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The Idiot [Paperback]

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 12 2003 0486432130 978-0486432137 New edition
A towering figure of Russian literature, Fyodor Dostoyevsky depicted with remarkable insight the depth and complexity of the human soul. In this literary classic, he focuses on a nobleman, whose gentle, child-like nature has earned him the nickname of "the idiot."A superb, panoramic view of mid-19th-century Russian manners, morals and philosophy.

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“Nothing is outside Dostoevsky’s province. . . . Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.” —Virginia Woolf --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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“Nothing is outside Dostoevsky’s province. . . . Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.” —Virginia Woolf --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing classic Dec 29 2006
Format:Paperback
The Idiot is one of the finest novels in history, perhaps the finest. In this novel, the enigma that is often referred to as "THE RUSSIAN SOUL" is variously dissected through the different characters and more so by the hero of the story Prince Myshkin. In its simplest explanation, it is a soul with good intentions but faulty in executing the intentions. It is a soul in conflict, driven by the zest for life and a search of its meaning. Certainly the most Christian of Dostoyevsky's novels, THE IDIOT portrays how disastrous a good life can be. Rich in characters, this classic centers mostly on the good Prince Myshkin, a recovering epileptic with a rich soul who is easily perceived as an 'idiot' by the casual observer who focuses on his childlike manners especially in expressing himself and his naivety in dealing with people. But then a closer look reveals that his manners are the reflections of his honest soul, the wealth of his big heart and the broadness of his mind.

And only in deeper engagements does it become evident that Myshkin however has superior understanding and expression, which makes him modest and intelligent rather than stupid. His simple, honest and decent life is succinctly conveyed in his interactions, generating both love and resentment. The saintly Myshkin however struggles to deal with a materialistic world which has no place for the virtuous, and to reconcile his passionate and compassionate love for two women. But the love of the women corrupt and drives men out of their minds. Nastasia Filipovna whom Myshkin has compassionate love for is a tormented soul that can only love Christ and in Myshkin she found that Christ-like figure.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing classic March 11 2005
Format:Paperback
The Idiot is one of the finest novels in history, perhaps the finest. In this novel, the enigma that is often referred to as "THE RUSSIAN SOUL" is variously dissected through the different characters and more so by the hero of the story Prince Myshkin. In its simplest explanation, it is a soul with good intentions but faulty in executing the intentions. It is a soul in conflict, driven by the zest for life and a search of its meaning. Certainly the most Christian of Dostoyevsky's novels, THE IDIOT portrays how disastrous a good life can be. Rich in characters, this classic centers mostly on the good Prince Myshkin, a recovering epileptic with a rich soul who is easily perceived as an 'idiot' by the casual observer who focuses on his childlike manners especially in expressing himself and his naivety in dealing with people. But then a closer look reveals that his manners are the reflections of his honest soul, the wealth of his big heart and the broadness of his mind.
And only in deeper engagements does it become evident that Myshkin however has superior understanding and expression, which makes him modest and intelligent rather than stupid. His simple, honest and decent life is succinctly conveyed in his interactions, generating both love and resentment. The saintly Myshkin however struggles to deal with a materialistic world which has no place for the virtuous, and to reconcile his passionate and compassionate love for two women. But the love of the women corrupt and drives men out of their minds. Nastasia Filipovna whom Myshkin has compassionate love for is a tormented soul that can only love Christ and in Myshkin she found that Christ-like figure.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  191 reviews
164 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doestoevsky's Master Work June 30 2007
By Sean O'Neill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What could have prompted me to first read "The Idiot" at age 13 on a beach vacation with my family I can not recall. What I do recall, however, is that I was fully engrossed day after day in a world of ideas, people and places far beyond my experience. Having now just "re-read" it 39 years later (following Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov), I know I couldn't possibly have digested all of its ideas at that age: atheism vs. Christianity; nihilism vs. a dying social order; Eros vs. charity; truth vs. artifice; id vs.ego and superego. And yet, I also sense I know what captivated me even then.

The characters in this novel, though usually explained as symbolic of the ideas they represent, are yet the most vividly realized characters I had ever "read" then, and still. The real-time manner in which they are drawn and followed is as if the author simply recorded their actions and conversations as and where they happened. We get to know who these people are, not through narrative description, but, as if by "candid camera", observing what they say, withhold, do, and fail to do. What emerges are fascinating, at times frightening and at times affectionate portraits of real and troubled humans: Lizaveta, the flighty, but loving society mother; General Epanchin, the successful but utterly conventional man of the house; Aglaya, the childish but delightful beauty who resents her sister's and parents' expectation for her; Ganya, who wants money and love, but plays the wounded martyr while more obviously blaming his father for his failures at both; Ivolgin, the pathetic figure of an aging man who aches for dignity and respect but who's former glory is long gone and mostly imagined; and Lebedev, the likeable sycophant and name-dropper.

The more central characters to the events, the murderously passionate Rogozhin, and the self-scorning beauty Nastasya, are more starkly drawn. But even those portraits are created not through direct thought narration or narrative description, but by the author's leading us to read between and behind the lines of their words, conversations with others, and public "displays".

As for the Prince himself, he is often said to symbolize the human side of a Christ-like man. That, of course, is true; but (as can also be seen in Aloysha, the hero of The Brothers Karamazov), he is as much child-like as he is like a Christ. The Prince's honesty, naiveté, trust, and simple affection for those around him, are all qualities that he seems to maintain as a man because he is really only entering the "adult" world of social Petersburg after a long and sheltered upbringing among younger children in Switzerland. When he enters this tangled world of adult competition, insecurity, envy, ambition and intrigue, though much older, he's in the most essential ways still the child that was sent by his benefactor to Switzerland for help with his illness.

One comes away with the strong impression (reinforced by the portrait of Aloysha, hero of Brothers Karamazov) that Dostoevsky saw children as embodying the ideal of spirit that we strive to maintain or regain as adults. The prince's obvious affection for the loyal young boy Kolya and the compassionate young girl Vera, in this book, and similar bonds between his hero Aloysha and the children in Karamozov Brothers, show Dostoevsky's admiration for the child in man.

The Idiot shows what happens when a simple, trusting and exceptionally compassionate child-man enters the more corrupt world of human adulthood without the experience to navigate, or even to perceive, the traps and snares laid by more worldly humans whose innocence has been chipped or stripped bare by ambition, envy, greed, despair or old age.

On another level, The Idiot is an allegory for the Christ story itself- with Prince Myshkin coming from the Swiss sanatorium into the "the world" of Petersburg with a mission to live among, love and save its people. The complications of heart and mind when his human emotions unexpectedly collide with the more selfish and less willing of those around him are at the center of this story of a second coming re-imagined.

One might be left, at the awfully tragic end of this novel, with the idea that Dostoevsky himself was of the same mind as Ippolit, the suicidal atheist, who his hero befriends of compassion. That is, from the disastrous conclusion, one might think that Dostoevsky believes that Holbein's painting (central to the story) of the disfigured and lifeless body of Christ the corpse, shows the impossibility of a divine spirit in (and after) a wretched human existence. Yet, it is with such affection that he describes the many and contradictory (and often delightful) sides of the "ordinary" people in this story, that I felt the opposite: that is, that Dostoevsky recognized not just in the tragically compassionate Prince, and the young Vera and Kolya, but also in the few and fleeting glimpses of love, friendship, compassion and even real dignity of the fallen or struggling others, that there is a redemptive force that underpins the human experience. If there were any doubt of that after reading this novel, it is laid to rest in the Brothers Karamazov, whose likewise tragic denouement yet ends on a note more obviously reflective of Dostoevsky's ultimate optimism.

Crime and Punishment, a psychological crime story, showed Dostoevsky's incredible genius for "writing" the inside of the human mind. Brothers Karamozov was a morality tale that laid out, on a grand scale, yet in great detail, the most essential questions of good and evil, id and ego, life and after-life. For me, The Idiot did what both of these other great novels did, but was the most captivating of the three, because it was so human, intimate and real in its characters' discourse, actions and exposition. It was much less overt than the Brothers Karamazov, and less psychologically analytical than Crime and Punishment. But of the three, the timeless characters of "The Idiot" last most indelibly in the mind.
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Innocence Lost? Feb. 21 2006
By Nathan Knapp_Voronwë - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Having previously read my first Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment) I was literally chomping at the bit to start reading something else of his. I am not altogether sure as to why I found The Idiot to be the most appealing, it probably wasn't the synopsis, because I, in my ignorance, thought I was buying "The Possessed". I realized this as I pulled away from the book store, but didn't worry about it. Dostoevsky is Dostoevsky, right? Well, sort of. I was shocked when I did not find the anti-hero I expected, but Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin, a pure and beautiful soul who I loved from the start. It was hard not to cheer for him throughout the course of the novel, and to feel his pain at the corrupt and confusing society that surrounded him. He is torn apart by his first love for the intriguing Nastasya Filippovna, and then later Aglaia Ivanovna, equally intriguing.

I'll be the first to admit that though I loved this book I struggled through certain portions of it, namely nearly every scene Lebedev is involved in, and Ippolit's letter. The book has a very 'meandering' quality to it, and you get the feeling at times that Dostoevsky didn't have the slightest clue how he would finish it, and so stalled for time in certain areas. This didn't really diminish the book's quality, it simply made it harder to follow. Also, towards the end it seems as if Dostoevsky finally knows, and he finally hurries off.

But, there is, perhaps, some of the greatest writing ever put on paper within these pages. Scenes such as Prince Myshkin's oratory on capital punishment, the party at Nastasya Fillippovna's, Prince Myshkin in the house of Rogozhin, and the most chilling scene in Rogozhin's bedroom. The beauty, terror, and despair in these scenes are so genuine that it's impossible not to be swept into Dostoevsky's world. So, would I recommend it? Of course, but not to someone unaquainted with Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment is a much better place to start. But once you're acquainted with Dostoevsky's writings dive into this book, and you'll find yourself longing to help the poor Prince Myshkin, the idiot.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sublimely inaccessible July 25 2004
By Frikle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is one of the more famous of Dostoyevsky's novels, and quite rightly so as it has his very-unique blend of psychology, philosophy and an unrelenting view of the bleakest recesses of the soul.

I read the novel in the original Russian, so this isn't a review of any particular translation but the work itself.

In brief, the book centres around a Prince who has returned to Russia after being treated for mental illness in Switzerland since his childhood (hence the idiot). He quickly becomes involved within the upper-middle eschellons of St Petersburgian society, as people become fascinated by his direct honesty, simplicity and compassion. He becomes emotionally involved with a Fallen Woman, and this develops into a love triangle with another woman, ultimately ending in --- you guessed it! - tragedy. The Idiot is portrayed as the symbol of a child-like innocence: he genuinely wants everyone to live in harmony and love. However, the falseness, politics and backstabbing of the world of Russian middle-nobility will have none of that.

The plot is quite complicated - but not in terms of twists. The story is quite simple in terms of what happened, however much of it is told inside-out, focusing on the internal world of the characters. So, if you feel like you've missed something - a reason for a character's comment, an event etc, chances are, this will be revealed later on.

Dostoyevsky dwells on the extreme minute aspects of the emotional lives of his charactes. This is the richest aspect of the novel - and these emotions possess all the contradiction and chaos that real people have. There are no total heroes in the book - but I found a part of myself identifying with the Prince, as the grown child who just doesn't want to accept the "adult" behaviour of interpersonal relationships. I think it's expected in reading the book that some characters will be loathed, some found amusing and admired, some arousing interest - but not loved. This is because the world portrayed within the book is very inaccessible. It's hard to identify with anyone in terms of more than the generality of emotion - not just because the setting is remote, but because the characters experience thoughts and ideas that are so different to what most people would. I think this inaccessability was deliberate - as we feel not-quite-at-home in the world of the book, so it highlights how the Prince is not quite at home there - and that's where the sublime feeling is derived from.

On a side note, be prepared for the difficulty of keeping track of names, as people are called by their surnames on certain occasions and the rest is first name and father's name. With heaps of characters and many Russian names, it all becomes a mess. But with some concentration (perhaps making a cast of characters?) that can be overcome and a great read will be had.

A great book that will interact with your emotional world - if you don't mind heavy reading.
57 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dostoevsky, the great Russian social commentator Jan. 23 2001
By A.J. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Having read "Crime and Punishment" fifteen years ago, I was prepared for Dostoevsky's commentary on the social and materialistic qualities of the Russian middle class of the 19th Century. "The Idiot" has a slower pace but a surprise ending which makes reading it well worth the effort.
The novel begins with three strangers in a train en route to Petersburg. A young man named Prince Myshkin is returning from a Swiss sanatorium where he has been treated for the past few years for some malady similar to epilepsy. He meets a roguish young man named Rogozhin, who has an unhealthy obsession with a beautiful young woman named Nastasya Filippovna, and a nosy government official named Lebedyev, who figures prominently throughout the novel.
Upon arriving in Petersburg, Myshkin acquaints himself with many of the citizens and eventually meets, and is infatuated by, Nastasya. She is pushy, fickle, and impetuous, and bounces from fiance to fiance like a fortune hunter. Her irresistibility and psychological stronghold on the men in her life leads to her downfall.
The basis of the novel is that Myshkin is not bright, has not had much education, and traverses society with a mentality of simplistic innocence. When speaking his opinion, he struggles to articulate himself with Charlie Brown-like stammering and wishy-washiness. For this reason, people consider him an idiot, but he is a good, honest, sympathetic, and gracious person. When he comes into a large inheritance, he is blackmailed by a man who claims to be the illegitimate son of Myshkin's benefactor; but when the man's story is debunked, Myshkin befriends rather than chastises the culprit and his accomplices. Myshkin also falls in love with and becomes betrothed to a giddy girl named Aglaia, who uses his ingenuousness as a foil for her jokes and sarcasm, despite his undying devotion to her.
The novel seems to say that a saintly man, making his way in a society that is concerned with materialism and cutthroat avarice, will be considered a childish idiot for valuing honesty, kindness, and the simple things in life. Like I said, the ending is a shocker and sends a plaintive message, that in a crazy world, a sanatorium is the only place for a saint.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far, the best book I've read Nov. 5 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Dostoyevsky is the master of the art of creating the character. All his characters have a distinct personality, each of them behaving in a certain way, until you truly feel for those characters. But in The Idiot, things are different. You see the corruption of the people through the eyes of the innocent and loveable Prince Myshkin. But Myshkin is seen as an 'Idiot' because of his true kindness. Only the strong can survive in this world, or so it seems. The character of Hippolite is also a truly great character, as well as Rogozhin. Not a word should ever be changed from this awesome novel. Read it, change your view on life.
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