The Idiot (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)

The Idiot (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation)


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Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s masterful translation of The Idiot is destined to stand with their versions of Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and Demons as the definitive Dostoevsky in English.

After his great portrayal of a guilty man in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky set out in The Idiot to portray a man of pure innocence. The twenty-six-year-old Prince Myshkin, following a stay of several years in a Swiss sanatorium, returns to Russia to collect an inheritance and “be among people.” Even before he reaches home he meets the dark Rogozhin, a rich merchant’s son whose obsession with the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna eventually draws all three of them into a tragic denouement. In Petersburg the prince finds himself a stranger in a society obsessed with money, power, and manipulation. Scandal escalates to murder as Dostoevsky traces the surprising effect of this “positively beautiful man” on the people around him, leading to a final scene that is one of the most powerful in all of world literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375413926
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2002
Series: Everyman's Library Classics
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 340,666
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

About the Translators:

Richard Pevear has published translations of Alain, Yves Bonnefoy, Alberto Savinio, Pavel Florensky, and Henri Volohonsky, as well as two books of poetry. He has received fellowships or grants for translation from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the French Ministry of Culture.

Larissa Volokhonsky was born in Leningrad. She has translated works by the prominent Orthodox theologians Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff into Russian. Together, Pevear and Volokhonsky have translated Dead Souls and The Collected Tales by Nikolai Gogol, and The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, Demons, and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. They were awarded the PEN Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for their version of The Brothers Karamazov, and more recently Demons was one of three nominees for the same prize. They are married and live in France.

Read an Excerpt


In late November, during a thaw, around nine in the morning, a train on the Petersburg–Warsaw railway line was approaching Petersburg at full blast. It was so damp and foggy that it had just barely grown light; within ten paces to the right and left of the rails, it was difficult to make out anything at all from the carriage windows. Among the passengers were some returning from abroad; but the third-class compartments were more crowded, mainly with common folk on business, from not too far away. As usual, everyone was tired, everyone’s eyes had grown heavy in the night, everyone was chilled, all the faces were pale and yellow, matching the color of the fog.

In one of the third-class carriages, right by the window, two passengers had, from early dawn, been sitting facing one another—both were young people, both traveled light, both were unfashionably dressed, both had rather remarkable faces, and both expressed, at last, a desire to start a conversation. If they had both known, one about the other, in what way they were especially remarkable in that moment, they would naturally have wondered that chance had so strangely placed them face to face in a third-class carriage of the Warsaw–Petersburg train. One of them was a short man about twenty-seven, with almost black curly hair and small but fiery gray eyes. His nose was broad and flat, his cheekbones high; his thin lips continually curved into a sort of insolent, mocking and even malicious smile; but the high and well-shaped forehead redeemed the ignoble lines of the lower part of the face. What was particularly striking about the young man’s face was its deathly pallor, which lent him an exhausted look in spite of his fairly sturdy build, and at the same time something passionate to the point of suffering, which did not harmonize with his insolent and coarse smile and his sharp and self-satisfied gaze. He was warmly dressed in a full, black, sheepskin-lined overcoat, and had not felt the cold at night, while his neighbor had been forced to endure all the pleasures of a damp Russian November night, for which he was evidently unprepared. He had a fairly thick and wide cloak with no sleeves and a huge hood, just like those frequently used by travelers in winter somewhere far abroad, in Switzerland or, for instance, Northern Italy, who do not reckon, of course, on such distances along the journey as from Eydtkuhnen1 to Petersburg. But what was entirely suitable and satisfactory in Italy turned out to be not quite fitting for Russia. The owner of the hooded cloak was a young man, also twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, somewhat above the average in height, with very fair thick hair, with sunken cheeks and a thin, pointed, almost white beard. His eyes were large, blue and intent; there was something calm, though somber, in their expression, something full of that strange look by which some can surmise epilepsy in a person at first glance. The young man’s face was otherwise pleasing, delicate and lean, though colorless, and at this moment even blue with cold. From his hands dangled a meager bundle tied up in an old, faded raw-silk kerchief, which, it seemed, contained the entirety of his traveling effects. He wore thick-soled boots and spats—it was all very un-Russian. His dark-haired neighbor in the sheepskin observed all this, partly from having nothing to do, and at last, with that indelicate smile in which satisfaction at the misfortunes of others is sometimes so unceremoniously and casually expressed, he asked:


And he shuddered.

“Very,” answered his neighbor, with extraordinary readiness, “and just think, it’s thawing, too. What if there were a frost? I didn’t even think it would be so cold at home. I’ve become unused to it.”

“From abroad, eh?”

“Yes, from Switzerland.”

“Phew! You don’t say!” The dark-haired man whistled and burst into laughter.

They struck up a conversation. The readiness of the fair young man in the Swiss cloak to answer all his swarthy companion’s inquiries was astonishing and without the merest suspicion of the absolute thoughtlessness, inappropriateness and idleness of some of the questions. In answering, he declared by the by that he had indeed not been in Russia for a long time, a little over four years, that he had been sent abroad on account of an illness, some kind of strange nervous illness, like epilepsy or St. Vitus’s dance, resulting in trembling fits and convulsions. The swarthy man chuckled several times as he listened; and he laughed particularly when, in answer to his inquiry, “Well, have they cured you?” the fair one answered, “No, they haven’t.”

“Ha! You must have wasted a lot of money over it, and we believe in them over here,” the swarthy man observed sarcastically.

“That’s the honest truth!” interposed a badly dressed gentleman sitting beside them, a petty official type, set in his crusty scrivener’s ways, about forty, powerfully built, with a red nose and pimpled face—“That’s the honest truth, sir, they only absorb all the resources of Russia for nothing!”

“Oh, you are quite mistaken in my case!” the patient from Switzerland chimed in with a gentle and conciliatory voice. “Of course, I can’t argue with you because I don’t know all about it, but my doctor even shared his last penny with me for the journey here; and there, he supported me at his expense for nearly two years.”

“Why, had you no one to pay for you?” asked the swarthy man.

“No; Mr. Pavlishchev, who used to pay for me there, died two years ago. I’ve since written to Generaless Epanchin, a distant relation of mine, but I’ve had no answer. So I’ve come . . .”

“Where are you going then?”

“You mean, where am I going to stay? . . . I don’t rightly know yet . . . Somewhere . . .”

“You’ve not made up your mind yet?” And both his listeners burst out laughing again.

“And no doubt that bundle is all you’ve got in the world?” asked the swarthy man.

“I’m willing to bet on it,” chimed in the red-nosed official with an exceptionally gleeful air, “and that he’s got nothing else in the luggage van, though poverty is no vice, which, again, one mustn’t neglect to note.”

It turned out that this was the case, too; the fair-haired young man acknowledged it at once with extraordinary readiness.

“Your bundle has some value, anyway,” the petty official went on, when they had laughed to their heart’s content (remarkably, the owner of the bundle finally began to laugh himself, looking at them, which increased their mirth), “and though you could stake your head that it contains no golden rolls of foreign coin with Napoleons or Friedrichs, to say nothing of Dutch Arapchicks, which may already be concluded merely from the spats covering those foreign boots of yours, yet . . . when we add to your bundle such a purported relation as, for ex- ample, Generaless Epanchin, then even the bundle takes on a certain different significance, needless to say, but only in the case that Generaless Epanchin is really your relation and you are not mistaken, out of absentmindedness . . . which a person is very, very wont to do, if only . . . from an excess of imagination.”

“Ah, you’ve guessed right again,” the fair young man chimed in. “It really is almost a mistake, that’s to say, she is almost no relation; so much so that I really was not at all surprised back then, when I got no answer there. It was what I expected.”

“You simply wasted the money for the postage. Hm! . . . Anyway, you are open-hearted and sincere, which is commendable. Hm! . . . As for General Epanchin, we know him, yes sir, for, actually, he is a man everyone knows; and I used to know the late Mr. Pavlishchev, too, who paid your expenses in Switzerland, that is if it was Nikolai Andreevich Pavlishchev, for there were two of them, cousins. The other lives in the Crimea. The late Nikolai Andreevich was a worthy man and well connected, and he’d four thousand serfs in his day . . .”

“Just so, Nikolai Andreevich Pavlishchev was his name.”

And having answered, the young man intently and searchingly scrutinized the know-it-all gentleman. One encounters these know-it-all gentlemen sometimes, even fairly often, in a certain well-known social sphere. They know everything. All the restless curiosity and faculties of their mind are irresistibly bent in one direction, no doubt from lack of more important ideas and interests in life, as the contemporary thinker would put it. The phrase “they know everything,” by the way, must be taken to apply to a rather limited sphere: where so-and- so serves, with whom he is acquainted, the amount of his net worth, where he was governor, to whom he’s married, how much his wife brought in, who are his cousins, who twice removed, etc., etc., and so on in that vein. For the most part, these know-it-alls walk about with worn-out elbows and receive a salary of seventeen rubles a month. The people of whose lives they know every last detail would be at a loss to imagine their motives. Yet, in the meantime many of them are positively consoled by this knowledge, which amounts to a complete science, and derive from it self-respect and even their highest spiritual gratification. And indeed it is a fascinating science. I have seen learned men, literary men, poets, politicians, who sought and found in that very science their greatest worldly comforts and goals, indeed, positively making their careers solely on that account. Throughout this entire conversation the swarthy young man had been yawning, looking aimlessly out of the window and impatiently expecting the end of the journey. He was somehow preoccupied, extremely preoccupied, almost agitated; he was even becoming somewhat strange: at times he would both hear and not hear, look and not look, laugh and not know or understand what he was laughing at.

“Excuse me, whom have I the honor . . .” the pimply gentleman said suddenly, addressing the fair young man with the bundle.

“Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin,” replied the latter with prompt and unhesitating readiness.

“Prince Myshkin? Lev Nikolaevich? Don’t know . . . Can’t say I’ve ever heard . . .” the official responded thoughtfully. “I don’t mean the

name, that is, it’s a historical name, it’s to be found in Karamzin’s History, as it should be; I mean you personally, and indeed there are no

Prince Myshkins to be met with anywhere, one never hears of them anymore.”

“I should think not,” the prince answered at once, “there are no Prince Myshkins now except me; I believe I am the last of them. And as for our fathers and grandfathers, some of them had even been odnodvortsy. My father, by the way, was a sublieutenant in the army, of the Junkers. But I don’t in fact know how Generaless Epanchin also wound up being of the Myshkins, also the last in her line . . .”

“He-he-he! The last in her line! He-he! What a phrase you turn,” giggled the official.

The swarthy man smirked, too. The fair man was rather surprised that he had managed to make a pun, and a pretty bad one at that.

“Imagine, I said it without thinking,” he explained at last, wondering.

“To be sure, to be sure you did,” the official assented good-humoredly.

“So then, Prince, and you’ve been studying the sciences out there too, with the professor, have you?” asked the swarthy man suddenly.

“Yes . . . I was studying.”

“For my part, I’ve never studied anything.”

“Well, I only did a little, you know,” added the prince almost apologetically. “It wasn’t possible to teach me systematically, because of my illness.”

“Do you know the Rogozhins?” the swarthy man asked quickly.

“No, I don’t know them at all. I know very few people in Russia. You’re a Rogozhin, then?”

“Yes, my name is Rogozhin, Parfyon.”

“Parfyon? That wouldn’t be of those same Rogozhins . . .” the official began, with increased gravity.

“Yes, one of those, one of the same,” interrupted the swarthy man quickly and with uncivil impatience. And indeed, he hadn’t addressed the pimply official even once, but from the very start had spoken only to the prince.

“But . . . how is that?” The official froze with amazement and his eyes nearly popped out of his head, his whole face immediately beginning to assume a reverent and servile, almost frightened, expression. “Related to the same Semyon Parfyonovich Rogozhin, Hereditary Honorable Citizen, what passed on a month since and left two and a half million in capital?”

“And how do you know he left a clear two and a half million?” the swarthy man interrupted, not deigning to glance toward the official now, either. “Just look! (he indicated him to the prince with a wink), and what do they possibly gain by sucking up to you at once? But it’s true that my father has died, and as for me, a month later, I’m going home from Pskov practically barefoot. Neither my brother, that scoundrel, nor my mother have sent either money or word—I was sent nothing! Like a dog! I’ve spent the entire month lying in a fever in Pskov! . . .”

“And now you are coming in for a tidy million, at the lowest reckoning, oh Lord!” the official flung up his hands.

“What is it to him, tell me that?” said Rogozhin, nodding irritably and angrily toward him again. “Why, I am not going to give you a farthing of it, though you may walk on your hands before me, if you like.”

“I will, I will.”

“You see! But I won’t give you anything, I won’t, if you dance for a whole week.”

“Well, don’t! And I don’t need it. Don’t! But I shall dance. I shall leave my wife and children and dance before you. Only to flatter! To flatter!”

“Fie on you!” spat the swarthy man. “Five weeks ago, like you”—he addressed the prince—“with nothing but a bundle, I ran away from my father to Pskov, to my aunt; and there collapsed with fever, while he went and died without me. Kicked the bucket. Eternal memory to the deceased, but he almost killed me then! Would you believe it, Prince, yes, by God! Had I not run away then, he would have killed me on the spot.”

“Did you do something to make him angry?” countered the prince, examining the millionaire in the sheepskin with some particular interest. But though there may have been something intrinsically remarkable in the million and in receiving a legacy, the prince was surprised and interested by something else as well; and Rogozhin himself was for some reason especially keen to converse with the prince, though it seemed he was in need of conversation in a more mechanical than spiritual sense; rather more from preoccupation than frankness; from agitation and disquiet, for the sake of just looking at someone and prattling on about something. It seemed that he was still in a feverish state, and at the very least suffering from the chills. As for the official, well, he simply hovered over Rogozhin, didn’t dare to breathe, hung on every word and weighed it, precisely as if looking for a diamond.

“Angry he certainly was, and perhaps with reason,” answered Rogozhin, “but more than anything, my brother did me in. Nothing can be said against my mother, she’s an old woman, reads the Lives of the Saints, sits with the crones, and whatever brother Senjka9 resolves, so it shall be done. And why didn’t he send word to me at the time, then? It’s clear, sir! It’s true I was unconscious at the time. They say a telegram was sent, too. But you just see if a telegram can get to my aunt. She’s widowed going on thirty years now and keeps sitting with the holy fools from morning till night. A nun she isn’t, but even worse. Well, the telegram gave her a fright, and without opening it, she went and presented it at the constable’s station, where it still lies to this day. Only Konyov, Vassily Vassilielich, came to my rescue, wrote me all about it. At night my brother cut off the solid gold tassels from the brocaded pall on my father’s coffin. ‘Think what a lot of money they are worth,’ he apparently said. Well, for that alone he can go to Siberia, if I like, for this is sacrilege. Hey there, you clown,” he turned to the official, “what’s the law say: is it sacrilege?”

“Sacrilege! Sacrilege!” the official at once concurred.

“Do they send you to Siberia for it?”

“To Siberia, to Siberia. At once to Siberia!”

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The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book around 20 years ago. Unlike many books, this has never left me. In fact, it has become part of my theology in a way. Kindness, love, forgiveness, mercy, are, have always been, and always will be looked upon with contempt by the majority of the world. Yet, in reading the Idiot, unlike some readers, I was not left with a feeling of pessimism, but of confidence that if you can bear the contempt of your fellow man, you can easily be great. Truly, love man but not his praises.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is great intellectual work that we should to take seriously in general, a book to read with a serious mindset. Then you will understand the unique nature of Russia which our western minds have difficulties to comprehend. This strange land called Russia that has a bigger soul than any other is explored here in this story in a way that only Dostoyevsky unveils. Read it and you will finish it enriched. The Idiot is a thoroughly enjoyable novel of ideas that explores the nature of man and society and gives you a better idea of man and his actions. You shouldn't find it strange that the characters are philosophical, impulsive, introspective, energetic, colorful, and extreme in their passions. That is Russia, a land of extremes. This book is likely to impact you. It is one of the few of our times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Truly one of the finer novels ever written. The full development of characters and plot through dialogue is a triumph upon itself. It's a tricky read, but it's a great introduction to dostoevsky. The culmination of the plot at the end is truly a treat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Personally this is Dostoevsky's best. It is the hardest topic to cover as a writer--especially in serial form such as Dostoevsky wrote all his novels--truely speaks to his talent. Also if you are go to read any Dostoevsky read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations--they are the best by far.
Ninja_Dog More than 1 year ago
Rarely does one have the experience to read a novel that truly packs a shocking ending. Being Dostoevsky's more overshadowed works, "The Idiot" manages to do exactly that. In the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, Richard Pevear writes in his introduction that while the novel features the most morally sound character in Dostoevsky's works, the ending is perhaps the darkest of all his other novels. This is a serious understatement, to say the very least! While there are very few instances of physical violence, the kind of psychic violence perpetrated in this novel is believable to the reader and absolutely devastating to the characters. Nastasya Fillipovna, the novel's would-be heroine, is the best example of this kind of "psychic violence" I speak of, as she has an utterly explosive effect each time she appears in a scene. Later on in the story, both Ippolit and Lebdev refer to being "slapped in the face," but "morally, not physically." These kinds of moral attacks run rampant throughout the novel and the effects upon the characters are far more damaging than physical trauma... with the protagonist himself being the greatest victim of this kind of violence. The "moral beauty" and ultimate fate of Lev Nicholievich Myshkin is like a Christian allegory and a Lovecraft horror mixed into the same narrative. He is a moral superior, a spiritual superman, who gives so freely of his time and his fortune to people who otherwise deserve neither. The Prince's singular and fatal flaw was his inability to accept a sense of moral superiority. While this would have likely provided the perspective he sorely needed to escape his fate, it would also have been cognitively impossible to remain in this state of superiority while consciously acknowledging it. This novel plays out the deep moral paradox; that we can be good only if we rigorously question our goodness. The strength a truly good person can lend to another may make that good person vulnerable in many ways. "The Idiot" dares to explore these deep themes, while delivering a dramatic narrative that is horrifying, heartbreaking and classically tragic. Though I am an avid reader, I can honestly say that I have not been so powerfully moved by a novel in a long, long time. "The Idiot" encompasses romance, class warfare, political philosophy, Christian philosophy and social norms in a way that forces the thoughtful reader to examine morality and madness in a way that to me is utterly unique in literature. For that, I give "The Idiot" my highest possible recommendation. I view this novel as a standard by which moralist narratives must be measured.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book, even by Dosoevsky's standards, and has been giving an excellent translation. However, it's not as compusively readable as say Crime and Punishment, so if your new to Dostoevsky it's best not to start with The Idiot. Readers will get much more out of this one if they have wider knowledge of his other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I didn't expect much from this novel. I loved Crime and Punishment but only mildly enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov so I wasn't sure I'd even enjoy The Idiot. However I found the novel to be fascinating, engaging, and beyond enjoyable. While I still feel Crime and Punishment is a superior novel I would still strongly recommend The Idiot.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i'm a tenth grader who was assigned to read three books of similar theme for a paper. one of the books i chose was the idiot. though extremly wordy, the things the reader takes out the book make it all worthwhile. for sure, when one is reading the book, it can seem to be a drag, but once the book is finished, it makes u want to open it up and reread it, so thought provoking and masterful is the weaving of dostoeveskys message. it is a fantastic book and one ill have to pick up in later years, perhaps when my own reading level has become on par to that of the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought it was going to be depressing but it actually wasn't, atleast the way dostoyevsky described the events. so many nice twists, good book, recommended, esp for guys who have to deal with girls like aglaya...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the simplest and most beautiful of all Dostoevsky's books, and perhaps also the most approachable to modern readers.
annunaki More than 1 year ago
other than the unusual side stories that deviates from the plot, it is a wonderful story. very dramatic and even on the boderline melodramtic. the writing itself is easy to read and it really drew me into the emotions of the characters. speaking of characters, they are definitely one to remember. i would recommend this book to all but i feel many people will be agitated by the unecessary side stories with all the philosophies that aren't really revlevant to the story.
fuzzy_patters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Princy Myshkin is perceived by others around him as being an idiot, but I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether he really is one. Some characters perceive him to be the most trustworthy man they have ever meant, while others call him an intellectual and a democrat. Yet, most revert back to calling him an idiot. The book is full of the basest characters, and only Myshkin can offer them a shot at redemption. He sees them for their true selves, good or bad, and loves them for who they are. Myshkin has been called a Russian Christ and is one of the most provocative characters that I have come accross in literature. In addition to Dostoevsky's strong characterization, this book also includes the author's critique of capital punishment, the role of women in society, and the role of aristocracy. The book is both introspective and political, although not overly so. I found it to be a new favorite of mind, and I am sure it will stick with me for awhile. It is a very good novel.
twilkin4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this story. Dostoevsky is so elegant in his writing about The Prince. Throughout the story I found myself loving Myshkin and then hating him and then loving him again. The characters are so well described that you can really imagine them so well everything from what they wear to what they look like. Their personalities are so perfectly described, each character is in his or her own way perfect.
quaintlittlehead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"It's actually rather Austenesque," I told my friend, shortly before reading a bit about eating clerics and completely changing my mind about that statement. Indeed, I was surprised, having only read the author's "Crime and Punishment" and "The Gambler," at how much of a love story this novel initially seemed to be. "The Idiot" filters nineteenth century society, and the unfortunate game, for many women, of trying to make or maintain their station by catching a husband (or, alternatively, to make or maintain their pleasure by being kept as a mistress), through the eyes of Prince Myshkin, a recent returnee to Russia from Switzerland where he was receiving treatment for seizures. It is never clear throughout the novel to what extent Myshkin actually suffers from being an "idiot," and to what extent others' perception of him as one simply makes him so. In him, Dostoevsky portrays love at its purest, most noble, and most confused--for in a world where agape love and friendship can and should exist, but only romantic love is honoured by most, how can one not be confused? The story leads the reader through the agony of trying to understand how these kinds of love can be untangled when Myshkin often seems to love two, but can only marry one."This is a sort of sequel to nihilism, not in a direct line, but obliquely, by hearsay," Lebedyev proclaims, and in a similar fashion, the book picks up in some ways where "Crime and Punishment" left off in terms of its themes, if not in terms of its characters or its overall arc. The religion of Russia's "Old Believers" and Dostoevsky's concern for philosophy and politics figure into the story, moreso in the latter half of the book. The first two parts open in a very narrative style, while the latter two jarringly shift to a style that addresses the reader more openly. Characters in this latter half also go into the question, raised in Dostoevsky's earlier novel, of whether crime is a natural occupation in conditions of poverty. However, the question of human perceptions of others and the constraints society places on interpersonal relationships form the driving thread of the book. Dostoevsky, like Myshkin, suffered from seizures, so it is interesting to investigate the relationship between the author and his character(s). I felt a constant sense of duplicity in the character of Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment" with regards to his rationale for why he committed his crime, and whether he had a solid understanding of that rationale at all points in time or whether he wavered depending on his "madness," his efforts to deceive others, and his changing spiritual understanding. While Myshkin is the complete opposite of Raskolnikov on the criminal scale, the same duality of character can be discerned in his treatment, and understanding of his own feelings towards, the two love interests in the novel. This duality explodes in a shocking twist as the novel concludes. I can not claim to understand Myshkin as well as I feel I understood Raskolnikov (which, perhaps, also speaks volumes about just how far removed Dostoevsky thinks human nature is from the ideal), but the author certainly succeeds in getting me to sympathize with him. This is a complex book that I feel the need to re-read, but do not expect to be burdened by; in its initial portions especially, it is a surprisingly warm and engaging read from an author known for his lengthy philosophical and theological expositions. Dostoevsky also deserves tremendous credit as a male author for delving so accurately into the variations of female psyches in the different relationships in which women find themselves--in this regard, comparing him to Austen or Brontë is not nearly so illogical as it might seem.
cdeuker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is all over the place, but when it is good . . . it is great. The ending has an hallucinatory/dreamlike feel to it that is chilling. I read this long ago, had heard that Myshkin was Christ-like, so of course didn't respond to him at all. The "Christ-like" thing is true, but it's much more interesting than pure perfection. As a person constantly trying to do good, in fact, Myshkin in this messy world actually causes a lot of harm.
mkp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book greatly exceeded my somewhat high expectations. I had earlier read his three other monumental classics, 'The Demons', 'The Brothers Karamazov', and 'Crime and Punishment', and expected this one to be a bit worse than those. Instead, I found it to be brilliant -- much better than 'The Demons'.This is primarily a sequence of very extended conversations. That doesn't sound like it would make a good book, but it does -- one of Dostoyevsky's best.
veritatem.dilexi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My least favorite Dostoevsky so far. Excellent characterizations and philosophical ideas get horribly bogged down by a boring soap-opera-esque plot. Worth it if you already love Dostoevsky or Russian literature, but go with "Crime and Punishment" if it's your first taste of the unique Fatherland.
rdm666 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd say this is a shade better than Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky is especially good with agonized and women characters [those categories do overlap, and they may contain most of the characters he explores in any detail]. He is the expert on lacerations.
hannahj26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was incredibly long and at times rather dull. Though I feel that it is worth reading, it is not for the faint of heart. Picking up this book is a huge commitment of time. However, looking back on it the story was an interesting one and it was not a book that I ever thought of giving up on.
Imshi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I understand that this translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky) is supposed to be positively brilliant and a much-needed update to previous archaic-sounding translations, but though it is easy-to-read there are some instances where the word chosen is either unfortunate (The whole paragraph on being fond of asses), ridiculously uncommon (galimatias, anyone?) or just plain weird (why is everyone wearing mantillas? Veil or headdress would have a similar shade of meaning, and popping a Spanish loan-word into a Russian novel just sounds odd.)The story itself is enjoyable enough, but I really don't like this translation.
auntycaz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i loved this book. it has such a sense of dignity & honour, values from an age past. felt like i was soaking those values in. like a spring shower. wonderful.
jeff.maynes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've been hovering around this review, trying to think of the best way into this work. This reflects well on my own experience reading it. I found myself totally immersed in the novel, while at the same time having a difficult time coming to grips with the whole thing. It is a slow burn. Plot elements are put into place, and they develop very slowly as a whole host of characters move in and out of the story. It lacks the driving plot device of the murders at the heart of Karamazov or Crime and Punishment. Nastasya Filippovna and her relationships to Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin is clearly driving the novel, but she is rarely physically present in the middle books of the novel. As a result, it can be easy to lose the forest for the trees here. Yet, it is wholly worth it for two reasons. First, the ending scenes of the novel are riveting. Though the plot develops slowly, it is not developed aimlessly. It is not enough to set the pieces into place, but to slowly develop the mind and character of the Prince. Without this development, the ending might come across as superficial with the Prince's hesitation at a crucial moment seeming like mere indecision. The second reason is that this novel, like much of Dostoevsky's work, is a complete immersion experience. His characters are so memorable, his plots so intricate and his writing so sparkling, that even if you are lost in the forest, you'll be happy to be there. Aglaya's motivations and the nature of the Prince's goodness preyed on my mind even when I wasn't reading. Puzzling through the novel is itself an enjoyable experience. That said, the book is certainly at its strongest in the beginning and end. While the final scenes are intense, engrossing and utterly gripping, my favorite scenes took place early in the novel. When the Prince arrives at the Epanchin's, he discusses his experiences with capital punishment with a few different people. This is the Prince before the complexities of the real world have begun to affect him, and we see his pure compassion in a beautiful way. The passages are wonderfully written, and emotionally affecting. Dostoevsky anticipates Camus' remarks that the great cruelty of binding someone to die often exceeds the cruelty of the crime that is being repaid. It is the certainty of death that makes each individual moment a richer experience, but this richness comes at a price. We appreciate our moments because every moment has been pervaded with a sense of our own death (and perhaps even annihilation). Philosophically rich and intensely moving, these passages are worth reading even if one does not engage with the entire work.Perhaps the central conflict of the novel is one which my own philosophy students are quick to recognize in other areas. While the ideals of goodness (represented here by the Prince) are certainly praiseworthy and worth pursuing, these ideals can not only fail in the complexities of an imperfect world, they can lead to morally bad outcomes. I do not wish to dive too deeply into the ending, but the Prince is conflicted between a love borne out of compassion and one out of romantic feeling. They should not be in conflict, but a conflict is forced upon him nonetheless. Most importantly though, he cannot choose one or the other without causing harm, and the choice he makes certainly makes good on this fear. My students see this same worry when discussing Kant's views on ethics, which require of us compliance with exceptionless moral imperatives. Certainly, they remark, we must not lie. But what if we are in a situation where the world faces us with no choice - lie or permit a terrible fate to come to pass? Dostoevsky is sensitive to this issue, and indeed, one could perhaps read the whole novel as setting up this conflict. To see the conflict arrive on the scene, we need the layers upon layers which could embroil the virtuous Prince in the scenario, with no easy solution out of it. It leaves us with the i
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The "idiot" of the title is Prince Myshkin, and epileptic, an innocent, and a representative of "pure" goodness. He is considered by some to be a prototype for the character of Aloysha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov. He is a character based on certain ideas of the author and as such is alternately attractive to or repellent to the significant characters that he meets in this sometimes melodramatic novel. In Candide-like fashion he faces encounters such as an attraction to two beautiful women between which he must choose. However, the prince is unable to choose between them and it is not clear to the reader what choice he should make either. The novel seems to be more focused on the psychology of the characters, their feelings and impulses, than on serious action that would make the novel more interesting. On the other hand, the conflict between many of the characters, their differences, that may have been handled more interestingly in a comedy of manners by Trollope, seems to fall flat in this narrative. The result is a flawed masterpiece at best, for the Dostoevskian-philes, and a jumble of a novel for the rest. I would rank this at the bottom of Dostoevsky's great final masterpieces. Reread Crime and Punishment instead.
tzelman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lengthy examination of a virtuous man, Myshkin, and how Russian society ruins him--okay but overly long