The Idiot #5: On Cannibals & Worthiness

You read that right! I said cannibals and worthiness. No, they aren’t in the same conversation, but they are in the same chapter, and at the same party.

I’m still chugging along in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot… and loving it. This afternoon I lamented to my husband when he found me in my corner of the couch, hot tea in hand, munching pumpkin seeds, with the book in my hand, “I’m so lost. I have no idea who is talking or why? I mean, why is all this in here? Is it an analogy? Some kind of veiled commentary on Russian life? I don’t know!”

“I thought you were loving that book!”

“I am!”

That’s when he turned away from me, probably wondering if he will end up having me committed at some point in our lives.

The truth is that I love the character presentation, and I love some of the lines that come up in conversation. I just don’t know why they’re having the conversation.

I quoted him this gem:

“For in those times, according to what the writers have written, general famines affecting all mankind occurred once every two, or in any case once every three years, so that in such circumstances men even had to resort to cannibalism, though they kept it quiet. One such parasite as he was approaching old age declared of his own free will and without being forced that in the course of a long and miserable existence he had personally and in the deepest secrecy killed and eaten sixty monks and several children of the laity…”

“He didn’t eat them all at once, obviously, but perhaps over a period of fifteen or twenty years, which is perfectly understandable and natural.”


“Yes, natural!” replied Lebedev with pedantic insistence. “Besides, a Catholic monk is by his very nature amenable and inquisitive, and it would be very simple to lure him into the woods or some secluded spot and deal with him in the aforesaid manner. But I don’t deny that the number of persons consumed does seem excessive to the point of intemperance.”

They all seem to think this is very funny. And then:

“Lebedev is certainly right in saying there were cannibals among them, and perhaps a great many – except I don’t see why he brought monks into it or what he means by that.”

“Undoubtedly because in the twelfth century one could only eat monks because only monks were fat,” observed Gavril Ardalionovitch.

This is a hilarious exchange, but I have no idea why it’s there. They were saying something about the railroad being the apocalypse, arguing that for all it had brought in faster communication and moving of resources, the noise and smoke has ruined peace in the country. I couldn’t grasp whether they thought it was a positive or a negative. As to why they are all together and talking about this, I have no idea.

I read an Instagram post about longing to take a class, or at least have one of those glorious discussions you hear about, with a learned group of people or professor that shares all the historical context and social layers of classic literature. What I wouldn’t give… Reading other people’s blogs only takes me so far. I need live interaction!

Here’s a familiar sentiment:

“There’s more wealth, but there’s less strength; the binding idea doesn’t exist anymore; everything has turned soft, everything is rotten, and people are rotten. We’re all, all of us rotten! But that’s not enough, that’s not the question now. The question now, most respected Prince, is whether we should be getting the food for our guests.”

We are always living in “challenging times,” but life goes on and people need to gather and eat. Life needs to be lived. Which leads me to this one:

Hippolite is young man with consumption. He believes he only has a few more weeks to live and is making quite a statement/scene at this party (which I have no idea why we are at).

“Let anyone who gets hold of my ‘statement,’ anyone who has the patience to read it through, let him take me for a man condemned to death to whom it seems that everyone but him fails to value life enough, but rather expends it too cheaply, uses it too indolently, too unconscionably, so that no one, not one, is worthy of it!”

He sure has a point, doesn’t he? For some strange reason, humans just aren’t able to see their time is limited. It’s our nature.

But then… what does it mean to be “worthy” of a life? What gives anyone worthiness in this world? What looks to you like a waste of time, is time well spent to me. I may be poor, but I’m happy. Reminds me of a song

Want to read more? Start from my first post New CLASSIC Read: The Idiot.


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