Subject Area

Literature; Religion


This paper examines Dostoevsky’s understanding of beauty and its place in The Idiot. Examining the historical and immediate environment in which Dostoevsky wrote the novel provides crucial insights into his conception of beauty. It is argued that the beauty Dostoevsky encountered in Florence colored his use of beauty in The Idiot. The use recent popes have made of Dostoevsky’s works also underscore the Christian theology of his ideal. From the post-Vatican II pontiffs and from Dostoevsky’s own writing it becomes clear that Dostoevsky’s view of beauty flows from the Christian belief that Christ is the Supreme Beauty. The beauty of Prince Myshkin and other characters all flow from this Beauty by reflecting Him in different ways. Ultimately, however, Myshkin fails to bring about salvation. He lacks the perfect beauty and goodness of Christ, the only one who can save. This salvific beauty is noticeably missing from the novel. The Hans Holbein painting of “Christ in the Tomb,” it is argued, lacks beauty because it fails to show forth the Incarnation. Instead, it depicts Christ without any hint of his divinity and without any hope of resurrection. Through this examination of Dostoevsky’s context and theology, it is concluded that the lack of a beauty that saves in The Idiot is meant to underscore mankind’s inability to save itself.


Providence College


Spring 2014





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