The Idiot (novel)

The Idiot (novel)

Infobox Book
name = The Idiot
title_orig = Идиот"Идіотъ" in original, pre-1920s spelling]
translator =

image_caption = Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of "The Idiot"
author = Fyodor Dostoevsky
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = Russia
language = Russian language
series =
genre = Novel
publisher =
release_date = 1869
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by = The Gambler
followed_by = The Possessed

"The Idiot" is a novel written by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky and first published in 1868. The original Russian title is "Идиот", "Idiot" (the Russian language does not use definite articles).

Dostoevsky considered entitling the work "Prince Myshkin."

Plot summary

Part I

Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin returns to Russia after a long absence. Myshkin suffers from epilepsy – just like Fyodor Dostoevsky himself – and is prone to periods of blackouts. This has been treated with some success in Switzerland. The Myshkin family line is said to end with him and his cousin.

On the train to Saint Petersburg, Myshkin meets and befriends the dark and impassioned Rogozhin. The latter tells the prince about his passion for Nastasya Filippovna, a beautiful woman with a bad reputation. Myshkin arrives at the house of General Yepanchin, who is married to the only other living member of the Myshkin line. Myshkin learns that Ganya, a young go-getter and secretary of the General, wants to marry Nastasya for her dowry. The prince feels an irresistible desire to meet her after hearing about her and even more so when he views a picture of her in the General's office.

At Nastasya's name day party, Myshkin sees Rogozhin arrive drunk and offer the young woman a large amount of money to follow him. The prince perceives the despair of Nastasya and proposes to her in order to save her from her situation. She, believing the prince's offer stems only from pity, flees with Rogozhin. The two men, formerly bound by friendship, become rivals.

Part II, III, IV

Rogozhin even tries to kill his friend with a knife, but is hindered when, due to the stress of the situation, Myshkin falls into an epileptic seizure.

Over the course of the novel, Myshkin grows closer to the General's daughter, Aglaya, but he eventually gives her up to save Nastasya, culminating in a final meeting at Rogozhin's home where the young girl confronts the woman. Myshkin moves to leave with Aglaya, but stops when Nastasya questions the fact that he would leave with her and faints into his arms. He decides to marry Nastasya for fear she will return to Rogozhin and never live a healthy life. On the day of the marriage, however, Nastasya again flees with Rogozhin, who then kills her.

The novel ends with Myshkin and Rogozhin lying together by the body of Nastasya: Myshkin sinks into total insanity; Rogozhin is sentenced to labor in Siberia; and Aglaya rushes into an unhappy marriage with a man who claims to be a Polish count.

By making Myshkin a paragon of kindness and humility, Dostoyevsky shows what can happen when such a man is confronted by society. Myshkin frequently confronts society's norms with his "idiocy", which is merely his apparently naive approach to life. However, it is merely a search for truth in human relationships, he is not naive about what others say to him and about him, he merely assumes they're true because human beings should have no need for falsehood. The prince frequently faces various social turmoils throughout the novel, petty arguments and ridiculous assumptions. Unfortunately, the "idiot" cannot save himself from society and fails in the end.

Major themes

Dostoevsky's motives for writing "The Idiot" stem from his desire to depict the "positively good man". This man is naturally likened to Christ in many ways. Dostoevsky uses Myshkin's introduction to the Petersburg society as a way to contrast the nature of Russian society at the time and the isolation and innocence of this good man. This is highlighted by his conflicts and relationship with Rogozhin. Indeed, Myshkin and Rogozhin are contrasted from the outset. Myshkin is associated with light, Rogozhin with dark. For example, in their initial descriptions on the train, Myshkin is described as having light hair and blue eyes, while Rogozhin has "dark features". Rogozhin's house is submerged in darkness, with iron bars on the windows. He is not only an embodiment of darkness, but surrounded by it. The two characters are clearly antithetical. If Myshkin be seen as Christ, Rogozhin could easily be seen as the devil. Indeed, 'rog', in Russian, means horn, adding credence to such an assertion, although the primary association of his name is with "rogozha" ("bast"), possibly hinting at his humble origins.

Despite their difference, they are both after Nastasya Filippovna – good and bad (and mediocre, in the image of Ganya) strive for the same thing. Love itself is shown in various manifestations, spurned by various motives. While vain Ganya wishes to marry Nastasya in order that he might, through acquisition of a large dowry, spark some of the individuality which he senses he lacks, Rogozhin loves Nastasya with a deep passion – a passion which eventually drives him to kill her. Myshkin, however, loves her out of pity, out of Christian love. This love for her supersedes even the romantic love he has for Aglaya. It is important to note that Aglaya developed a great appreciation for Myshkin's purity of heart and capacity for empathic love, even that he felt for Nastasya. Aglaya and her sisters came to identify Myshkin with the protagonist of a famous Russian poem by Pushkin, "The Poor Knight", because of the Prince's quixotic, tragic quest to defend the honor of Nastasya in the face of the ridicule, and at times contempt, he faced from all his acquaintances. And she grew to love him not in spite of this, but even more so because of it. At a gathering at the Prince's home that included her family and several of the Prince's friends, Aglaya enigmatically and ironically declares "There's nothing better than the Poor Knight!" Though she is partially mocking him, in the depths of her heart she means this fully. In the end, though, Aglaya cannot completely eradicate her jealousy of Nastasya, and cannot attain to the heights of the Prince's sympathetic love when he apparently scorns her in a final effort to save Nastasya.

There is a parallel between Rogozhin and the Russian upper-class society. The materialistic society which praises the values Myshkin represents and professes itself to be "good", cannot accommodate Prince Myshkin; Rogozhin, though he truly loves Nastasya, commits murder in the end. Nastasya herself has been corrupted by a depraved society. Her beauty and initial innocence have led Totsky (perhaps the most repugnant of characters in the novel) to keep her as a concubine and she falls into a quasi-madness.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations and references

*Several filmmakers have produced adaptations of the novel, among them Akira Kurosawa's "The Idiot (1951 film)", "The Idiot (1958 film)", a Russian version by Ivan Pyryev, and Mani Kaul's Hindi version, "Idiot (1992 film)".

*The book is mentioned in the 2005 movie of Mel Brooks' "The Producers". The character of Max Bialystock refers to Leo Bloom as "Prince Myshkin" following a semi-psychotic episode.

*In 2003 Russian State Television produced a 10-hour TV-series of the work, which earned very high ratings.

*In the 2004 film "The Machinist", directed by Brad Anderson and starring Christian Bale, Bale's insomniac character Trevor Reznik attempts to read "The Idiot", in between delusions, blackouts and paranoic "revelations." The film is not an adaptation of "The Idiot", but does explore many of the same themes of light, dark, madness and free will that appear in the specific novel as well as many of the overriding themes that appear in all of the works of Dostoevsky.

*The Russian comedy "Down House" (2001) features a parody of the novel's plot.

*In 1999 Czech director Saša Gedeon produced a modern cinematic reinterpretation of "The Idiot" entitled "The Return of the Idiot" ("Návrat idiota").

*The title of the movie "The Jerk" emerged after actor "Steve Martin" read Dostoevsky's "The Idiot". Martin decided he wanted a similar title.

* In the first season of "Dream On", an HBO series, Martin is seen reading "The Idiot" during his "alone time," while he recovers from his relationship with Nener.
*In an episode of the 2001 anime series "Noir", Mireille Bouquet discusses "The Idiot" with her partner Kirika Yuumura. Mireille compares the man whom they'd been hired to kill with Prince Myshkin. The man has a cat named after the character in the novel.

*The Kollywood director who directed the movie "Chithiram Paesudhadi" adopted the name of Myshkin in reference to the prime character in the novel.

*The Polish director Andrzej Wajda adapted the last chapter of "The Idiot" as the feature film "Nastasja" in 1994.

*Professional tennis player Janko Tipsarević has a tattoo reading "Beauty will save the world" in Japanese. This quote is from "The Idiot".

*The Russian composer Nikolai Myaskovsky planned an opera on "The Idiot" during World War I, but did not complete it.

* "The Idiot" was among the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky's unfulfilled projects.

*The movie Au hasard Balthazar directed by Robert Bresson was inspired by a passage from "The Idiot" [ [ Au Hasard Balthazar - Trailer - Showtimes - Cast - Movies - New York Times ] ] .

*"The Idiot" is mentioned in the British TV series "Spooks" ("MI-5" in the U.S. and Canada) as a way of showing the head of MI-5, Harry Pierce, that always doing the right thing is not always the best idea.

*The Harlan Ellison short story "Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish" features a friendly debate on Dostoevsky and "The Idiot" between the narrator and a vendor at Pink's Hot Dogs in Los Angeles.

*In the episode 'A Tsar is Born' of Frasier (season 7, episode 7), the Romanov family expert was named Dr. Porfiry Myshkin. Myshkin of course in reference to Prince Myshkin in The Idiot and Porfiry is a reference to the character Porfiry Petrovich a detective in another of Dostoevsky's novels 'Crime and Punishment'.

*In the film 'The Pianist' by Roman Polanski, one of the characters is seen holding a copy of The Idiot before he gets shipped to a KZ camp.

*In 2008 the theatre director Katie Mitchell premiered '...some trace of her' [] , a multimedia exploration of the novel's central themes.

Translations to English

Since "The Idiot" was first published in Russian, there have been a number of translations to English over the years, including those by:

*Frederick Whishaw (1887)
*Constance Garnett (1913)
**revised by Anna Brailovsky (2003)
*Eva Martin (1915)
*David Magarshack (1955)
*Henry and Olga Carlisle (1980)
*Alan Myers (1992)
*Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2002)
*David McDuff (2004)

The Constance Garnett translation has for many years been accepted as the definitive English translation, but more recently it has come under criticism for being dated. The Garnett translation, however, still remains widely available because it is now in the public domain. Some writers, such as Anna Brailovsky have based their translations on Garnett's. Since the 1990s new English translations have appeared that have made the novel more accessible to English readers.The "Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation" (2000) states that the Alan Myers version is the best currently available [The Myers translation is also published by the Oxford University Press.] , though since then, new translations by David McDuff and Pevear & Volokhonsky have also been well received.


External links

* [ The Idiot; full text in English]
*gutenberg|no=2638|name=The Idiot
* [ "The Idiot" in English] - Free Ebook in PDF format.
* [ Full text of "The Idiot" in Russian]

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