January 11, 2015

A Few Thoughts On "The Idiot"

After more than 2 weeks I finally "tottered" through over 600 pages of The Idiot. I first tried in Chinese translation, somehow could not stand it, then moved into English translations, jumped back forth between two different translations: one by Eva Martin, another by Henry and Olga Charliele. I found overall Eva Martin version was easier to read, but also bears a few "hard errors", which might not be such big deal (except one that made me very confused and I had to go to another version to clear it out). I checked on internet that the best translation should be the one by Pevear and Volokhonsky, so I ordered from amazon, decide that I will read it again, may be not whole 600 pages but at least some parts of it.

This is a book that I certainly would not take it "lightly", for it's philosophical profoundness. I personally feel related to the hero of the book, the prince Myshkin in many ways, though at my current age, I become more cynical than Myshkin in regard to this thing we call "human society". The prince Myshkin is known by Dostoyesky's readers as "Christ like", for me, he is nothing more than a pristine model of humanity, in contrast to most people (or majority of population), who are spoiled by qualities such as greed, ambition, vanity, etc.

The most striking character for me in this book is actually the one that costs the least length (but of course not the least importance): Nastasya Filippovna, who had an absolutely miserable childhood, and struggled through her adolescence and much of her youth, later becomes a very well learned, yet cynical and disbelieving toward humanity, especially her opposite sex: "men". She despises men. Yet, she is astonishingly beautiful and intelligent. She has an equally pure mind as the prince, but more than that, she possesses incredible courage. It is her fate, or her relationship with the prince that dragged me through all hundreds pages (And I was indeed rewarded by her final "confrontation" - Dostoyesky knew women very well!).

The book is philosophical, probably too philosophical, as the author made a mountainous net of characters with lengthy/confusing Russian names, and what's worse is each one of them (even Lebedev!) is almost equally eloquent (more eloquent than professors of metaphysics)! This made (my) reading "a bit" difficult. But I still like to try Peveal & Volokhonsky version, and see how much difference it would make. Nonetheless, I do agree that this is one of most important classic literary books, an epic study of humanity, a must read for Dostoyevsky lovers.


  1. That sounds like a book I'd love to read.
    Thanks for writing about it!

    1. Julia, I think you would enjoy it! There is a reason that Patricia Highsmith called Dostoyevsky her "mentor", I think that is, that the latter saw the same absurdity in humanity as she did.

    2. Interesting. I didn't know that Patricia Highsmith called him his mentor, but that's a good way of explaining it...
      I also feel that way regarding other writers that I love reading. They are like mentors.