Study Guide

The Idiot Love

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In The Idiot, the love that is possible between two people is compared to the kind of love Christianity urges its followers to feel for all human beings everywhere. For most of the characters, the individualized, personal, sexual, and romantic love seems the most normal, and the most conducive to explaining human behavior. The only person who experiences love differently and is mostly driven by compassionate love for others is Myshkin. His attempt to combine the two into one relationship fails spectacularly.

Questions About Love

  1. Who is actually truly in love with someone else in this novel? How can we tell? Through their behavior? The narrator's description? Are the descriptions of people in love in this novel believable?
  2. Why does no one believe Myshkin when he says that he really is in love with two women at the same time but in different ways? (Aglaya, Rogozhin, and Radomsky, for example, all brush off this explanation of his behavior.)
  3. Who is more likely to love in the novel—men or women? Why?
  4. Who are the most loving parents? Who are the least? Who are the best children? Who are the worst? How are the criteria for loving parenting different than criteria for being the most loving child? How are they the same?

Chew on This

The only example of romantic "true love" in the novel is Aglaya's marriage to the fake Polish count.

Myshkin's insistence on foisting his compassionate love on women who are sexually impure (Marie, Nastasya) is kind of a reversal of the lies that got these women into their situation in the first place. Originally, they were promised love, but got only sex. Now they are being promised love, but get only dehumanizing pity.

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