PART THREE

1

YOU hear complaints all the time that we lack practical people; there are plenty of politicians for instance; plenty of generals too; nowadays directors of all sorts can be found in any quantity you like--but there are no practical people. At least that's the complaint. It's even said that on some railways you can't find decent staff; the story goes that it's impossible for some steamship line to recruit passable administrative personnel. One day you hear of trains colliding or bridges collapsing on some newly-opened line; the next they're writing about a train practically stuck in a snow-drift for the winter; it travelled a few hours and stood in the snow for five days. In one place they tell you there are hundreds of tons of produce rotting while they wait for dispatch, in another you hear (though it's hard to credit) that a railway administrator, some inspector that is, has administered a punch on the nose to some merchant's clerk who was pestering him about the dispatch of his goods, explaining his administrative action on the grounds that he had 'got a little heated'. It's terrifying to think how many civil servants there apparently are; everyone's been in the civil service, or is in it now, or intends to be--how can it come about that a decent administrative staff for a steamship line can't be put together out of this kind of material?

The answer sometimes given to this question is a very simple one, so simple it's hard to credit. It's true, say they, that everyone in the country is, or has been, in the service and that this has been going on for two hundred years, on the best German pattern, from grandfather to grandson; the trouble is that civil servants are the least practical folk you can find, and things have got to the stage where abstract knowledge, divorced from practice, has been, until quite recently, regarded even by civil servants

-341-

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The Idiot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Note on the Translation xxiii
  • Select Bibliography xxv
  • Chronology of Fyodor Dostoevsky xxvi
  • List of Characters xxix
  • Part One 3
  • Part Two 187
  • Part Three 341
  • Part Four 485
  • Explanatory Notes 653
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