Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot"
July 16, 2004
"The Chief idea of the novel is to portray the positively good man." This object Dostoyevsky has achieved in his 1869 novel The Idiot. It is the story of an invalid, sheltered in childhood, entering high society for the first time. His innocence leads him through fantasy, love, hatred, wealth, jealousy, and all the other attributes of earthly life--especially that life of the elite.
Though almost devoid of plot, the drama reads well and coherently (much more so than Brothers Karamazov or Notes from the Underground). Dostoyevsky's psychological talents are in full force, but the work is far less tragic than Crime and Punishment and almost uplifting compared to that novel andNotes. Thankfully the characters are less shrill and obnoxious than the Karamzov's. These are the only works of his I can speak of; of the four, this novel bears the greatest resemblance to Tolstoy's works, though there is no confusing the two. If you enjoy classic foreign literature, I recommend The Idiot to you.
Our hero, Prince Myshkin, is a truly sympathetic figure. And while I don't intend to compare myself, I dare say even empathetic (as was Raskonikov!) He bumbles, stumbles, and thinks too much for these people. He is a candle that may flare up and burn you when you get near, but his wick is all too short.
At one point a companion suggest that the Prince may not know what love is. But I believe this is a primary element of the story—that he better than all knows what love is, if not intellectually than emotionally and spiritually. He simply does not know what to do with it. His love is like a rainbow, seen diffracted in many aspects but at its core pure and unsullied, as no others could possibly understand.
About the novel Dostoyevsky continues:
“There is nothing in the world more difficult to do, and especially now. All writers... who have tried to portray the positively good man have always failed... The good is an ideal, but this ideal, both ours and that of civilized Europe, is still far from having been worked out. There is only one positively good man in the world—Christ.”
Myshkin is certainly not perfect, but I do believe Dostoyevsky has made the most “positively good” man of society that anyone could envision. Thus I was forced to keep turning the pages, bewildered along with Myshkin, taken in by the intrigues around him, andanxious to see how the thing would play out. As for the ending—well, from the four novels I've read thus far, wrapping up seems to be Dostoyevksy's chief failing.