The is the first entry in an award-eligable series. For the rest, please follow these links:
Entry 2: Part 1, chapters VII-XVI
Entry 3: Part 2
Entry 4: Part 3
Entry 5: Part 4
One of the various framing supplements I skimmed in preparation before starting the Idiot frames Dostoevsky’s 1869 novel in contrast to the author’s previous novel: whereas Crime & Punishment is about guilt, the Idiot is about innocence. Indeed, the only way that the eponymous character Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin could really be called an idiot is if one considers naïvté a cause for that epithet. The only possibly negative characteristic we can see from the prince in the first part of the book is that he’s too trusting, too honest, too young at heart. Gentry politics being a favorite target of Dostoevsky’s, we can anticipate this will be the cause of some conflict throughout the course of the novel.
If Prince Myhskin is really an idiot, he’s a remarkably influential one, even this early: every major character he’s yet interacted with has had a moment where they’ve shown themselves to be profoundly affected by their experience with Myshkin. The young, previously broke but now wealthy through the death of his father (and thus a respectable gentleman in the eyes of the Russian gentry, not so much necessarily in Dostoevsky’s view) Parfyon Rogozhin ignores the know-it-all clerk’s lack of recognition in the Prince’s name and is “eager to make the prince his interlocutor” (11), offering the prince food and accommodations as they part.
The sort of character this Rogozhin will be remains to be seen, but some clues to Dostoevsky’s sympathy lie in the fact that he seems to be set up as the antagonist of the already-seen-as-spiteful-and-scheming Gavrila “Ganya” Ivologin for the eye of the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov (goodness me this blog is going to be fun to read for those who don’t know the book) and this delightfully Dostoevskian criticism of know-it-alls after Rogozhin condescends to the clerk Lebedev, who the narrator indeed labels “Mr. Know-it-all:”
These Mr. Know-it-alls are occasionally, even quite frequently, to be met with in a certain social stratum. They know everything, all the restless inquisitiveness of their minds and all their abilities are turned irresistibly in one direction, certainly for lack of more important life interests and perspectives, as a modern thinker would say. The phrase “they know it all” implies, however, a rather limited sphere: where so-and-so works, who he is acquainted with, how much he is worth, where he was governor, who he is married to, how much his wife brought him, who hos cousins are, who his cousins twice removed are, etc., etc., all in the same vein. (8)
In other words, all the things that interest socially-inclined people that Dostoevsky loathes, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, with an intensity with which only Dostoevsky can really loathe something. It’s difficult to say for sure this early, but considering this aspect of Rogozhin’s character, as well as his status as something of an outsider from society, it can be reasonably inferred that Rogozhin will be a character for whom Dostoevsky will have some sympathy as the novel develops. Continue reading