The Idiot

By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated by Constance Garnett
Read by Robert Whitfield

22.50 Hours 03/01/2002 unabridged
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In The Idiot, a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power, and sexual conquest than the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections. Extortion, scandal, and murder follow, testing the wreckage left by human misery to find “man in man.” The Idiot is a quintessentially Russian novel, one that penetrates the complex psyche of the Russian people. “They call me a psychologist,” wrote Dostoevsky. “That is not true. I’m only a realist in the higher sense; that is, I portray all the depths of the human soul.”

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Summary

Summary

In The Idiot, a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power, and sexual conquest than the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections. Extortion, scandal, and murder follow, testing the wreckage left by human misery to find “man in man.”

The Idiot is a quintessentially Russian novel, one that penetrates the complex psyche of the Russian people. “They call me a psychologist,” wrote Dostoevsky. “That is not true. I’m only a realist in the higher sense; that is, I portray all the depths of the human soul.”

Editorial Reviews

Editorial Reviews

“My intention is to portray a really beautiful soul.” Dostoevsky
“Nothing is outside Dostoevsky’s province…Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.” Virginia Woolf
“I think The Idiot to be a masterpiece…a fact of world literature just as important as the densely dramatic Brothers Karamazov or the brilliantly subtle and terrifying Devils.” A.S. Byatt
“Rivals any modern soap opera for complexity.” Vancover Sun

Reviews

Reviews

by Bertie Wooster 9/13/2017
Overall Performance
Narration
Story

Well, I’m glad that’s over.

Whenever I miss the gist of a Great Book my first assumption is that the Great Book is above my head, something beyond my feeble ken, and that the Great Book remains Great. The fact that I fail to grasp its Greatness is, if anything, more confirmation of that Greatness.

Then I remembered: I had followed Fyodor every step of the way in his Crime and Punishment, had been deeply moved, and had missed the book when it was over.

This reflection sent me to a place I seldom go: the critics. I tried everything from Sparknotes to a site at Yale dedicated to the modern novel. Two observations stand out from that (admittedly cursory) research: first, from the start The Idiot has been faulted for its lack of character development and second, that among the intelligentsia it is pretty generally admitted Dostoyevsky “lost control of his material”.

Then I struck a sentence in the novel itself that, though written to indicate the state of affairs among the characters, perfectly crystalized my feelings as a listener: “Something strange seemed to have happened, without anything definite having actually happened.” (Part 4, Chapter 5).

Exactly. There are swaths of this book that are engaging, moving, even illuminating. But in the end the match goes out and you’re left in the semi-dark. Something is always happening without anything definite having happened. We discover people are desperately in love when—it seems—we’ve never even seen them even look at one another. I thought for a while that this was a reflection of the mind of our hero, Prince Myshkin; that as a recovered “idiot” his perceptions were shaping the way the story was being told, and this his half-understanding informed my half-understanding of everything that was going on.

Plausible. After all, even our author/narrator announces twice in the course of the book that he is surrendering any pretentions to analyzing or interpreting what his characters are doing. The human heart, he says, is far too complex a thing to explain. Another character expatiates on the inability of any one person to ever adequately express what is in their mind, even if they spend a lifetime trying. The problem with that, of course, is that Dostoyevsky created these characters. He stands in relation to them as God stands in relation to us: he knows—or at least he should know—their every secret inmost thought. Otherwise the whole enterprise of novel writing can be given up and we’ll go back to playing Candy Crush (I’m at level 100).

On a brighter note, Simon Vance is exceptional, expressing character and mood as vividly as if this were a movie. It occurred to me more than once that his reading was helping me understand passages and conversations that, in print, would have left me stymied. But no matter how great the actor, if the script isn’t right the curtain might as well never go up. Like the family gathered around General Ivolgin’s deathbed I saw this one through to the end always hoping, like Goethe, for more light. But when it was all over Kolya and his kin felt a lot more genuine grief than I did.
by Ash Ryan 9/13/2017
Overall Performance
Narration
Story

The utter impraticability of Christianity

The more I read and re-read of Dostoevsky, the more I am forced to conclude that he was every bit as medieval philosophically as Tolstoy, at least epistemologically. The most fundamental theme of all of his major works that I've read, including Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and even The Brothers Karamazov (though in a much more subtle and sophisticated form) is that reason and the intellect are corrupting and one should instead be guided by faith and feelings. But Dostoevsky is easier to stomach because his feelings are relatively humanitarian, compared to Tolstoy's obscene misanthropy and misogyny. And for an artistic vision of why Christian morality is utterly impracticable, this is probably the greatest novel ever written...Christlike Prince Myshkin's fate is as inevitable as it is horrifying.

Author

Author Bio: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821–1881) was a Russian novelist, journalist, and short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the darkest recesses of the human heart had a profound and universal influence on the twentieth-century novel. He was born in Moscow, the son of a surgeon. Leaving the study of engineering for literature, he published Poor Folk in 1846. As a member of revolutionary circles in St. Petersburg, he was condemned to death in 1849. A last-minute reprieve sent him to Siberia for hard labor. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1859, he worked as a journalist and completed his masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, as well as other works, including The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov.

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Details

Details

Available Formats : Digital Download, Digital Rental, MP3 CD
Category: Fiction/Classics
Runtime: 22.50
Audience: Adult
Language: English