Recently (or not recently at all, really, if we’re being honest, or you look at my Goodreads) I’ve taken it upon myself to read through all of Dostoevsky. All of him. Everything I can find that he wrote. Or, all his fiction, at least, as I don’t really know if he wrote essays or anything like that.
A little background: I took a course in college about Dostoevsky, mainly because I had read Crime and Punishment in high school and loved it. LOVED it. C&P is one of my all-time favorite novels. For so many reasons. None of them being that the main character is sympathetic. Which is another reason I love that book—because he really, really isn’t.
I did not remotely make it through most of his books during my college course, though. In fact, all I can confess to actually finishing is his short stories (I think) and again, Crime and Punishment. Getting through two short-story collections and three whoppers of novels is intimidating at best—much more so for Russian Lit. (Have you SEEN The Brothers Karamazov? My copy is well over 600 pages.) (That said, it reads like a Whodunnit mystery. Still, I didn’t finish due to time-constraints.)
I decided also, to start on what was to me, the least enticing of his novels. The Idiot. Actually, I was very curious about The Idiot because of a little fad I like to follow in my classic reading. I like reading novels about characters that the novelist themself has deemed as remarkably good. For example, Anne Elliot in Persuasion, or Mary Garth in Middlemarch, another monolithic tomb I love.
So I set out on The Idiot. But I did so when I couldn’t get my hands on a physical copy, and at the same time, was experimenting with the Kindle app on my phone. Needless to say, my progress was slow-going. Dostoevsky is hard enough to swallow when it’s on a few hundred pages, not to mention 12,000+ tiny screens pages. Even if the quality of the writing is the same (my example of this is 13 Little Blue Envelopes, also read half on my phone, half in real book form).
In this case, though, the quality of the writing was not the same. Dostoevsky is Dostoevsky, right? Wrong.
Nina Alexandrovna looked about fifty, with a thin and sunken face and dark rings under her eyes. She looked in delicate health and somewhat melancholy, but her face and expression were rather pleasing. At first word one could see that she was of an earnest disposition and had genuine dignity. In spite of her melancholy air one felt that she had a firmness and even determination. She was very modestly dressed in some dark colour in an elderly style, but her manner, her conversation, all her ways betrayed that she was a woman who had seen better days.
The lady of the house appeared to be a woman of about fifty years of age, thin-faced, and with black lines under her eyes. She looked ill and rather sad; but her face was a pleasant one for all that; and from the first word that fell from her lips, any stranger would at once conclude that she of a serious and particularly sincere nature. In spite of her sorrowful expression, she gave the idea of possessing considerable firmness and decisionHer dress was modest and simple to a degree, dark and elderly in style; but both her face and appearance gave evidence that she had seen better days.