Tuesday, July 12, 2011

THE IDIOT by Fyodor Dostoevsky


A simple man encounters the sophistication and darkness of polite society.


This is the last full-length work by the great Russian writer that I had never read before. My love affair with Dostoevsky is based on his ability to tell a story that is rich with questions and observations about the human condition without blatantly hitting you over the head with a moral. Some writers have to explicitly tell you the point that they are trying to make; Dostoevsky just tells a story and then the depth of the story hits you later. He is a master of the exploration of suffering and redemption.

THE IDIOT follows the relationships between recovering invalid and erstwhile simpleton, Prince Myshkin and an eclectic group of Russian families. Everyone in Myshkin's life agrees that he is a bit of a fool, primarily because he displays a level of innocence, joy, and kindness that is at odds with the rest of their society. He represents pure love and forgiveness and a desire to help children and fallen people. He tries to navigate a world of manipulative, selfish, and violent people, but fails to connect with them.
There is an undertone of madness in the book, and it is not always clear exactly which characters in the book are actually mad and which are only perceived as such, just as it is not clear how much of a simpleton the prince actually is. Much of this story takes place in crowded spaces with a carnival of characters watching every moment of suffering and confusion. Some of the most tense scenes take place in full view of strangers, enhancing the whiff of madness and the tension of situations that have spiralled out of control. Although the themes are less grand in THE IDIOT than in some of Dostoevsky's other works, this story showcases Dostoevsky's ability to create complicated, sad and fascinating characters.


International Dostoevsky Society


Free Kindle edition


Do you think it is possible for a pure, innocent and loving person to fit into our world?


  1. I'm reading this book now (slowly) and while I'm not a fan of the "Upstairs/Downstairs" type of soap I am enjoying this book very much.


  2. I haven't read this for years and you have reminded me what a good book it is. I've enjoyed this review so much I've joined your happy band of followers and am off to explore your lovely blog.
    Warm wishes from a cloudy gloomy UK

  3. My only Dostoevsky experience is Crime and Punishment, which I read at 15. I think I was too young for it. This sounds like a good way back into Dostoevsky.

  4. Thank you for your comments everyone. This was a good book, but like most of Dostoevsky's stuff it is probably better on a second reading.
    I hope you're enjoying it Zohar.
    Thanks for joining the blog Carol!
    Sam, you might want to try The Gambler as a way back into Dostoevsky because it is WAY shorter than this one.

  5. You mention on your page the writer Dostoevsky. Perhaps you are interested in this page http://dostojewski.npage.de/
    They can be translated with just one click in the English language.


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