Friday, May 20, 2011

The Idiot: Readalong Post I

For the months of May and June, I will be participating in a readalong of The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This readalong is hosted by Allie from A Literary Odyssey and I am very excited to reread this novel. Dostoevsky is my favorite author of the nineteenth century and The Idiot is tied with Notes from Underground as my favorite novels, ever. While the readalong chose the edition of the novel translated by the team of Pevear and Vokholansky (probably the best modern version), I really enjoy the Constance Garnett version so that's the version from which I am reading. The books are divided in the same way so I don't think this will pose a problem with the posting schedule.

One of the aspects of The Idiot  that I enjoy most is the structure, or lack there of. The novel was released in four parts over a few years and was written forward not backward. That is to say, Dostoevsky let the story tell itself and had no predetermined plot in mind. He didn't know what was going to happen beforehand. This is apparent from section to section because there are some things that seem to be huge conflicts (Myshkin and Ganya, for example) in one part but don't show up in the rest of the novel. The Idiot is an open-structured novel and is intriguing because it progresses like life- one does not know what is going to happen ahead of time.

I also really enjoy the choices of names for  the characters. Each name, whether intentionally or not, translates some characteristic of the character. For example, Lev Myshkin literally translates as Lion, Mouse which shows Myshkin's personality. Also, Nastashya Filippovna's name is related to lamb, resurrection, and evokes the image of Old Testament lamb sacrifices. Dostoevsky's notes on this novel reference a union between Myshkin and Nastashya as being a "resurrection," which might explain some of the meaning of the name.

Finally, the last thing about Part I that intrigued me was the representation of Myshkin as a Holy Fool. The Holy Fool is a concept that appears often in Russian Literature. The Holy Fool is characterized by a simple-minded, almost saintlike, person who becomes the center of attention or scandal. They often act as a test for other characters in their interactions. A person's true character is revealed in how they treat the Holy Fool. I think it will be interesting to see if Myshkin remains so like the archetypal Holy Fool.

What did you think of the first part?

The Book Nook


  1. Hi Theresa,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially about the meaning of the names and the "Holy Fool" concept. I think I may have heard of the latter at some point in the past but had forgotten it.

    I liked the first part. I thought Myshkin's "dissertation" on the evil of capital punishment was very well done. Another read-along-er mentioned that Dostoevsky himself once was brought in front of a firing squad but the procedure was stopped. Clearly that would have quite an effect on how one views capital punishment.

    Looking forward to part II!


  2. Hi Theresa, I'm reading along with you. I finished Part One just a little behind schedule-posted today. I actually read this novel on my own back in high school. Prince Myshkin made a deep impression on me back then. Now, from a more mature perspective, I'm struck by the corruption of the older, powerful men. Totsky disgusts me, and I feel so much compassion for Nastasy Filippovna. I'm struck by important money is in the book. I look forward to reading your thoughts on Part Two...