Myshkin, a child?

Submitted by Corina Leu on Tuesday, 10/27/2009, at 9:16 PM

The more I read, the more I wonder if Dostoevsky's notion of a "positively beautiful man" is taken directly out of his experience with children.

The first time I came across a passage that made me think of Myshkin as a child was at Ganya's house when Nastasya Filippovna showed up surprising everyone. In that scene, Myshkin is the only one who sees some good in her. Like a child he has a pure vision, "And you're not even ashamed! You can't be the way you pretended to be just now. It's not possible!" (Dostoevsky 117) This response to Nastasya Filippovna's actions is so naive, but so true that it is almost indecent. That is a child, a child doesn't follow social norms, they cross them, they offend people, but they cross and offend from a good place. They have a clean heart, and so they don't know that the things they're saying will have the effect they usually do.

Going back, I also noticed that he was very childlike, because only a child could remember how a child's mind functioned. "Nothing should be concealed from children on the pretext that they're little and it's too early for them to know. ... At first he kept shaking his head and wondering how it was that with me the children understood everything and with him almost nothing, ... , I told him that neither one of us would teach them anything, but they might still teach us." (Dostoevsky 67) 

The Prince is also portrayed as a sheep. Rogozhin says, ""You'll be ashamed, Ganka, to have offended such a ... sheep!" (He was unable to find any other word.)" (Dostoevsky 117). Perhaps in the ellipsis, Rogozhin paused to think of a better word to express the Prince's innocence. And he landed upon sheep, what a funny word. Sheep and sheepherding, common symbols in culture and religion, play important parts in Abrahamic religions. Is Myshkin the Lamb of God? Or is sheep used by Rogozhin to reveal Myshkin's childish nature? Which one, or is it both? 

Dostoevsky & Myshkin

Submitted by Jordan M. Gilbertson on Tuesday, 10/27/2009, at 1:21 PM

I think it is important to note that Myshkin is, fundamentally, a reflection of Dostoevsky’s perception of the ideal, pure man. With that said, it seems important to consider the relationship between the ‘Idiot’ and Dostoevsky. Myshkin’s innocence and honesty seem to be traits which Dostoevsky values highly (as observed in his writings in Winter Notes and the thoughts of the Underground Man). At the same time, the characterization of Myshkin takes these virtues to a almost unreasonable extreme, creating an archetypal depiction of a profoundly innocent, yet naïve, individual. The question that I wish to raise is whether this depiction is an actualized version of Dostoevsky himself, were he able to cast aside societal restrictions and overcome his own faults.

This notion seems most clearly suggested in those instances in which Dostoevsky inserts personal experience into the narrative, particularly via the creation fiction of Myshkin’s past. Myshkin’s irate attack on the execution is a particularly blatant instance of this, as he describes an occurrence which Dostoevsky himself experienced. Myshkin describes the victim in words clearly derived from Dostoevsky’s own intense psychological experience of being sentenced to a certain death, and subsequently spared at the last possible instant (60). As we mentioned in class, the important role which art plays in the novel is also derived largely from Dostoevsky’s own frequent visits to free museums during his time in Europe, as is the novel’s preoccupation with money.

By extension, these personal experiences of Dostoesky’s seem to have not only influenced his creation of The Idiot, but the creation of an idealization of what Dostoevsky himself wishes he could become. In light of his own financial problems, the huge and unexpected fortune that Myshkin acquires is something that Dostoevsky likely wished upon himself on countless occasions, as is his ability to effortlessly befriend everyone he encounters. All of this is only further complicated by the Christlike depiction of Myshkin throughout the narrative, whcih is something I would be interested to explore in further depth. Much like his previous work, Dostoevsky seems to have included himself extensively in his own narrative.



Submitted by Genelle L. Diaz-Silveira on Tuesday, 10/27/2009, at 2:18 AM


It seems to me that Dostoevsky presents two extremes of love in the Idiot.  He portrays either the impassioned, solely emotion-driven type of love (Rogozhin's) or pity based love. The latter is mostly the type that Myshkin claims to feel. He feels that love for Marya at the start of the novel and he says he feels that way about Nastasya Filipovna, despite the fact that his initial feeling of love was spurred by seeing her portrait and being enchanted by her undeniable beauty. As his relationship with her progresses (if you can call it progress) he says he begins to pity her; he concludes that she is clearly a madwoman.There seems to be no healthy form of love in the novel.

A general observation- both Aglaya and Lizaveta Prokofyevna are brats. They repeatedly "stamp their little feet." They describe themselves as eccentric, and the narrator says they are individual not in order to produce an effect but just because that is their default mode of operation. It seems that terming the Epanchins' quality eccentricity, at least in the case of the two women mentioned above, is really just an attempted euphemism for rashness, although Aglaya is a bit more calculating than her mother in her rashness.  It's difficult for the reader to understand Aglaya because the book is loaded with descriptions of both her beauty and her extreme emotional volatility. She is a brat. She expresses her displeasure in childish ways and maybe for Myshkin and Dostoevsky- who apparently prize the innocence, naivety and lack of inhibition that children possess- this is a good thing.

The events of the novel seem to stem from the idea that "there's no doing without [scandal]." The scene with Nastasya Filipovna in the park was incredible, fantastical even.




The "Poor Knight"

Submitted by Susannah E. Rudel on Monday, 10/26/2009, at 11:30 PM

After completing Part II of The Idiot I am interested in the conflicting portrayals of Prince Myshkin by different characters as both an idiot and not an idiot.  For example, when Keller comes to the Prince to confess to him, the Prince makes sense of Keller’s intentions, which Keller finds to be mean, and justifies them, saying that his confession had a purpose other than obtaining money.  In response, Keller says, “Well, why they call you an idiot after that, I don’t understand!” (310).  On the other hand, the Prince does not understand that Aglaya’s note telling him not to visit wasn’t serious, and Lizaveta thus calls him an idiot; “…she herself was vexed that you didn’t come, only she didn’t reckon that she ought not to write like that to an idiot, because he’d take it literally, which is what happened” (321).  I found a connection between these conflicting perspectives on the Prince and the idea of the “poor knight” as presented by Aglaya.  She presents the “poor knight” as a man who has an ideal based in “pure beauty,” which he believes in and to which he devotes his life.  The Prince’s interaction with Keller reminded me of this description, in that the Prince seems to believe in the ideal of the good of people (although I think there is probably more to his ideal); whereas Keller thinks himself mean, the Prince is able to justify his actions and is still willing to lend money to him.  Keller describes the Prince as being simple-hearted, virtuous, and innocent, all of which are qualities that go along with the idea of believing in an ideal, and the qualities may explain why the Prince did not see past the literal meaning of Aglaya’s note.  Finally, I enjoyed Dostoevsky’s way of setting up the connection between Aglaya and the Prince through the idea of the “poor knight,” in that Aglaya puts the Prince’s letter in Don Quixote and later seems to be talking to him while reciting the passage from Don Quixote.  At this point, I am somewhat confused about what the relationship between Aglaya and the Prince is, since we know the Prince is jealous of Ganya over Aglaya and yet he tells Lizaveta that he doesn’t love Aglaya.

Do you believe in God or not?

Submitted by Victoria E. Gauthier on Monday, 10/26/2009, at 10:23 PM

Since we've been discussing Prince Myshkin as a Christly figure, I definitely stopped in my tracks a bit when I hit this line because I was interested to see what would be the prince's response.  In typical Dostoevsky fashion, I didn't get a direct yes or no response.  

(Here's a link to the Hans Holbein painting The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb that Dostoevsky and the Prince keep referring to:

The Prince goes through a series of stories (the atheist on the train, the religious murdering peasants, the drunken soldier, the nursing mother) illustrating his point that being religious isn't about being religious...exactly. You can believe in God and commit trespasses, you can be an atheist and display "rare courtesy."  I thought that this passage was especially full of Christ-Myshkin links.  First, the Prince answers Rogozhin’s question about religion through a series of short stories, which echoes back to Jesus’ use of parables to illustrate his points.  Secondly, the common theme for all is that religious labels don’t necessarily mean anything.  The person most exemplary of God’s love was a meek and pious peasant woman nursing her babe (Virgin Mary imagery) who likens a mother rejoicing over her baby’s first smile to God rejoicing over a sinner praying with “all his heart” (221).  It shouldn’t be surprising that Myshkin, the Christ figure, interprets God’s love as a paternal love (“God rejoices over man as a father over his own child” 221).  Myshkin also embodies the meekness is good mold with his tin Byzantine cross (compare that to Rogozhin’s fancy gold one). Nowhere in the passage does the Prince actually say “Yes, I believe in God,” but I think it’s safe to assume that that’s the case. 

 I also wouldn't mind getting into significance the Old Believer vs. Reform religious aspect of this book a little bit because I'm not too familiar with the history of the Orthodox church.  

A good man"

Submitted by Corina Leu on Sunday, 10/25/2009, at 2:19 PM

Why is Dostoevsky so interested in portraying a perfectly "good man" when the existence of one is obviously impossible, especially in a world where desires are constantly clashing against the lack of resources? How are poverty and wealth conducive to "defective" individuals? What is the difference between an abundance of wealth or an abundance of poverty? How are people changed by extremes? How do we respond to the incentives behind riches, or the turn-offs induced by poverty?

Is Myshkin a mere puppet, or does he have any control over his fate? How is fate decided by those who are in abundance of riches or poverty?

Fools for Christ

Submitted by Hannah M. Gais on Friday, 10/23/2009, at 5:57 PM

Dostoevsky's The Idiot illustrates an age-old tradition within the Eastern Orthodox Church of the "fool for Christ" (Russian: yurodivy; Greek: salos).  Such an individual acts in a manner that is usually contrary to social norms within a society (e.g., such a holy fool may eat meat outside of a church on an important feast day to illustrate the hypocrisy of those fasting without proper praxis).  Prince Myshkin in The Idiot is one such character.  We are introduced to him in the first portion of the book as someone who is social awkward, dresses strangely, and is generally "foreign" to Russia.  Despite as much, he nevertheless has some sort of quality that brings out people's personalities and takes them to a certain "self-realization."  This certainly reflects the relationship the fool for Christ has with the world and other people, as taking on this role is usually to assert the following things: 1) the "world" (in a Paulian sense) is useless and should be abandoned; 2) one is not "special" and should not obsess in an egotistic way about their image or similar issues; 3) one can be brought to Christ through realizing the sheer ridiculousness of these acts as well as their hidden meaning.  Although Myshkin's purpose is not particularly apparent in the beginning of the text, it seems as if he carries many of these traits; that is, the social problems, the strange behavior, etc. 

Autiobiography and Money

Submitted by Eva M. Becker on Friday, 10/23/2009, at 3:39 PM

I find it incredibly interesting to compare the autobiographical events of Dostoevsky's life as he was writing the Idiot with the content of the Idiot itself. To compose a novel whose primary setting is in some of the wealthiest members of the Russian aristocracy at the time almost seems to suggest how much the subject of money and finances was weighing on Dostoevsky's mind at the time. It is interesting that, as he struggled to make ends meet by feverishly working to submit another installment of The Idiot, he was writing of women and men who attempt to buy each other with money; Nastasya Fillipovna is a merely a symbol of Ganya's, Totsky's, and Rogozhin's wealth as they "bid" on her with money. In particular, the last scene in Part I particularly illustrates this wreckless extravagance of money, when Nastasya Fillipovna throws Rogozhin's hundred thoudand rubles in the fireplace for Ganya to retrieve. This scene struck me as particularly indicative of a subject that was certainly an important one to Dostoevsky at this time of life, one so obviously pressing that he envisioned the opposite end of poverty through his art and his work.

Realism in The Idiot

Submitted by Muddasir M. Ayaz on Friday, 10/23/2009, at 7:35 AM

I got the impression after reading Part I of The Idiot that realism does not seem to be one of Dostoevsky's concerns, and a lack of realism works to Dostoevsky's advantage because it allows him to place characters in formative situations without having to worry about realistic restrictions. The scene where this is most evident is at Nastasya Fillopovna's birthday party. Her erratic behavior doesn't seem realistic or believable, so one would assume that it was not Dostoevsky's goal, but Dostoevsky bothers to make the character of the prince seem more realistic by virtue of his intellect. The novel seems to have the autodidactic feeling that we talked about with Crime and Punishment as well, and it is fitting for the novel to have only a dash of realism because circumstance and coincidence allow Dostoevsky to create much stronger connections between characters in his world and to develop his story appropriately. For instance, the birthday party scene seems like the first wholly unified character portrait of Nastasya Fillopovna. Before it, when she is mentioned, the reader is unsure what to make of her behavior (even more so after the birthday party), but more important, there seems to be little to connect her behavior at different points in Part 1; her madness towards the end, however, solidifies her character and her behavior. It seems, to me, at least, to be the first time that her thoughts and actions are in alignment. It is the first time she behaves consistently (although it is hardly what anyone would expect). The lack of realism in the scene allows Dostoevsky to reveal the intricacies of her character without having to worry about external contingencies.

Obsession with the Condemned

Submitted by Elyse J. Yarmosky on Thursday, 10/22/2009, at 9:33 PM

I am really enjoying reading The Idiot. Dostoevsky has set out to create the most beautiful man, yet as we discussed in class today, he has created the character so as to be much more multi-faceted than your typical innocent, lamb-like angel. One of the unique aspects of the Prince's character is his fascination with executions. I feel like executions are one of those things that makes everybody squirm in a pleasurable way. Does that make sense? It's kind of like when some people see car accidents, they can't tear themselves away no matter how gory the scene. On the surface, perhaps that's the kind of connection that the Prince has with executions, though obviously there's more there...he is haunted by them...he is mostly stricken by them. I know that these anecdotes about watching condemened prisoners revel in the last minutes of their lives are a large part of the novel we have before us. I don't want to make any certain declaritive statements yet because I'm just about 150 pages in...but so far I'm feeling like at the end of the book, when I step back to look at all that I've been offered, this whole overlap of religion and gasping for the last moments of life is going to stand out sharply. Can't wait to see how this develops!

Tragedy and Comedy in the Idiot

Submitted by Jeffrey A. Tucker on Thursday, 10/22/2009, at 4:15 AM

The opening chapter of The Idiot felt overwhelmingly to me like the setup for a Shakespearean comedy. It is particularly like The Taming of the Shrew, but many of the features fit well with his archetypal comedy. The opening scene takes place as a meeting between a few travelers on their way to the big city where the rest of the action will be centered. Rogozhin and Lebedev do almost all the talking and set the scene for the drama of the story, the true premise of every comedy: the quest for a marriage. Many classic situations are already in motion: there are multiple suitors; there is a rich suitor, Rogozhin, who bashfully gives gifts through an intermediary (who suddenly becomes a rival by possibly stealing Nastasya's affections); we have a buffoonish fawning sidekick, Lebedev, for the rich man; then there's the unwitting enlistment of an obvious (to the audience) future rival, prince Myshkin, as a new compatriot; there has already been defiance of elders and law (Rogozhin's appropriation of his father's 10,000 roubles) in the pursuit of love; and we've even seen love-induced madness (the basis for Rogozhin's brief exile).

The possibilities for hilarious misadventures on the way to a happy conclusion of marriage are endless; but of course, this is in fact a tragedy. Why does Dostoevsky so clearly channel the usual characteristics of a comedy? Is it only to make the brutal horror of the story's true arc more awful? Or maybe because in life, tragedy and comedy are only ever separated by a thin margin of chance.

Money in The Idiot

Submitted by Daeyeong Kim on Wednesday, 10/21/2009, at 10:59 PM

As mentioned in class, money plays a much bigger role in The Idiot than in any other of Dostoevsky's previous novels. Money connects people in the world of The Idiot and is almost always present in any relationship between two characters.

In the opening scene, we learn that Roghozin is returning to St Petersburg because of his sudden inheritance. Nastasya and Totksy's relationship is largely bound by the issue of money. While Nastasya was under Totsky's control because of her financial dependence, she now has the power to ruin Totksy's name because of their scandal. Thus, Totsky attempts to marry her off to someone else, promising 70,000 roubles as inheritance. The initial suitor is Ganya, who in his greed for money woos Nastasya constantly. On the other hand, Roghozin woos Nastasya with his new inheritance. He bargains with her, offering her at first 18,000 roubles and then eventually "upping" the price to 100,000 roubles. At Nastasya's birthday party, Myshkin finds out that he will inherit at least 1,000,000 roubles from a deceased relative. Nastasya then tells Myshkin that she will marry him, as she taunts Roghozin by saying Myshkin is richer than Roghozin. Again, money is a central player in interpersonal relationships; in the immediate context of a prospective marriage to Nastasya, money seems to be the only sure key to unlocking her heart--even Myshkin's pure love does not succeed. The most notable scene in Nastasya's party also involves money--Nastasya's burning the 100,000 rouble packet in order to humiliate Ganya. Knowing that Ganya has wooed her solely for monetary purposes, she attempts to taunt him by telling him that he can have the 100,000 roubles--more than the initially promised 70,000 from Totsky--if he takes the money out of the fireplace. Ganya tries to resist, and ends up fainting. Money takes center stage in The Idiot, at least in Part I.

A Compassionate Author

Submitted by Brigitte C. Morency on Wednesday, 10/21/2009, at 10:00 PM

Dostoevsky's intimate understanding of human psychology simply  amazes me. He can create men like Raskolnikov, who is utterly detached from society, and turn him into a sympathetic character. Prince Myshikin is repeatedly patronized by the people he meets, yet he retains his kind nature and compassion for the "unhappy."

How is it that Dostoevsky, a man born into nobility, can empathize in such profound ways with characters of different social classes? He seems to recognize the plight of women, the poor, and the "ill," as well as their lack of social currency. His heroes are products of his compassionate imagination and serve as paragons of literary empathy.

Myshkin and Ruined Women

Submitted by Danielle M. Morrissette on Wednesday, 10/21/2009, at 7:12 PM

Women ruined by the lecherousness of men is a recurring theme in Dostoevsky's work's and is back in The Idiot. This whole assumption that people had about women like "good" women were virgins and "bad" women were whores still annoys and genuinely mystifies me as I read The Idiot. The story of Marie, who ran away with her lover only to return in shame a week later, really angered me. Her own mother allowed the town to come to her house and basically spit on her own daughter. Yet Marie was such a good soul that she still took care of her mother even when her mother would not allow her to sleep under the same roof as her. The townspeople's abuse of Marie and the suffering that she goes through is so terrible that it's so difficult even to imagine what that must have been like.  When Myshkin kisses her on the cheek and does not curse her like all of the other townspeople, I honestly cried because it is such an incredible moment. Then he convinces the children to stop abusing her, and in the end, it's the children who take care of Marie while she's dying from tuberculosis. The effect that Myshkin's goodness has on people is quite astounding.

Then we have the case of the ruined woman Nastasya Filipovna who is completely different in character from Marie. She has been victimized by the man who was supposed to take care of her "out of honor" since her father's untimely death, and is forced into being his live-in mistress in St.Petersburg.  However, she takes her precarious position in a much more complex way than Marie. She understands that she has been abused, accepts her position in life as Afanasy Ivanovich's mistress, but deep down really wants to be a woman who is respected. Her strange behavior at Ganya's and at her party I think can only be explained by her wish to be a "good" woman, but knows that everyone will label her a whore no matter who she decides to marry. She hasn't had a fighting chance at all, unlike General Epanchin's daughters who have never had to worry about how they were going to eat. But she's been beaten down so long by everyone else that when Prince Myshkin tries to save her from a rotten marriage to Ganya or being bought by Rogozhin, she can't accept it. She doesn't believe that she is worthy for his love. She calls herself a hussy! I hope that Prince Myshkin will keep trying and will hopefully convince her that he does not want a nursemaid as a wife and that he will not resent her for her unfortunate past. 


Myshkin and Christ

Submitted by Richard S. Hevier on Tuesday, 10/20/2009, at 2:44 AM

I think that Dostoevsky's characterization of Myshkin as a Christ-like figure was fairly brilliant.  His openness with strangers could be idotic (an undeniable trait in light of the title), but it is undoubtedly not that simple given his obvious intellect envinced by his ability to articulate his ideas coupled with stories.  His talented handwriting is note-worthy too; it's a talent Ivan Fyodorovich says is in high demand.  These positive traits are interesting given their combination with his gullability and submissiveness because they create a character that garners a tremendous amount of sympathy (at least from me).  The scene where he first meets the General and, subsequently, his daughters, contribute to my opinion.  The bottom of page 26 speaks to his total meekness when Dostoevsky writes that his face, even upon being rejected by one of his only possible sources of aid, was "so free of the least shade of any concealed hostility."  Moreover, his ability to laugh in "merriment" with the daughters while they poke fun at him appears more as a display of humility than of a lack of self-respect.  Lastly, he simply appears out of his element in the marital intrigue of the world of Nastasya.  One may even say that he operates in an entirely different moral realm than the world he is exposed to and is therefore rendered incapable and left to the mercy of others.  It's probably because the real world is unquestionably harsh and the impossibilty of the ideal and beautiful man makes him out-of-place within it. 

I think his demise appears fairly inevitable from the book's inception because he is a bottomless source of good without the power or the determination to effect a change in the harshness around him.  This makes him an exceptional sacrificial lamb, following greatly at the heels of Christ, as one who is unceasingly beautiful and good but a victim of circumstance.

He also appears uncommonly vulnerable in the face of a brutal and predatory world, with politics, like the marital intrigue of Nastasya.