The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. Just two years after completing Crime and Punishment, which explored the mind of a murderer, Dostoevsky produced another masterpiece, The Idiot. This time the author portrays a truly beautiful soul—a character he found difficult to bring to life because, as he wrote, “beauty is the ideal, and neither my country, nor civilized Europe, know what that ideal of beauty is.” The result was one of Dostoevsky’s greatest characters—Prince Myshkin, a saintly, Christ-like, yet deeply human figure.

The story begins when Myshkin arrives on Russian soil after a stay in a Swiss sanatorium. Scorned by St. Petersburg society as an idiot for his generosity and innocence, the prince finds himself at the center of a struggle between a rich, kept woman and a beautiful, virtuous girl, who both hope to win his affection. Unfortunately, Myshkin’s very goodness seems to bring disaster to everyone he meets. The shocking denouement tragically reveals how, in a world obsessed with money, power, and sexual conquest, a sanatorium is the only place for a saint.

Joseph Frank is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literature at Stanford University. He is the author of a five-volume study of Dostoevsky’s life and work. The first four volumes received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, two Christian Gauss Awards, two James Russell Lowell Awards of the Modern Language Association, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and other honors. Frank is also the author of Through the Russian Prism: Essays on Literature and Culture, The Widening Gyre, and The Idea of Spatial Form. He also wrote the introduction to the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead and Poor Folk.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080587
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 12,313
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.52(d)

About the Author

Few authors have been as personally familiar with desperation as Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), and none have been so adept at describing it. His harrowing experiences in Russian prisons, combined with a profound religious philosophy, formed the basis for his greatest books: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov. When Dostoevsky died in 1881, he left a legacy of masterful novels that immortalized him as a giant of Russian literature.

Read an Excerpt

From Joseph Frank's Introduction to The Idiot

The Idiot is the most autobiographical of Dostoevsky's novels, or at least the one in which autobiography obtrudes most overtly. There is the scene, for example, in which the prince attempts to gain admission to the Epanchin mansion from a recalcitrant footman, who is inclined to think him an impostor because of his far-from-fashionable clothes and modest manner. The prince succeeds in gaining entry, however, after recounting his impressions of an execution by the guillotine that he had witnessed in Europe. Intuiting the agony undergone by the condemned man as he faced the ineluctable certainty of death, which the prince compares with the "torture" and "agony" of which "Christ spoke too," he then muses: "Perhaps there is some man who has been sentenced to death . . . and then has been told 'you can go, you are pardoned.' Perhaps such a man could tell us."

Dostoevsky himself was such a man, having experienced these same torments in 1850 during the mock execution staged by Nicholas I to punish the Petrashevsky Circle, all of whom were officially condemned to death and then pardoned. And he utilizes the ordeal of his mock execution again in Prince Myshkin's scene with the Epanchin sisters, who at first tend to regard the unassuming prince as something of a pious fraud. Not only does Dostoevsky here reproduce the exact details of this lacerating event, but he also expresses sentiments similar to those he employed in a letter to his older brother Mikhail just after returning to prison. "Life is a gift," he wrote then, "life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of bliss." These are the very emotions that Prince Myshkin attributes to a condemned man who then was pardoned: "What if I could go back to life—what eternity! . . . I would turn every minute into an age; I would lose nothing." The mock execution again appears when the prince, asked to suggest a subject for a picture to be painted by Adelaida Epanchin, can think only of the face of a condemned man and a priest holding up a cross. The prince's sensibility is thus haunted by the shadow of eternity, and the absolute sense of moral obligation that he exhibits can be attributed to this overhanging presence.

In The Idiot as well Dostoevsky also draws on his own ailment of epilepsy more explicitly and directly than anywhere else in his writings. Just before the onset of a fit, when he loses consciousness and is overcome by spasmodic convulsions, the prince felt an "aura" of ecstatic plenitude that, as we know from other sources, reproduces the sensations felt by his creator. At such moments, the prince became aware of "the acme of harmony and beauty . . . a feeling, unknown and undivined till then, of completeness, of proportion, of reconciliation, and of ecstatic devotional merging in the highest synthesis of life." It was a moment of "infinite happiness," which "might well be worth the whole of life." And it was then that the prince "seem[ed] somehow to understand the extraordinary saying [from the Bible, Book of Revelations 10:6] that there shall be no more time." Moments such as these may well have strengthened Dostoevsky's own belief in the existence of a supersensuous realm transcending ordinary earthly existence. If so, however, he did not employ it in The Idiot for such a purpose. On the contrary, the loftiness of the vision is depicted as a sublime illusion; and when the prince acts under its inspiration, he provokes Rogozhin into an attempt on his life.

This first section of The Idiot contains some unforgettable scenes in which the "angelic" character of the prince is superbly portrayed. One such is the story of Marie, a consumptive little slavey in the Swiss village where the prince is being treated for epilepsy. She has been seduced and abandoned by a traveling salesman, and then becomes a despised outcast mistreated by everyone and ridiculed by the village children. Moved by her misery, the prince gives her a few francs and persuades the children that she has been unjustly abused and condemned. The last days of her life are thus irradiated by the warmth of their love, and she dies surrounded by their care and devotion. The children, when they observe the prince kissing her out of compassion, are unable to distinguish between this and the kisses exchanged between their parents; this leitmotiv will later be developed on a large-scale in the rivalry between Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaia Epanchin.

The completion of this first part, however, posed new problems for Dostoevsky because he had written it without any overall plan, and it is clear from his letters and notebooks that he scarcely knew how to continue. "As I go along," he wrote to his niece, "various details crop up that I find fascinating and stimulating. But the whole? But the hero? Somehow the whole thing seems to turn on the figure of the hero . . . I must establish the character of the hero. Will it develop under my pen?" Even though Dostoevsky seemed to see other characters quite clearly, he confesses that "the main hero is still extremely pale." The notes reveal that he continued to struggle with this problem all through the remainder of the book. On the one hand, as he writes in a note, it was necessary to show the Prince in a field of action" [italics in text]; but on the other, as Reinhold Niebuhr has written of Christianity, "it is impossible to symbolize the divine goodness in history in any other way than by complete powerlessness." Dostoevsky thus was faced with the dilemma of creating a hero lacking all the usual attributes associated with such a figure, but whose moral-religious purity would somehow shine through and redeem his practical impotence.

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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