Art+Politics+History+Culture

Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

I’ve never joined a book or reading club before, but I imagine they sit around and talk about the point of view, character development, setting, climax, literary devices, narrative, genre, and such, so in order to establish that type of dialogue, I will simply summarize the story. I just finished reading The Idiot, published in 1869 about a fellow named Prince Myshkin who returns to Russia from Switzerland after being institutionalized in a sanitorium. His condition was…idiocy and insanity, that is, having mental deficiencies like caring too much for people, being honest, having integrity, and living simply, in other words he was a humanitarian. However, in a world plagued by wealth, power, sexual conquest, and extortion, his behavior is considered backwards and naive, thus to those around him he is considered a poor idiot, an invalid, or a rogue.

One evening at a party full of rowdy drunks, Prince Myshkin meets Nastassya Filippovna, a femme-fatale type who has engaged in love interests with a variety of men and who is pursued in marriage by a few of them. While playing a cruel game of truth or dare, she asks Myshkin if she should marry one of the suitors, to which he replies no, and then professes his love for her as well, but because he feels deep sympathy for her. He asks her to marry him instead, but she rejects him and runs off with a fellow named Rogozhin. Months later, Myshkin falls in love with a capricous young girl from a wealthy family, Aglaya, who openly mocks him and asks how much money he has to marry her. His answer is ridiculed in front of her family members and they all openly laugh and ridicule the idiot. In secrecy, Nastassya Filippovna is writing Aglaya letters to encourage her to marry Myshkin, and when they all meet in person to discuss the matter, (Nastassya, Aglaya, Myshkin, and Rogozhin,) Nastassya confesses that she is in love with Myshkin and asks him to marry her and make a decision, even though he is engaged.

After Myshkin decides to marry Nastassya, the entire town is in dissaray and full of gossip, but excited about the wedding. On the day of the wedding, Nastassya changes her mind, runs off with Rogozhin and leaves Myshkin at the alter. Myshkin follows them to St. Petersburg where he meets with Rogozhin at his house a few days later, he is invited in, and discovers that he has murdered their beloved by stabbing her in the heart, which she dies from internal bleeding. In classic Albert Camus absurdism, they both spend the night in the same room where she is slain without considering the repurcussions. The following day, Rogozhin is arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and Myshkin goes mad and has to return to the sanitorium. So, anybody out there know any idiots?

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