Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Post 002)

I have finished Part I of The Idiot.

The first thing I thought of when I finished it was that Dostoevsky could have stopped there and he would have had a nice little novella/short novel. While he could (and did) continue, the story told there was self-contained enough that I don't think anyone would have been too pissed off if things didn't go any further. Maybe I'm wrong, who knows. I do like the concept of each part being self-contained enough that it could function as its own work. I'm sure that that helped serialisation.

It's obvious that The Idiot was written for serialisation with each chapter roughly 10 pages long. Some more, some less, but always around ten pages. After all, there are 16 chapters in Part I and the page it ends on? 164. Nice and tidy. Who says that great writers can't work within limitations and do it for the money?

The second thing I thought of when I finished Part I was that this is some crazy-assed book. The second half of the part basically focuses on Nastasya Filippovna, a young woman whose birthday it is. She will inform a man by the name of Ganya if she'll marry him that evening. Meanwhile, Rogozhin has arrived back in town (on the same train as Myshkin at the beginning of the novel) to claim a large inheritence (1.4 million rupels) and also claim her as his bride since he's loved her for quite some time. Myshkin also loves her -- though we're not sure of that until close to the end. Prince Myshkin is a kindhearted man, a speaker of truths, and not quite the idiot that people think of him.

The end of Part I basically has Nastasya Filippovna turn Ganya down because Myshkin says she shouldn't marry him (as he actually hates her and is only doing it for the 75,000 rupels that the guy she's been a mistress to is putting up to be rid of her. Rogozhin and his gang show up drunk with 100,000 rupels that he said he'd raise and bring in cash to secure her as his bride, but she turns him down when Myshkin says that he would love her no matter what -- even if they were poor. But, she recognises that she is corrupt and a whore, so she runs off with Rogozhin, first tossing his roll of money into the fire to see if Ganya would reach in and get it -- and when he doesn't, she removes it with tongs (it was wrapped in newspaper, so the notes weren't harmed) and gives it to him.

Crazy fucking book.

What strikes me about Dostoevsky's writing here is that characters don't act like people. He's obviously not going for realism but a heightened reality to explore concepts of morality, philosophy, and social interaction. In some ways, it reminds me of the work of Larry David with Myshkin acting very much the part of David/Costanza, but in a noble fashion. He cuts through the bullshit of society and its rules because he cares not for pretense and lies. He shows up to the party uninvited because he needs to speak with Nastasya Filippovna. As the novel progresses, he's revealed himself more and more understanding of what's happening around him. He genuinely seems like the happy idiot at the beginning, but, by the end, he isn't a simpleton, he's a man who sees things for what they are. Who cares if Nastasya Filippovna has had sex? He loves her and respects her... that's all that matters. Of course, he barely knows her, but that doesn't seem to stop people in this world.

One thing I was disappointed about was a game they played at the party where people would tell the worst things they've ever done. It's hard to say if people would be honest, but we never got to Myshkin. I was curious what he would say. What's the worst thing he's done?

I'm really enjoying this book. It's hard to speak to some of the larger ideas and themes since they'll become more apparent as I move through the rest of it -- still three parts and... 414 pages to go.

Before reading this, I was worried about the translation. The edition I have (the picture I'm using for these posts) was bought very cheaply (new!). I got it to put an order from Chapters beyond the $39 mark for free shipping and since it's so cheap, I worried that the translation would be awful. I was even more worried when there wasn't any indication as to who translated it. No translator is listed, which is odd. But, so far, it's been very readable and smooth going. I obviously can't speak to how accurate it all is or if it's a truly good/bad translation, but that it reads smoothly and not like a translation is a good sign usually. There's been maybe one or two instances where the phrasing was stranger than normal, but that happens with the best translations at times.

On to Part II...

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