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The Idiot
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Group Reads Archive - 2012 > The Idiot Part 1 Chapters 1 thru 7 (January 1 to 7)

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message 1: by MountainShelby (last edited Dec 30, 2011 09:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

MountainShelby Welcome to our group reading of The Idiot. I'll provide a few prompts--to consider or ignore--closer to 1 January. In the meantime, I have always wrestled with the title and wish the book had been called The Innocent. But there does not seem to be a debate over the translation, as there is with Demons and The Adolescent.

Pronunciation: /ˈɪdɪət/ noun informal
a stupid person. archaic a person of low intelligence.

Origin: Middle English (denoting a person of low intelligence): via Old French from Latin idiota 'ignorant person', from Greek idiōtēs 'private person, layman, ignorant person', from idios 'own, private'


MountainShelby The painting The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein the younger figures prominently in The Idiot. Dostoevsky was fascinated by the painting--his wife wrote a very detailed description of the event, including leading him away from the painting so as not to inspire an epileptic fit. Here's a link to the painting--worth taking a look:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Body...


message 3: by MountainShelby (last edited Dec 31, 2011 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

MountainShelby Chapter V provides Dostoevsky's only account of his narrowly avoided execution by firing squad (he was brought before the firing squad, then released at the last minute and sent to prison in Siberia). I found this account extremely moving given D's background. How did this section impact others?


Azzageddi | 79 comments Shelby, isn't "The Idiot" in reference to the concept of the "holy fool," which this main character Myshkin seems to be? Or perhaps


MountainShelby Prince Myshkin is certainly no Underground Man or Raskolnikov. For that reason, I find Myshkin less interesting! For me, the foresaken Nastasya Filippovna is the most interesting character in the book. Question: Even at this early stage in the reading, which character(s) compel/repel and why?


MountainShelby Steve wrote: "Shelby, isn't "The Idiot" in reference to the concept of the "holy fool," which this main character Myshkin seems to be? Or perhaps"

Correct, there are frequent references to Myshkin as an idiot, including the reference to holy fool, whom God loves ("And God loves your kind!" Rogozhin says). I just have always wished the focus to be on the innocence of the man's soul, rather than a state of "idiocy" which seems rooted more in the biological state of the man. BUT, that's a rather useless preference at this point ;}--Myshkin is as he was created.


message 7: by Katy (new) - rated it 1 star

Katy (kradcliffe) These people are bizarre. They just seem to bounce off one another in the strangest way. If I'm reading it correctly, they're all pretty much motivated by spite, greed, and lust. Except Myshkin, and I'm a bit weirded out by him, too. He's in love with Nastasya just because she's beautiful, and doesn't seem to notice that she's a raving, crazy bitch.

The only time anybody made any sense was when the three guys told their stories about the worst things they'd done. Even the obnoxious guy who stole the money at least made some sort of sense, then.


message 8: by MountainShelby (last edited Jan 02, 2012 05:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

MountainShelby The character of Nastasya represents a fallen woman, the daughter of an aristocrat, who has through unfortunate circumstances lost the kind of life into which she was born. As we know, fallen women in 19th century Russia had limited choice for their futures. There is a very good article available on the Internet that addresses the fate of Nastasya as a woman with limited choices in 19th-century Russia: "Of the many characters we see in Dostoyevsky's novels, few of the principal characters are female. However, in one of his more famous novels, The Idiot, we find perhaps one of the strongest female characters of most nineteenth-century literature, if not of Europe, then at least of Russia. Nastasya Filippovna, a proud, yet exploited woman, is by far one of Dostoyevsky's most intriguing characters. She has an instantaneous and dramatic affect on the characters surrounding her. Nastasya Filippovna has been systematically destroyed by her surroundings. She finds she is unable to survive in the society of her time.. . It appears Totsky engaged himself in an affair with her, taking from her her childhood, her innocence and her self respect. In a society in which female virginity prior to marriage and the chaste life is prized, Nastasya Filippovna has already been robbed of the decision to take control of her own sexuality." I find Nastasya a very sympathetic character, certainly by no means a perfect or heroic character, but one worthy of study.


message 9: by dely (last edited Jan 02, 2012 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

dely | 308 comments Katy wrote: "These people are bizarre. They just seem to bounce off one another in the strangest way. If I'm reading it correctly, they're all pretty much motivated by spite, greed, and lust. Except Myshkin, an..."

Mishkin doesn't love her only for her beauty but he sees in her much more: he sees beyond the appearance and perceives the suffering that Nastasya had to face in life. It is as if he identifies with her and understands her behavior. By the others she is considered a "bad" girl and a profiteer but Mishkin sees that she is "pushed" to behave that way for what she experienced in her life. Like Mishkin who is considered an idiot but he isn't; he is considered in this way only because people are superficial and don't see beyond. They don't try to understand him, he is not like them, they don't understand his behaviour and so they classify him as an idiot.
I would be glad if in the world there would be more "idiots" like Mishkin: it would be a better world :)


message 10: by Katy (new) - rated it 1 star

Katy (kradcliffe) OK, I can see what you're saying. But, he just doesn't seem like a real person. He seems like some caricature of innocence. That makes him just as bizarre as the other characters.


message 11: by dely (new) - rated it 5 stars

dely | 308 comments Katy wrote: "OK, I can see what you're saying. But, he just doesn't seem like a real person. He seems like some caricature of innocence. That makes him just as bizarre as the other characters."

But he is real and there are a lot of Mishkin in the world and they are treated like "our" Mishkin of the book. There is almost a lack of understanding for people like him also in the real world.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

MountainShelby wrote: "The character of Nastasya represents a fallen woman, the daughter of an aristocrat, who has through unfortunate circumstances lost the kind of life into which she was born. As we know, fallen women..."

Both Nastasya and Agrafena (In The Brothers Karamazov) are doubles of each other
as each has a similar background and is similarly judged by the majority of the societies
within which they exist. Both are from honorable families, while young both are deceived by men who leave them “in poverty and disgrace” when they abandons them.

I'll find a copy and join you. This discussion is going well.

( Btw, I just noticed there are 400 members! This group has grown so quickly. I don't think it's even an year old yet. I'd love to see more members like this and great discussions! )


Amalie  | 622 comments Mod
I put the other books aside to read this. Let's see how it goes. Firstly, I'm reading Eva Martin's and there are some serious problems with names.
Myshkin is Muishkin
Rogozhin is Rogojin
Nastasya is Nastasia
Yepanchin is Epanchin etc. But otherwise the translation is good.

Here's a question: I know Tolstoy is also there as a character or someone embodying the personality/beliefs of the writer himself. Is it same with Dostoevsky's novels?

Myshkin sounds so much like Dostoevsky himself (so far). A man with a boyish face, struggled throughout his life with continuous attack of fits, compassionate nature,really he sounds so much like Dostoevsky.

I also noticed that there are two narrations by Myshkin relating the watching of a man be beheaded on a guillotine. Dostoevsky did in fact witness a killing with the guillotine. And another important point is Dostoevsky himself had previously been sentenced to death, only to be "pardoned" by the tsar minutes before his execution was to take place.

His narration to Madame Yepanchin and the girls is about a man who is sentenced to be hanged, but reprieved at the last moment. Does anyone else think that perhaps Dostoevsky is using his protagonist to remind this incident to the readers?

As for the fits, why do they always send people suffers from stress disorders or depression to Europe? They should've sent them to tropical countries :) Really, doesn't seasons alter these conditions.


message 14: by Amalie (last edited Jan 02, 2012 10:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amalie  | 622 comments Mod
MountainShelby wrote: "Steve wrote: "Shelby, isn't "The Idiot" in reference to the concept of the "holy fool," which this main character Myshkin seems to be? Or perhaps"

Correct, there are frequent references to Myshkin..."


Hmm.. a very good thought. Myshkin is not an idiot at all. He is a compassionate man who sees the world with a different eye.

I'm reading the sixth chapter and the story of Marie there is about Myshkin's compassionate Christian love. I think the name is also symbolic, Marie was ostracized from the village community (including her mother) for having once fallen to sensuality. She is like the unidentified Marys in the Bible. Back in the old days, the church identified Mary Magdalene as a prostitute who Jesus pardoned and rescued. That's what the Catholic Church said (Obviously they didn't read the Gospels, btw, I'm also a Catholic). I don't know if the Russian Orthodox church referred to the same but I think the name is not a coincidence.

If so, Myshkin's efforts to restore the village children's love and respect for her, being kind to her, he's playing the role of Jesus. He also argues that "to kill for murder is an immeasurably greater evil than the actual crime itself." Isn't is like what Jesus said. Jesus' massage was love and forgiveness. Also what had happened to this girl, Marie echos Nastasya's situation.

Question: Why on earth General Yepanchin wants Totsky to marry his daughter, if he knows what kind of a man Totsky is?


Vrixton Phillips (SirRedcrosse) | 20 comments Perhaps I missed it, but are we to infer that Totsky had sexual relations with Nastasya when she was younger?
I mean, I know having a girl in the backwaters in her own little place where you "vacation" now and again sounds really bad, but... so far I haven't seen that they were intimate. [Or perhaps I read over it or haven't gotten to it yet?]
Though I do suppose, even without sexual intimacy, she would fit the bill of "a kept woman" wouldn't she...


message 16: by dely (new) - rated it 5 stars

dely | 308 comments Amalie wrote: "Myshkin sounds so much like Dostoevsky himself (so far). A man with a boyish face, struggled throughout his life with continuous attack of fits, compassionate nature,really he sounds so much like Dostoevsky."

I think you are true, I had the same feeling.

Also with the story of the hanging you are true: Dostoyevsky has been so impressed by his experience that he talked about it often in his books.


Vrixton wrote: "Perhaps I missed it, but are we to infer that Totsky had sexual relations with Nastasya when she was younger?
I mean, I know having a girl in the backwaters in her own little place where you "vacat..."


I suppose it, yes.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Vrixton wrote: "Perhaps I missed it, but are we to infer that Totsky had sexual relations with Nastasya when she was younger?
I mean, I know having a girl in the backwaters in her own little place where you "vacat..."


I hope I'm not adding spoilers but I think it is there in the novel in these chapters or perhaps later that Totsky wronged Nastasya in her adolescence; it is hinted that this man, who is seen to be the savior who took her in when she was left a penniless orphan, abused her sexually. As Myshkin observes in her portrait, Nastasya is a sufferer.

If you go through the book you'll find hints. It says that Totsky notices when she is about twelve to be lively, sweet, clever, and promising to be a great beauty and arranges for her to be brought up with
an educated governess. From there onwards there are many hints.

Same goes to Agrafena in "The Brothers K". She's also underage when she is deceived by a man and she becomes a merchant’s mistress later.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Amalie wrote: "Also what had happened to this girl, Marie echos Nastasya's situation...."

Yes. And the question remains for us to find whether Myshkin's compassion will also save Nastasya, another victim and sufferer of seduction and also a sufferer of her her destructive pride.


MountainShelby Shanez wrote: "MountainShelby wrote: "The character of Nastasya represents a fallen woman, the daughter of an aristocrat, who has through unfortunate circumstances lost the kind of life into which she was born. A..."

Shanez, thanks for the insight.


MountainShelby Amalie wrote: "I put the other books aside to read this. Let's see how it goes. Firstly, I'm reading Eva Martin's and there are some serious problems with names.
Myshkin is Muishkin
Rogozhin is Rogojin
Nastasya..."


According to Joseph Frank, The Idiot is the most autobiographical of D's novels. Correct--he did suffer from epilepsy, and his recounting of the executions (or near executions) reflects his own experience facing the firing squad. These scenes alone for me make The idiot worthwhile. What an extraordinary account.


MountainShelby Amalie wrote: "MountainShelby wrote: "Steve wrote: "Shelby, isn't "The Idiot" in reference to the concept of the "holy fool," which this main character Myshkin seems to be? Or perhaps"

Correct, there are frequen..."


Because women were commodities to be unloaded. it's been over a year since I read the book--that is just my gut reaction, although there is surely a specific answer to the question.


MountainShelby Vrixton wrote: "Perhaps I missed it, but are we to infer that Totsky had sexual relations with Nastasya when she was younger?
I mean, I know having a girl in the backwaters in her own little place where you "vacat..."


Oh yes, I think it's there. The sexual relations complete her fall. There are so many "fallen angels" in D's works . . .


message 23: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex | 8 comments After reading the first seven chapters, I am finding a ton of parallels between The Brothers Karamazov and the Idiot. The most blaring similarity, of course, is between The Brothers K's Alesha and the Idiot's Myshkin. First, there is the holy, innocent factor. Also, Like Alesha, Myshkin surrounds himself with children in Switzerland who "used to throng after [him] at all times."

I've also been picking up on ol' Dusty's theme of the fallen women. Shanez, I think you're absolutely right about Nastasya and Agrafena. Also, in Myshkin's story about living in Switzerland, we come across the "miserable creature" Marie. Although Marie might be "worse off" than Sonya in Crime and Punishment or Liza in Notes from the Underground, I can't help but notice the similarities between them. I think you've hit the nail on the head about Christian love, Amalie.


Vrixton Phillips (SirRedcrosse) | 20 comments MountainShelby wrote: Oh yes, I think it's there.

ah, indeed I see that now
(view spoiler)


message 25: by MountainShelby (last edited Jan 05, 2012 10:05AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

MountainShelby Hope everyone is enjoying The Idiot, or at least finding the book a worthwhile reading effort. The pairing with next month's selection--Crime and Punishment--should be quite good. A bit heavy on the brain, though ;}. I always find reading Dostoevsky's novels emotionally and mentally exhausting--but in a good way.


Amalie  | 622 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "After reading the first seven chapters, I am finding a ton of parallels between The Brothers Karamazov and the Idiot. The most blaring similarity, of course, is between The Brothers K's Alesha and ..."

Absolutely! Also Shanez has mentioned, the "fallen women" pair Grushenka and Nastasya. What about "Fair Maiden" characters? Aglaya in The Idiot and Katerina in The Brothers K. It is interesting to note that both Aglaya and Katerina, share Ivanovna as their patronymic.

It may seems they are strongly stereotyped but the qualities that categorize each woman in their respective roles are only one part of their total characters. Dostoyevsky ensures that the women will have their own individual ideas and their own complexities, just as with the male characters of his novels. I find this lacking with Tolstoy although, I like his novels more. Dostoevsky's novels are bit tiring to read... in a good way, of course. Or may be it's because I end up selecting the worst translations! ;)


MountainShelby Good comment. If I didn't have a colander for a memory I would be able to come up with more parallels.


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The Idiot (other topics)
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