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March 06, 2007


David Alexander

I agree with you that Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov are certainly better reads. It has been years since I read The Idiot but my memories of it seem different.

As I remember it Nastasya Filippovna was not seduced in the sense of a grown woman succumbing to seductions, but it was rather, frankly, child molestation. The difference seems important to me in explaining something of the tragic character of her chracter as I remember it. She is certainly neurotic and so is her lover and this I think suggests from the beginning a disturbance that will either get worse or have a cathartic resolution. As it ends up, it is the later.

I do not remember much being funny about the novel, or for that matter, any of Doestoevsky's novels. Sometimes there is a suspiscion of humor but it perishes like a question that is silenced on the lips.

I also remember the final scene quite differently as being the essential moment in the novel, a picture of enduring compassion for the world's motley crue in their violence and obsessions and a refusal to relinquish solidarity with the "sinner" so that their fall is felt personally though the behavior is rejected in integrity to what inwardly sees is the good. The scene is also full of Christological symbolism and Myshkin is presented as a Christ-like character who's heart is broken for these two fallen people.

Some of the most persistent memories I have from the novel are the longwinded verisimilitude of dunken speech and thought that brings one into a psychological experience of the disorientation of the reprobate drunk. More solidarity with societies' outcasts, it seems to me, and also perhaps reflective of his critique of human reason as being subject to irrational drives that the Enlightenment's idealized Reason does match up to in reality.

If I recall right there is some interesting scenes described which parallel Doestoevsky's life, a trial in which a character is placed before a firing squad which only turns out to be a mock firing squad, something which occurred to Doestoevsky before he was sent to Siberia for seven or so years.(It was either in this one or in The Possessed). Also, there is a description of Prince Myshkin's grand mal, epileptic seizures- a condition which Doestoevsky suffered from.

Nathan Smith

It's interesting that David Alexander didn't get the humorous aspect of the book much. It's certainly there. The part where the senile old general is describing, describing in great detail, how he was in Moscow in 1812 and was, as it were, adopted by Napoleon, had my sides splitting! I read The Idiot years ago and didn't remember the book seeming as funny then. I wonder if this is a difference between the experiences of audiobooks and regular books. The voices can bring humorous passages to life; but subtle symbolism is likely to move by too fast for you to catch it.

Though now that you mention it, I do remember the picture of Christ in Rogozhin's flat that was making him lose his faith. A difference between Myshkin and Christ is that Christ succeeds in redeeming us; Myshkin, of course, does not and could not redeem Nastasya Filippovna. But it's not just that: to the extent that that's what he was trying to do, I condemn that in him. We human beings do not have the strength for that. When others won't save themselves, we *must,* ultimately, know how to cut ourselves off from them and save ourselves. It's not merely useless to let love entangle you in someone else's downfall so that it destroys you too; it's immoral, just as it's immoral to commit suicide. We must know our limits; it is good to love, but only if we don't destroy our own faith and hope in the process; and we must know our limits. Perhaps this is a weakness in Dostoyevsky's theology, which I remember noting and being irritated by even in the otherwise sublime utterances of Father Zosima in *Brothers Karamazov.*

There are some parallels between my life and Myshkin's. I once tried desperately to redeem, to "forgive," a woman who gave her love to me once, then was unfaithful to me with an ex-boyfriend who had influence over her because she felt guilty towards him because he had hurt her in the past. The whole situation became grotesque. I would have given her up if she'd been happy with him, or even if she'd said she were happy with him, even if I suspected she was lying. But it was clear enough, she didn't even bother to conceal it, that she was giving herself up to him out of shame because she had been unfaithful and thus failed to live up to her own romantic image, and as a result had lost all hope of happiness-- a horrible shock to me, because in the rapture of her first love for me her happiness had been a wonder to me, happiness purer and more beatific than any I had seen on this earth, and since that was my memory of her the idea that *she* could give up hope of happiness crushed my spirit. I begged her to come back to me and I even proposed to her, and eventually we were married, but never again did we return to that first bliss, never did she give up her doubts... Dostoyevsky once writes of Myshkin that he married Nastasya Filippovna at the end because he "held his future cheap." Dostoyevsky invites us to admire Myshkin's humility, but we should not. If we believe in immortality, if we believe that God has called us to participate in the communion of the saints, then we must hold our future dear beyond all, not selfishly or from pride, but in obedience to God's design for us.

David Alexander

I'm willing to take your word for it about the humor. I can't say my reading of it was terrific. As I think about it more I do remmeber being displeased with the book more than any of the others I read.

I like your condemnation of spiritual salvation attempts. I don't think it was clear that the Prince was trying to save them himself spiritually though that is an interesting thought I haven't considered. I think it is very clear that he had compassion for them, admired their good qualities and desired to see their good. It is true that we should condmned attempts to save others spiritually. There is an overstepping of boundaries in that. Another Russian author, Lermontov, wrote a poem called The Demon the character of which a famous Russian painter imaginatively painted over and over in eerie paintings and then went insane. The characteristic pose of the demon was one of a tragic victim so subtly God is judged by having too much compassion on the demon. And that is immoral.

I had forgotten the Prince married Nastasya Filippovna at the end. That is pathetic, it seems to me...It seems like some better social arrangement could be thought of than that! I prefer Socrates makes a better parallel to Christ. A good man is not overcome inwardly but rather is torn apart outwardly or takes poison under state order.

But there is something exemplary and timeless nevertheless in Doestoevsky's compassionate identification with the murderers and cutthroats like he met in Siberia. I think what you speak of is credible enough, a weakspot in Doestoevsky, a temptation of his strength, one that probably fed into his gambling, but also one that perhaps the genre of novel is especially susceptible to, it being largely about empathy, but it seems to me that Doestoevsky's compassion over all reflects something of God's compassion and is a monumental expression in human history, surpassing Socrates and Shakespeare in certain ways.

Nathan Smith

Myshkin doesn't marry her but he intends to. He is prevented from doing so at the last minute...

Greg Lioner

The srory under this link contains unexpected historical facts behind Dostoevsky's novel "Idiot":

http://www.netmox.net/main.php?siirry=27&sivulle1=Go -

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