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The novel begins with three strangers in a train en route to Petersburg. A young man named Prince Myshkin is returning from a Swiss sanatorium where he has been treated for the past few years for some malady similar to epilepsy. He meets a roguish young man named Rogozhin, who has an unhealthy obsession with a beautiful young woman named Nastasya Filippovna, and a nosy government official named Lebedyev, who figures prominently throughout the novel. Upon arriving in Petersburg, Myshkin acquaints himself with many of the citizens and eventually meets, and is infatuated by, Nastasya. She is pushy, fickle, and impetuous, and bounces from fiance to fiance like a fortune hunter. Her irresistibility and psychological stronghold on the men in her life leads to her downfall. The basis of the novel is that Myshkin is not bright, has not had much education, and traverses society with a mentality of simplistic innocence. When speaking his opinion, he struggles to articulate himself with Charlie Brown-like stammering and wishy-washiness. For this reason, people consider him an idiot, but he is a good, honest, sympathetic, and gracious person. When he comes into a large inheritance, he is blackmailed by a man who claims to be the illegitimate son of Myshkin's benefactor; but when the man's story is debunked, Myshkin befriends rather than chastises the culprit and his accomplices. Myshkin also falls in love with and becomes betrothed to a giddy girl named Aglaia, who uses his ingenuousness as a foil for her jokes and sarcasm, despite his undying devotion to her.
The novel seems to say that a saintly man, making his way in a society that is concerned with materialism and cutthroat avarice, will be considered a childish idiot for valuing honesty, kindness, and the simple things in life. Like I said, the ending is a shocker and sends a plaintive message, that in a crazy world, a sanatorium is the only place for a saint. Can a pure heart function in society? Apparently Dostoevsky thinks not except within the boundaries of a mental institution or monastery! This book introduces one of the great figures in fiction and surprisingly one you might like knowing. "Prince Myshkin" is so well intentioned as to be clownish. The author's greatest strength was his humanity and his protagonist is alasting legacy for all of us to enjoy.--Submitted by Anonymous
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