The Idiot – A Book Review and Summary of the Great Dostoevsky Novel

Another of Dostoevsky’s great novels, The Idiot concerns one, good-natured young man caught up in the midst of an immoral, unscrupulous society in 19th century Russia. It contains Dostoevsky’s signature dialogue discussing a whole range of issues and philosophies, and all in the backdrop of a highly interesting story; there are highly entertaining sub-stories, dinner-party tales and all sorts of other anecdotes that will have you chuckling; there are also discussions of such issues as capital punishment, suicide and war, which gives the book a darker edge to it. It is also, like all of Dostoevsky’s other novels, a highly informative discourse into the realities of Russian life in the 19th century.

Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man

The protagonist – Prince Myshkin – has just arrived back in Russia after 4 years abroad. He is a very trusting, benevolent character, who is unwilling to act immorally for social and financial advancement, something that all those around him do habitually, and thus gain wealth or increased social repute. The book serves to show that Myshkin is an ‘Idiot’ for being so upright, as the only consequence of this will be his exploitation by others and his exclusion from the material and reputable advantages of acting so crooked and predatory. So what follows is a story illustrating whether we should faithfully remain as good, honest people, or give in to temptation and vice and become self-interested people; this cognitive dissonance is something the majority of people face, so to see how it plays out through the imagination of someone so great as Dostoevsky is extremely interesting.

But I’ll add though that there is something at the bottom of every new human thought, every thought of genius, or even every earnest thought that springs up in any brain, which can never be communicated to others, even if one were to write volumes about it and were explaining one’s idea for thirty-five years; there’s something left which cannot be induced to emerge from your brain, and remains with you for ever; and with it you will die, without communicating to anyone perhaps, the most important of your ideas.

It is essentially a fictional (but none less veritable) account of light against darkness, embodied in the angelic Myshkin and the knavish Rogozhin respectively. And I doubt the reader will be prepared for the ending that is in store for them. All in all, The Idiot is classic Dostoevsky; anyone that has read his other works should definitely be interested in this; anyone who has never encountered him before is hugely recommended to pick up one of his works, and The Idiot is a great book to start you off.

Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them

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