The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593080587
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2004
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 21,024
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.52(d)

About the Author

Few authors have been as personally familiar with desperation as Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), and none have been so adept at describing it. His harrowing experiences in Russian prisons, combined with a profound religious philosophy, formed the basis for his greatest books: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov. When Dostoevsky died in 1881, he left a legacy of masterful novels that immortalized him as a giant of Russian literature.

Read an Excerpt

From Joseph Frank's Introduction to The Idiot

The Idiot is the most autobiographical of Dostoevsky's novels, or at least the one in which autobiography obtrudes most overtly. There is the scene, for example, in which the prince attempts to gain admission to the Epanchin mansion from a recalcitrant footman, who is inclined to think him an impostor because of his far-from-fashionable clothes and modest manner. The prince succeeds in gaining entry, however, after recounting his impressions of an execution by the guillotine that he had witnessed in Europe. Intuiting the agony undergone by the condemned man as he faced the ineluctable certainty of death, which the prince compares with the "torture" and "agony" of which "Christ spoke too," he then muses: "Perhaps there is some man who has been sentenced to death . . . and then has been told 'you can go, you are pardoned.' Perhaps such a man could tell us."

Dostoevsky himself was such a man, having experienced these same torments in 1850 during the mock execution staged by Nicholas I to punish the Petrashevsky Circle, all of whom were officially condemned to death and then pardoned. And he utilizes the ordeal of his mock execution again in Prince Myshkin's scene with the Epanchin sisters, who at first tend to regard the unassuming prince as something of a pious fraud. Not only does Dostoevsky here reproduce the exact details of this lacerating event, but he also expresses sentiments similar to those he employed in a letter to his older brother Mikhail just after returning to prison. "Life is a gift," he wrote then, "life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of bliss." These are the very emotions that Prince Myshkin attributes to a condemned man who then was pardoned: "What if I could go back to life—what eternity! . . . I would turn every minute into an age; I would lose nothing." The mock execution again appears when the prince, asked to suggest a subject for a picture to be painted by Adelaida Epanchin, can think only of the face of a condemned man and a priest holding up a cross. The prince's sensibility is thus haunted by the shadow of eternity, and the absolute sense of moral obligation that he exhibits can be attributed to this overhanging presence.

In The Idiot as well Dostoevsky also draws on his own ailment of epilepsy more explicitly and directly than anywhere else in his writings. Just before the onset of a fit, when he loses consciousness and is overcome by spasmodic convulsions, the prince felt an "aura" of ecstatic plenitude that, as we know from other sources, reproduces the sensations felt by his creator. At such moments, the prince became aware of "the acme of harmony and beauty . . . a feeling, unknown and undivined till then, of completeness, of proportion, of reconciliation, and of ecstatic devotional merging in the highest synthesis of life." It was a moment of "infinite happiness," which "might well be worth the whole of life." And it was then that the prince "seem[ed] somehow to understand the extraordinary saying [from the Bible, Book of Revelations 10:6] that there shall be no more time." Moments such as these may well have strengthened Dostoevsky's own belief in the existence of a supersensuous realm transcending ordinary earthly existence. If so, however, he did not employ it in The Idiot for such a purpose. On the contrary, the loftiness of the vision is depicted as a sublime illusion; and when the prince acts under its inspiration, he provokes Rogozhin into an attempt on his life.

This first section of The Idiot contains some unforgettable scenes in which the "angelic" character of the prince is superbly portrayed. One such is the story of Marie, a consumptive little slavey in the Swiss village where the prince is being treated for epilepsy. She has been seduced and abandoned by a traveling salesman, and then becomes a despised outcast mistreated by everyone and ridiculed by the village children. Moved by her misery, the prince gives her a few francs and persuades the children that she has been unjustly abused and condemned. The last days of her life are thus irradiated by the warmth of their love, and she dies surrounded by their care and devotion. The children, when they observe the prince kissing her out of compassion, are unable to distinguish between this and the kisses exchanged between their parents; this leitmotiv will later be developed on a large-scale in the rivalry between Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaia Epanchin.

The completion of this first part, however, posed new problems for Dostoevsky because he had written it without any overall plan, and it is clear from his letters and notebooks that he scarcely knew how to continue. "As I go along," he wrote to his niece, "various details crop up that I find fascinating and stimulating. But the whole? But the hero? Somehow the whole thing seems to turn on the figure of the hero . . . I must establish the character of the hero. Will it develop under my pen?" Even though Dostoevsky seemed to see other characters quite clearly, he confesses that "the main hero is still extremely pale." The notes reveal that he continued to struggle with this problem all through the remainder of the book. On the one hand, as he writes in a note, it was necessary to show the Prince in a field of action" [italics in text]; but on the other, as Reinhold Niebuhr has written of Christianity, "it is impossible to symbolize the divine goodness in history in any other way than by complete powerlessness." Dostoevsky thus was faced with the dilemma of creating a hero lacking all the usual attributes associated with such a figure, but whose moral-religious purity would somehow shine through and redeem his practical impotence.

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The Idiot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 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.
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.
xtien on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Prince Mishkyn returns from the mental hospital in Switzerland. But the world has changed. He's dragged into Russion society, but in the end he decides to go back to the hospital. When reading the book, gradually you feel it's not Mischkyn who's crazy. It's all the others. I enjoyed this book more than Crime and Punishment.
doowatt34 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
A good novel about a guy whose illness is misdescribed, possibly misdiagnosed...who is a very nice person, who is a very nieve person and the storyline makes you feel really bad for him because the real idiots misuse and abuse him...a rather sad story....
Gino More than 1 year 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
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."
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