Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Today is my day, my red-letter day, my leap day, I've waited a long time for it.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Idiot is a tale of passionate love to the point of madness and back. It chronicles the return of the so-called Idiot, Prince Lev Nikolaevich, from Switzerland, where he was being treated for a mental and physical malady, to mother Russia. In a whirlwind few days, he falls for a beautiful woman (along with roughly a dozen other men), Nastasya Filippovna, and even offers to marry her in a fit of passion.  She accepts, but later rejects him, in favor of a much more rough-around-the-edges fellow libertine, Rogozhin. The rest of the story continues to illuminate the years that followed for the Prince and various complicated interconnected events that throw Nastasya and Rogozhin back into his path. (And That will throw them into the path of Other. Rich. Men!) The Prince almost marries another woman, Aglaya Epanchin, the reputed "beauty" of the Epanchin girls (all A's - Adelaida, Alexandra, and Aglaya) but crazy Nastasya interferes and makes the Prince/Idiot choose her again, only to jilt him at the altar. In a bizarre ending, Rogozhin helps Nastasya escape her wedding (runaway bride style, but think train, not horseback) only to stab her in her sleep that night. (After all, he gave her fair warning that if she ever deceived him, he'd stick it to her. That makes it ok, right? ;) The Prince/Idiot goes back to being mostly nutso, the Epanchins all move on, and Rogozhin gets sentenced to 15 years hard labor in Siberia.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Okay, so just as a refresher course in Dostoevsky, good old Rodya Raskolnikov (star of Crime and P) ends up serving a hard labor sentence in Siberia, and apparently Dostoevsky himself spent some time there for distributing subversive texts. Which just goes to show that (a) Russia is just as conservative and unsupportive of new ideas as it was 200 years ago and (b) that D is a Leetle too obsessed with Siberia. Seriously. D. It would be OK if you wrote a book where (GASP) no one ended up in Siberia. I think we would be all right. I know, RADICAL. Maybe I should go to Siberia just for recommending that subversive idea.

I suppose if I were rating the three D books I read for this blog (Crime and P, Brothers K, and this one), I'd probably rank this one first. Which isn't really saying much, to be honest, because I really heavily disliked all three. Of the three, though, I think this one had a bit more lyricism and a more compelling cast of characters. I also enjoyed not spending The Entire Novel in the head of a murderer. But that's just me.

My thoughts, in no particular order (or disorder):

- NB: Read this book in a delirious haze/when experiencing brain fever.
I think this book (and all of D's books, for that matter. Am I confusing you by using D here? You know I don't mean Dracula anymore, right? ;)) should come with the above disclaimer. Either that, or maybe have 4 or 5 shots of vodka before you read a chapter. There's kind of a manic quality to D's writing that actually improved (in my very 'umble opinion, to quote the nasty Mr. Heep) After I came down with the flu. It made all the craziness flow a little more logically - either that, or I just questioned it less.

- ACK! Girls who (gasp!) Read!
Here's one of my favorite lines about the Epanchin girls: "With horror it was told how many books they had read." hghaghaghahgahgha. Meredith has read nearly 70 books Just for this blog. the Horror! the Horror! (Apocalypse Now, anyone?)

- 55 is the Age to Be. 
"As for his years, General Epanchin was still, as they say, in the prime of life, that is, fifty-six and not a whit more, which in any case is a flourishing age, the age when true life really begins." Okay, so yes, I can read, and I can see that that clearly says fifty-six. I bring it up because a certain Someone I know, whose nickname might start with a T and rhyme with Sticky, has Happily been turning 55 for several years in a row now. So I thought it very appropriate that the General was so Pleased to be precisely 56. My grandmother even called the house once, several years into Sticky's era of turning 55, and reminded me that I should write 55 on the cake when I was icing it, and not a single digit more. ;)

- Seriously, Alexandra Ivanovna, get a more interesting dream, would you?
Apparently Alexandra, one of the Epanchin girls, was chided for only having empty and innocent dreams. "Once, and only once, she managed to have a dream about something that seemed original - she dreamed of a monk, alone, in some dark room, which she was afraid to enter." I found this hilarious. Particularly because the middle sister in My family has no trouble conjuring up bizarre dreams ;)

- Mr. Dick, what shall we do with the boy?
When Nastasya first creates a hullaballoo around who she'll marry, she gathers all her manfriends, and then laughingly asks the "idiot" to decide for her: "Prince, these old friends of mine, the general and Afanasy Ivanovich, keep wanting to get me married. Tell me what you think: should I get married or not? I'll do as you say." The prince tells her not to marry the man in question at the time (Ganya - yes, he didn't make it to the plot summary. Alas!) and it reminded me very much of one of my favorite scenes in David Copperfield when Aunt Betsey Trotwood lets Mr. Dick (who's a touch off in the head) decide the fate of little orphan Davy. It all works out well in the end, in that case at least.

- Just in case you hadn't already figured out what she was like...
"Nastasya Filippovna was capable of ruining herself, irrevocably and outrageously, facing Siberia and hard labor, if only she could wreak havoc on the man for whom she felt such inhuman loathing." What's that saying? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?

- Are these muffins stale? Will your time keep?
General Epanchin, to the Prince: "Perhaps you'd like to wait, if your time will keep." I loved this phrase. It seemed so polite, but also so sweet. No, I'm sorry, I think my time will go bad if I stay much longer. Thanks. My time needs to be stored in an airtight container. 

- Love, and a bit wiv a hedgehog.
Aglaya's romance with the Prince is highly bizarre, particularly because it turns out later that it's largely orchestrated by none other than (dum dum dum Dum! did you guess?) Nastasya Filippovna, who is working some twisted master plan of her own. I love this letter that Aglaya writes to the Prince:

"Prince Lev Nikolaevich!
    If, after all that has happened, you intend to surprise me by visiting our dacha, then you may be assured that you will not find me among the delighted.
                                                                                              Aglaya Epanchin

haghaghahha. Do not expect Me to be one of the delighted. Hear? Their intrigue escalates, at one point culminating in a delivery of a hedgehog. Here are Lizaveta Prokofyevna (Aglaya's mother)'s thoughts on the situation:
"Her anxiety was aroused to the utmost degree, and above all - the hedgehog; what was the meaning of the hedgehog? Was it prearranged? Did it imply something? Was it some sort of sign? A telegram?"

and later, Aglaya interrogating the Prince on the hedgehog in question:
Aglaya: "'Did you receive my hedgehog?' she asked firmly and almost crossly."
The Prince: "'I did', the prince replied, blushing and with a sinking heart."
Aglaya: "Then explain immediately what you think about it. It is necessary for my mother's peace and that of the whole family."

Hagh. this reminded me that my grandmother told me a story once about either a porcupine or a hedgehog, not sure which, which may or may not have gotten drunk and rolled down a flight of stairs, during her time growing up in either Bulgaria or Romania. I'm going with Bulgaria. Help me out, here, family.

- Possible titles
Sometimes, one particular sentence sticks out to me and captures the essence of the book. Other times, I agonize over a few, trying to decide which one best encapsulates the pith of the novel. Here are a few that were in contention for this work:
  • Here there was only uncertain darkness.
  • He had begun to hate her like his own nightmare. do you have to ask Who?
  • The heart is the main thing, the rest is nonsense.
  • What will I be now without you?
  • Everything's inside-out, everybody's topsy-turvy.
The one I opted for was a line from Nastasya Filippovna herself, in preparing for her 'wedding' to the Prince. It seemed appropriately ominous.

A few passages I enjoyed:
  • "Everyone was tired, as usual, everyone's eyes had grown heavy overnight, everyone was chilled, everyone's face was pale yellow, matching the color of the fog."
  • "The thaw was still going on; a dismal, warm, noxious wind whistled along the streets, carriages splashed through the mud, iron-shod trotters and nags struck the pavement ringingly."
  • "Inventors and geniuses, at the beginning of their careers (and very often at the end as well), have almost always been regarded in society as no more than fools."
I'll close out with a line from the Prince that I found to be endearingly sweet:

"I'll come with the greatest pleasure, and I thank you very much for loving me. I may even come today, if I have time."

Thank you very much for loving me, and I hope that the time you've allotted me will keep till my next entry! Onwards to Ness of the D'Arborvitae! (Nailed it!)

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