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September 12, 2019 / Irene2468

Life Readers in 2020: Join us at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library to read and discuss Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”

Illustration by Ilya Glazunov, 1966

The Idiot (1868) is generally considered to be the most mysterious of Dostoevsky’s four major novels. We will focus on close textual analysis of the novel and its literary adaptations over a period of five sessions, supplemented by biographical, historical, and critical information related to the novels at each meeting.

Dostoevsky’s fiction captures the fluidity and instability of existence as experienced by most in any age. We will address several important questions: Why do we still read Dostoevsky? Why should we continue to read him if his fiction is so ambiguous? How does Dostoevsky’s sprawling novel, with its multitude of minor characters and subplots, encompass antagonistic philosophies and value systems? Is The Idiot just a Christian novel?

We will examine the polyphonic quality of Dostoevsky’s art: the presence in his texts of persistent “other voices,” generated by an ironic narrator, frequent inner dialogue, a stream of literary quotations, and allusions. We will pay particular attention to Prince Myshkin, The Idiot’s Christ-like character, placed in a secular, thoroughly modern, and urban world. Despite Dostoevsky’s stated intention of producing a novel about a “positively beautiful man,” The Idiot ends with fewer hints of spiritual regeneration or the possibility of new life than his other novels. During the seminar we will attempt to integrate structural considerations with ethical and aesthetic aspects by focusing on the interactions of the characters that reveal a variety of faith issues and philosophical worldviews.

Cinema keeps turning to literature, and we will explore several different adaptations of The Idiot, including the Russian version directed by Bortko in 2003 with Evgeny Mironov as Prince Myshkin. During our last meeting, we will examine how Akira Kurosawa’s famous movie The Idiot (1951), one of the most daring and stylish productions of his career, updates Dostoevsky’s themes to capture Japan’s postwar aimlessness, telling a story of a wayward, pure soul’s reintegration into society. The film presents its characters as victims of war and its devastating emotional aftershocks.

Meetings for 2020 from April through June will take place online via Zoom. Participants will be emailed with instructions on how to join each session a couple of days before the session starts. We will meet at 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm on the following Thursdays:

Session 1
January 9: The Idiot, Part 1

Session 2
February 20: The Idiot, Part 2

The session for March 19 was cancelled.

Session 3
April 16: The Idiot, Part 3

Session 4
May 21: The Idiot, Part 4

Session 5 (Make-up Session for March)
June 18: Akira Kurosawa’s The Idiot


The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky; translated by Alan Myeres
Oxford World Classics, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-19-953639-9


The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky; translated by Ignat Avsey
Alma Classics, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1847493439

The Idiot (1951) directed by Akira Kurosawa