The Idiot by Dostoevsky discussion


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message 1: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
About Dostoevsky himself, particularly as related to his writing The Idiot

message 2: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
This highly regarded biography of Dostoyevsky includes several chapters on his writing of the Idiot. You can buy it used or new at Amazon or maybe get it from your library.

Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 Paperback –
by Joseph Frank (Author)

"This fourth installment in Frank's acclaimed, projected five-volume biography presents an astonishingly vivid, uncanny portrait of Dostoevsky's spiritual, emotional and artistic development during his crucial years abroad. Marrying his pert, reserved stenographer, Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina (his first wife died in 1864), Dostoevsky fled Russia with her in 1867 to escape harassing creditors and grasping dependents. Their obscure, lonely existence in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, until their return to Russia in 1871, was punctuated by the tragic death of their first child, Sofya, who lived only two months; by the penurious writer's frequent, disabling epileptic fits; by his mania for gambling; and by a stormy meeting with liberal, pro-Western Turgenev in Baden-Baden. The miracle implied by the book's title is that during this period, Dostoevsky wrote three major novels-Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Devils-plus two novellas, The Gambler and The Eternal Husband. Frank anchors the prophetic writer in his social and cultural milieu, tracing his struggles against Russian nihilists, his expose of the pitfalls of revolutionary politics, his messianic nationalism and his vision of an authentic Russian culture rooted in Christian morality and mystical union with the soil"

message 3: by Haaze (new)

Haaze | 15 comments It would be interesting to be involved in a prolonged study of Franks multi-volume works one of these years. Perhaps after reading all of FD's works? There are some interesting diaries by FD as well. I presume their content (in regards to the Idiot) is integrated into Frank's biography.

A Writer's Diary, Volume One, 1873-1876
A Writer's Diary, Volume Two, 1877-1881

message 4: by Tracy (last edited Dec 29, 2017 02:00AM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Literary critics of The Idiot often refer to it as Dostoevsky's most autobiographical book. Although I haven't read a lot about Dostoevsky's life, I know of several facets of his life that had considerable influence upon the novel, even lead on occasion to one of his characters being a very direct and passionate mouthpiece for a particular belief that Dostoevsky developed. Some key experiences influencing the book:

a) He was an epileptic at a time in which medications did not exist which made epilepsy less debilitating, more controllable and more tolerable. Some of his seizures had deleterious effects upon him physically and mentally for weeks afterwards. He also lived on constant fear of episodes, and their effect on his work and personal relationships.

b) He became involved in a socialist literary movement in which members read banned books and were oriented toward socialistic reforms.. As a result, he was arrested and sentenced to death. Only a few minutes before he was to be executed, he was given a reprieve by the Czar - 5 years of hard labor in a prison camp (mostly in Siberia). The hours in which he believed for certain that he was soon going to die had a profound effect upon him.

c) While in a prison camp, he was often tortured and abused as well as placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time. He was also was in the company of many common criminals and surrounded by uneducated Russians of a very different background from him. (Only 1 out of every 500 Russians at the time was literate enough to even be able to read his books). He certainly had a great deal of opportunity to learn about many different kinds of people, especially outsiders and those living on the "edge" of society.

d) During his time in prison, he did a lot of spiritual questioning, which led him to becomes less invested in ideas of socio-political reform, and more convinced of the importance of human love and kindness.

e) Dostoevsky began planning and writing The Idiot within a few years of the deaths of his first wife, his brother and his niece. Although he remarried during this time, he became deeply attached to his first child, a daughter who then died at the age of only 3 1/2 months. His brother had been deeply in debt, and Dostoevsky took on not only his brother's debts, but also the support of his brother's widow and all his children.

As a result, he was in considerable financial difficulty himself, besieged by creditors. He had even signed contracts to write and complete two long books within one year immediately before writing The Idiot. And although newly married, he not only had to sell most of his possessions, but forced his wife to sell cherished possessions to help pay his debts. He also became a compulsive gambler for several years. Completing The Idiot and earning money from it was truly a life and death endeavor for him.

message 5: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 16 comments Tracy wrote: "Literary critics of The Idiot often refer to it as Dostoevsky's most autobiographical book. Although I haven't read a lot about Dostoevsky's life, I know of several facets of his life that had cons..."

The history of Doestoevsky's life that you presented is most insightful in my understanding of Prince Muishkin, idiot he is clearly not.

The kindest and strongest people, although viewed with disdain
and/or underestimated by some, are often those who have suffered greatly.

I see the prince as a man of integrity and gentleness. He is neither a pushover, nor goaded by the rudeness of others. He stands his ground when he confronts Lebedeff upon his return to St Petersburg and visits Lebedeff at home only to find him again sprouting off to his family after consuming too much wine.

The prince arranges to rent the house Lebedeff has in Pavlofsk and surprises him by not saying goodbye as usual. I interpret this section at the end of the chapter as the prince being ticked off by the whole scene with Lebedeff.

It is so commonplace for many people to underestimate those who do not bluster and bully their way in the world.

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