However, I will not comment on what the lessons are: I will let you explore them 🙂 .

 

Anyhow, this is it for this Halloween post! Did you enjoy these short stories? Also, let me know if you have any recommendations, as I am new to this entire genre!

 

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Cover of "Wicked: The Life and Times of t...
Cover via Amazon

“I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature.” (Maguire 186)

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire is a book with a rather interesting mission: to tell the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in a more complete form, but with a different main character. The title gives this character away, so at least this aspect does not cover itself up with a shield of mystery, like so many other parts of the novel do.

I was surprised to find that this particular book was very captivating, despite it being a fantasy, which is  a genre I tend to stay away from. The first hundred pages or so are hard to get through, but the rewards that come later make even those initial “sufferings” worth it. Keeping in mind that this is a novel that was born from a children’s book, it is nonetheless amazing to observe how well it preserves the issues of society, as it has been, and as it still is. Many questions are raised, some about religion, political power, and others on a more individual basis, such as how much the history of a person influences their behavior.

The fact that the story is told from different characters’ perspectives (though always in a limited omniscient manner) gives the reader the impression, or perhaps the illusion, of having the entire story, complete and unbiased. In this manner, the children’s novel from which Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West stems is made into an unintended  lie, told by an uninformed story-teller. Curious how well this reflects the very experience many of us have when now, a adults, we look back upon out childhood.

But let’s turn it over to some of the lesson one can learn from this novel:

1)People’s gossip can be false.

It is vexing to think of how well each of us knows this, and yet, of amazingly we fail when attempting to infiltrate this knowledge into our actions. People say things, many and often. Some say straight out lies, and some end up saying untruthful things either because that’s how they first heard them, or because they misunderstood. It is hard to get pass our nature, which tends to trust others when finding out information. However, it is extremely important to try and get to the bottom of a story, particularly when the story is of importance to us.

If you’d like to read more on dealing with rumors, click here.

2)People are often pushed into their roles by the experiences they underwent in their lives.

This one’s just a little less known than the first , but just as obvious once you think about it. Sadly, it is easy to forget that many things contribute to creating each one of us, as an individual person. The kind of life we are born into, the type of people we are around, and the things that happen to us, are just three examples of how things outside our reach come to influence us. We are not always in control, and neither are the people around us. Indeed, there are things we can do to change our current situation, which means that we are not helpless. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the balance between the will and the experiences of an individual isn’t always a fair one.

3) Power is dangerous.

A little out of line with the other lessons, and already taught to us by history, but since it happens to be a very important part of the book, it had to be mentioned. Power has the power of changing us in ways that shouldn’t be possible, which is why it needs to be handled with much conscious thought and care.

An important theme in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, is the idea of evil. Does evil exist, or is it just a myth? More interestingly, once we know the reasons why someone who seemingly fits perfectly into our notion of wickedness became that way, do we still see them as such, or do they become victims of a life with a strange sense of humor?

Pride and Prejudice

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I was a twelve years old girl, holding in my hands a novel which had been in print for almost 200 years: the novel that first showed me what it feels like to love reading. Of course, I had read books before, and I had been lucky enough to like almost all of them, but none had succeeded in teaching me a lesson as this one had. Never before had I been introduced to a notion that would guide my actions and thoughts.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen was the perfect book for me, because it embraced the frivolous problems one encountered at that young age, such as interacting with society and understanding one’s place in it. Indeed, many themes found in it were outdated, and did not apply to me, just as they no longer apply to today’s world. Nonetheless, one central idea left the pages of the book , entering my mind. Like a small seed, it flourished, constantly fed by the water of my thoughts.

Pride was the concept that until I had read the novel was simply an unexplored term that flew past me many times, like a bird that examined new territories to which it was bound to return eventually; more importantly, it was the concept that would create a bridge to happiness for many years to come. As a child, I had heard about it, but most of the time it seemed be tied to  a negative connotation which made it appear dangerous to posses.

However, it didn’t take me long to realize the reason Mr. Darcy was such a compelling character was the fact that he was proud; not only that, but he embraced his sense of self respect, which created an aura of dignity around him. His attitude turned the light switch of my understanding on, and his words gave the notion new dimensions. It was as if I had just seen the sunrise for the very first time, and my mind was too busy admiring the beauty that was hidden underneath the scenery of words to fully grasp their implication.

Yet, in the following years, I came to completely  understand self respect, and how it can affect one’s life. A pure pride, which comes as a result of one’s achievements is always welcomed, and cannot be condemned as long as it emerges from an honest mind. It connects work to happiness in a way nothing else is capable of doing. It is one of the only things that can illumine a tired face with a smile after a day of labour. However, like a precious diamond, when it is worn without reason, and too often, it becomes an ugly rock, void of meaning or substance.

The simplicity of the story allows its lessons to shine, and reinforces its main characters as examples.  In a world where society places social status above everything, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are shown as they begin to understand which values have been forced on them and which they should keep. They come to understand that one cannot accurately assess another person based on first impressions, and that social class should not be grounds on which people are appreciated, as it is something acquired through birth, and not through personal effort. Thus, Mr. Darcy apprehends that he had made a mistake in believing that Elizabeth was beneath him and rejects the false sense of pride derived from that opinion.

Pride and Prejudice is a beautiful novel, which has left a deep print in the sand of my mind, at a time when the oceans of formation were under a storm. Hungry waves of knowledge and opinion hit the shore of my thoughts, molding and transforming it as if with hands. Reading the novel was a very strong wave, whose mark still reminds me that “…where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.” It is this realization that has helped me understand the true nature of this word, and allowed me to keep it as a diamond in my mind.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

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“It’s dark, now, and I am very tired. I love you, always. Time is nothing.” (Niffenegger 504)

The first book I’d like to discuss here is one that I read a while back, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of opening up again “just for this blog’s sake” (that’s the excuse I came up with). Normally, I try my very best not to reread books. Well, at least not for a few good years, because as time passes, perspective changes, and new lessons are learnt.

But back to “The Time Traveler’s Wife“, by Audrey Niffenegger. First of all, what you should know about this book is that it tells the story of a love between a woman (Clare) and a man who time travels (Henry). He meets her when he’s twenty-eight and she’s twenty, but she has known him from the age of six. How can that be? As strange of a notion as it is, Henry suffers from a gene mutation which causes him to travel through time, not knowing when this will happen, or where he will end up. That’s the reason Clare met him at such a young age: he time-traveled back to when she was a little girl. Why? That’s for you to discover.

The story itself is beautiful, but can be confusing at times. Like Henry, it sometimes shifts from the “present” to the past, speaking of moments that have already happened long before the characters began telling their story. The interesting thing, however, is that the entire novel gives you the sense that everything has already happened, as if present, past and future are one and the same, happening together over and over again. It crushes the idea of the linearity of time, thus throwing away one of the few things the characters can take for granted. And yet, both Clare and Henry have one thing to take for granted that most of us can’t: their future. They know most of what is going to happen before it actually happens. However, instead of giving them the appearance of being in control because they know, this throws them in a state of almost perpetual helplessness, because they can change nothing. Everything has already happened, so they are nothing but puppets at the hands of some capricious law of nature that remains unknown.

All in all, a gorgeously crafted story that exposes its characters just as they are: followed by a miracle which turned into a curse, and yet trying to live as happily as possible. They are honest and open, ready to speak of every single detail of their life, no matter how uncomfortable, strange, or just plain sad it might be.

Now, for the lessons:

1. “Super powers” come at a cost.  Well, it’s not like any of us actually have to worry about being “dislocated in time”, but there are things we can derive from this. If we blend this lesson into reality, we come to understand that many of the things we wished we had (better job, social status etc) are more “expensive” than we might initially guess. Some of these things come at a greater cost than money can cover.

2. Live in the present. This is such a used line, that I’m almost ashamed of writing it down. Almost. This is one of the things that no matter how many times we hear, it still makes no difference. We have a left hemisphere constantly preoccupied with what we did and what we will do, which means that the present becomes almost forgotten somewhere between the “why-did-I-do-it?” and the “what-will-I-do?”. In Henry’s life, the present moment already happened, as I discussed earlier, and though we are not cursed with an ability to see what the future holds, we still manage to lose the present, almost pushing it in the past. Let’s start thinking of “What-am-I-doing?”, for a change.

If you’d like to read more about living in the moment, click here.

There’s one more thing I’d like to add before ending: it isn’t a lesson as much as it is just something to think about: if you had to pick between knowing when someone dear to you will pass away, and not knowing, so that their death completely surprises you, what would you pick? This novel speaks of both cases, though it concentrates more on the first, suggesting once again that knowledge can sometimes be a curse.