The Idiot by Dostoevsky discussion

Book One > Chapters 5-6

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message 1: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Officially, for posting the week of January 8 but whenever you've read these chapters, you can post here.

message 2: by Tracy (last edited Jan 09, 2018 09:07PM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
In chapter 5, we really start to get to know the Epanchin girls, and may be surprised at how forthright and daring they are in their conversation.

I just started reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot: A Critical Companion and was struck in the introductory chapter by Dostoevsky's very enlightened attitude toward women, and his support for their becoming more educated and independent.

When he started The Idiot, he had just married his second wife Anna who was one of the first women stenographers in Russia, and had been earning her living in this new skilled occupation. He was very much in love with Anna, and also very much devoted to his niece Sonya, who was pressured by her parents to enter into a loveless but prestigious marriage.

Dostoevsky was abroad for several years at this time, and in frequent correspondence with Sonya whom he urged NOT to enter into a loveless marriage, but rather to go to school, study, and develop skills in a useful occupation (particularly stenography) so she could be fully independent in a respectable occupation and not compelled to enter into marriage for the wrong reasons.

He wrote her: "You should know that the woman question [the right and legitimacy of women to be independent of men and therefore freer to make fulfilling choices in life], and especially that of the Russian woman, will definitely make several great and wonderful strides even within your lifetime." He let her know that he wanted to "save" her from the "swinishness" of a loveless marriage, as well as from reliance upon a "demeaning" or enslaving occupation.

As Liza Knapp (editor of the commentary book) points out, " The Epanchin daughters have been allowed to eat, paint and read to their heart's content; they have not, at least until the recent plan for Alexandra to marry Totsky, been under pressure to marry. Even Nastasya Filippovna, orphaned and seduced at a young age, appears ready for the first time in her life to take charge of her fate and belong to nobody but herself."

Granted neither Nastasya or the Epanchin girls seem to have developed tact or consideration for others as they've developed assertiveness and outspokenness. But in any case, kudos to Dostoevsky, for embracing the cause of the enlightened, independent woman!

message 3: by Tracy (last edited Jan 14, 2018 11:47AM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Some impressions of chapter 5:

Watching the mini-series, and then starting to read the book, I find myself very much drawn to Lizaveta, General Epanchin's wife. She seems in some ways to be like Myshkin - kindhearted, childlike and forthright.

When Adelaida asks Myshkin's advice on what to paint, he suggests the last five minutes of a man about to die. Again, here, we seem to hear Dostoevsky's personal experience, and fascination with death, through Myshkin's voice. Yet we keep seeing that Myshkin himself is not only fascinated with death - he keeps bringing up the subject inappropriately.

A friend of mine who just started The Idiot - and some people on an Idiot forum online - wonder if Myshkin's character is that of someone with Asbergers or functional autism. I don't think so because despite his inappropriateness, he does seem self-aware of his behavior and its effect on others (he is concerned that he's preaching, and doesn't want to anger or annoy others) and also he seems to pick up others' nonverbal cues. What do you all think?

Finally in chapter 5, I find myself wondering why Aglaia is so rude to him - or if she's just rude in general.

I hope some of you will start sharing your impressions. It may well be though that setting up this discussion as we set up LitnLife secondary discussions just isn't viable for this particular book, at least at this time. Or it may be that some of you are just starting to read the book!!

message 4: by Tracy (last edited Jan 14, 2018 11:46AM) (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
Thoughts on chapter 6 -
Again, we experience Myshkin's preoccupation with death, and apparently also with fallen women - as he tells the story of Marie and how he helped children befriend a bereft dying woman. We also learn, understandably, that children are drawn to him.

At the end of this chapter, he reads the faces of the Epanchin's, though not Aglaya's, at least not yet. I think this is another sign that he isn't what we today we diagnose as a person suffering from Asbergers or autism. He is attentive to others. He just isn't concerned with conforming or acting appropriately. Maybe being in a sanitarium in Switzerland surrounded by disturbed people wouldn't have given him any viable role models of proper behavior anyway.

message 5: by Gösta (new)

Gösta Steneskog (gosta) | 17 comments In chapter 5 Dostoevsky returns to his own experience of being sentenced to death and to live his last minutes of life as much as possible. For me at my age - I know I am "sentenced to death" but I don't know the date - the same question is relevant: What is the best use of my day today? Especially as I have been lucky to be physically relatively ok and mentally to be happy to participate in inspiring discussion in e.g. these on the net.

D. gives us many examples of this - M. talks about the prisoner, the spider and the tree and I can imagine how the prisoner is happy just by following the spider's work day-by-day and how a tree changes more slowly. They are his "friends".

message 6: by Gösta (new)

Gösta Steneskog (gosta) | 17 comments Chapter 6 is very heavy and is focussed upon Mysjkin's relations to other people. (In chapter 5 he has told us about his relations to and reactions upon nature - the lake = sorrow.)

Mysjkin in a way is a child with a grown-up's body and mental abilities and when he meets someone the first time it takes them a while before they are able to adjust themselves to meet him.

The grown-ups first laugh (General and Gavrila), then they start to like/love him (as a child?) and then their shields are lowered and they meet him like children.

The network of relations in the Swiss village between grown-up, the children and Marie are changed by the appearance of Mysjkin and the relations he is building with them. I find this dynamic process very fascinating.

Similar changes appear when Mysjkin comes to talk with the Epanchins and we will probably meet more of it in the novel.

He is really good at "reading" other people. At the end of ch 5 he says about the sisters: "I also know their faces." And at the end of ch 6 he gives them straight-out feed-back: "Adelaida - beuatiful, "reading" other; Alexandra - beautiful, a secret sorrow; Lizaweta - a child.

One has to ask "How would I react if I met Mysjkin?" How would he see me and what would I tell him about me?

message 7: by Gösta (new)

Gösta Steneskog (gosta) | 17 comments Sometime my spelling of the names is somewhat unusual because I am reading TI in a Swedish translation. When I really what to catch the messages in a novel I will read it in my native language to get all the nuances - especially when I trust the translator and for Russian I have a favourite one.

Also I happened to read chapter 5 and 6 in a very special environment. This morning I went to my local car workshop 15 minutes away for a 2 hours maintenance. I could read those chapter without any distractions, could not do anything but read (except drinking coffee), take notes and reflect.

Maybe chapter 6 then became very special to me as I could do nothing else but read and reflect in a very quiet place. (Well, some other persons passed by now and then but it did not disturb me at all and Mysjkin did not appear in reality.)

message 8: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Marks (tracymar) | 127 comments Mod
I hope you'll have more undistracted "special" time for reading and posting on the Idiot, Gosta.

In regard to spelling - I now own two translations of The Idiot and also have access to one on the Net. Even in English, the spelling of names varies between translations. When you use even a different spelling, it's still obvious to whom you're referring! (Of course, we have complications enough with all the different variations of the same name in Russian!)

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