The idiot

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The idiot ( Russian Идиот idiot ) is one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's most famous novels . It was started by Dostoevsky in Geneva in 1867, finished in Milan in 1868 and first appeared from January 1868 to February 1869 in the journal Russki Westnik . The German first edition was published in 1889 by S. Fischer Verlag in a translation by August Scholz . The story of Prince Myshkin, who left his Swiss refuge for about half a year and found himself in St. Petersburg society, is one of the works of world literature . In his naive, unconventional way, the protagonist sees people in their personal and social tensions and contradictions and their resulting suffering. He fails in his efforts to help them and sinks back into his sick state of mental isolation.

As a backdrop, the idyllic Pavlovsk Park contrasts with the protagonists' conversations about their insoluble relationship conflicts and tragic life decisions.


After a five-year stay in a Swiss sanatorium, the 26-year-old Prince Lev Myshkin returns to Russia on a November morning to settle an inheritance matter in Saint Petersburg after the death of a relative. Although his epilepsy has been successfully treated, his isolation has preserved childlike, naive behavior, and society smiles at him as an “ idiot ” in the meaning of an unworldly eccentric.

The first day in Petersburg

In the first part of the novel, which is played on one day, the prince gets to know families of the affluent middle class, makes friends with some members and thus gains access to the privileged circle as well as to socially disregarded fringe groups. The main and secondary characters are introduced and the network of relationships with the conflict situations around the protagonist is built up.

This first part has four main points: First, Myshkin's acquaintance with the merchant Rogozhin and the official Lebedev on the train (chapter 1); secondly, the visit to his distant relatives, the family of General Jepantschin, his wife Lisaveta and the daughters Alexandra, Adelaida and Aglaja (2nd to 7th chapters); thirdly, he rents a room from the impoverished Ivolgin family (8th to 12th chapters), and fourthly, he takes part in the birthday party of Nastassja Filippovna Barashkovas (13th to 16th chapters), the socially excluded lover of the rich landowner Tozkij, who she is wants to marry Gavrila Ivolgin. On that day, however, the young man got two competitors: Rogozhin, who was bidding 100,000 rubles, and Myshkin, who wanted to prevent the other connections and thus what he believed to be the foreseeable misfortune of those involved through his advertising. The next day, the prince, Nastassja and Rogozhin leave Petersburg, and a tragically ending love relationship develops between them.

The second return to Petersburg

In the 2nd part, after a time jump of six months (1st chapter), Rogozhin, Nastassja and Myshkin (2nd part, 1st chapter) come back separately to Petersburg at the beginning of June, after they end in alternating, each with a separation Relationships lived together. On the day of arrival, the prince of Lebedev learns (Chapter 2) that his former lover is meeting with Rogozhin again in Petersburg and that she often stays with her friend Darja Alexejewna in Pavlovsk . Since his informant also has a country house there, the prince rents an apartment there. His next path leads him to Rogozhin's gloomy house (3rd to 4th chapters). He wants to come to an understanding with the rival that they should not be at odds, but leave the decision to the lover. But despite their conciliatory conversation, the latter cannot control his jealousy and follows him to the “Zur Waage” inn to stab him. This assassination attempt is prevented by Myshkin's epilepsy attack (Chapter 5). When the two later meet in Pavlovsk, the prince forgives the rival for his deed, which he declares as an unfounded hatred and "feverish dream" (3rd part, 3rd chapter).

Summer in Pavlovsk

The plot then shifts to Pavlovsk for a month (Part 2, Chapter 6 to Part 4), where the wealthy Petersburgers, u. a. Jepantschin, Ptitsyn, Lebedew, own houses in parkland where they spend the summer days with friends and relatives. During this time, they visit each other, exchange rumors and hold conversations about their relationships with mutual analyzes as well as controversial, sometimes labyrinthine-comical discussions about current political, social and philosophical topics, for example about the dangerous atheistic or anarchistic young people who are allowed anything (2nd part, 8th and 9th chapter), about Russian liberalism, love of the fatherland, the new judicial system that understands criminals (3rd part, 1st chapter) or the "law of self-destruction" and the equally strong " Law of self-preservation […] in humanity ”(3rd part, 4th chapter). The characterizations from the first part are expanded and previous marginal figures are exposed.

In the 7th chapter and in the further action, the terminally ill Ippolit Terentjew, the friend of Kolja Ivolgin's son of his father's lover, appears as an ideological contrast to Myshkin. He appears with two other young men at the protagonist (2nd part, 7th to 10th chapter) and claims that his friend Antip Burdowskij is the illegitimate son of Myshkin's benefactor Pavlishchev, and that the prince needs the support he has given for his upbringing and for Refund Swiss stay. The group puts its demand in a revolutionary context: As a beneficiary of the feudal system, Myshkin happened to inherit a large fortune without any merit of his own. When Antip, although he can prove the untruth of the paternity of his sponsor, is ready to support Antip financially, the prosecutors reject his mercy and make a moral claim. Nevertheless, they are impressed by the prince's attitude and discuss their theses with him on further visits. One focus is Ippolit's treatise "My necessary declaration" Apres moi le déluge "[After me the flood]" (3rd part, 5th to 7th chapter) about his dying and the existentialist worldview, that with Myshkin's orthodox Christianity and his Vision of the nobility as the reform force of Russia, reflecting on its responsibility for the people, contrasts (4th part, 7th chapter).

The main plot of parts 2 to 4 continues the relationship conflict and expands the destructive triangular constellation to include the love affair between the prince and Aglaya Jepantschin. Despite signs of a compromise, the rivalries increasingly dominate developments and accelerate the tragic end of Myshkin, Rogozhin and Nastassja.

While the prince actively sought Nastassja, in the competitive relationship the initiative, in the middle of the second part, comes from Aglaya. This is related to Nastassja's plans. In her contradictory, erratic manner, she would like to relieve her conscience, help Myshkin to his happiness instead of dragging him into her fateful abyss. Therefore she writes to Aglaya, who already feels an affection for the prince, that he is in love with her and that she should marry him. At the same time she publicly exposes the officer Yevgeny Radomsky, a potential bridegroom of the rival. Aglaya reacts, however, to marriage recommendations or regulations, also from her family (3rd part, 8th chapter), fundamentally angry, because this contradicts her idea of ​​an emancipated woman, on the other hand she reads the letters, in the correct interpretation, as indirect declarations of love the scribe to Myshkin and becomes jealous. Now she provokes the prince first with a poetry recital, with which she parodies his idealistic devotion for the socially ostracized lover as his unearthly vision (2nd part, 7th chapter). Then she mocks him at the beginning of the third part as a serious candidate for marriage (3rd part, 2nd chapter), but offers him her friendship if he helps her escape from her parents' house (3rd part, 8th chapter), on the other hand she threatens with her marriage to Gavrila and finally forces him to decide for or against an advertisement (4th part, 5th chapter). Myshkin then professes his love for her and proposes marriage to her. However, she leaves her answer open, and the Jepantschins test the potential bridegroom at an evening event, where his philosophical speeches, which are ended by an epilepsy attack, are not understood and ridiculed by most of the guests (Part 4, Chapter 7). For Aglaya, despite the failure of the presentation, the decision has not yet been made. She seeks a confrontation with Nastassja (4th part, 8th chapter), insults them by pointing to their different social positions and accuses them of their egoistic possessiveness and self-loving public stagings. Nastassja then wants to demonstrate her personal power in a hysterical fit and orders Rogozhin to disappear and the prince to marry her. When Aglaya leaves the house, Myshkin remains in his compassionate love with Nastassja, who is lying unconscious on the floor (Part 4, Chapter 8). This resolved the question of marriage for Aglaya, and she and her family left for their estate in Kolmino. What remains is the old three-way relationship with the jealous Rogozhin. Myshkin's and Nastassja's wedding is scheduled for the beginning of July, but the bride turns back in front of the church, as before, and drives with Rogozhin to his house in Petersburg (4th part, 10th chapter), where he stabs her to death. When Myshkin finds her body there the next day, he goes mad and has to be brought back to the Swiss sanatorium.


Pragmatists and average people

In response to allegations by the Raskolnikov receptionist that the novel lacked everyday people, the author defended himself at the beginning of the fourth part: “As a rule, writers [...] only describe those types of society that are in reality only extremely rarely exist in such perfect specimens as the artists depict them, but which as types are nonetheless almost more real than reality itself. […] [I] n reality [let] the typical of the individual person as it were diluted with water ”. But "[e] in a novel, which only contains 'types', only eccentrics and exceptional people, would not be a representation of reality and maybe even not even interesting." For these people contained in their mostly futile efforts to escape the routine, " also something typical in its way: as everyday life itself, which at no cost would like to remain what it is and at any price would like to appear original and independent, even without having the slightest gift of independence. "(4th part , 1st chapter). That is why he explains the appearance of everyday people in his novel in the introductory treatises in parts three and four.

In the first chapter of the third part, the narrator takes up the assertion that there are no practitioners in Russia who could carry out sensible planning (third part, first chapter). But he denies that ironically, because order, decency, timidity, lack of initiative, spirit and originality are the characteristics of a capable and useful man of action worldwide, the v. a. concerned with making money and having good relationships. And so, in Russia too, people fear changes and orientate themselves towards the ideal of a practical person. These considerations serve as an introduction to the presentation by General Ivan Fyodorowitsch Jepantschin and his family.

The narrator continues his reflections in the first chapter of the fourth part with his treatise on the “Dozen People” and cites the merchant Ivan Petrovich Ptitsyn, his wife Varvara Ardalionich and their brother Gavrila Ardalionytsch Iwolgin as examples. Exemplary for these practical and everyday people are their social and financial advancement and maintenance strategies. The impoverished general family Iwolgin is introduced during the visit of the prince (1st part, 8th chapter) Here he finds a colorful picture: the indebted and, v. General Ardalion Alexandrovich Iwolgin, who his wife Nina Alexandrovna had to share with Marfa Borisovna (1st part, 12th chapter), the widow of Captain Terentjew, said goodbye to General Ardalion Alexandrovich Ivolgin, who, despite his financial difficulties, had to share his good-bye supported. The ascension-oriented Gavrila. His 23-year-old sister Varvara, who marries the merchant Ptitsyn, who is seven years older than him, so that the whole family receives accommodation and support in his house in the 3rd and 4th part. The 15-year-old high school student Nikolai (Kolja) Ardalionytsch, who becomes friends with Myshkin (1st part, 11th chapter) and becomes his most loyal supporter and helper. The prince tries in his conciliatory manner, v. a. in the third and fourth parts of the novel to alleviate the great tension between family members, e.g. B. Gawrila's hatred of his father when he makes a fool of himself with his audience because of his fantasies.

This group also includes Lebedev, a center of the flow of information (2nd part, 6th chapter), because he knows about all local events and, through his talkativeness, encourages random or targeted intrigues that are then discussed again by his visitors . His house is thus the setting for a number of well-narrated subplots, e.g. B. the theft and the later anonymous return of Lebedev's wallet filled with 400 rubles, presumably by the destitute neighbor Ardalion Ivolgin, and the efforts of all those involved to find an honorable solution for the old friend (Part 3, Chapter 9, Part 4, 3rd chapter).

Marriage plans and orientation towards advancement of the middle class

Already through his first conversations, the protagonist gained insights into career and marriage plans (1st part, 3rd and 4th chapters) of a well-off and socially recognized family of the affluent middle class. Lisaveta Prokofjewna Jepantschina's husband is currently trying to come up with a plan that is advantageous for him. His ambitious assistant and employee of a stock corporation, the 28-year-old Gavrila, is to be married to Nastassja Baraschkowa and this will be socially upgraded. The two received 75,000 rubles from their lover Afanassij Tozkij as start-up aid. This 55-year-old would be free for a marriage with the 25-year-old Alexandra, the eldest daughter of the general, who in turn would like to have Nastassja as a lover, which Gavrila would have to allow because of the protection in the financially favorable marriage for him (1. Part, 11th chapter). However, the young man is in doubt and is encouraged by his mother, sister and the prince whether he should get involved in this dishonorable business, especially since he loves the youngest daughter of his boss, the idiosyncratic, aloof Aglaya, and she has a word of clarification from her he asks. But she asks him to make a decision without reinsurance and replies: “I will not engage in any trade” (Part 1, Chapter 7).

Social prestige is of vital importance to Dostoevsky's everyday people. When Nastassja surprisingly visits the Ivolgins (1st part, 9th chapter) in order to get to know their potential new relatives before their decision, Varvara, who, through her contacts with the Jepanchins, is marrying her brother to Aglaya, informs her about her relationship Tozkij and her not equally socially acceptable position pointed out. She reacts to her contemptuous belittling with an outburst of anger (1st part, 10th chapter) and on the same day, on the evening of November 27th, at the celebration of her 25th birthday, confidently counts on her benefactors and the advertiser they support from. Ironically, Ferdyshchenko, who likes to present himself as a joker and entertainer, like Myshkin lodgers with the Ivolgins, suggests a game that symbolizes the inner situation of those present: Everyone should tell the worst deed in their life. (1st part, 13th and 14th chapter). Tozkij and Jepantschin, whose deeds the reader z. Some are known, cheat their way out of the affair with small villains and thus demonstrate the facade-like nature of their reputation. When the high point of the evening approaches, Nastassja first asks the prince how he would decide. He advises her against a connection with Gavrila, she agrees, returns the dowry and ends the relationship with Tozkij after nine years and three months . Then she plays off her second applicant Rogozhin against Gavrila, tells of the contemptuous words his sister Varvara had to her, throws the money package Rogozhin brought as a gift into the fire and wants to leave it to Gavrila if he is ready to burn his fingers for it. But this waived. Nastassja moves to Katharinenhof to celebrate with Rogozhin and his followers, and Myshkin follows them. The observers of this scene have a bad premonition, and Ptitsyn thinks of a Japanese saying about it. “You have insulted me, and for it I slit my stomach open before your eyes.” (Part 1, Chapter 16).

The big family project of the Jepantschins is still the marriage of their daughters. Due to the scandal triggered by Nastassja, a connection between Tozkij and Alexandra is no longer socially acceptable. Now the general and his wife concentrate after the 23-year-old Adelaida and the wealthy 35-year-old Prince Sch. got engaged to the stubborn Aglaya, who was interested in ideas of emancipation (“women's issues”). A rapprochement between Gavrila, who broke up professionally with the general after the scandal, Lisaweta tries to prevent by not wanting his brothers and sisters (4th part, 1st chapter) to connect with them through mail services in her house. Her youngest daughter, too, is still skeptical about Gawrila's development and finally rejects him again (Part 4, Chapter 8).

Prince Myshkin - The poor knight

The tragic network of relationships of exceptional people differ from these everyday people with their problems that can be solved with compromises in adaptation processes. The first drafts for “Idiots” from September 17, 1867 conceive as the main character a “domineering, passionate” intellectual, to whom “the figure of a simple-minded, benevolent person appears as a counterweight”. This hero has dominated planning since mid-November, while his opponent only remains as a figure in the discussion, but not as the person who determines the actions in Ippolit. The central figure, referred to by Dostoyevsky in his drafts as “Prince Christ” and ridiculed by Aglaya as a “poor knight”, which, as the center of gravity, attracts all actions, is due to its strange-looking, but sympathetic actions etc. a. compared to Cervantes Don Quixote , but also differentiated from him by interpreters, because his characterization does not follow a simple good-evil scheme: “Prince Myshkin is essentially neither a Don Quixote, nor is it beautiful and good only out of goodness, and by no means a ' Democrat '[...] is also not a Parzival or a Pestalozzi , but is a real Dostoevsky “The good person acts compassionately through empathy with the evil soul and its deformation. He analyzes the situation of others with great psychological sensitivity. Myshkin is not only a dreamer, but also knows his own situation. He registers the mockery of others about his indulgence or his helplessness and has little illusions about the success of his relief efforts, but his humanity impresses many people such as Lisaveta Jepantschina and her daughters, Kolja, Lebedev or the officer Yevgeny Radomsky and those in the last chapter with this connected Vyera Lebedev.

The experience of isolation

Dostoevsky apparently adopted the experience of isolation from his own life, from his ten-year exile as a 28-year-old in a prison camp in Siberia, and incorporated it as a formative force into the unfortunate biographies of two protagonists: Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin and Nastassja Filippovna Barashkova are both have become outsiders. He lived for a long time on an estate and then in the Swiss mountains in the island world of the sick child; she was the young slave held captive in a lonely castle. The two have had very different experiences with their “benefactors”. That is why those who have been freed from isolation react differently when they get into large society with its strict rules and forms as well as their prejudices, with Christian charity or aggressive provocation. However, both ultimately cannot withstand the permanent conflict situations with personal entanglements.

Myshkin comes from an impoverished old noble family. After the death of his parents, the little child, who was slow in development because of his frequent illnesses and therefore called an idiot, was taken in and cared for by the landowner Nikolai Andreevich Pavlishchev. His unmarried guardian also financed his treatment with Professor Schneider in the Swiss canton of Valais until his death two years ago (Part 1, Chapter 2). Although Lew was largely able to catch up on his linguistic and intellectual deficit and appears to be well-read and intelligent, emotionally and socially he resembles an inexperienced child. His spontaneous, carefree and open behavior is perceived by society as hurtful, clumsy or funny, as "idiotic". On the other hand, the idiosyncratic straightforwardness, the naive honesty and trustworthiness of the eccentric with their involuntary irony also arouse sympathy. His friends appreciate his humanity, his eye for traces of suffering on their faces and his empathy. However, they warn him again and again that because of his loss of reality, his careless generosity and the constant willingness to forgive weaknesses and see the best in people, he can easily become a target of ridicule and a victim of intrigue and exploitation. However, since he has several protectors, this is not the reason for his return to the Swiss sanatorium, but rather his limitless willingness to make sacrifices, which overwhelms him physically and mentally in his relief efforts for a socially despised young woman.

Nastassja's uncontrolled and contradicting behavior can be explained by her incapacitation and the emotional injuries in her girlhood, the consequences of which she only becomes fully aware of later in St. Petersburg: As a seven-year-old child (Nastja), she is impoverished after the death of her noble father was taken in by the rich landowner Afanassij Ivanovich Tozkij. He prepared the twelve-year-old beauty in a four-year training in scientific subjects, music, painting, the French language, aesthetic and pleasant conversations and adapted manners for her life as his lover in a luxuriously furnished pleasure palace on his estate "Otradnoje". in front. Since the age of 16 he spent two to three months in this tasteful environment every year for four years (Part 1, Chapters 1 and 4). Shut off from the real world, she lived in isolation, like Myshkin from his illness. When Nastassja found out about her guardian’s marriage plans, she turned up at Tozkij’s in Petersburg, transformed in her behavior and “wounded him with the biting mockery […] that [she] had never felt anything but deep in [her] heart Contempt [...] to the disgust that occurred immediately after the first astonishment. ”On the one hand, he recognizes the danger that she“ shrank from […] absolutely nothing because nothing was dear to her ”, and diagnosed“ something internal , mental chaos [...] something like a romantic indignation about God knows who and God knows what, at least an insatiable need for contempt ”. But he correctly suspects that since there is nothing she can do legally against him and since "her own self had long since ceased to be dear to her [...] she [...] was able to treat herself in the most terrible way to ruin ". At first he "like all bon vivants of his era thought with cynicism how cheaply he bought this soul that had hardly lived at all", did not want to do anything and because of its fluctuations between unapproachable pride mixed with irascible aggressiveness and self-destruction Left to her lost honor, her "maiden shame", but then he thinks about it, finances her an elegant apartment in the city and, since her new licentiousness seems unusual to him, wants to take advantage of her again as a lover or, with a generous dowry, with " to any wise and decent gentleman ”(Part 1, Chapter 4). Now after five years of withdrawn life, she seems ready to accept Gavrila Ivolgin's advertisement, even though she is aware of his family's negative opinion.

Myshkin's entry into the adult world

On the first day of his arrival, Prince Myshkin is introduced to the plot with his personality structure, which does not correspond to everyday people, and thereby gradually gets into the network of relationships that will determine his fate. Lisaweta Jepantschina, a born Myshkina, and her daughters he presents himself to B. in the demonstration of his great knowledge as well as his skills in calligraphy as an interesting eccentric and wins her affection, z. B. when he reflected on his situation in front of them and they felt his profundity: “My whole life was filled by the children. I would never have dreamed that I would ever leave the village […]. [A] ll acquaintances are now far behind. As I sat in the car, I thought, 'Now I'm going to the adult people; maybe I don't know about them yet; - but in any case my new life begins now '”(1st part, 6th chapter) Through his sensitive descriptions, e.g. B. his Swiss country life, a guillotine execution in Lyon and his identification with the agony of the delinquent, which he must know from his own experience through his mock execution on Semjonowplatz in 1849 and possibly mortal anxiety when initiating his epilepsy attacks, or dealing with the village children , whom he treated as an adult, he speaks to the heart of Lisaveta, who feels like him as a soulmate, but not to her mind, which demands a society-oriented male role in order to be able to survive the competition with her intrigues. That is why the “dear person” would come for her as a son-in-law, in the third part of the novel this aspect is not an issue. For her daughter Aglaya, on the other hand, his lack of interest in material things would not be an obstacle to marriage, especially since she has the prospect of a good dowry. She is impressed by his straightforwardness and moral uncompromisingness, which clearly distinguishes him from the swaying Gavrila, but she mocks even more than her mother about his lack of a sense of reality, which repeatedly exposes him to the danger of falling victim to exploitation and of the Society smiled at as unique and not taken seriously as a grown man. Even in the first conversations that expose the protagonists, the future ambivalent attitude of the public becomes visible, and the reader suspects the dangers that threaten him in the world.

Myshkin and Ippolit

Typical of Myshkin's human interaction is his reaction to the demands of the revolutionary theoreticians Ippolit Terentjew, Lebedev's nephew Vladimir Doktorenko and lieutenants a. D. Keller to compensate her friend Antip Burdowskij, the alleged son of his foster father Pavlishchev from an illegitimate relationship. When Myshkin, although he rightly doubts the truth of her rumors and inventions, is ready to support Antip financially, the visitors reject his offer as dishonorable mercy for the recipient and make a moral claim to a part of his own without him Merit of accrued assets (2nd part, 8th and 9th chapters). They combine their demand with a criticism of the feudal system with the unequal ownership structure and allude to the fact that the prince inherited the wealthy merchant Papuschin through a chain of deaths in his family. While the Jepantschins, who were also present, are outraged by this argumentation, which calls their social position into question and aims at a radical change in financial circumstances, and criticize the prince's understanding reaction, he invites everyone to tea and a conversation ensues within the heterogeneous society, v. a. between the conventional Lisaweta and the Ippolit talking about his imminent death. (2nd part, 10th chapter). Myshkin's sympathy for the socially disadvantaged has an impact on young men. They accept some of his offers of help, visit him again and again in the following days, celebrate his 27th birthday with him and seek an exchange of ideas.

Ippolit, in particular, seeks an intellectual confrontation with the protagonist and reads him his treatise on his death, in which he formulates his existentialist worldview. The core is an argument derived from a hypothetical idea: “May my consciousness have been ignited by the will of a force majeure, may it have looked at the world and said: 'I am!', And may then suddenly be dictated to it by the same power, to perish again because it is necessary for some purpose - and even without an explanation for what - […], but then the eternal question remains: What is my humility for all this? Should it really not be possible to just eat me up without asking me to praise what is eating me up? […] Then it would be far more correct to assume that my life was simply used, my vain life, the life of an atom to complete some general harmony as a whole, that is, for some plus or minus, or for some contrast, perhaps or what do I know, just as the lives of millions of other living beings have to be sacrificed every day, since without their death the rest of the world could not exist ”. From this consideration he concludes: “If I have already been given the opportunity to recognize that 'I am', then I will probably also be able to recognize that it is not my fault if the world is filled with everything Errors were created and that they could not exist otherwise? So who could still sit in judgment over me and what offense? […] In any case, that is impossible and would be unjust! ”(3rd part, 7th chapter).

The counterpart to Ippolit's treatise is the prince's speech at an evening event in the Jepantschin house about the social vision associated with his Christian devotion (Part 4, Chapter 6). Myshkin's idea of ​​his philosophy of life is accompanied by an impending epilepsy attack. When he heard that his patron Pavlishchev was converting to Catholicism, he lost control of himself, allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion and spoke about the power of the Russian Orthodox faith in contrast to Roman Catholicism , which was degenerating into a state world power and due to its distortion Christianity is even worse than atheism , and about the danger of western enlightened nihilism for the down-to-earth Slavic people. After he symbolically broke a valuable Chinese vase in an obsession against which Aglaya warned him and which he absolutely wanted to avoid and his apology was received with glee by everyone, he dreams in front of the social elite by showing grotesque misjudgment of the Reality protects the rich listener from justified criticism: "I have always had to hear so much bad things about you [...] about the pettiness and exclusivity of your interests, about your backwardness, your poor education, your strange habits [...] I [...] ] wanted to see for himself [...] whether this entire upper class of Russian people is no longer good for anything, whether it has really outlived its time [...] but is still waging a petty, envious struggle against the [...] people of the future that she throws obstacles in the way without even realizing that she herself is about to die? ”After summarizing what was before him On his return, he enthusiastically praised his audience, obviously hiding the author's irony: And now “[I] see elegant, open-hearted, clever people [...] see Russian and kind-hearted people [...] Could then inwardly Dead deal with me, how do you deal with? Isn't that human material ... for the future, for all hopes? ”Then he justifies his clumsy, clumsy appearances. It is “sometimes even very good to be ridiculous [...] then one can easily forgive one another, and more easily reconcile with one another; because you can't understand everything at once, you can't start with perfection! [...] But if we understand too quickly, then we may not understand properly at all. "In the end he appeals to the nobility:" Why should we [...] relinquish the place to others when we can remain the advocates and the heads? [...] Let us become servants in order to be allowed to be the rulers. "He climbs into counter-images to Ippolit's devouring world, into a euphoric price of nature and a happy life," Look at a child, look at it God's dawn, look at a blade of grass as it grows, look into the eyes that you look at and love ... ”before it collapses with a cry of the“ shaking and crushed spirit ”(Part 4, Chapter 7).

Epilepsy as a metaphor

Shortly before their climax, Myshkin's epileptic seizures are connected with a metaphysical feeling of happiness: "[Am] in the midst of sadness, inner darkness, oppression and agony [lit up] his brain for moments, as it were, like lightning [...] and all his vital forces [ tense] with one blow spasmodically [...]. The sensation of life, of consciousness, increased tenfold in these moments [...] The mind, the heart were suddenly filled with unusual light; all excitement, all doubts, all unrest dissolved into a higher calm, as it were, into a calm full of clear, harmonious joy and hope, full of meaning and the ultimate cause of creation. But [...] these flashes of light were only a premonition of the one second in which the attack then occurred [...] This second was, however, unbearable. "Although he considers that this state of" higher consciousness and a higher feeling of his ego, and consequently also of his 'higher being', ultimately nothing more than an interruption of the normal state, just as his illness ”, but he comes to the conclusion that this objection is not decisive if this moment later turns out to be“ highest in a healthy state Level of harmony, which reveals beauty as an unheard-of and previously unheard-of feeling of fullness, measure, balance and the agitated confluence with the highest synthesis of life, which increases as in prayer. But he remembers the “dialectical part ] of his conclusion [...] the stupidity, the spiritual darkness, the idiocy [are] clearly before his eyes as the consequences of these 'highest moments. ”He fr is concerned “[What] to do with this reality?” (2. Part, Chapter 5) In this ambivalence, the epilepsy outbreak is a metaphor of human nature and the metaphysical world.

Death and life symbolism

This painting The body of Christ in the grave by Hans Holbein the Younger (1522) corresponds to the description of a picture that Myshkin saw hanging "in one of the darkest halls of his house above the door" near Rogozhin (3rd part, 6th chapter).

This ambivalent view of the world, corresponding to the contrast between Myshkin's and Ippolit's ideas, accompanies the fluctuating symbolism of death and life. Increasingly condensed, from the contemplation of the garden knife with the long blade, to the story of a murderer praying during his act, to the interpretation of a painting by Holbein , showing Christ removed from the cross, seen in Rogozhin's house. The picture impresses not only Myshkin, but also Ippolit in the reflections on a resurrection and an eternal life (3rd part, 6th chapter). In the treatise on his death with the title "My necessary declaration" Apres moi le déluge "[After me the flood]" (3rd part, 5th to 7th chapter) he describes his first visit to Parfion Semyonovich Rogozhin and describes his vitality his own physical weakness: “[I] I was a person who was already counting the days left in his life, but he was so filled with immediate life, with the presence of life, without any concern about 'final' knowledge or figuring out each experienced ”- and yet the terminally ill has the feeling that with them“ the extreme ends of the opposites touch ”(3rd part, 6th chapter). This topic is varied in Lebedev's bizarre apocalypse and ogre-eaters-in-famine interpretation presented at the prince's birthday party (2nd part, 11th chapter, 3rd part, 4th chapter) and becomes grotesque when Ippolit wants to shoot himself , but forgot to put in the primer and this is interpreted as a comedy, whereupon he collapses unconscious. A few days later he asks the prince how best to die. When he replies, “Pass us by and forgive us for our luck,” he comments on this advice with “Well! God knows! Nice phrases! Goodbye ”(4th part, 5th chapter).

Myshkin - Nastassja - Rogozhin

The triangular relationship, overshadowed by tragedy, is already indicated in the first part: in Rogozhin's tale of his love for Nastassja and in Myshkin's contemplation of Nastassja's photograph, which she gave to Gavrila, in Jepantschin's office (1st part, 3rd chapter). He sensitively discovers the eyes of an unhappy woman: “Unlimited pride and contempt and almost hatred spoke from this face, and yet at the same time there was something trusting, something amazingly good-hearted in it; and this combination even aroused something like pity [...] "In this face ... there is a lot of sorrow" says the prince "(1st part, 7th chapter). This opens up a main theme of the novel: the contrast between the two forms of love, eros and agape .

The real love affair with Nastassja, competing with Rogozhin, begins at her birthday party, when the hostess asks the prince for his opinion on Gavrila's advertising, because he is "the first person [...] he really loved [...] at first sight." believed in [she], and so [she] believed in him too ”He advises her against a connection with Gavrila, because he rejects the immoral business project. She agrees, returns the dowry and ends the relationship with Tozkij after nine years and three months: "Tomorrow - a new life begins, but today I am still the birthday child and belong to myself - for the first time in my life!" 1st part, 14th chapter). When Rogozhin then shows up with his bacchanical, wild, drunk troop and offers her 100,000 rubles if she lives with him, she plays off her new applicant against Gavrila and at the same time humiliates herself in ecstasy as a "shameless" who prefers to be "in a party with Rogozhin." und Braus ”instead of going on as before:“ I'm going out on the street now […] there is my place, or at the washing trough! ”(1st part, 16th chapter). Myshkin also warns them of this “moment of a pathological attack” (Part 1, Chapter 16), because Rogozhin and they would ruin each other through their destructive potential. He, on the other hand, revealing his mission, wants to save her through marriage and build her self-respect. He urges her urgently: “I am nothing, but you have suffered and have emerged from such a hell pure [...] Why are you ashamed [...] I love you. I would not allow anyone to say a bad word about you ”(Part 1, Chapter 15). In order to fund his proposal, he also mentions that he will probably inherit the wealthy businessman Papushin. Nastassja, however, does not seem to take his words seriously and replies that he needs a woman like Aglaya. In this foreshadowing, it indicates the coming development. When she and Rogozhin left Petersburg the next day and Myshkin followed them and lived with them for a while, initially in Moscow, he was drawn into the feared area of ​​tension. Several times, Nastassja, Myshkin or Rogozhin decides to marry, but shortly before the appointments she grasps her fear of commitment and flees to the respective rival and asks him to “save” her (Part 2, Chapter 3). It fluctuates between two extreme positions: just as Rogozhin is repeatedly driven away from his resolutions by emotionality, sexuality and his uncontrollable evil spirits, so the prince represents the basic attitudes of compassion and charity.

It is precisely because of this development that Myshkin feels that his premonitions have been confirmed and that he is responsible for Nastassja. When he returned to Petersburg at the beginning of June (2nd part, 1st chapter), he immediately wanted to come to an understanding with his rival that Nastassja should go abroad and be cared for mentally and physically there and that they should not be hostile, but rather with their mutual lover leave the decision. Because he loves her “not out of 'love', but out of 'compassion'” (2nd part, 3rd chapter). However, Rogozhin is incapable of such self-control. Desperately, he describes Nastassja's outbursts of hatred and the mockery that provoked him. She only loves Myshkin, but does not marry him so as not to spoil his honor with her bad character. He formulates this situation as a paradox : "She could not stand her own love with you." (Part 2, Chapter 4). On the other hand, she would only marry him out of hatred for him and herself, i.e. for self-destruction. This also corresponds to Myshkin's analysis, because he has long recognized that her low self-esteem is linked to her assessment of not only being an abused victim, but also of having taken pleasure in her situation. From her low social position, which she repeatedly demonstrates to herself and to others through new actions, she in turn gains masochistic pleasure in her labyrinthine psyche. That is why she also flees from Myshkin's attempts to “lift up to oneself” (Part 3, Chapter 8). The two men are also involved in the ambivalence of feelings. After their conciliatory conversation, they exchange crosses like brothers, and Rogozhin wants to leave the lover to the prince. But he cannot keep his resolutions. In his obsession he has followed Myshkin on his way through the city since his arrival in Petersburg and finally lurks him in the evening with a knife in the dark stairwell of the inn "Zur Waage", but runs away when he climbs the stairs as a result of his epilepsy attack falls down (2nd part, 5th chapter). Throughout the day the eruption, described in detail by the narrator, built up continuously: in one with heightened sensitivity of his perception, the premonition of being observed and pursued by the rival since his arrival, the "darkness and coldness in the soul" (2 Part 5, Chapter 5), distressing memories, self-reproach and compulsive acts related tension.

In the third part of the novel, this conflict situation seems to be resolvable through Myshkin's relationship with Aglaya, but only then breaks out with tragic consequences: Nastassja's flight from marrying Myshkin to Rogozhin repeats itself and ends for the three protagonists with a catastrophe.

Nastassja - Myshkin - Aglaya

Nastassja uses the backdrop of a summer concert in front of the Pavlovsk train station for an appearance that provokes society.

After her experiences with the prince, Nastassja promotes a connection between Myshkin and Aglaya in Pavlovsk and intrigues against the 28-year-old officer Yevgeny Pavlovich Radomsky with confidential shouts that simulate an affair. On the one hand she speaks to him from a carriage about his alleged debts (2nd part, 10th chapter), on the other hand she exposes him at a concert in front of the train station because of his deceitful uncle (3rd part, 2nd chapter) in hers Complicated love for Myshkin, she wants to ridicule the potential bridegroom Aglajas with the Jepantschins through such actions, smooth the marriage field for the prince and thus relieve her conscience of having made him happy instead of dragging him into their fateful abyss. At the same time, through letters to Aglaja, she reinforced their already existing affection for the prince, hidden behind mockery. But between the friendly lines she recognizes a woman who is jealous of her, who envies the blameless, sheltered girl for her high social rank and at the same time hates it, while she already suspects how her life in Rogozhin's gloomy house will end. (3rd part, 8th and 10th chapter, 4th part, 11th chapter).

Aglaja's interest in the prince already shows her recitation of the Pushkin poem of the "poor knight" (2nd part, 7th chapter) who fights for his lady in the Holy Land, who appeared to him in a vision, with her initials on the shield, and later dies lonely in his castle in madness. At first, Aglaja's appearance is interpreted as a mockery of the dreamer Myshkin, as she replaces the first letters of the name of the Queen of Heaven with the Nastassjas (N.F.B.). But her attitude becomes visible to everyone when she defends the prince after the humble apology of his inappropriate behavior, caused by a long illness, in front of her family: “There is not a single one here who is worth such words! […] All of these […] aren't even worth as much as […] your mind or heart! You are more honest than everyone, you are nobler than everyone, you are better, you are purer, you are smarter than everyone! ” In her socially critical attitude she values ​​his unpragmatic, non-profit-oriented attitude. But then her mood turns into hysteria and she reveals her secret desires, but also her displeasure about "that one [she] is constantly married" (3rd part, 8th chapter). In contradiction to this emancipatory position, she orientates herself on a conventional male role model and is disappointed by the idealistic willingness to compromise and indulgence of the prince: “Under no circumstances will I marry you! [...] Can one even marry such a ridiculous person as you? ”(3rd part, 2nd chapter) From this conflict, she will not resolve itself in the further action and depending on the situation fluctuate from one extreme to the other. She has that in common with her rival, including egocentricity and hatred towards the competitor. When Myshkin tries to reassure her after her outburst of anger with his assurance that he doesn't want to advertise her at all, she downplays her performance as one of her capricious comedies, but after the "basket" he has forced, she wants it gradually to an open decision push against Nastassja. First of all, she calls him to the park for a discussion at seven o'clock in the morning and asks him to become her boyfriend and with his help to leave home, because she has no experience of the world and is treated like an immature girl and not like an adult. She then actually exposes her childlike moodiness to the prince when she threatens him to marry Gavrila if he does not support her plans. But your interest is v. a. his relationship with Nastassja, whose psyche he analyzes for her, and she wants to fathom his bond with a madwoman who, in her opinion, belongs in a madhouse (3rd part, 8th chapter). After the prince's frequent visits to Aglaya and her mysterious hedgehog gift for him, the rumors of engagement spread, the Jepantschins also consider this possibility, and Aglaya forces Myshkin in one of their well-known opaque theatrical actions to give up her hand to stop (4th part, 5th chapter). Her sister Alexandra then diagnosed clairvoyantly: "She not only loves, she is even in love [...] Only with whom, the question arises". Aglaya himself praises the prince's “splendid faithfulness” and apologizes with the sibylline words, which he does not understand or unconsciously grasps in his happiness alone: ​​“[V] forgive me for insisting on some nonsense which, of course, did not have the slightest consequence can have… ”(4th part, 5th chapter).

Ultimately, Aglaya seeks a confrontation with Nastassja (Part 4, Chapter 8). She plays off her social positions against her, forbids herself from interfering in her marriage affairs by letters and accuses her of not really loving Myshkin, but of merely torturing her selfishly and stage-setting her shame in public. Nastassja replies with her personal dominance as a woman over the childish Aglaya: she could order the prince to return to her and marry her, and Rogozhin would chase her away. When Myshkin accuses Aglaya that one shouldn't treat an unhappy woman so condescendingly, he realizes the priority of the weak and marginalized in his attitude. She forces him to take sides, which he would rather avoid by fleeing the house: The helpless prince wants to run after her first, but stays with Nastassja, who has slumped unconscious (Part 4, Chapter 8). With that the decision has been made.

In the final conversation with Yevgeny Radomsky, Myshkin listens to his accusation that “pity, too, must have a limit!” And his rational analysis of what happened. The question “So you want to love both of them?” He answers with “Yes, yes!”, And to the assumption “You know what, my poor lord: the most likely thing is that you have never loved either one! "He reacts evasively in a characteristic way:" I don't know ... maybe; maybe you are right in a lot of things [...] you are very clever [...] oh, I'm getting a headache again [...] For God's sake, for God's sake! ”(4th part, 9th chapter).

Aglaja later marries a Polish emigrant in Paris, whose generosity and mourning for the fatherland impressed her, becomes a member of a committee for the restoration of Poland and a fanatical follower of the Roman Catholic faith (Part 4, Chapter 12). This explains in retrospect that she was fascinated by Myshkin's patriotism, his piety and his lack of interest in material things. Due to the similarities of the biographies, it is assumed that Anna (Anjuta) Korwin-Krukowskaja served the author as a model for the figure of Aglaya. In 1866, Dostoyevsky had proposed marriage to the 18-year-old general's daughter, despite her different ideological positions, which the young woman who was inclined to emancipatory and revolutionary ideas refused. Anna's sister, the mathematician and writer Sophie Kowalewskaja describes in her letters the visits of the writer to her family, which remind of the evening event at the Jepantschins.

Narrative form

An anonymous narrator , the confidence of "our story" the reader over (z. B. Part 4, Chapter 1 and 4) talks, pursuing the course of action primarily from the perspective of the protagonist, what a personal form recalls, are but also insights into the thinking of his interlocutors and explains it (e.g. Part 2, last section of Chapter 2). In an authorial way, he also introduces the other people and their biographies (the Jepantschins: 1st part, 2nd, 4th, 5th chapter, Ardalion Iwolgin: 4th part, 3rd chapter), comments, and assesses their behavior himself assumptions about (Varvara: 4th part, 5th and 6th chapter, Myshkin: 10th chapter), describes their apartments and houses (Ivolgin: 1st part, 8th chapter, Lebedev: 2nd part, 6th chapter) and gives background information on developments and connections (4th part, 9th and 12th chapter). He begins individual parts with treatises on practitioners or everyday people in comparison to exceptional phenomena (3rd part, 1st chapter, 4th part, 1st chapter).

Most of the time, however, the narrator realistically integrates the information into the plot. Often this is done through letters. Or he reports of rumors during the prince's absence and of reactions from his Petersburg acquaintances (2nd part, 1st chapter). He also occasionally signals his limited knowledge of individual people: “Unfortunately, it has been impossible for us to find out anything reliable about how they [Radomsky and Vyera Lebedev] were able to establish such relationships […] it can be assumed […] we know that not. ”(4th part, 12th chapter).

In addition, results from the many conversations in which participants describe their experiences through the reading of the essay Ippolits and the controversy a polyperspektivisches image. Mikhail Bakhtin has therefore described Dostoyevsky's literary work as polyphonic: “Not a multitude of characters and fates would unfold in a unified, objective world in the light of a unified author's consciousness, but a multitude of equal consciousnesses with their worlds are linked in the unity of one event without them merging ”.


Theatrical performances



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References and comments

  1. Spelling of personal names according to the Duden transcription table
  2. EK Rahsin: Afterword. In: FM Dostoevsky: The Idiot. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-492-02605-2 , p. 959.
  3. ^ In the translation by E. K. Rahsin: FM Dostojewski: Der Idiot. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-492-02605-2 .
  4. EK Rahsin: Afterword. In: FM Dostoevsky: The Idiot. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-492-02605-2 , p. 949.
  5. Walter Benjamin: The 'idiot' by Dostojewski. In: Writings. Volume 2, Frankfurt am Main 1955, pp. 127-131.
  6. EK Rahsin: Afterword. In: FM Dostoevsky: The Idiot. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-492-02605-2 , p. 955.
  7. EK Rahsin: Afterword. In: FM Dostoevsky: The Idiot. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-492-02605-2 , p. 950 f.
  8. s. Otradnoje (Leningrad) from Russian otrada: enjoyment, refreshment.
  9. Zenta Mauriņa: Dostojewsij. Shaper and seeker of God. Maximilian Dietrich Verlag, Memmingen 1997.
  10. ^ Don H. Kennedy: Little Sparrow: A Portrait of Sophia Kovalevsky. Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio 1983. This monograph is the source for the short story "Too Much Luck". In: Alice Munro : Too much luck. Ten stories. S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-10-048833-6 .
  11. Michail Bakhtin: Problems of the Poetics of Dostoevskijs / Dostojewski. Ullstein 1988, ISBN 3-548-35228-6 , p. 10.
  12. ^ Dunja Brötz: Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" in the feature film. Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 978-3-89942-997-8 .

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