Book Review: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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In The Idiot, Dostoevsky tells the story of a young prince who, after spending some time in a Swiss sanatorium, returns to Russia to inherit some money and socialize. However, he soon realizes that the society he’s come back to is fixated on wealth, status, and control.

Along the way, he meets a troubled young man named Rogozhin and the beautiful Nastasya Filippovna, whom Rogozhin becomes obsessed with. Their tumultuous relationship ends in tragedy, and the prince finds himself caught up in a scandal that ultimately leads to murder.

As the story unfolds, Dostoevsky explores how the innocent and kind-hearted prince affects those around him, culminating in a shocking finale that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book review provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this The Idiot book review, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Plot Summary

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot tells the story of Prince Myshkin, a Christ-like character who embodies purity and innocence in his approach to life’s obstacles. The novel delves into complex moral dilemmas and spiritual themes, showcasing Dostoevsky’s exploration of faith, reason, and the human condition.

The prince, an epileptic who has sought treatment abroad, arrives in Russian society as an outsider, unable to see past people’s surface appearances and inherently trusting in their sincerity. He shows Christian love and compassion towards those he encounters, even in the face of their flaws and problems, but struggles to retain his virtue in the midst of moral complexities.

The plot revolves around the prince’s relationships with two characters: Rogozhin, a dark and brooding man in love with the society woman Nastasya Filippovna, and Aglaya, a girl whom the prince also comes to love. He is drawn into a love triangle with Rogozhin and Nastasya as he proposes to the latter out of a sense of Christian duty to help her in her torment.

Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky explores the intersection of faith and reason, particularly in conversations between the licentious Rogozhin and the saintly prince. The novel’s religious message is epitomized in a sequence of experiences the prince has, which include a conversation with an atheist, an anecdote about two peasants, and a story about a young peasant girl’s Christian belief.

In this novel, Dostoevsky presents his characters with impossible dilemmas, forcing them to question the role of faith and reason in the modern world. However, he does not present simple solutions or packaged opinions, instead asking searching questions of his characters and encouraging readers to consider different ways of leading a spiritual life.

Despite its complexity, The Idiot is a beautiful exploration of Christian love and compassion. Prince Myshkin is a tragic but lovable figure, and Dostoevsky’s passionate spirituality shines through in his portrayal of the character’s struggles. In the end, the novel is a testament to the power of love and the importance of leading a spiritual life, even in the face of impossible moral dilemmas.

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Character Analysis

The protagonist of The Idiot is Prince Myshkin, who is often compared to Christ for his purity and innocence. Myshkin is an outsider who approaches everyone with genuine trust and sincerity, showing a Christian love for those he encounters. However, his faith and virtue are tested by the complexities of Russian society, where he is thrown into a love triangle with Rogozhin and Nastasya Filippovna.

Myshkin’s struggle to maintain his virtuous nature in the face of moral dilemmas is a central theme of the novel. His attempts to save Nastasya from herself out of a sense of Christian duty to help a soul in torment, even at the cost of his own happiness, highlight his unwavering commitment to morality.

Themes and Ideas

The Complexities of Faith and Reason

As with all of Dostoevsky’s work, The Idiot is a dense read that explores philosophical and existential questions. The central paradox of the book is the tension between faith and reason. The character of Rogozhin embodies licentiousness and represents a world without faith, while Prince Myshkin represents the faithful, yet struggles to reconcile his beliefs with the complexities of the world around him.

The book’s religious message is revealed through the prince’s meditations and conversations, particularly those with Rogozhin. Dostoevsky asks profound questions of his characters and subjects them to impossible dilemmas, highlighting the limitations of both faith and reason.

The Importance of Love

Despite the complexities of faith and reason, the real subject of The Idiot is love. Dostoevsky’s passionate spirituality shines through in his portrayal of Prince Myshkin and his deep love for those around him. Even when Myshkin gets himself into irredeemable tangles and difficulties, the author’s love for his character shines through, showing Christian love from a new angle.

The author also presents a unique perspective on the idea of forgiveness. The scene where one of the two friends covets the other’s expensive watch, but cannot bring himself to cut his friend’s throat without first asking for the Lord’s forgiveness, highlights the importance of repentance and forgiveness in Christianity.


1. The Gentle Insurgent: Prince Myshkin

The central character of The Idiot, Prince Myshkin, is a gentle and Christ-like figure who stands in sharp contrast to the nihilistic murderer Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Myshkin’s honesty, compassion, and honor are refreshing, particularly in a society that cannot cope with an honest and compassionate man. His unwavering commitment to morality, even in the face of moral dilemmas, is inspiring.

2. The Conversation and Critique of Society

Dostoevsky’s use of conversation and critique of society is particularly effective in The Idiot. The set pieces, where characters hold forth for pages on theories and anecdotes, provide a window into the society of post-feudal Russia, where the social order was in flux. The challenges to the status quo, the radical claims on the political and economic system, and the voice given to conservative views all contribute to a unique double-edged critique of the bourgeoisie.

The conversations and disputes in The Idiot are not just about society, but also about the soul of Russia. Through Prince Myshkin’s speech, Dostoevsky poses the question of whether Russia will reawaken to its deep and unique Christian heritage or become like the empires to the West whose money-grubbing ways have begun to infect Russia and its people.

3. The Location of the Narrator’s Point of View

The location of the narrator’s point of view inside the teeming and tortured mind of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment is seen as one of the reasons for its greatness. However, in The Idiot, the narrator’s point of view is located inside Russian society itself, rather than inside a single consciousness. While this technique may seem old-fashioned or hard to read to some modern readers, it is warranted and appropriate for the nature of the story Dostoevsky is telling.

The omniscient narrator’s voice moves from one drawing room to another, one set of eyewitnesses, gossips, and minor characters to another. These set pieces, such as Natasya’s “party,” where she chooses whom she will marry, or the nihilist Ipollit’s reading of his Confession, locate The Idiot more in the realm of traditional 19th-century novel of manners than Crime and Punishment. This location of the narrator’s point of view provides a unique perspective on Russian society under stress.


1. The Difficulty of the Prose

Dostoevsky’s writing style in The Idiot is not an easy read. The prose is dense, old Russian, and translated, which can make it a challenging experience. Even for those who are familiar with the Russian language, it can be difficult to appreciate the poetic nature of the language.

Borges once said that if something does not come naturally, you should not read it. However, this is not entirely true. While The Idiot is a classic novel, it may not be for everyone. The prose is challenging, and this may discourage some readers.

2. Lack of Plot Direction

The Idiot is a novel about mischief, with Prince Myshkin as the central character. While the prince is an entirely positive character with a beautiful nature, his love affairs with two women, neither of which work out, are the only real plot lines in the novel.

While the novel is full of quotable lines that are relevant today, it lacks a clear direction or plot development. This can be frustrating for readers who prefer a clear storyline and character development.

3. The Novel is Dated

The Idiot is a glimpse into pre-revolutionary Russia, and its societal norms and values are quite different from those of contemporary readers. While the novel may provide a fascinating insight into the life of Russian nobility, it may be difficult for modern readers to relate to the characters and their actions.

The conversations and debates that take place in the novel may seem irrelevant and outdated to some readers. This can make it difficult to engage with the novel and appreciate its significance.

About The Author

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was a 19th-century Russian writer, philosopher, and journalist. He wrote about human psychology and how people dealt with the political, social, and spiritual challenges of his time. Dostoyevsky was particularly interested in Christianity and how people coped with difficult situations and beautiful experiences.

Dostoyevsky began writing when he was in his twenties and published his first novel, Poor Folk, when he was 25. Over his lifetime, he wrote 11 novels, three novellas, 17 short novels, and other works. He is widely considered one of the greatest psychologists in world literature. Notes from Underground, published in 1864, is considered one of the first works of existentialist literature.

Buy The Book: The Idiot

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