‘s reviewFeb 02, 2022 ·
Read 2 times. Last read October 27, 2020 to February 2, 2022.
I love the way this book wraps up, it was well worth it, after having struggled somewhat through hundreds of pages of half-drunken petty vainglorious power struggles within the web of social strata in 19th century Russia. [No spoilers here]. Traveling home to ‘the fatherland’ from the Swiss sanitarium by train, our prince makes the random acquaintance of Rogozhin, the second point in the tragic love triangle, to start the narrative. They have a lively conversation and there is little concern that such a well-meaning and honest/transparent man as our beloved so-called ‘idiot’ could get tangled up in such complicated and dangerous affairs. But the saying goes ‘if you hang around a barber shop long enough, you’re bound to get a haircut.’ And he is noticed by those who wish to take advantage, as a clear and easy mark. Everyone’s hoping to get ahead. Everyone but him. The prince only uses his royal stock to survive, as he is close to destitute at the start, and becomes quite naturally embedded in society circles in and around St Petersburg. He welcomes it, seeking out the company of not so distant relatives, the Epanchins, upon coming home. A wise thing to do back then, if you hoped to survive. He is in fact much wiser than they give him credit for. Most write him off for an idiot the moment he offers up a single honest remark in their company, making the judgment that he is oblivious to social cues and cannot know his place. The younger ones, however, like Kolya and Aglaya, can cut through the bullshit and know him for treasure and gravitate toward him. Even the madwoman Nastasya takes him for a gem amongst the innumerable sharp pebbles that make up her circles. He has the gift of a loving and compassionate nature, and the curse of falling spells at the worst possible time aka ‘dinner parties’ (known all too intimately by our beloved author who had epilepsy). Witnessing him navigate the world is a bit of a heartache for this reader. I confess I may not have completed the text were it not for my familiarity with the other great texts of our beloved author. One of my favorite characters was Nastasya, another Lebedev, and a third would be Ippolit, the 18 year old boy dying of consumption who knows his time is up. If you read Dostoyevsky’s biography, you will find a lifetime full of tragedy: the loss of 2 of his children (one just after birth, the other from an epileptic seizure), his first wife, and both his parents when he was just a teenager. He himself was sentenced to 4-5 years in the work camps in Siberia for the terrible crime of joining a literary circle and reading banned letters! Could anything be more Russian? He himself was condemned to death by firing squad and was already out on the square trying to make sense of his own life and untimely death before the Tsar called it off last minute. True story! Ippolit and the prince to me represent the tragic figures who sound out the author’s own strange and terrible experiences in life, and then let us listen to the voices as they echo through the canyons, trying and perhaps honestly failing to make sense of them. Having read the final page of this 600+ enormity, I am left with a sense of relief and gratitude for life, which comes without clear instructions for how exactly to live it, yet here we are provided a stern and dire warning: don’t ever think you can escape the influence of society.