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The Idiot ( ) is a novel written by the Russianmarker author Fyodor Dostoyevsky and first published in 1868. It was first published serially in Russian in Russky Vestnik, St. Petersburg, 1868-1869. The Idiot is ranked, along with other works from Dostoevsky, as one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the Russian "Golden Age" of Literature. It would not be translated into English until the twentieth-century.


Prince Lyov Nikolayevich Myshkin Age 26, returns to Russia after a long absence. Myshkin suffers from epilepsy (just like Fyodor Dostoyevsky himself) and is prone to seizures, although, this had been treated with some success in Switzerlandmarker by one "Dr. Schneider". The Myshkin family line is said to end with him and his cousin, Lizaveta Prokofyevna, who is the wife of Ivan Fyodorovitch Epanchin, and mother to Adelaida, Alexandra, and Aglaia — Nastasya Filippovna's rival.

On the train to Saint Petersburgmarker, Myshkin meets and befriends the dark and enamoured Rogozhin, and the quasi-lawyer Lebedyev. Rogozhin tells the prince about his passion for Nastasya Filippovna, a beautiful, pale, suffering woman with a dwindling reputation, having been once kept as a concubine by the wealthy Afanasy Ivanovitch whom, along with General Ivan Epanchin, later attempt to marry her to Gavril "Ganya" Ardalionovitch. Myshkin arrives in Petersburg and goes to the home of General Epanchin, who is married to the only other living member of the Myshkin line, and the reason for Myshkin's visit. Myshkin learns that Ganya, a young go-getter and secretary of the General, wants to marry Nastasya for her dowry (75,000 rubles.) The prince feels an irresistible desire to meet her after hearing about her and even more so when he views a painting of her face in the General's office. It is at this time that Myshkin, although not dressed for the occasion, meets the Epanchin women, whom he impresses with a story about a young girl he knew in his convalescence who suffered deeply, and another about the events of an execution. Myshkin tells Alexandra to paint a picture depicting an execution.

At Nastasya's name day party, having told her she was "perfection," Myshkin goes into the living room and finds a group of people including General Epanchin, Afanasy Ivanovitch, Ferdyschenko, Darya, etc. During this awkward occasion, Rogozhin, along with a drunken scandalous party (Lebedyev, Keller, etc.) arrives drunk and ultimately offers the beautiful Nastasya 100,000 roubles to follow him to their equal fates. She takes the money and throws it into the fire, beckoning Ganya to grab the money out of the fire, and it would be all his, showing his lust for money. However, Ganya does not satisfy her, only to end up fainting from the sight of burning notes. The prince perceives the despair of Nastasya and proposes to her in order to save her from her situation,and at the same time, hearing Myshkin is to inherit a fortune, she accepts him. However, perhaps believing the Prince's offer stems from pity, or that she is not worthy of his love, she flees with Rogozhin. This scene ends with Myshkin chasing Nastasya and Rogozhin in their carriages, to which Afanasy refers to Natasya as an "uncut diamond" - ending Part One.

Having returned to Petersburg from Moscow, Myshkin goes searching for Nastasya and meets up with Rogozhin. At this point, the Prince learns, from Rogozhin, that Natasya loves him, but leaves him because she feels she will destroy him. Later, after devoting his friendship to Myshkin, Rogozhin tries to kill his friend with a knife, but is hindered when, due to the stress of the situation, Myshkin falls into an epileptic seizure. There is no telling why Rogozhin didn't kill him, but either way, Myshkin later forgives Rogozhin.

Note, the below details reveal plot twists and events that may 'spoil' the experience for novel readers.

Over the course of the novel, Myshkin grows closer to the General's daughter, Aglaia, but Nastasya's actions culminate in a final meeting between the two women at Darya Alexeyvna's home. In this scene, Aglaia attempts to get the upper-hand in regards to Nastasya, but when the latter threatens her that Myshkin will always be hers, to which Myshkin cannot argue. Aglaia, in hysterics, flees the house, and when Myshkin attempts to chase her, Nastasya faints in his arms. He makes arrangements to marry Nastasya for fear she will return to Rogozhin. On the day of the marriage, however, Nastasya again runs away with Rogozhin, only to have the prince chase them, once again. Eventually, having gone to Petersburg, Myshkin finds Rogozhin who takes him to his room where, under a motionless sheet, lies the cold dead body of Nastasya....Rogozhin finally killed her.

The scene ends with Myshkin and Rogozhin lying together outside the room where Nastasya lay dead. Myshkin, like a child, comforts the raving Rogozhin who has been in a fit for a few hours. Ultimately, the police, along with several other characters, burst through the door, and to their horror, Nastasya was dead, and their precious prince has succumbed to a complete mental breakdown; Myshkin is, once again, an "idiot." Eventually, Lizaveta and the two older Epanchin sisters go to see the convalescent prince, having been kept informed by Yevgeny Pavlovitch hitherto. She leaves, and so ends the story.

Major themes

Dostoyevsky's motives for writing The Idiot stem from his desire to depict the "positively good man". This man is naturally likened to Christ in many ways. Dostoyevsky uses Myshkin's introduction to the Petersburg society as a way to contrast the nature of Russian society at the time and the isolation and innocence of this good man. This is highlighted by his conflicts and relationship with Rogozhin. Indeed, Myshkin and Rogozhin are contrasted from the outset. Myshkin is associated with light, Rogozhin with dark. For example, in their initial descriptions on the train, Myshkin is described as having light hair and blue eyes, while Rogozhin has "dark features". Rogozhin's house is submerged in darkness, with iron bars on the windows. He is not only an embodiment of darkness, but surrounded by it. The two characters are clearly antithetical. If Myshkin should be seen as Christ, Rogozhin could easily be seen as the Devil. "Rog", in Russian, means horn, adding credence to such an assertion, although the primary association of his name is with rogozha ("bast"), possibly hinting at his humble origins.

Despite their difference, they are both after Nastasya Filippovna — good and bad (and mediocre, in the image of Ganya) strive for the same thing. Love itself is shown in various manifestations, spurred by various motives. While vain Ganya wishes to marry Nastasya in order that he might, through acquisition of a large dowry, spark some of the individuality which he senses he lacks, Rogozhin loves Nastasya with a deep passion. Myshkin, however, loves her out of pity, out of Christian love. This love for her supersedes even the romantic love he has for Aglaia. It is important to note that Aglaia developed a great appreciation for Myshkin's purity of heart and capacity for empathic love, even that he felt for Nastasya. Aglaia and her sisters came to identify Myshkin with the protagonist of a famous Russian poem by Pushkin, "The Poor Knight", because of the Prince's quixotic, tragic quest to defend the honor of Nastasya in the face of the ridicule, and at times contempt, he faced from all his acquaintances. And she grew to love him not in spite of this, but even more so because of it. At a gathering at the Prince's home that included her family and several of the Prince's friends, Aglaia flushes hotly when Kolya enigmatically and ironically declares "There's nothing better than the Poor Knight!" Though the comment is partially mocking him, in the depths of Aglaia's heart she agrees with this fully. In the end, though, Aglaia cannot completely eradicate her jealousy of Nastasya, and cannot attain to the heights of the Prince's sympathetic love when he apparently scorns her in a final effort to save Nastasya.

There is a parallel between Rogozhin and the Russian upper-class society. The materialistic society which praises the values Myshkin represents and professes itself to be "good", cannot accommodate Prince Myshkin; Rogozhin, though he truly loves Nastasya, commits murder in the end. Nastasya herself has been corrupted by a depraved society. Her beauty and initial innocence have led Totsky (perhaps the most repugnant of characters in the novel) to keep her as a concubine and she falls into a quasi-madness.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations and references

  • Several filmmakers have produced adaptations of the novel, among them Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot , The Idiot , a Russian version by Ivan Pyryev, and Mani Kaul's Hindi version, Idiot .
  • Christian Bale's character in The Machinist is seen reading The Idiot in the opening minutes of the film
  • In 2003 Russian State Television produced a 10-hour TV-series of the work.
  • In 1999 Czech director Saša Gedeon produced a modern cinematic reinterpretation of The Idiot entitled The Return of the Idiot (Návrat idiota).
  • The Polish director Andrzej Wajda adapted the last chapter of The Idiot as the feature film Nastasja in 1994.
  • The Russian composer Nikolai Myaskovsky planned an opera on The Idiot during World War I, but did not complete it.
  • The Harlan Ellison short story Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish features a friendly debate on Dostoevsky and The Idiot between the narrator and a vendor at Pink's Hot Dogs in Los Angeles.
  • In 2008, the theatre director Katie Mitchell premiered "...some trace of her", a multimedia exploration of the novel's central themes.
  • The famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky planned an adaptation after The Idiot, but had died before it was realized.
  • The German novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in 1919 a short piece about the book called Thoughts on The Idiot of Dostoevsky, later released in a compilation of essays called My Belief: Essays on Life and Art.
  • In Act 1, Scene 2 of Mel Brooks' musical The Producers, Max Bialystock jokingly addresses Leo Bloom as "Prince Miskin." This also occurs in the original film.
  • In the 1998 pilot episode of T.V. show "Seven Days," Frank Parker (played by Jonathan LaPaglia) has a copy of The Idiot on his desk inside the insane asylum.

Translations to English

Since The Idiot was first published in Russian, there have been a number of translations to English over the years, including those by:

The Constance Garnett translation has for many years been accepted as the definitive English translation, but more recently it has come under criticism for being dated. The Garnett translation, however, still remains widely available because it is now in the public domain. Some writers, such as Anna Brailouvsky, have based their translations on Garnett's. Since the 1990s new English translations have appeared that have made the novel more accessible to English readers.The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation (2000) states that the Alan Myers version is the best currently available, though since then, new translations by David McDuff and Pevear & Volokhonsky have also been well received.


  1. titlepage, 1965 The Idiot, Washington Square Press, Inc.
  4. The Myers translation is also published by the Oxford University Press.

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