Hello, and welcome to the third in our “Dreary Russian Literature” specials! I think I picked the wrong time to work on my length issues, but I suppose it’s go big or go home, right? Let’s get started.
Prince Myshkin is one of literature’s best, and most famous, characters. In describing The Idiot, one must speak of him because he is the idiot. Or, to be more specific, he is called the idiot because no one can understand his goodness. The world is an affected place, full of hypocrisy and greed, and to people like this, the purest embodiment of the Christian love of man (Christ-like, not Christian in the sense of religion, as Myshkin could — and would — tell you) can only be seen as a lack of intelligence. And so they ridicule the kindness, goodness, and openness of a truly good man. Thus, The Idiot is a look at just how corrupt our world is, and how far from the ideal, a subject that Dostoevsky visits more than once.
Something like this is also seen in The Brothers Karamazov, which A discussed last week, during The Grand Inquisitor, a tale told by Ivan to his brother Alyosha. In it, Christ returns to Earth only to be sentenced to die by the Inquisition, who claims the Church no longer needs him. The Church is a worldly thing, burdened by worldly cares, and is thus antithetical to the true Christ. And Dostoevsky was, as a writer, very concerned with this dichotomy. In The Idiot, he turns that concern into a novel that becomes one of the greatest stories of all time.
This is not an even novel. Of all of Dostoevsky’s works, it is probably the least polished and most meandering, as if the author himself was using it as a chance to explore rather than write a cohesive narrative. And as someone who’s a bit of a philosopher myself, getting the chance to read one of the great philosophical novels is a real treat. Although, because it’s Russia, it does not end all that happily. Oh, Russia. You strange beast.
As with all things Russian, vodka must be on offer. But that is hardly surprising or exciting. So, because I think one needs to keep a mostly clear head while reading this book, I’m going to recommend something called Mors. It’s only slightly alcoholic (so little, in fact, that it’s given to children) and made of fermented foxberries (or sometimes cranberries). It’s typically used as a mixer, though children often drink it straight. If it’s too hard to find here, just toss some cranberry juice into the vodka. I’m sure that’d work. Don’t drink too much, though. You wouldn’t want to be too worldly.