The Idiot by Dostoevsky discussion

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Book One > Chapters 3-4

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message 1: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Chapters 3-4


message 2: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Dostoyevsky is marvelous in chapter 3 in regard to presenting the interaction and dialogue of the Prince and the Epanchins. In the process, we see the General change his impression of the Prince, and begin to like him and even want to help him. (If you watch the beginning of the Russian film which you can watch online, you'll like him too!)

How intriguing that the Prince reveals his talent for calligraphy. Calligraphy may seem like a hobby to us today but the importance of handwriting has diminished ever since the typewriter, and especially since the computer (And today the fact that children are no longer learning "cursive" and can't even read handwriting is appalling -- the subject of a rant I won't dare to begin....).

I imagine that so many of the early office job in the 19th century involved writing - and clean, clear, legible handwriting would have been as important as typing and computer skills today.


message 3: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Reading the end of chapter 3, I am mystified by two things.

ONE: "The prince failed to succeed in broaching the business he which he had on hand though he had endeavored to do so four times." Has Dostoevsky hinted yet what that is?

TWO: The Prince says he can't marry because he's an invalid. Do you think he means here that he actually legally or physiologically (is his sexuality impaired?) can't, or rather that he doesn't consider himself desirable because of his epilepsy?


message 4: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 16 comments Tracy wrote: "Reading the end of chapter 3, I am mystified by two things.

ONE: "The prince failed to succeed in broaching the business he which he had on hand though he had endeavored to do so four times." Has ..."


Too early for me to tell. I'm still trying to figure him out. It is interesting how everyone he has met so far likes him.


message 5: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Having recently watched the mini-series I have many thoughts and questions about Mishkin, but will attempt to keep to the impressions given in each chapter.

Nevertheless, some questions come up for me that are helpful to think about while reading the novel:
In what ways is Mishkin like or not like a Christ figure?
And what is his effect on other people?
How do they project onto him - perceiving him according to their personalities and expectations?
And how his influence beneficial or not beneficial?

He is a fascinating character, and in the Russian language is referred to as a yurodivy -- Russian for "holy fool", well known in Russian eastern Orthodoxy and folklore.


message 6: by Tracy (last edited Jan 03, 2018 01:10AM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Dostoevsky only tells a little about Mishkin's early years in chapter three. I wish we knew more. We know he was an orphan and originally entrusted to an old lady relative. He had epileptic fits since childhood but I wonder when they started and if Dostoyevsky will tell us that. Undoubtedly, losing both his parents would have had an impact upon his character and maybe his epilepsy.

(I had a friend in high school who developed epilepsy in college. She was a very shelter Cuban refugee with no dating experience, went wild in college, then lost her parents in an accident, developed epilepsy and died of a grand mal seizure a year later).

Epilepsy used to be viewed as a holy madness -when epileptics had a fit, they were believed to be touched by either God or the devil. Having epilepsy himself, my guess is that Dostoevsky wanted to create a sympathetic epileptic character.

Also Mishkin lived in Switzerland early in life and the five years before the novel started, so this would have influenced his outsider status and his lack of conformity to Russian social norms. (I am so reminded of Pierre in War and Peace, entering society at the beginning of the novel, and seeming to be such a misfit).


message 7: by Tracy (last edited Jan 04, 2018 10:07PM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
I'm hoping that the lack of conversation here is because you all are just starting to read the book and not ready to post about it yet. Meanwhile, here's my thoughts on chapter 4:

Dostoevsky is presenting characters - especially Nastassia but also Ganya -who suddenly change their minds and attitudes without Dosto or the characters themselves telling us why.

How do we account for Nastassia's change of attitude toward Totsky at age 16, and her vicious determination to sabotage his marriage? Is she in love with him and jealous? Dostoevsky seems to be telling him she is not. Has he already raped her - then turned to another woman? What do you all think?

Dostoevsky tells us that Totsky then decides to set her up in luxury and take her as his mistress (or so it seems) . It's unclear whether he's seduced/raped her at this point in time, when he's seeking to marry someone else. Then about five years later she suddenly changes her attitude toward him again and is eager to talk openly and establish a friendship. So why these about-faces?

And Ganya - he is passionate about her and then suddenly seems to lose interest, and less eager to marry her. Is he then still open to the marriage though entirely because of the money?

Totsky seeks to "buy" him for 75,000 rubles. It's impossible to convert rubles of that time to currency today, but based on what I found about the value of the ruble in 1880 (info before that not available), I suggest a 5-6x exchange rate to U.S. dollars. In other words, Totsky was willing to pay him the equivalent about $400,000 in today's U.S. currency or close to half a million.


message 8: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 16 comments Until T tells us more, we can only speculate about Nastassia's
Negative attitude toward Totsky. Sixteen year old girls of our time can be difficult toward parent figures. Totsky and Nastassia do not seem to have had a father/daughter relationship however. Also a girl of privilege in Tolstoy's time
Was considered more of a woman than our 16 year olds.


message 9: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
To those of you who read War and Peace, doesn't Myshkin's entrance into the Epanchin household remind you of Pierre arriving at the party at the beginning of the book? Both are somewhat naive and innocent, have been living in another country for awhile, and are out of touch with the norms of Russian society, and inappropriate.

War and Peace was serialized and the first segment had been published when Dostoevsky started writing The Idiot, and somewhere he indicated that he had read it. He and Tolstoy were considered to be the premier Russian writers at that time, and were literary rivals. But it's difficult to tell whether Dostoevsky was consciously or unconsciously influenced by Tolstoy.

Clearly there are some similarities between the character of Pierre and that of Myshkin (but there are also some similarities between Myshkin and his Alyosha of The Brothers Karamazov).


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