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by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s masterful translation of The Idiot is destined to stand with their versions of Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and Demons as the definitive Dostoevsky in English.

After his great portrayal of a guilty man in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky set out in The…  See more details below


Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s masterful translation of The Idiot is destined to stand with their versions of Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and Demons as the definitive Dostoevsky in English.

After his great portrayal of a guilty man in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky set out in The Idiot to portray a man of pure innocence. The twenty-six-year-old Prince Myshkin, following a stay of several years in a Swiss sanatorium, returns to Russia to collect an inheritance and “be among people.” Even before he reaches home he meets the dark Rogozhin, a rich merchant’s son whose obsession with the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna eventually draws all three of them into a tragic denouement. In Petersburg the prince finds himself a stranger in a society obsessed with money, power, and manipulation. Scandal escalates to murder as Dostoevsky traces the surprising effect of this “positively beautiful man” on the people around him, leading to a final scene that is one of the most powerful in all of world literature.

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“Nothing is outside Dostoevsky’s province. . . . Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.” —Virginia Woolf

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In late November, during a thaw, around nine in the morning, a train on the Petersburg–Warsaw railway line was approaching Petersburg at full blast. It was so damp and foggy that it had just barely grown light; within ten paces to the right and left of the rails, it was difficult to make out anything at all from the carriage windows. Among the passengers were some returning from abroad; but the third-class compartments were more crowded, mainly with common folk on business, from not too far away. As usual, everyone was tired, everyone’s eyes had grown heavy in the night, everyone was chilled, all the faces were pale and yellow, matching the color of the fog.

In one of the third-class carriages, right by the window, two passengers had, from early dawn, been sitting facing one another—both were young people, both traveled light, both were unfashionably dressed, both had rather remarkable faces, and both expressed, at last, a desire to start a conversation. If they had both known, one about the other, in what way they were especially remarkable in that moment, they would naturally have wondered that chance had so strangely placed them face to face in a third-class carriage of the Warsaw–Petersburg train. One of them was a short man about twenty-seven, with almost black curly hair and small but fiery gray eyes. His nose was broad and flat, his cheekbones high; his thin lips continually curved into a sort of insolent, mocking and even malicious smile; but the high and well-shaped forehead redeemed the ignoble lines of the lower part of the face. What was particularly striking about the young man’s face was its deathly pallor, which lent him an exhausted look in spite of his fairly sturdy build, and at the same time something passionate to the point of suffering, which did not harmonize with his insolent and coarse smile and his sharp and self-satisfied gaze. He was warmly dressed in a full, black, sheepskin-lined overcoat, and had not felt the cold at night, while his neighbor had been forced to endure all the pleasures of a damp Russian November night, for which he was evidently unprepared. He had a fairly thick and wide cloak with no sleeves and a huge hood, just like those frequently used by travelers in winter somewhere far abroad, in Switzerland or, for instance, Northern Italy, who do not reckon, of course, on such distances along the journey as from Eydtkuhnen1 to Petersburg. But what was entirely suitable and satisfactory in Italy turned out to be not quite fitting for Russia. The owner of the hooded cloak was a young man, also twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, somewhat above the average in height, with very fair thick hair, with sunken cheeks and a thin, pointed, almost white beard. His eyes were large, blue and intent; there was something calm, though somber, in their expression, something full of that strange look by which some can surmise epilepsy in a person at first glance. The young man’s face was otherwise pleasing, delicate and lean, though colorless, and at this moment even blue with cold. From his hands dangled a meager bundle tied up in an old, faded raw-silk kerchief, which, it seemed, contained the entirety of his traveling effects. He wore thick-soled boots and spats—it was all very un-Russian. His dark-haired neighbor in the sheepskin observed all this, partly from having nothing to do, and at last, with that indelicate smile in which satisfaction at the misfortunes of others is sometimes so unceremoniously and casually expressed, he asked:


And he shuddered.

“Very,” answered his neighbor, with extraordinary readiness, “and just think, it’s thawing, too. What if there were a frost? I didn’t even think it would be so cold at home. I’ve become unused to it.”

“From abroad, eh?”

“Yes, from Switzerland.”

“Phew! You don’t say!” The dark-haired man whistled and burst into laughter.

They struck up a conversation. The readiness of the fair young man in the Swiss cloak to answer all his swarthy companion’s inquiries was astonishing and without the merest suspicion of the absolute thoughtlessness, inappropriateness and idleness of some of the questions. In answering, he declared by the by that he had indeed not been in Russia for a long time, a little over four years, that he had been sent abroad on account of an illness, some kind of strange nervous illness, like epilepsy or St. Vitus’s dance, resulting in trembling fits and convulsions. The swarthy man chuckled several times as he listened; and he laughed particularly when, in answer to his inquiry, “Well, have they cured you?” the fair one answered, “No, they haven’t.”

“Ha! You must have wasted a lot of money over it, and we believe in them over here,” the swarthy man observed sarcastically.

“That’s the honest truth!” interposed a badly dressed gentleman sitting beside them, a petty official type, set in his crusty scrivener’s ways, about forty, powerfully built, with a red nose and pimpled face—“That’s the honest truth, sir, they only absorb all the resources of Russia for nothing!”

“Oh, you are quite mistaken in my case!” the patient from Switzerland chimed in with a gentle and conciliatory voice. “Of course, I can’t argue with you because I don’t know all about it, but my doctor even shared his last penny with me for the journey here; and there, he supported me at his expense for nearly two years.”

“Why, had you no one to pay for you?” asked the swarthy man.

“No; Mr. Pavlishchev, who used to pay for me there, died two years ago. I’ve since written to Generaless Epanchin, a distant relation of mine, but I’ve had no answer. So I’ve come . . .”

“Where are you going then?”

“You mean, where am I going to stay? . . . I don’t rightly know yet . . . Somewhere . . .”

“You’ve not made up your mind yet?” And both his listeners burst out laughing again.

“And no doubt that bundle is all you’ve got in the world?” asked the swarthy man.

“I’m willing to bet on it,” chimed in the red-nosed official with an exceptionally gleeful air, “and that he’s got nothing else in the luggage van, though poverty is no vice, which, again, one mustn’t neglect to note.”

It turned out that this was the case, too; the fair-haired young man acknowledged it at once with extraordinary readiness.

“Your bundle has some value, anyway,” the petty official went on, when they had laughed to their heart’s content (remarkably, the owner of the bundle finally began to laugh himself, looking at them, which increased their mirth), “and though you could stake your head that it contains no golden rolls of foreign coin with Napoleons or Friedrichs, to say nothing of Dutch Arapchicks, which may already be concluded merely from the spats covering those foreign boots of yours, yet . . . when we add to your bundle such a purported relation as, for ex- ample, Generaless Epanchin, then even the bundle takes on a certain different significance, needless to say, but only in the case that Generaless Epanchin is really your relation and you are not mistaken, out of absentmindedness . . . which a person is very, very wont to do, if only . . . from an excess of imagination.”

“Ah, you’ve guessed right again,” the fair young man chimed in. “It really is almost a mistake, that’s to say, she is almost no relation; so much so that I really was not at all surprised back then, when I got no answer there. It was what I expected.”

“You simply wasted the money for the postage. Hm! . . . Anyway, you are open-hearted and sincere, which is commendable. Hm! . . . As for General Epanchin, we know him, yes sir, for, actually, he is a man everyone knows; and I used to know the late Mr. Pavlishchev, too, who paid your expenses in Switzerland, that is if it was Nikolai Andreevich Pavlishchev, for there were two of them, cousins. The other lives in the Crimea. The late Nikolai Andreevich was a worthy man and well connected, and he’d four thousand serfs in his day . . .”

“Just so, Nikolai Andreevich Pavlishchev was his name.”

And having answered, the young man intently and searchingly scrutinized the know-it-all gentleman. One encounters these know-it-all gentlemen sometimes, even fairly often, in a certain well-known social sphere. They know everything. All the restless curiosity and faculties of their mind are irresistibly bent in one direction, no doubt from lack of more important ideas and interests in life, as the contemporary thinker would put it. The phrase “they know everything,” by the way, must be taken to apply to a rather limited sphere: where so-and- so serves, with whom he is acquainted, the amount of his net worth, where he was governor, to whom he’s married, how much his wife brought in, who are his cousins, who twice removed, etc., etc., and so on in that vein. For the most part, these know-it-alls walk about with worn-out elbows and receive a salary of seventeen rubles a month. The people of whose lives they know every last detail would be at a loss to imagine their motives. Yet, in the meantime many of them are positively consoled by this knowledge, which amounts to a complete science, and derive from it self-respect and even their highest spiritual gratification. And indeed it is a fascinating science. I have seen learned men, literary men, poets, politicians, who sought and found in that very science their greatest worldly comforts and goals, indeed, positively making their careers solely on that account. Throughout this entire conversation the swarthy young man had been yawning, looking aimlessly out of the window and impatiently expecting the end of the journey. He was somehow preoccupied, extremely preoccupied, almost agitated; he was even becoming somewhat strange: at times he would both hear and not hear, look and not look, laugh and not know or understand what he was laughing at.

“Excuse me, whom have I the honor . . .” the pimply gentleman said suddenly, addressing the fair young man with the bundle.

“Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin,” replied the latter with prompt and unhesitating readiness.

“Prince Myshkin? Lev Nikolaevich? Don’t know . . . Can’t say I’ve ever heard . . .” the official responded thoughtfully. “I don’t mean the

name, that is, it’s a historical name, it’s to be found in Karamzin’s History, as it should be; I mean you personally, and indeed there are no

Prince Myshkins to be met with anywhere, one never hears of them anymore.”

“I should think not,” the prince answered at once, “there are no Prince Myshkins now except me; I believe I am the last of them. And as for our fathers and grandfathers, some of them had even been odnodvortsy. My father, by the way, was a sublieutenant in the army, of the Junkers. But I don’t in fact know how Generaless Epanchin also wound up being of the Myshkins, also the last in her line . . .”

“He-he-he! The last in her line! He-he! What a phrase you turn,” giggled the official.

The swarthy man smirked, too. The fair man was rather surprised that he had managed to make a pun, and a pretty bad one at that.

“Imagine, I said it without thinking,” he explained at last, wondering.

“To be sure, to be sure you did,” the official assented good-humoredly.

“So then, Prince, and you’ve been studying the sciences out there too, with the professor, have you?” asked the swarthy man suddenly.

“Yes . . . I was studying.”

“For my part, I’ve never studied anything.”

“Well, I only did a little, you know,” added the prince almost apologetically. “It wasn’t possible to teach me systematically, because of my illness.”

“Do you know the Rogozhins?” the swarthy man asked quickly.

“No, I don’t know them at all. I know very few people in Russia. You’re a Rogozhin, then?”

“Yes, my name is Rogozhin, Parfyon.”

“Parfyon? That wouldn’t be of those same Rogozhins . . .” the official began, with increased gravity.

“Yes, one of those, one of the same,” interrupted the swarthy man quickly and with uncivil impatience. And indeed, he hadn’t addressed the pimply official even once, but from the very start had spoken only to the prince.

“But . . . how is that?” The official froze with amazement and his eyes nearly popped out of his head, his whole face immediately beginning to assume a reverent and servile, almost frightened, expression. “Related to the same Semyon Parfyonovich Rogozhin, Hereditary Honorable Citizen, what passed on a month since and left two and a half million in capital?”

“And how do you know he left a clear two and a half million?” the swarthy man interrupted, not deigning to glance toward the official now, either. “Just look! (he indicated him to the prince with a wink), and what do they possibly gain by sucking up to you at once? But it’s true that my father has died, and as for me, a month later, I’m going home from Pskov practically barefoot. Neither my brother, that scoundrel, nor my mother have sent either money or word—I was sent nothing! Like a dog! I’ve spent the entire month lying in a fever in Pskov! . . .”

“And now you are coming in for a tidy million, at the lowest reckoning, oh Lord!” the official flung up his hands.

“What is it to him, tell me that?” said Rogozhin, nodding irritably and angrily toward him again. “Why, I am not going to give you a farthing of it, though you may walk on your hands before me, if you like.”

“I will, I will.”

“You see! But I won’t give you anything, I won’t, if you dance for a whole week.”

“Well, don’t! And I don’t need it. Don’t! But I shall dance. I shall leave my wife and children and dance before you. Only to flatter! To flatter!”

“Fie on you!” spat the swarthy man. “Five weeks ago, like you”—he addressed the prince—“with nothing but a bundle, I ran away from my father to Pskov, to my aunt; and there collapsed with fever, while he went and died without me. Kicked the bucket. Eternal memory to the deceased, but he almost killed me then! Would you believe it, Prince, yes, by God! Had I not run away then, he would have killed me on the spot.”

“Did you do something to make him angry?” countered the prince, examining the millionaire in the sheepskin with some particular interest. But though there may have been something intrinsically remarkable in the million and in receiving a legacy, the prince was surprised and interested by something else as well; and Rogozhin himself was for some reason especially keen to converse with the prince, though it seemed he was in need of conversation in a more mechanical than spiritual sense; rather more from preoccupation than frankness; from agitation and disquiet, for the sake of just looking at someone and prattling on about something. It seemed that he was still in a feverish state, and at the very least suffering from the chills. As for the official, well, he simply hovered over Rogozhin, didn’t dare to breathe, hung on every word and weighed it, precisely as if looking for a diamond.

“Angry he certainly was, and perhaps with reason,” answered Rogozhin, “but more than anything, my brother did me in. Nothing can be said against my mother, she’s an old woman, reads the Lives of the Saints, sits with the crones, and whatever brother Senjka9 resolves, so it shall be done. And why didn’t he send word to me at the time, then? It’s clear, sir! It’s true I was unconscious at the time. They say a telegram was sent, too. But you just see if a telegram can get to my aunt. She’s widowed going on thirty years now and keeps sitting with the holy fools from morning till night. A nun she isn’t, but even worse. Well, the telegram gave her a fright, and without opening it, she went and presented it at the constable’s station, where it still lies to this day. Only Konyov, Vassily Vassilielich, came to my rescue, wrote me all about it. At night my brother cut off the solid gold tassels from the brocaded pall on my father’s coffin. ‘Think what a lot of money they are worth,’ he apparently said. Well, for that alone he can go to Siberia, if I like, for this is sacrilege. Hey there, you clown,” he turned to the official, “what’s the law say: is it sacrilege?”

“Sacrilege! Sacrilege!” the official at once concurred.

“Do they send you to Siberia for it?”

“To Siberia, to Siberia. At once to Siberia!”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book around 20 years ago. Unlike many books, this has never left me. In fact, it has become part of my theology in a way. Kindness, love, forgiveness, mercy, are, have always been, and always will be looked upon with contempt by the majority of the world. Yet, in reading the Idiot, unlike some readers, I was not left with a feeling of pessimism, but of confidence that if you can bear the contempt of your fellow man, you can easily be great. Truly, love man but not his praises.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is great intellectual work that we should to take seriously in general, a book to read with a serious mindset. Then you will understand the unique nature of Russia which our western minds have difficulties to comprehend. This strange land called Russia that has a bigger soul than any other is explored here in this story in a way that only Dostoyevsky unveils. Read it and you will finish it enriched. The Idiot is a thoroughly enjoyable novel of ideas that explores the nature of man and society and gives you a better idea of man and his actions. You shouldn't find it strange that the characters are philosophical, impulsive, introspective, energetic, colorful, and extreme in their passions. That is Russia, a land of extremes. This book is likely to impact you. It is one of the few of our times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Truly one of the finer novels ever written. The full development of characters and plot through dialogue is a triumph upon itself. It's a tricky read, but it's a great introduction to dostoevsky. The culmination of the plot at the end is truly a treat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Personally this is Dostoevsky's best. It is the hardest topic to cover as a writer--especially in serial form such as Dostoevsky wrote all his novels--truely speaks to his talent. Also if you are go to read any Dostoevsky read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations--they are the best by far.
Ninja_Dog More than 1 year ago
Rarely does one have the experience to read a novel that truly packs a shocking ending. Being Dostoevsky's more overshadowed works, "The Idiot" manages to do exactly that. In the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, Richard Pevear writes in his introduction that while the novel features the most morally sound character in Dostoevsky's works, the ending is perhaps the darkest of all his other novels. This is a serious understatement, to say the very least! While there are very few instances of physical violence, the kind of psychic violence perpetrated in this novel is believable to the reader and absolutely devastating to the characters. Nastasya Fillipovna, the novel's would-be heroine, is the best example of this kind of "psychic violence" I speak of, as she has an utterly explosive effect each time she appears in a scene. Later on in the story, both Ippolit and Lebdev refer to being "slapped in the face," but "morally, not physically." These kinds of moral attacks run rampant throughout the novel and the effects upon the characters are far more damaging than physical trauma... with the protagonist himself being the greatest victim of this kind of violence. The "moral beauty" and ultimate fate of Lev Nicholievich Myshkin is like a Christian allegory and a Lovecraft horror mixed into the same narrative. He is a moral superior, a spiritual superman, who gives so freely of his time and his fortune to people who otherwise deserve neither. The Prince's singular and fatal flaw was his inability to accept a sense of moral superiority. While this would have likely provided the perspective he sorely needed to escape his fate, it would also have been cognitively impossible to remain in this state of superiority while consciously acknowledging it. This novel plays out the deep moral paradox; that we can be good only if we rigorously question our goodness. The strength a truly good person can lend to another may make that good person vulnerable in many ways. "The Idiot" dares to explore these deep themes, while delivering a dramatic narrative that is horrifying, heartbreaking and classically tragic. Though I am an avid reader, I can honestly say that I have not been so powerfully moved by a novel in a long, long time. "The Idiot" encompasses romance, class warfare, political philosophy, Christian philosophy and social norms in a way that forces the thoughtful reader to examine morality and madness in a way that to me is utterly unique in literature. For that, I give "The Idiot" my highest possible recommendation. I view this novel as a standard by which moralist narratives must be measured.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book, even by Dosoevsky's standards, and has been giving an excellent translation. However, it's not as compusively readable as say Crime and Punishment, so if your new to Dostoevsky it's best not to start with The Idiot. Readers will get much more out of this one if they have wider knowledge of his other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I didn't expect much from this novel. I loved Crime and Punishment but only mildly enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov so I wasn't sure I'd even enjoy The Idiot. However I found the novel to be fascinating, engaging, and beyond enjoyable. While I still feel Crime and Punishment is a superior novel I would still strongly recommend The Idiot.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Idiot is one of the finest novels in history, perhaps the finest. In this novel, the enigma that is often referred to as 'THE RUSSIAN SOUL' is variously dissected through the different characters and more so by the hero of the story Prince Myshkin. In its simplest explanation, it is a soul with good intentions but faulty in executing the intentions. It is a soul in conflict, driven by the zest for life and a search of its meaning. Certainly the most Christian of Dostoyevsky's novels, THE IDIOT portrays how disastrous a good life can be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i'm a tenth grader who was assigned to read three books of similar theme for a paper. one of the books i chose was the idiot. though extremly wordy, the things the reader takes out the book make it all worthwhile. for sure, when one is reading the book, it can seem to be a drag, but once the book is finished, it makes u want to open it up and reread it, so thought provoking and masterful is the weaving of dostoeveskys message. it is a fantastic book and one ill have to pick up in later years, perhaps when my own reading level has become on par to that of the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought it was going to be depressing but it actually wasn't, atleast the way dostoyevsky described the events. so many nice twists, good book, recommended, esp for guys who have to deal with girls like aglaya...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the simplest and most beautiful of all Dostoevsky's books, and perhaps also the most approachable to modern readers.
LibrarianJP More than 1 year ago
Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot is my favorite of his novels. The characters are so real, and the story is so absorbing that one almost feels as if they are a first person observer. One cannot help but become attached to Prince Myshkin who is naive and loving to the extreme. The book has impacted my life in several ways, not the least of which is that it woke me up to the truly amazing author that is Dostoevsky.
annunaki More than 1 year ago
other than the unusual side stories that deviates from the plot, it is a wonderful story. very dramatic and even on the boderline melodramtic. the writing itself is easy to read and it really drew me into the emotions of the characters. speaking of characters, they are definitely one to remember. i would recommend this book to all but i feel many people will be agitated by the unecessary side stories with all the philosophies that aren't really revlevant to the story.
Gino 3 months ago
Amazing The idiot. This book is one of the hardest to review for me. There are times when you feel that you like something so much, that no matter how many words of praise you use, you'll never do it justice. This is one of those books for me. The Idiot is a 500-page message for you, the reader. It tells you that you are a horrible person, that the whole human population are horrible people, and that nobody really knows it. The main character of the story is a noble, pure, kind man, that after living in the quiet nature of the country-life, he goes into Russian civilization and society to complete an certain task. Here, he finds himself involved with people of the high, and low society, and he will interact with a variety of characters which personalities are everywhere around us still today. Here his kindness will be put to the test, and compared to the kin and wit of the "normal", sane man. You will feel sorry for the main character at first, and will realize his beauty and personality, and will understand how pure he is compared to the trash we humans are, but towards the middle and the end, you will find yourself calling him an Idiot. You will start to see why everybody labels him that, and you will have the most confusing, heated, and heart-breaking emotions a novel can ever provide. This book strives to show you how a human should, but cannot be. It will show you true beauty, and how it is impossible for it to exist among us. And most importantly, it will open your mind, and you will see yourself and those around you in a better light. A novel that can do this, is a true masterpiece. Don't be intimidated by the length of the book, for I read it all under two weeks, for it is a very easy reading. The characters are unique and very human, and the story will keep your emotions alive all through. This is one of those books that has an unfair lack of attention, and that surpasses those who everyone knows about. But in my experience, I think it is those nobody know that are the best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Life changing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Probably the most overlooked of Dostoevsky's novels, but arguably my favorite. The Idiot is probably the least approachable of his novels, with so many different characters and so much going on at one time, but this one is well worth the time and effort. Dostoevsky more than any other author I've read tackles deeply philosophical and psychological themes and tells a story that both encapsulates his views on the themes and forces the reader to think about their own. Although The Idiot might not be Dostoevsky's best novel in terms of character development, cohesiveness or humor, the themes he tackles in this book make it a more rewarding read in the end. I highly recommend the Pevear / Volohonsky translation (as I would for most other classic Russian literature that they've translated). It is absolutely worth the extra few bucks
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every single page is interesting. The skill of storytelling is such that it's almost like listening to your friend gossiping the people you know. The characters are live and real. There's an element of suspense, too. The story ends with a shock.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fabulous story of how simple life can be when you have a good heart- an Idiot he was not BRAVO
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xbrando7 More than 1 year ago
A great social and psychological commentary. It tells you a lot about higher Russian society. It also gives a beautiful depiction of humanly sainthood in Prince Myshkin, and leaves one feeling sad that people who do not conform to moral corruption can be called "idiots."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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