|Princess Priscilla Piggybottom shared her thoughts and insights with me on The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Amazingly, her opinions exactly reflected my own. What can I say? Great minds think alike. Here's what we have to say.|
The story starts on a train where we meet our hero Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin. He is returning to Russia after many years in Switzerland. On the train he meets Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin. Little do these two men know but they are going to play profound roles in each other's lives.
While riding Prince Myshkin relates his background. Some years past he suffered a mental break down and was sent to a hospital in Switzerland until he recovered. Now, though still a young man, the Prince is returning to Russia. He knows no one but hopes to make a few contacts.
Rogozhin immediately brings up the topic of a woman he is obsessed with, Nastasya Filipovna Barashkova. He is going to propose to her. He has raised an insane sum of money, which she has demanded, in order to achieve his desire: her hand in marriage.
Insane is an appropriate word here. Because all the major players in this novel are insane. Or desperate. Or angry. Or emotionally out of control. Hence the unalleviated excitement that relentlessly rides the entire novel.
Natasha is a fascinating character study in her own right. One doesn't know whether to hate or pity her. Born into a poverty-stricken family, she was orphaned very young but being very beautiful was soon taken up by Afanasy Ivanovich Totsky, a wealthy man of high society, who took her and basically kept her for himself. No need to spell that out.
Being orphaned and helpless, Natasha had no choice but to submit to Totsky's..let's call it what it is... sexual abuse. But a time comes when Natasha is no longer the helpless one. She realizes that she holds Totsky's reputation in her hands, especially since he now wishes to marry into an important family. Totsky understands that he is no longer the one in control of their relationship and his one objective is to get rid of her. He attempts to acheive this by marrying Natasha off to a clerk of General Epanchin who also happens to be the father of the woman he wishes to marry.
Totsky offers this clerk, Ganya Ivolgin, 70,000 rubles to marry Natasha. Ganya was pursuing General Epanchin's youngest daughter Aglaya but he breaks his relationship with her and everything looks settled. Natasha holds an evening party at her apartment to seal the deal.
Why Ganya would want to marry Natasha, other than for the money is beyond me. She lets her contempt for him be known at every opportunity. She delights in making a fool of him. And she has one last trick up her sleeve.
Late in the evening Natasha's party is crashed by Rogozhin and a bunch of rowdies. He has come with the money Natasha has demanded to marry him. Natasha grabs the money, throws it in the fire, and tells Ganya he can have it if he'll pull it out. Then she runs off with Rogozhin.
Where does the Prince fit in? He loves Natasha. But not the way the other men do. He feels compassion for her and he wants to save her. He also proposes to Natasha. She understands his pure love but doesn't feel worthy of it so repels him.
Meantime there's Agláya Ivánovna. Aglaya is a nut case in her own right. She loves the Prince and wants to marry him.
Then she doesn't.
Then she does.
No she doesn't. She hates him.
She's madly in love with him!
That pretty much describes Aglaya. Strangely enough, the Prince also loves her and in a real romantic sense, but instead of doing the common sense thing and blow her off, his emotions corresponds to her mood swings.
I'm in ecstasy, she loves me!
I'm crushed, she hates me!
I really cannot figure the Prince out. It's interesting how the other characters respond to him. They all consider him a fool, even calling him an idiot to his face. Yet, one by one, they each develop an attachment to him and soon find that they need him to turn to, confide in, be listened to. He's the only one that genuinely loves and believes in the goodness in each person.
Dostoevsky digs deep into the human soul and bares the desperate sin that lurks there. By doing so he reveals the light of God that shines on that darkness and disperses it.
There are no tidy endings in real life and Dostoevsky certainly doesn't provide any in his writing. This book probably has the least satisfying ending of any of the books I've read, with maybe the exception of Demons (also titled, The Possessed).
Spoiler alert! Don't continue reading if you don't want to know how the story ends.
As much as the Prince loves people, his belief in their inner goodness is finally shattered. He finally breaks it off with Aglaya (or she breaks it off, who can tell?) and proposes marriage to Natasha who, after living with Rogozhin, accepts.
Everything proceeds as planned. Natasha, adorned as a princess, approaches the church where the Prince is waiting for her. In the crowd she sees Rogozhin. She screams and jumps into his arms. They run off together.
After searching all over town and St Petersburg, the town where Rogozhin lives, he finally finds them. Rogozhin, after hiding out in his family apartments, comes to the Prince and brings him home.
The final part is surreal. Rogozhin talks about all sorts of nonsense with the Prince but we finally become aware of Natasha lying under a sheet on a bed in the corner of his room. Both he and the Prince spend the night together discussing what to do because the body will soon begin to smell.
Eventually they are found out. Rogozhin is sent to Siberia and the Prince truly becomes an idiot. Relapsed into madness he is sent back to the hospital in Switzerland.
There is ever so much more to this story than can be related here. I cannot begin to count the number of characters in the cast. As my husband, Josh, said. "How many people can fit into one room? Can you imagine a stage production of this story?"
Every character is a story all by him or herself. But if you want those stories, you'll simply have to read the novel for yourself.
|Princess Priscilla Piggybottom says, "I would have married you, Prince."|