Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel #113)

(translation by Eva Martin)

I made up my mind to be honest, and steadfast in accomplishing my task. Perhaps I shall meet with troubles and many disappointments, but I have made up my mind to be polite and sincere to everyone; more cannot be asked of me. People may consider me a child if they like. I am often called an idiot, and at one time I was certainly so ill that I was nearly as bad as an idiot; but I am not an idiot now. How can I possibly be so when I know myself that I am considered one? ~ Prince Muishkin

This is the first time I’ve read The Idiot and the third novel I’ve read by Dostoevsky. Due to my previous experiences and a peek at a synopsis, I was anticipating a very enjoyable read.

But no! I was quite disappointed. I really wanted to love this for both my admiration of the author and my interest in the premise: the story of a man so sincere, so kind, so artless, that he was thought an idiot by his acquaintances. The title character is Dostoevsky’s
…positively good and beautiful man

Characters in the novel said of him:
You are more honest than all, and better, nobler, kinder, wiser than all. There are some here who are unworthy to bend and pick up the handkerchief you have just dropped. ~ Aglaya Ivanovna


I ought to tell you that I never in my life met a man anything like him for noble simplicity of mind and for boundless trustfulness. I guessed that anyone who lied could deceive him, and that he would immediately forgive anyone who did deceive him… ~ Nastasia Philipovna

To be astonished by nothing is a sign, they say, of a great intellect. ~ Hippolyte commenting on the Prince’s unflappable character

Besides wanting to love the novel, I also wanted to love the protagonist, Prince Muishkin, and I did – at first. But as the novel wears on, I confess I began to think him rather absurd myself, though not quite an idiot.

But most of the characters were absurd. Aglaya Ivanovna – the fickle and flighty love interest of the Prince; Nastasia Philipovna – her beautiful and bitter rival; Rogojin the vicious and vain antithesis to the Prince; Hippolyte the tedious and tubercular nihilist; Elizabetha Prokofievna the proper and passionate mother of Aglaya; and on and on.

Perhaps it suffered in translation, translation not of words, but translation of 19thcentury Russian society vs 21stcentury Western society – perhaps, but that can’t really explain it fully. I loved The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment after all.

Perhaps I’m the idiot, but this just didn’t work for me. I’m sorry brother D, but I feel I’m being generous to even give this…

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dostoevsky said himself:
I do not stand behind the novel, but I do stand behind the idea.

I agree with that.

Other excerpts:

In a word, the world spoke well of the girls; [Aglaya and her sisters] but they were not without their enemies, and occasionally, people talked with horror of the number of books they had read.

A fool with a heart and no brains is just as unhappy as a fool with brains and no heart. ~ Elizabetha Prokofievna

Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of his children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart. ~ Prince Muishkin

Things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. ~ Lebedeff

References to Classic Literature


  1. I've read this book a couple of times. The first time, in my twenties, I really liked it. The second time, I liked it but not as much. As you said, every character is so over the top. I did not like the Prince's weird attitude towards the two women. You cannot love two women, and you certainly can't save them from themselves.

    The ending was quite dark and shocking.

    1. Yep...I've had good experiences with the Russian authors though, so I'll chalk this one up as an exception. And I do really like the premise. I just don't think it was executed well.

  2. I'm with you. This is by far my least favorite of a huge FAVORITE author. Glad to see you didn't enjoy it as much as other of his works. To me, there's too much pauses and political and historical intermissions. It drags way too much.

    1. I'd feel bad for not liking it, but Dostoevsky didn't even seem to be happy with it.


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