The Idiot is Dostoevsky's brilliant 1869 novel about a poor nobelman, Prince Myshkin, who has recently been released from a Swiss sanatorium where he was treated for epilepsy. Despite his destitution, a gambling habit, and the death of his first born child, Dostoevsky completed this masterpiece of Russian literature a mere two years after Crime and Punishment. His protagonist Myshkin is a saintly character, who's "idiocy" has left him utterly kind and free of malice in a world obsessed with money, sex and power. Myshkin's strange state inspires both love and resentment amongst his fellows in St. Petersburg. Our protagonist gets caught up in several scandals, including fraud, extortion, and murder, but Myshkin turns the other cheek as it were, for which he's once again confirmed as an idiot.
That said The Idiot is not an easy read - it might be best read after one is familiar with Dostoevsky (and perhaps some Russian history). It is not a thrilling, plot-driven tale. It is a coalescence of Dostoevsky's religious, philosophical and psychological notions - ideas he wanted to share with the world despite their conflict and complexity. The bulk of the book takes place in amidst a flurry of conversations, not actions, with new ideas flowing out of every page, which makes this a difficult book for most modern readers. They might see it as implausible or obscure, but the central idea, that one who imitates the Christ will be treated like a fool, is strong and well conceived.
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In any case, if we were to look at the way Dostoevsky writes these women, we would think they were pious, noncommittal, mentally ill, self serving, spoiled, with no sense of grasp on how to conduct themselves properly. The men are more of a varied bunch on the whole, with the intoxicated general to the well meaning prince who is truly no idiot (he's an intelligent epileptic).
Also, my version of the novel has been translated by Constance Garnett. I know there are fierce debates amongst fans of Dostoevsky about who is the best translator (I seriously think some of them meet in the night over intense chess games to verbally assault eachother over whose translation is superior.) In my opinion, Garnett does well to translate all of the French terms and phrases that are used, the familiarizations in terms of referencing people with different friendly versions of you and their names, and explains what the Russian words that don't translate exactly mean. At the same time, it doesn't seem as poetic as it may have been written in some places and it gets entirely confusing when there are two separate princes and they all have about ten surnames and full names. There are points in the novel when just "the prince" is the reference point but you won't know which prince is being referred to or is speaking for an entire long winded paragraph at least. To me, that just isn't a recommended way of translating and it should be clarified sooner.
The novel's strengths by and large lie within the philosophical discussions about class and politics as well as capital punishment. In comparison, the love triangle aspect might make the book more accessible to the average reader but greatly lessens the impact of these points. I'd love to read a long essay on these subjects without any female characters involved because, the way Dostoevsky has written these few ladies, I wouldn't care to ever know them.more