“To my mind, you’re simply the most ordinary man that could be, only very weak and not the least bit original.”

The Idiot
Part One, Chapters Eleven and Twelve
by Dennis Abrams

After the disaster of Nastasya Filippovna’s visit, Kolya stops by Myshkin’s room to make sure he’s OK. “‘You’ve got many different hurts accumulated here, Kolya,’ the prince observed.” Kolya’s talk of slaps and dishonor. Myshkin confesses to Kolya, “I don’t much like your brother.” Varya stops by as well, and mentions Myshkin’s influence over Nastasya, “You told her she was ashamed, and she suddenly changed completely.” Ganya comes into the room as well, and apologizes to Myshkin. “Prince, I acted meanly, forgive me, dear heart…Well, if you want, I’ll kiss your hand right now.” The men kiss. “‘I never, never thought you were like this,’ the prince said at least, barely catching his breath. ‘I thought you were…incapable.'” Ganya and Myshkin discuss Nastasya Filippovna and marriage. Is marrying her worth seventy-thousand? Is it shameful? Myshkin is certain that Nastasya will marry Ganya. Ganya: “She’s a terribly irritable, suspicious, and vain woman…But she’ll marry me all the same. You don’t even suspect what tricks human vanity is capable of…She doesn’t like me because I don’t want to shuffle; it would be fine if I did…In the beginning I loved her. Well, enough…There are women who are only fit to be mistresses and nothing else…If she wants to live quietly, I’ll live quietly too. If she rebels, I’ll drop her at once and take the money with me. I don’t want to be ridiculous; above all I don’t want to be ridiculous.” Ganya is convinced that Nastasya will love him “in her own way.” The prince no longer considers Ganya a scoundrel, “To my mind, you’re simply the most ordinary man that could be, only very week and not the least bit original.” Ganya’s childlike laugh. Boasting of his self-control when he comes into the money, “Well, I’m going to leap over all the gymnastics and start straight off with capital; in fifteen years people will say: ‘There goes Ivolgin, the king of the Jews.” Myshkin says he is not in love with Nastasya. Kolya brings Myshkin a note from his father the general.

Myshkin and General Ivolgin at Liteinaya, a cafe and billiard club. Myshkin gives the general twenty-five roubles, asks to have it broken and be given fifteen back — the money is pocketed. The general, drunk, offers to take the prince to Nastasya Filippovna’s and get him into her party. The prince’s unknown business. Waiting for the general. The general announces that Nastasya lives next to the Bolshoi, and they begin walking. The general points out an apartment he claims is that of his good friend General Sokolovich and insists they stop there — it turns out to be the home of Kulakov. “You know, my dear, I’m something of a poet in my soul, have you noticed that? But anyhow…anyhow, it seems we didn’t go to exactly the right place…The Sokoloviches, I now recall, live in another house, and it seems they’re even in Moscow now…” A stop to visit Mrs. Terentyev. Kolya. The general owes Mrs. Terentyev money, passes out on the sofa. Kolya offers to take Myshkin to Nastasya Filippovna, who, not surprisingly, does not live near the Bolshoi. Kolya tells the prince he wanted to introduce him to the oldest Terentyev son, Ippolit, who is ill with consumption. Does Myshkin want to go to the party to mingle with society or because he has business there? Russia is full of adventurers — all that matters is money. Nina Alexandrovna helps Ippolit “with money, clothes, and everything…” Myshkin: “You see, you way there are no honest and strong people, that there are only usurers, but then strong people turn up, your mother and Varya. Isn’t that a sign of moral strength to help here and in such circumstances.” Giving out of vanity. Kolya suggests that when he gets a job, that he, Ippolit and Myshkin take an apartment together. Arriving at Nastasya’s.

I’ve got to say that, even at this point, I’m not certain where things are headed. I’m enjoying the book a lot more than I anticipated, and the supporting characters are quite wonderful, but Myshkin is still (no doubt purposefully) an enigma to me. In C&P, Dostoevsky placed Raskolnikov right into our own consciousness, but Myshkin remains outside of me, and, I’m guessing, outside of most of us. It is going to be interesting to see how this works. (On the other hand, there seems to be a lot more humor than in C&P — how great a scene was the one with the general attempting to escort Myshkin to Nastasya Filippovna’s?

More from Terras:

“Another violation of strict realism may be seen in Dostoevsky’s tendency to give many of his characters the gift of imaginative expression. Too many of them talk and think well, or at least interestingly, to be altogether believable. Homer, Dante and Shakespeare, to name only the greatest, take the same risk. The gain is in expressiveness. It is this form of poetic license that energizes Dostoevsky’s texts and makes them so memorable.

The most damaging of the charges, that all Dostoevsky’s characters talk like the author, has been heard often since V. G. Belinsky first leveled it, and from as authoritative a reader as Tolstoi. In clashes with Bakhtin’s polyphonic conception of the Dostoevskian novel. How is this patent contradiction to be resolved? It is a fact that Dostoevsky, never a writer “from the notebook” (in the literal sense that is), is not a very careful stylist when it comes to creating a social regional, or occupational idiolect for his characters. He also lets some of his characters express thoughts which appear to be ‘over their heads’ and which may be a part of the author’s ideological argument. Furthermore, more than most novelists, Dostoevsky likes to introduce a literary subtext in his dialogue, a trait that runs the danger of deconstructing its realism, as the reader’s mind is directed to the text quoted or alluded to and away from the situation at hand. The justification for this practice is that Dostoevsky’s novels are not primarily novels of manners, or even realistic social novels, but are rather in many ways close to the tradition that began with the Platonic dialogue. They are novels about ideas as much as about people.

Dostoevsky’s texts are alive, rather than lucid, well written or elegant. They present the narrator’s and the character’s speech in living flux, rather than as a finished product. An undercurrent of emotion or thought-in-progress is constantly present. The text is energized by an ever-active ‘inner-form,’ by which I mean any kind of verbal content beyond direct routine communication, or, in other words, ,any active ingredient added to the message by its medium. Metaphoric expression, such as ‘underground,’ ‘rupture,’ or ‘demons,’ is the most obvious example. ‘Inner form’ may be generated also by rhythm, dialogic expression (as in irony, ambiguity, allusion, innuendo), over- and understatement, poignancy, solemnity, strangeness (through quirkiness, buffoonery, slang, idiolect, catachresis), challenging the reader by open partisanship, provocation, suspense, or novelty, and the narrator’s and everybody else’s unflagging personal interest in the action. ‘Inner form’ makes the reader see things by making them concrete. For instance, the first chapter subtitle in The Brothers Karamazov might have been ‘The Story of a Family,’ which would have been routine communication without inner form. Instead, it is ‘the (Hi)Story of One Nice Little Family.'”

Thursday’s Reading:

Part One, Chapter Thirteen


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2 Responses to “To my mind, you’re simply the most ordinary man that could be, only very weak and not the least bit original.”

  1. artmama says:

    The portrayal of Myshkin and General Ivolgin trolling the night away is so realistically presented that it makes me cringe, remembering long evenings spent with inebriates in the distant past. You know what I mean? I thought they would never get there…but where are they….no, don’t stop there….finally, but no….
    If Myshkin hadn’t found Kolya this night could have gone on for a hundred more pages, that is, if the General had not taken a seat and fallen asleep.

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