The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Quotes


To be killed by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than to be killed by robbers.

Prince Myshkin, Part 1, Chapter 2

One subtheme in the novel is the evil of capital punishment. Prince Myshkin has seen an execution, and he argues in this passage, when he is speaking to Rogozhin on the train, as well as later, when he speaks to the Epanchin women, that capital punishment is unbearably cruel because the condemned person suffers a mental eternity during the days, hours, and minutes preceding their certain, irrevocable death. This is different from any other dangerous situation, where there is always the hope that one may survive.


It's impossible to live really 'keeping a reckoning.' There's always some reason why it's impossible.

Alexandra, Part 1, Chapter 5

Alexandra makes this statement after Prince Myshkin tells the story of a condemned man reprieved at the last minute. While he awaited execution, the prisoner thought that if he were allowed to live, he would not waste a single minute of time. But of course when the reprieve came, he forgot that his life was finite and returned to business as usual. Alexandra stands for "everyman" as she expresses the intuitive knowledge that people live as if they have infinite time, but she does not think further about why this might be the case.


How could she give you her consent and even present you with her portrait, when you don't love her?

Nina Alexandrovna, Part 1, Chapter 8

Ganya's mother has promised to stop ranting at him about a possible marriage to Nastasya Filippovna, which the family opposes. But she cannot help wondering how Nastasya can agree to marry Ganya if he doesn't love her. In this moment she is perhaps thinking about Nastasya's welfare and wondering if she is aware of Ganya's true feelings. Ganya becomes annoyed by his mother's questioning and adds, as an afterthought, that he may not be deceiving Nastasya.


There's a queen for you! ... Who among you rogues would pull such a stunt, eh?

Rogozhin, Part 1, Chapter 16

Rogozhin makes this statement after he barges into Nastasya Filippovna's house on her birthday and throws down 100,000 to "buy out" her other suitors. She throws the money in the fire and then tells Ganya to go get it, since he is a mercenary who wants to marry her for her money. (Her former lover, Totsky, has settled 75,000 rubles on Nastasya.) Rogozhin doesn't care about money, only wanting possession of Nastasya. He is delighted by her queenly disdain for his rubles.


At that painting! A man could even lose his faith from that painting!

Prince Myshkin, Part 2, Chapter 4

The prince is referring to Rogozhin's fictional copy of a real painting, by German painter Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497–1543), titled The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb. The painting is a realistic and horrific rendition of a corpse in its tomb, even more horrific because it depicts Jesus, the God-man. There is no hint of divinity nor resurrection in the stark image of human life at its end. Myshkin is only half joking when he says the painting can make a person doubt their faith in the resurrection in the face of such certain death. This painting is a central symbol in the novel, which literary critic and novelist A.S. Byatt says is primarily concerned with the "the imminence and immanence of death."


You want to exchange crosses? Very well, Parfyon, if so, I'm glad; we'll be brothers!

Prince Myshkin, Part 2, Chapter 4

Russian men exchanged crosses as a symbol of spiritual brotherhood. Here Myshkin agrees to exchange crosses with Parfyon Rogozhin, which is a piece of situational irony, given the fact that in a few hours Rogozhin will attempt to stab the prince, whom he considers to be his rival for Nastasya Filippovna's love. The exchange of crosses is also symbolic of the men's relationship to each other as doubles—one Christlike and the other demonic. Their fates are tied together, and both are destroyed by the same woman.


The sense of life, of self-awareness, increased nearly tenfold in these moments, which flashed by like lightning.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 5

The narrator is describing how Prince Myshkin feels right before an epileptic fit. According to the medical terminology of the day, "idiocy" was ascribed to those who suffered from epilepsy. Dostoevsky equates the quality to spiritual transcendence, and aligns Myshkin's ill health, his seizures, and his sense of transcendence, with his love for the unlovable. All are incomprehensible to normal, healthy people. And all set him apart from the world, giving him a spiritual aura to which no one else can aspire.


It's now considered a man's right ... not to stop at any obstacle, even if he has to do in eight persons to that end.

Lebedev, Part 2, Chapter 7

One of the background motifs in the novel is the multiple murders of a family, a real event, in which an atheistic tutor kills his student and the student's family. Lebedev is a trickster and clown figure in the novel as well as a philosopher. Here he is pointing out that nihilists are not restrained by any kind of morality in achieving their purposes. Lebedev makes this statement right before Prince Myshkin meets some nihilistic young men who expect him to give up some of his inheritance.


Prince, you'll escort me. Can he, maman? A suitor who has rejected me?

Aglaya, Part 3, Chapter 2

After Prince Myshkin apologizes to Evgeny Pavlovich for speaking too freely about his "lofty ideas," Aglaya gets angry and tells him "no one here is worth your little finger." Kolya then teases her about her feelings for the prince, and she says she would never marry him. The prince responds innocently that he hasn't asked her. He feels he is not worthy of her and is trying to protect her, but his words are awkward. In response Aglaya laughs and asks him to escort her to the park. She is delighted by his innocence and clearly in love with him.


If anyone had told him ... he had fallen in love ... he would have rejected the idea with astonishment.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 3

After an incident in the park, in which Prince Myshkin steps in to protect Nastasya Filippovna from the wrath of an officer, Aglaya hands him a note, which says to meet her the next morning on the park bench. Although consciously the prince believes he is unfit for marriage and unworthy of Aglaya, he has still fallen in love with her, as evidenced by the fact that all he can think about is seeing her again in the morning and sitting beside her.


Isn't it possible simply to eat me, without demanding that I praise that which has eaten me?

Ippolit, Part 3, Chapter 7

Ippolit writes this statement in a long manifesto he reads at Myshkin's birthday celebration. Ippolit wants to show his courage in the face of death and also express his ideas about religion. Although a nihilist, he claims not to be an atheist. Yet he does not have much regard for a creator who requires annihilation. Annihilation may be necessary, but he refuses to praise the one who will soon devour his life.


I could kill him out of fear ... But he will kill me first ... he laughed just now and says I'm raving.

Nastasya Filippovna, Part 3, Chapter 10

Nastasya writes this statement in one of the letters she has sent to Aglaya. She notes that she has no secrets from Rogozhin, whom she could kill because she fears him, but she rightly predicts he will kill her first. Thus she goes to her death willingly when she runs away from Prince Myshkin and into the arms of Rogozhin (after she leaves Myshkin at the altar on their wedding day).


The old man's a thief and a drunkard ... I'm a pauper, my sister's husband is a usurer—Aglaya has something to covet!

Ganya, Part 4, Chapter 1

Ganya makes this statement while he and his sister Varya are discussing his failure to win Aglaya's heart. Varya thinks Aglaya and Prince Myshkin are formally engaged and tells her brother this news. Instead of realizing that his own bad character might be why he never had a chance with Aglaya, he blames his family's bad qualities for her rejection of him.


This wretched princeling is a sick idiot ... to whom can he be shown, where can he be tucked in?

Mrs. Epanchin, Part 4, Chapter 5

Mrs. Epanchin is a comic character in the novel; she is compassionate and childlike like Prince Myshkin, but with a fiery temper. She makes this statement after she realizes that her daughter Aglaya is in love with the prince and, somehow, she will have to introduce him into society. She wonders what her friend Princess Belokonsky, who is prominent in society, will say about him. At the same time, she treats him as something to be hidden away.


Pass us by and forgive us our happiness!

Prince Myshkin, Part 4, Chapter 5

Prince Myshkin makes this statement to Ippolit, who has alternatively scorned him and sought his approval. Myshkin's statement is an answer to Ippolit's question about the best way for him to die. In so saying, the prince expresses his compassion for his friend's predicament and his understanding that he envies those still in the midst of life, and for whom life still feels eternal. The best thing Ippolit can do is to harbor no hatred or anger against those who are not dying yet.

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