“Indeed, there is nothing more vexing, for instance, than to be rich, of respectable family, of decent appearance, of rather good education, not stupid, even kind, and at the same time to have no talent, no particularity, no oddity even, not a single idea of one’s own, to be decidedly ‘like everybody else.'”

The Idiot
Part Three, Chapter Ten; Part Four, Chapter One
by Dennis Abrams

Myshkin looks at Nastasya’s letters to Aglaya which resembled a dream. “Sometimes you dream strange dreams, impossible and unnatural; you wake up and remember them clearly, and are surprised at a strange fact: you remember first of all that reason did not abandon you during the whole course of your dream…You smile at the absurdity of your dream and feel at the same time that the tissue of those absurdities contains some though, but a though that is real, something that belongs to your true life, something that exists and has always existed in your heart; it is as if your dream has told you something new, prophetic, awaited; your impression in strong, it is joyful or tormenting, but what it is and what has been told you — all that you can neither comprehend nor recall. It was almost the same after these letters.” The three letters: Nastasya says that Aglaya is perfection, “But there is also a sin in me before you: I love you…If it were possible I would kiss the prints of your feet.” In the second letter, Nastasya continues to talk about Aglaya’s perfection, “You are the same for me as for him: a bright spirit, an angel cannot hate, and cannot love…” Nastasya’s idea for a painting of Christ — alone with just a small blond child beside him, “You are innocent, and all your perfection is in your innocence. Oh, remember only that! What do you care about my passion for you? You are mine now, I shall be near you all my life…I shall die soon.” The third letter: Nastasya urges Aglaya to “unite” with Myshkin for her sake. The two horrible eyes that “constantly look at me, even when they are not before me.” Rogozhin’s gloomy house, “I am sure that hidden in a drawer he has a razor, bound in silk, like the one that Moscow murderer had…He is always silent; but I know he loves me so much that by now he cannot help hating me…I have no secrets from him. I could kill him out of fear…But he will kill me first…” Myshkin stops by the Epanchins, not realizing the lateness of the hour. On his way to his dacha, Nastasya stops him to say good-bye — as he had requested in his letter to Rogozhin, she will write no more to Aglaya and is leaving for good. Rogozhin mentions the razor, “‘She’s insane!’ cried the prince, writing his hands. ‘Who knows, maybe she’s not,’ Rogozhin said softly, as if to himself.” Is Myshkin happy or not?

One week has passed. The narrator discusses his belief that the ordinary people of the world, who make up the majority of the population, are a challenge for the writer: “…what is a novelist to do with ordinary, completely ‘usual’ people, and hwo can he present them to the reader so as to make them at least somewhat interesting? To bypass them altogether in a story is quite impossible, because ordinary people are constantly and for the most part the necessary links in the chain of everyday events; in bypassing them we would thus violate implausibility. To fill novels with nothing but types or even simply, for the sake of interest, with strange and nonexistent people, would be implausible — and perhaps uninteresting as well.” Varvara Ardalionovich, her husband Ptitsyn, and her brother Gavrila Ardalionovich are all examples of “usual” or “ordinary” people. These ‘ordinary’ people are divided into two categories: those who are intelligent and realize that they are ordinary, and those who are less intelligent and so do not. It’s better to fall into the second category, “For the limited ‘usual’ man, for instance, there is nothing easier than to imagine himself an unusual and original man and to revel in it without any hesitation…This impudence of naivety, if one may put it so, goes so far in such cases as to be astonishing; all this is incredible, but one meets with it constantly.” Ganya belongs to the second category: “of people who are ‘much cleverer,’ though he was all infected, from head to foot, with the desire to be original.” The desire to commit even a base deed if that is what is needed to be original. “What is most characteristic in these gentlemen is that all their lives they are indeed unable to find out what precisely they have been preparing all their lives to discover: gunpowder or America?” Ganya: “With his passionate desire to distinguish himself, he was sometimes ready for a most reckless leap; but when it came to the point of making the reckless leap, our hero always proved too clever to venture upon it. This was killing him…he always proved too honest for an extremely base deed.” Varva also wishes that she was more original, but is even more practical and cautious than her brother, working her way into a friendship with the Epanchins, for example, in order to help Ganya build a relationship with Aglaya.

Back to the plot: Vera return from the Epanchins to her husband’s house, where they are living along with Ganya, their mother and father, and Ippolit. A fight between Ganya and his father, General Ivolgin. Vera’s sad news: Myshkin is formally accepted as Aglaya’s fiance — the announcement will be made that night. “Ivan Fydorovich is pleased, the mother’s afraid…” Aglaya’s former shyness. It has been learned that General Ivolgin stole the four hundred roubles from Lebedev — the news is now public, much to Ganya’s shame. It is thought that Ippolit is the one who spread the word — he has also been writing to Aglaya, and Ganya believes he may be in love with her. Ganya professes not only to hate Ippolit, but to despite him as well.

I thought the analysis of ‘ordinary people” at the beginning of Part Four was fascinating, given the general perception of Dostoevsky’s characters. And honestly, I’m afraid I know all too well which category I fall into. Move over Ganya…(And, I suppose, Raskolnikov would fall into the same category as well.)

I’m also finding the compressed time frame and the sudden shifts forward to be very interesting. Here’s a bit from George Steiner’s book Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: A Essay in Contrast, on Dostoevsky’s use of time:

“Dostoevsky perceived time from the point of view of a dramatist. He asked in the notebooks for Crime and Punishment: ‘What is time?’ And answered: ‘Time does not exist; time is a series of numbers, time is the relation of the existing to the non-existent.’ Instinctive to him was the concentration of tangled and multitudinous actions into the briefest time span that could be reconciled withi plausibility. This concentration contributes signally to a sense of nightmare, of gesture and language stripped of all that softens and delays. Whereas Tolstoy moves tide-like and gradual, Dostoevsky twists time into narrowness and contortion. He empties it of those spells of leisure which can qualify or reconcile. Deliberately, he crowds the night as thickly as the day lest sleep muffle the exasperations or dissipate the hatreds bred by the clash of characters. Dostoevsky’s are the contracted, hallucinatory days and the ‘white nights’ of St. Petersburg; not the ample noon under which Prince Andrew lies at Austerlitz or the deep star spaces in which Levin finds peace.

The fact that a major part of The Idiot transpires in twenty-four hours, that the bulk of the incidents narrated in [Demons] covers only forty-eight hours, and that everything but the trial in The Brothers Karamazov comes to pass in five days is as central to Dostoevsky’s vision and intent as is the terrifying brevity of time which separates King Oedipus from Oedipus the beggar. The speed with which Dostoevsky occasionally wrote – the first part of The Idiot was set down in twenty-three days — was like a physical counterpart to the hurtling rhythm of his plots.”

Thursday’s Reading:

Part Four, Chapter Two (I know it’s short, hopefully everybody will then be caught up for the weekend’s reading)


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