Fyodor Dostoevsky Writing Styles in The Idiot

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Idiot.
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Point of View

Dostoevsky tells the story of the Idiot in the third person. The point view is at times omniscient, but Dostevsky mostly tells the story through the Prince's eyes. This is important to the novel because it allows the reader see that although he is not the "Idiot" of the title, he is actually a deep-thinking and sensitive individual.

Occasionally he shows the story through another character's eyes, in particular Madam Yepanchin. This works to show the superficiality of a world, of which most of the other characters are part. In general, Madam Yepanchin's interest is in her daughters and finding them good and conventional husbands. In contrast, the Prince represents the world of the outsider, of which Nastassya, Rogozhin and to a lesser degree, Hippolyte and Aglaya are part. Madam Yephanchin represents Russian upper-class society.

Setting

The first setting is the train carriage where the Prince meets Rogozhin and Lebedev for the first time. The carriage is full of passengers, and the Prince shows his innocence by talking openly in front of everyone. The train is traveling from Venice to St Petersburg.

The City of St. Petersburg is the main setting in the first part of the novel and the place where Rogozhin murders Nastassya. Within St Petersburg, the other settings are the hotel, Nastassya's house, Rogozhin's house and the Ivolgin's house.

The Prince stays at a hotel during his second visit to St. Petersburg and again in the final part. In the first section, Rogozhin attempts to murder the Prince in a hotel stairway, but the Prince has an epileptic seizure and falls down the steps. The second time he goes to the hotel on the chance he will meet Rogozhin.

Rogozhin's house is a dark building with few windows, and upon seeing it, the Prince is in no doubt that it is the one belonging to his equally dark friend. The house has two entrances. One entrance leads to Rogozhin's mother's house and another leads to Rogozhin's apartment. Rogozhin takes the Prince to his mother so she can bless him. One of the most significant parts of the house is the religious painting in the hallway. The Prince and Rogozhin discuss the picture at great length. It means different things to each of them, reflecting their opposing personalities. To Rogozhin, the picture signifies guilt; to the Prince, goodness.

In the first part, Nastassya holds a party in her house. Dostoevsky describes her house as small, but expensive and with everything she needs inside. At the party, everyone gathers around a table in the drawing room, and Nastassya directs the party with dangerous party games. At one point Nastassya throws 100,000 roubles in the fireplace, hoping Ganja will dive in and fish it out.

The Ivolgin's house is a boarding house, where the Prince stays for one night on his first visit. Ganja's mother and sister run the boarding house because the family has fallen into hard times. During the Prince's stay, the family has an argument in the kitchen, which Nastassya and Rogozhin also join. The minor characters Ferdyshchenko and Ptitsyn also lodge here.

The first place the Prince visits in St. Petersburg is the Yepanchin's house in the Liteyny district. He waits in the anteroom with a servant before introducing himself to Ganja and General Yephanchin in the General's study. In the study, the Prince sees a picture of Nastassya. The General then takes the Prince to meet his wife and three daughters, who are sitting in the drawing room. Dostoevsky paints St. Petersburg as a dark and repressive place and the city where all the Prince's problems occur. When the characters are in St. Petersburg, the narrative is melodramatic and in the end tragic.

In contrast, Pavlovsk is a beautiful town with open spaces, a perfect place for the characters to spend their summer. The fact that both Lebedev and the Yephachins own a house in the town gives the reader the impression that it is an expensive place where the rich go to unwind. After his seizure, the Prince stays at Lebedev's house, spending most of his time sitting on the veranda. Here he has parties and gatherings. Most memorable is his meeting with Burdovsky, who tries to extort money from the Prince. In general, the house is the perfect place for the Prince to recover from his illness. The prince spends a lot of time at the Yephanchin's house in St. Petersburg, where the mother and three daughters spend most of their time in the drawing room. Occasionally the characters take a walk in the nearby park. Here, there is a bench where the Prince has a secret meeting with Aglaya and talks with Rogozhin. At one point, the characters go to a concert hall in the park called the Vauxhall.

Language and Meaning

The Idiot is a translation from Russian to English, and it is difficult to know how much of the novel's meaning is lost. For example, the Ivolgin family, General Yephanchin and Keller are from poorer backgrounds than the other characters, but this is only told to the reader within the story and the translator does not reflect this difference in the dialogue. In general, though, the characters are from high society and the formal language reflects their position. In particular, the characters talk about philosophical ideas that show them to be highly educated. At times, though, their formal and highbrow language does not feel natural to the characters and instead show them to be repressing their true selves.

The formal language feels very much of its time. The characters send letters and go on long, meandering speeches about Russian politics and tell stories with hidden metaphors. Within this 19th century, Russian society, Dostoevsky's shows a huge difference between the role of men and women, mostly through the dialogue. The women are often very emotional and even hysterical. For example, after Burdovsky claims the Prince should give him half his inheritance, Madam Yephanchin shouts at him and then everyone else in the room. She leaves the house claiming the Prince is a disgrace, despite the fact that she knows none of it is his fault. A few days later, she is back to being friendly again. In comparison, the men's conversation is always about business matters, and even if it is not business, they often refer to it as such, showing their need to be upstanding members of Russian society.

Structure

The Idiot is 573 pages long, and Dostoevsky divides it into four parts, each part about 150 pages in length. Each part contains between 10 and 16 chapters. The four parts are different in structure, which gives the book an uneven pace, but suits the changeable and, at times, unstable moods of the three main characters.

The first part of the novel is very melodramatic and the narrative moves from one event to another quickly. As the section continues, the narrative becomes frantic, and the characters increasingly passionate. Adding to this atmosphere is Dostoevsky's love for introducing a character that could increase intensity to an already intense scene. He ends a chapter three times with someone knocking on the door. The first time is in the Ivolgin's house. While they argue passionately about Ganja's impending marriage to Nastassya, Nastassya knocks unexpectantly on the door. Dostoevsky further increases the tension when Rogozhin enters. Rogozhin is Ganja's love rival, and his presence sends everything into disarray, ending with Ganja hitting the Prince across the face. Later on, a chapter ends with Rogozhin knocking at the door of Nastassya's house while she is having a party. The Prince's early arrival had already charged the atmosphere, and Rogozhin's arrival again throws it into disarray. Rogozhin throws money on the table demanding Nastassya marry him, only for the Prince to declare his own love for her. Nastassya decides to marry the Prince but then minutes later, changes her mind and joins Rogozhin's side. Before she leaves with him, she throws the bundle of notes into a fire. When they leave the house, the Prince runs after them. Everything happens so quickly in the first part, it is difficult to believe it occurs over one day.

In the second and third parts, the narrative slows to a meandering pace, the novel switching between black and at times farcical humor, to themes of a philosophical and religious nature. Dostoevsky still fits in many events, but it is over a far longer time frame and within a smaller setting, nullifying the danger so apparent early on. Even when the characters lie and argue, the environment is too secure to cause any major repercussions.

The final section is akin to a tragedy. The narrative is faster than the second and third parts, but it still does not reach the melodrama of the opening section. Instead, Dostoevsky creates a dark and foreboding atmosphere. He starts the section with Ganja on the verge of throwing out his father. His father then has a stroke and eventually dies. At the end of the novel, Rogozhin kills Nastassya and invites the Prince to sleep at the side of her dead body. The final chapter explains that Prince Myshkin has gone mad, and a judge sends Rogozhin to Siberia for fifteen years.

This section contains 1,537 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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