Reading Doestoevsky’s The Idiot On A Metaphysical-Religious Level

Extrinsic evidence (Dostoevsky’s notebooks and correspondence) suggests that in Prince Myshkin Dostoevsky wanted to create an absolutely beautiful character, though fully aware of the insurmountable difficulty of this task. Dostoevsky scholar Mochulsky suggested that Dostoevsky’s artistic tact caused him to halt “before the immensity of this task” and made him reduce the Prince to something closer to ordinary human stature. But we know that Dostoevsky never relinquished his plan to write “a book about Jesus Christ.”

An entry to this effect is found in one of his last notebooks. In surveying world literature, Dostoevsky came to the conclusion that Christ was the only character in all literature to answer the definition of an “absolutely beautiful character” and that the closest approximation to it was Don Quixote, a wise madman and ridiculous to boot. Accordingly, Myshkin was made not only a Christ figure but a quixotic figure as well, with Don Quixote a notable and explicit presence in the text.

Victor Terras interpets the novel from a religious and metaphysical perspective here:

Edward Wasiolek, in his book Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction *(1964), put it this way; *“The..Prince is a success because for a moment he is able to kindle the faith in others of a truer image of themselves; for a few minutes he is able to quiet, by his own suffering, the rage of insult upon insult.” **

This moves success from the level of action and good deeds to the level of attitudes of the human soul. Kjetsaa, among others, has pointed out that it is precisely this idea that answers the question as to the novel’s religious message. He suggests that in the context of Dostoevsky’s Russian Orthodox faith the attitude of a man’s heart, his responsiveness to God’s grace, the degree of his spirituality, rather than his moral accomplishments, are the measure of a Christian’s progress.


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