Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Idiot Part Three

The Idiot readalong is hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

There was so much talking in Part Three of The Idiot. Everyone goes to their dachas outside of Petersburg. The same painting by Holbein comes up yet again, this time in a long, erratic statement from the consumptive Ippolit:
Evidently Dosteovsky was obsessed with this painting. Ippolit describes the painting (it is the third time the painting is described in the book) in the middle of his long suicide note, which he reads to a crowd that has been drinking champagne all night. Another theme that is repeated throughout the novel is that of a man who has received a death sentence. In the case of Ippolit, the death sentence is a diagnosis of terminal consumption (today we call this disease tuberculosis).

Prince Myshkin seems to vacillate between a love mixed with pity and compassion for Nastasya Filippovna, and a chaste love for the virginal Aglaya. The two women represent two types of sexuality: the fallen woman, who cannot be a wife, and the innocent virgin, who cannot be a wife and remain unspoiled (was Dostoevsky thinking of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary? Myshkin is certainly a Christ-figure).

Part Three contains many scenes that involve the characters talking endlessly to one another: about love, about marriage, about money, about society, about philosophy, about each other. The best scenes in the section are the scene where Myshkin finally sees Nastasya Filippovna in a public place, tries to protect her, and his nearly challenged to a dual, and the final scene in the section, when he briefly sees Nastasya Filippovna after reading her love letters to Aglaya. Yeah, they're all in a relationship, and it's complicated.

Part Three didn't succeed for me the way Parts One and Two did, partly because there was so little action and so much philosophical talkiness. And I'm starting to feel aggravated at Myshkin's dogged innocence. People blatantly lie to him, try to get money from him, drink up all of his champagne, and call him an idiot to his face (when he is clearly the only good and pure man among them). Prince Myshkin takes it all with such Christ-like patience that I start grinding my teeth.

What I love about The Idiot is the emotional intensity of the characters-especially the women. Nastasya Filippovna, who has been "ruined" by her guardian, and seems to be going mad; Aglaya Ivanovna, who longs to learn, be educated, run away, escape her stifling life; Lizaveta Prokofyevna, who is "eccentric," tempestuous, compassionate--each of these women is trapped in a society which gives them no real choices, and yet each has an intellect and sensibility that puts the men to shame.

If you are taking part in the readalong, talk back to me! What did you think of Part Three? What do you think will happen next? Will Rogozhin murder someone? Will Lebedev recover his stolen money (or did he make the whole story up?)?


neer said...

Somebody reading The Idiot! Have become your follower.

bibliophiliac said...

Thanks neer! It makes me feel less lonely to finally have someone comment on this post!