Monday, June 14, 2010

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Post 003)

This weekend, Michelle and I were at a campground for a few days of wedding stuff for her best friend. It was a pretty good time -- much better than I thought it would be. On Saturday (the day of the wedding), there was some down time with Michelle off getting her hair and make-up done with the bride, so I managed to finish Part II of The Idiot.

The second part of the novel was rougher going than the first part. While the first part had a nice contrast of the sweet, decent Myshkin with the craziness of everyone else, it was also grounded by his lack of understanding of everything. He understood Russian society a little, but living abroad, he wasn't completely familiar with everyone else. In the second part, he's much more familiar and that lack of essential innocence just makes the second part a chore at times since it's just bullshit. People talking bullshit and then talking more bullshit. Fuck, I hate these people. They're shallow, vapid, pretentious-yet-stupid, and driven by unknown/unseen passions that cause them to act like fools.

This part picks up six months after the end of the first part. Myshkin has received a large inheritance, but not as large as everyone thinks. Because of his simple nature, he's taken advantage of by swindlers somewhat, but he also doesn't mind too much since he is so innocent and wants to help people so much. It's an interesting complexity, one that leads to misunderstandings, because people don't know how to react to him. Some, in this part, begin to accuse him of not being as simple/nice as he seems, that it's all a ruse so he can get what he wants without appearing rude or cruel. Of course, it isn't a ruse -- he's genuinely a sweet, caring, sensitive man.

There were two parts in this section of the novel that stood out as particularly interesting.

The first was the apparent dismissmal of the illegitimate son of his benefactor by Myshkin. His time abroad to get well was funded by a rich aristocrat and his bastard son has apparently shown up only for Myshkin to dismiss him out of hand. It seems out of character -- and it is, because that's not how it happened at all. Things are made worse by a newspaper article written by one of the son's friends that is very biased and is filled with lies. Myshkin had a friend investigate and discovered that the son isn't really the artistocrat's son at all -- but that he had good reason to think it true and wasn't trying to scam Myshkin; he was simply mistaken. Myshkin, despite this, still wants to give the 'son' 10,000 rubels since he sees himself in the man, who also stutters and is socially awkward. But, as a matter of pride, the 'son' refuses.

What stood out was how disagreeable the friends of the 'son' were. No matter what Myshkin said, they would get offended or try to take issue with it. They don't understand Myshkin or see that's genuinely trying to do the right thing, not thinking of himself at all. He doesn't like to be slandered, but he's more concerned with the truth and with helping others. There's a bit where a wealthy woman who is visiting with her family mentions that despite their actions, Myshkin will go to them the next day and try to persuade them to reconsider his offer of the money, that he will press forward with helping them, especially the 'son' and Myshkin says of course he will, leaving her shocked and annoyed.

The other part is a passage where Myshkin is thinking. He considers going away, leaving all of these people behind, just going somewhere and living his own life, knowing that, if he stays, he'll just get sucked in more. These are people who live for scandal and get offended at the smallest of offences, so bored out of their minds that there isn't anything else but these small, petty things. And Myshkin is better than that -- something he senses, but he doesn't leave. For whatever reason, he doesn't save himself and you just know it's going to end poorly for him.

Despite these two things that I enjoyed, a large chunk of this part is tedious in its attention to the small, petty bullshit. The first part had those elements, but they were more interesting. Dostoevsky just isn't as entertaining here. It all lends itself to that second section where you want Myshkin to leave, because you're just so tired of these stupid, small people, but the actual reading is a little dry and dull.

Two parts down, two to go.

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