Places Discussed

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*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Russia’s capital city and cultural and political center of Russia, where Prince Myshkin arrives, and where much of the novel’s action takes place. The character of the city is very un-Russian. Traditional Russian cities grew up in concentric rings around their central fortresses—a pattern still visible in modern Moscow, with its three ring roads (boulevard, garden, and outer rings), linked by radial avenues to the city center, the Kremlin. By contrast, St. Petersburg is laid out in a Western-style grid pattern that was established by Peter the Great’s decree. Moreover, while traditional Russian cities were built of wood and suffered frequent fires, St. Petersburg is a city of stone. However, it was threatened by frequent floods, particularly when strong winds from the Baltic Sea caused the Neva River to back up.

Because St. Petersburg is near the Arctic Circle, it has an extreme seasonal variation of its day-night cycle. During the winter, the sun scarcely peeks above the horizon, giving only a few hours of daylight each day. By contrast, at the summer solstice the sun barely sets, and even at midnight the sky remains bright, creating the fabled “white nights” for which St. Petersburg is famous. It is significant that Fyodor Dostoevski has Prince Myshkin’s second and third arrivals in St. Petersburg (when he returns from his visit to Moscow and the traditional Russian heartland, and his disastrous return to find Nastasia Filipovna murdered) take place during the white nights. Dostoevski plays upon the idea that this period of nighttime light is a period in which the normal laws of nature are tenuous at best and can even be suspended.

Dostoevski follows an established Russian literary tradition that regards St. Petersburg as a city in which extraordinary and unnatural events take place. For example, Alexander Pushkin’s “The Bronze Horseman” has the equestrian statue of Peter the Great come to life, and in Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose,” the protagonist’s nose absconds, assumes human form, and reaches a rank higher than that of its former owner. Since Dostoevski is writing realistic fiction, he does not include such fantastical elements, but the madness that leads Parfen Semyonovich Rogozhin to murder Nastasia Filipovna would be understood by Russian readers familiar with the white nights.


*Pavlovsk (pahv-LOFSK). St. Petersburg suburb visited by Prince Myshkin. This suburb, in which the czars had a palace as a vacation retreat, was also the terminus of the first Russian railroad. Myshkin and several of the other major characters retreat there in chapters in the middle of the novel.

Dr. Schneider’s institute

Dr. Schneider’s institute. Facility in Switzerland where Prince Myshkin is treated for epilepsy, and to which he returns after his disastrous breakdown. The institute and the village in which it is located are seen only in Myshkin’s recollections, which reveal his otherworldly saintliness through his ability to forgive and love the fallen woman, Marie.


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Curle, Richard. Characters of Dostoevsky: Studies from Four Novels. London: Heinemann, 1950. A fine look at the most important Dostoevski characters of several novels, including The Idiot. Extensive quotations are followed by explanations.

Dalton, Elizabeth. Unconscious Structure in “The Idiot”: A Study in Literature and Psychoanalysis. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979. Contains two sections. One is on theories of psychoanalytic method in the study of literature, and the other is a demonstration of that method applied to The Idiot. Very worthwhile and interesting insights.

Jones, Malcolm V. Dostoyevsky: The Novel of Discord . London: Elek Books, 1976. Gives an overview of the...

(This entire section contains 226 words.)

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complexity, chaos, and discord that are to be expected in Dostoyevski. FromThe Idiot, Dostoyevski’s use of psychological illness versus the ideal is explored. This serious study of Dostoyevski contains extensive notes from the text, a bibliography, and an index.

Leatherbarrow, William J. Fedor Dostoevsky. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Includes a chronology and a biographical sketch of Dostoevski. Designed for the beginner, this is an excellent guide to Dostoevski with commentary on his early work and four major novels, including The Idiot.

Miller, Robin Feuer. Dostoevsky and “The Idiot”: Author, Narrator, and Reader. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Includes references from Dostoevski’s notebooks for The Idiot and a general synopsis on the writing process as The Idiot took shape. A very thorough guide to The Idiot.


Critical Essays