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The Idiot by John Kendrick Bangs
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The Idiot

by John Kendrick Bangs

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The Idiot is Dostoevsky's brilliant 1869 novel about a poor nobelman, Prince Myshkin, who has recently been released from a Swiss sanatorium where he was treated for epilepsy. Despite his destitution, a gambling habit, and the death of his first born child, Dostoevsky completed this masterpiece of Russian literature a mere two years after Crime and Punishment. His protagonist Myshkin is a saintly character, who's "idiocy" has left him utterly kind and free of malice in a world obsessed with money, sex and power. Myshkin's strange state inspires both love and resentment amongst his fellows in St. Petersburg. Our protagonist gets caught up in several scandals, including fraud, extortion, and murder, but Myshkin turns the other cheek as it were, for which he's once again confirmed as an idiot.

That said The Idiot is not an easy read - it might be best read after one is familiar with Dostoevsky (and perhaps some Russian history). It is not a thrilling, plot-driven tale. It is a coalescence of Dostoevsky's religious, philosophical and psychological notions - ideas he wanted to share with the world despite their conflict and complexity. The bulk of the book takes place in amidst a flurry of conversations, not actions, with new ideas flowing out of every page, which makes this a difficult book for most modern readers. They might see it as implausible or obscure, but the central idea, that one who imitates the Christ will be treated like a fool, is strong and well conceived.

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