The Idiot The Idiot discussion

Do you think Prince Myshkin ever felt 'romantic' love?

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message 1: by Haley (last edited Jan 07, 2012 12:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Haley I'm having a hard time making up my mind. I am almost certain that Prince Myshkin felt love in a 'compassionate' way for Natasya Filippovna, but I'm still pondering whether or not he truly loved Aglaya Ivanovna in a 'romantic' sort of way. Could a wholly pure-hearted individual feel passionate affection toward someone? I noticed that from time to time the Prince would have not-so-pure attitudes toward certain people, and he would almost instantly reprimand himself for it. When it came to Aglaya, he tried to ignore his feelings toward her because he thought he was undeserving and that it was wrong of him to feel that way about her. The fact that he had such feelings of indecisiveness makes me think he was capable of truly loving her.
I apologize for rambling… So, what do you think?

Lisa I wish I could more intelligently reply but it's been ages since I read this one. I think Natasya and Aglaya were sort of 'dark woman' 'light woman' versions of each other (or women in general), and that he wasn't very balanced about either. Both equally beautiful, but Nastasya being the mistress-whore version And Aglaya being the wife-virgin version. Maybe a level of guilt for his attraction to Nastasya and yet this need to save her. All to say, no, I don't think he had romantic love for either because of who he was, which was some combination of not fully a man (an 'idiot' with the handicap and at the same time this pure being who couldn't survive in this bad old world). I think it was more an issue of legitimate-illigitimate love (pardon my spelling). Inklings of each of those things, but neither fulfilled because, again, not a full, normal man.

Angus Mcfarlane I agree that the prince loved both women as a brother or friend or fellow human beings in need, but not in a romantic way, and as you say, for different reasons due to the character of the women involved. I think it raises interesting questions in this regard, particularly in 'the west' where romantic aspects of love are strongly emphasized over other aspects of love. To me 'unfulfilled' in this regard may be overly negative, as while his experience is certainly far from the norm, there is a sense where his purity also seemed to protect and fulfill him in other ways.

message 4: by Haley (last edited Jan 08, 2012 08:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Haley Angus wrote: "I agree that the prince loved both women as a brother or friend or fellow human beings in need, but not in a romantic way, and as you say, for different reasons due to the character of the women in..."

I have let the entire book soak in a little more, and when I got to thinking about things the second go-round I came to the same conclusion as you. There are still some quirks about the prince that confuse me, but I admit that he definitely loved both Aglaya and Natasya in what I want to call his christian way. I think that he saw that both women were a danger to themselves. They both have self-destructive tendencies, but I think that the prince truly believed that Natasya was more imminently in danger of harming herself than Aglaya was. I think he saw the wedding as a means of protecting Natasya from Roghozin. He made a mistake in believing that Aglaya had better judgment than Natasya because she ended up running away with the lying polish man. I think in a way, the prince had even tried to save Roghozin from himself. Reflecting upon it now, I think that the prince loved all of his aquaintances equally. Darn-it! I'm rambling again... ;) Sorry. Thanks to you and to Lisa for helping to clear this up for me!

Patrick Fay Forgive me - I have not studied literature, my impressions may be far off base and I may rant a bit as well. But I have always thought that Aglaya and Natassya represented facets of Myshkin's love for Russia. I see Natassya representing the pride, strength and genius of the lower classes while Aglaya seems to represent the grace, and purity that shows the best of the nobility. However, Aglaya is petty and cruel at times and wavers between extremely generous sentiment and an ability to forget the feelings and needs of others. Natassya has been abused and mistreated by the aristocracy and yet retains her nobility of character. However, she is driven mad in the end by the contradictions between her strong feelings of self worth and worthlessness. This seems to reflect the forces tearing Russia apart at that time with Rogozhin's madness and belief only in the power of money further corrupting Natassya. So I see his love for Aglaya and Natassya more as the love of a child for a troubled parent. Does any of that make sense?

Angus Mcfarlane Patrick, I like the political angle you've taken and knowing the authors other books certainly have this component more overtly, I wonder if you are onto something. I didn't see this myself and being untrained in literature also, I can't say one way or the other if you're right but I'd be keen to hear what others say about the idea.

Lisa Patrick, I think that's an interesting view as well. And I think it's not necessarily either-or. I think part of what makes great literature (and great poetry) great are the layers upon layers in patterned complexity. Which is what makes books - especially the classics - fun.

Patrick Fay Lisa - I totally agree it is not either or. I just meant that this view informs my understanding of Myshkin's relationships with Natassya and Aglaya. I don't think he had the capacity for romantic love. I see him as having love for all (Christ-like love as someone said) which is more akin to the bond between parent and child. It seems to me he was simply trying his best to alleviate as much suffering as he could.

Logan i guess this brings up the concept of what true romantic love is and if it is a selfish concept in general. I wonder if the love for the suffering soul of others is almost a cloak of internal sadism. is compassion a feeling of love for others or love of self suffering as a proxy. I kinda liked the book it was a bit too long tho

Zuhaib there was love nevertheless.....
there was also a kind of possessiveness about that love but he might have also been aware of his simplicity and striaghtforwardness to cross the threshold of his love, reaching romantic level.

message 11: by Al (new) - added it

Al I feel it's important to remember the Prince's actions with Marie
"I only kissed her once . . . No, don't laugh," the prince hastened to stop the smiles of his listeners. "There wasn't any love here. If you knew what an unfortunate being she was, you'd pity her as I did"

And to remember what he said of Nastasya
"I explained to you before that I love her 'not with love, but with pity.'"

Ganya Ivolgin I don't think so..His actions are out of compassion rather than love..!

message 13: by Mona (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mona I think the prince is in love with everyone and every good feeling but romantically no I don't think he ever felt that .

message 14: by Arjun (last edited Jun 26, 2012 07:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Arjun Chatterjee How would you define ¨romantic¨ love?
I was under the impression that he loves Aglaya in that way, especially since he told her about how he loved Nastasya out of pity and compassion. I feel that he would have told Aglaya if he loved her out of pity. He already admitted to loving Nastasya out of pity, and how he kissed Marie out of pity, why wouldn´t he ¨admit¨ it if he loved Aglaya out of pity?

message 15: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Good points Arjun

Haley Wow, Arjun... I never thought of it that way! If memory serves correctly, the Prince was always very blunt and straightforward concerning his thoughts and feelings - so much so that he unintentionally offended others. I would think that he would tell Aglaya if he truly only loved her due to pity...

message 17: by Arjun (last edited Jun 26, 2012 11:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Arjun Chatterjee I was thinking of how people fall in love, and how he fell in love with Aglaya.. She was like his girlfriend! Him going to her house every evening, meeting on the bench, her teasing him (at times even tormenting) and then sending him a hedgehog, etc.

On a side note, do you guys think that the concept of ¨love¨ has changed today from when this story was written? Today it has become the ¨L¨ word and people are even repulsed by it!

Vaivaswatha Manu i feel so. he had deep love may call as godly love or affection to Nastasha / Aglaya. He reminds the Lord Jesus Christ who was never materialistic in love. Myshkin also was like him, even he chitchats/teases with aglaya. He knows the true value of love / trust that to protect his love and to make her happy in life. He had complex feeling of his own health conditions which also made him not to fall in love.

message 19: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Arjun, that's an interesting question. But I think love is love and always has been love. It's part of being human. Expressions of it might change, but not love, and the many colors of love itself. And as for people being repulsed by love, I don't believe it. I don't think they really are, or they haven't felt it for some reason. Also it's very much in fashion to be jaded and 'cool' and negative, which I think is too bad. But to each their own.

Kranyatz Dostoevsky divided 'romantic' love into three distinct categories:
1. Passionate (Rogozhin, Dmitri Karamazov)
2. Vain (Ganya)
3. Christ-like (Myshkin)

So, in a sense, yes. Though his love was pure and unadulterated.

Ganya Ivolgin I agree with Alyosha above about Myshkin and that's why I said "compassion"!

Marian His attraction to Aglaya was certainly different than what he felt for Nastasya. He seems to have had romantic feelings for Aglaya, which could still, however, have been purely emotional.

Joseph Fontinha I have also read many times that Myshkin represents Christ, and the same question as to his intentions toward Mary M. come up.

message 24: by Tracy (last edited Oct 08, 2013 04:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tracy Reilly I like this question. Myshkin confuses me, and for that reason I don't quite agree totally with anything anyone has said here. Nastya seemed to evoke strong emotions in the prince, but it doesn't seem like was the sort of romantic passion I would equate with erotic love. In fact, he states several times he felt fear when he looked in her face--which I interpret as his revulsion for her madness. Aglaia? He definitely seemed more pulled towards her, seemed to feel anxious about being away from her, felt flushed and tingly in her presence the way one thinks about love. I think part of his problem, as Haley observed earlier, was his misjudgment of Aglaia's maturity: I don't however, think he loved them equally. He seemed to go to to Nastya more out of obligation--he's one of those eternally self-sacrificing do-gooders, and he assumes wrongly more of the others also have that quality.

I have an aversion to the Christ parallels, as well as the political interpretation...yes, Dostoyevsky is sensitive to his world, but he is more interested in his characters internal workings, and how they bump up against each other than any "man vs. his society" emphasis. If this was his focal point, there would be more and heavier satire of the Russian world.

I also have some odd personal experiences that make me hold back about granting Myshkin full status as a romantic lover. I was married to a man who was epileptic, and that somewhat colors my view of the prince...but I don't want to get too personal about this.

message 25: by Anne (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anne He loved.

Michael Sussman Although he clearly feels compassion for everyone, I don't get the sense that Myshkin can allow himself to really become passionately intimate with someone. There are strong indications that he was traumatized in his earlier life, which could account for his difficulties with intimacy. Anyone who loves and/or is puzzled by this novel would do well to read:Unconscious Structure In The Idiot: A Study In Literature And Psychoanalysis

Poncho Anne wrote: "He loved."
Exactly, as simple as that, and I think that's what Dostoevsky tried to show. However, he also tried to depict prince Myshkin alike Don Quijote in some matters, and perhaps that's one of them. Don Quijote loved Dulcinea for love's sake, and so the prince loved both women for the sake of love, love in its purest state, without over-reasoning; the shadow of a doubt we found were passed to him through society's far-fetched definition of it. Though there's another point, written in a previous comment, and it's that there is more than one kind of love in this novel: Rogozhin's passionate one for example.

Karen Would he have even recognized the feeling of romantic love? Perhaps not. He simply loved people, even if they didn't deserve it.

message 29: by Tracy (last edited Aug 10, 2014 02:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tracy Reilly Hmm. Rereading some of these ideas makes me want to investigate what was the original word D. used in Russian for "pity" Sometimes their words, especially for emotions, have finer distinctions тоска , for example is often simply translated as sadness or depression, but it also means longing, desire, especially for things that cannot be...I will ask Russian friends and get back to this.

жаль-- pronounced zahl--is one word for pity I know. But the common way I know it is used is like" What a pity." My dictionary also uses the synonym "Compassion" for this. I get the sense Russians don't use the phrase ironically or sarcastically as much as we do.

Kranyatz Michael wrote: "Although he clearly feels compassion for everyone, I don't get the sense that Myshkin can allow himself to really become passionately intimate with someone. There are strong indications that he was..."
As to this introduction of Freudian ideas into a Dostoevskian novel, first of all, the entire structure of psychoanalysis was not "invented", for lack of a better word, until much after the novel was published. Secondly, I rather doubt that Dostoevsky would think much of psychology and suspect that he would probably dismiss Freud as rendering the complex workings of the psyche too simply and attempting to explain away the irrationality of humankind - the exact phenomenon which is so important in all of Dostoevsky's works.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to quote (I believe) Walker Percy: "A feminist critique of a book might tell us something about feminism, but it will never tell us anything about the book, a Marxist critique about Marxism, and a psychological critique about psychology."

Tracy Reilly Kranyatz wrote: "Michael wrote: "Although he clearly feels compassion for everyone, I don't get the sense that Myshkin can allow himself to really become passionately intimate with someone. There are strong indicat..."

Ah, that's a great quote I will have to remember!

Michael Sussman Kranyatz wrote: "Michael wrote: "Although he clearly feels compassion for everyone, I don't get the sense that Myshkin can allow himself to really become passionately intimate with someone. There are strong indicat..."

Perhaps you should take a look at Dalton's book before you so casually dismiss it.

Rather than "explain away" the irrationality of the human psyche, Freud was one of the first to take irrationality seriously and delve into it as a subject worthy of exploration.

And how is it relevant that psychoanalytic theory was developed after the period during which D. wrote? You sound as if you have an ax--or at least a hatchet--to grind.

Kranyatz Michael wrote: "Kranyatz wrote: "Michael wrote: "Although he clearly feels compassion for everyone, I don't get the sense that Myshkin can allow himself to really become passionately intimate with someone. There a..."
I won't deny I have no fondness for psychoanalytic theory. That aside, I still see no way that it can possibly help to illuminate the book.

Nevertheless, this little quibble has nothing to do with the actual topic at hand, i.e. Myshkin & love. (My apologies for bringing this topic up; I admit that my strong dislike for psychoanalysis of literature was what prompted me to mention it. Perhaps I will see if I can find Mr Dalton's book anywhere nearby.)

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The Idiot (other topics)
Unconscious Structure In The Idiot: A Study In Literature And Psychoanalysis (other topics)