And then there's the way Dostoyevsky spends over 200 pages on less than 24 hours of narrative. How is it possible? And yet, when all is said and done, the story demands that much detail about the first day Prince Myshkin spends in St. Petersburg after his return from Switzerland. Before he even arrives in St. Petersburg, he has an extensive conversation on the train with Rogozhin. If ever there were a character foil for an innocent, Rogozhin is that character. And yet, Dostoyevsky elicits sympathy from his readers for Rogozhin. Rogozhin's problems are familiar to anyone who has ever wanted something just out of reach. The way these two characters weave in and out of each other's lives and start and end the story together creates a "fearful symmetry" that makes me want to rethink my own fictional story plots.
In a quest to produce dynamic characters, I feel I subconsciously strive to put distance between my protagonists and their former selves. Dostoevsky, however, not only doesn't put forward distance between his start-of-the-story protagonist and end-of-the-story protagonist, but he inverts the equation all together. I don't want to spoil the story if you haven't read it yet. That would be cruel. But I find the positioning between Myshkin and Rogozhin to be intriguing.
Other notable characters. Lebedev exposes far too much folly in all of us for our own comfort. He is silly, vain, superficial, and short-sighted, and his language and obsessions help us to see where we need to up our game.
Madame Epanchin (Nina Alexandrovna) has her heart in the right place. She recognizes a kindred spirit in Myshkin, but she is too closely tied to social conventions and societal expectations to learn everything she could from her kindred spirit. She thinks she is similar to her youngest daughter Aglaia, and at times she appears to be. Food for thought based on Madame Epanchin's character: does it matter who you are deep down if your outward actions squelch your inner self?
Natasya Filippovna understands Myshkin perhaps better than anyone else, but she's afraid of corrupting him. What she doesn't understand is that it's not possible to corrupt Myshkin. He's too good and too immune to the pride that creeps into everyone else's good intentions.
One of the most remarkable things about this novel is that Dostoyevsky explores the depth of human character and interactions by creating vivid characters and then matching them up against his perfect man, Prince Myshkin. By exploring the contrasts between each character and Myshkin, we see ourselves and those around us in all of our glory and shame. What's amazing is that Myshkin sees everyone else as endlessly interesting and worthy.