Posted by: beansai | June 17, 2007

The Idiot

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I have to admit that I am proud of myself for making it all the way through a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel. I have begun a few of his other books like Crime and Punishment and The House of the Dead and have yet to get all the way through them. Just to provide you with a time reference, I began Crime and Punishment probably about a year and half to two years ago and have never made it all the way through. The Idiot is not like that at all. I read it in about a week/week and a half.

The novel really flowed in the beginning and was easy to get into and enjoy. While each character was unique and quirky in their own way, they are appealing or scandalous, which makes the reader easy to relate or hate them. That being the case, you instantly get drawn in to the story and want to know where it is headed from the very beginning.

While Dostoevsky is very often an intense writer I felt like this novel was not overwhelming in its intensity like Crime and Punishment tended to be. It is broken down into four parts and the parts into chapters. I found myself reading through each chapter and part at a steady pace. As the story progresses each part becomes more involved and confusing with all the foreign names you come across. There are a great deal of characters and many of them play very important roles and it is important to try and keep them straight. Only a couple of times though, did I actually find myself thinking one character was another. I must admit that I often became lazy while reading and would shorten the characters’ two word names down to one or just nickname them if I couldn’t even manage to badly pronounce their names in my head (just like I can’t even pronounce the author’s name no matter how hard I try or how many times I’ve heard it). Characters’ names also switch between their own formal and informal names. For example the main character’s name is Prince Lyov Nikolayevich Myshkin. Sometimes he is referred to as Lyov, other times simply as Prince, also as Lyov Nikolayevich and then the author, for the majority of the time, refers to him as Myshkin. Those are his formal sets of names aside from the other names the characters themselves refer to him as when he is not present. So it is indeed a challenge to maintain the separate identities of each character (and knowing when two are the same), but a challenge well worth it as far as I’m concerned.

While reading this book it did a very fine job of evoking all sorts of emotions. I went through waves of sympathy, shock, laughter, annoyance, anger, and even found myself calling the main character an idiot like the other characters on occasion. Very rarely was I bored with the prose itself, though there were a couple of instances in the final two parts that seemed to drag. These were moments when it felt as though the author “preached” social and theological points. I understand that during this time period it was accepted to inject personal opinions into the works in a straight forward manner, but reading from a modern perspective I found myself frustrated with the author’s or narrator’s interjection in the story to tell me what they thought of such topics. There were even times when it was expressed through characters. I usually scanned through these sections to make sure I wasn’t missing anything vital to the story and moved on. There was one point where a character had written a 20 page manifest so to speak and I couldn’t endure it. After getting about half way through I started scanning and skipping until I got to the end. Personally I don’t feel I lost much of the story by doing this. I believe in attempting to read the difficult, dry patches of novels, but sometimes they are too much, even for me.

It was also interesting to learn some of the autobiographical aspects of the novel. The main character in The Idiot suffers from epilepsy as did Dostoevsky. There are some very vivid descriptions of what it is like to have an epileptic fit, which could only come from someone who has experienced them themselves. There are also stories about prisoners being sentenced to death and then at the last minute the sentence being retrenched and them being given indentured servitude in Siberia. Dostoevsky himself endured a circumstance such as this and the given situation in the book again is very intense and moving though given through an objective set of eyes.

All in all The Idiot was a very pleasant read and the ending was definitely unexpected. I enjoyed it immensely and have also enjoyed the sense of pride I got from making it through it. Now I can’t wait to get started on The Brothers Karamazov.



  1. I agree very much with your assessment of The Idiot. I had a very difficult time with this book due to the Russian custom of using a maternal as well as a paternal names for each individual along with some nick names. Very confusing. The characters were interesting, and seemed very mysterious at times, even other-worldly, as was the case with Prince Myshkin. I was not able to complete the book because of frustrations with this preaching tendency you spoke of. Also, Prince Myshkin is a bone-fide idiot, just as the books title proclaims lol Thanks for your insights!

  2. Haha, glad you enjoyed the review. When I got annoyed with those parts that just pound thoughts and theories in the reader’s face, I just skipped over them, otherwise I probably would have put the book down and not picked in back up. 🙂 And sorry it took me forever to get your comment approved and to reply. I didn’t realize that I had to approve it until it had already been some time. Hehe, oops.

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