Just two years after completing Crime and Punishment, which explored the mind of a murderer, Dostoevsky produced another masterpiece, The Idiot. This time the author portrays a truly beautiful soul—a character he found difficult to bring to life because, as he wrote, “beauty is the ideal, and neither my country, nor civilized Europe, know what that ideal of beauty is.” The result was one of Dostoevsky’s greatest characters—Prince Myshkin, a saintly, Christ-like, yet deeply human figure.
The story begins when Myshkin arrives on Russian soil after a stay in a Swiss sanatorium. Scorned by St. Petersburg society as an idiot for his generosity and innocence, the prince finds himself at the center of a struggle between a rich, kept woman and a beautiful, virtuous girl, who both hope to win his affection. Unfortunately, Myshkin’s very goodness seems to bring disaster to everyone he meets. The shocking denouement tragically reveals how, in a world obsessed with money, power, and sexual conquest, a sanatorium is the only place for a saint.