The Idiot

The Idiot

The Idiot

The Idiot

Synopsis

The Idiot (1868), written under the appalling personal circumstances Dostoevsky endured while travelling in Europe, not only reveals the author's acute artistic sense and penetrating psychological insight, but also affords his most powerful indictment of a Russia struggling to emulate contemporary Europe while sinking under the weight of Western materialism. It is the portrait of nineteenth-century Russian society in which a "positively good man" clashes with the emptiness of a society that cannot accommodate his moral idealism. Meticulously faithful to the original, this new translation includes explanatory notes and a critical introduction by W.J. Leatherbarrow.

Excerpt

NOTE: Readers who don't want to know the plot of The Idiot beforehand might prefer to read this Introduction after the book itself.

Between 1865 and his death in January 1881, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky wrote four incomparable novels--Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), Devils (also known as The Possessed) (1871-2), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879- 80)--as well as A Raw Youth (1875), a work equally ambitious in both size and philosophical scope, but now generally recognized as less successful artistically. These works represent the very pinnacle of the nineteenth-century realistic novel, and they have exercised an immense influence on the subsequent development of the genre in the twentieth century. Of these novels Dostoevsky retained a special regard for The Idiot and for its hero, the saintly Prince Myshkin, even though its publication had a considerably more muted reception than that of Crime and Punishment, and even though Dostoevsky himself came to regard it as an artistic failure in which he had wasted a long-cherished idea. Indeed, the spectre of failure accompanied Dostoevsky throughout his work on this novel. From the outset he approached his task with reluctance and a sense of foreboding, writing to his niece in January 1868: 'The idea of the novel is my old favourite one, but it is so difficult that for a long time I did not dare attempt it; and if I have attempted it now, it is really because I found myself in a desperate situation . . . I am terribly afraid it will be a positive failure.' A few days later he wrote to his friend, the poet Apollon Maykov: 'For a long time now a certain idea has tormented me, but I have been afraid to make a novel from it, because the idea is too difficult and I am not ready for it, even though it is most tempting and I love it . . . Only my desperate situation has compelled me to use this premature idea.' This fear of failure certainly derived in part from the appalling personal circumstances under which Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot and the . . .

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