Embarrassment in the idiot
With its marriage plots and drawing room conversation, The Idiot, of all Dostoevsky’s novels, is the closest to a novel of manners. But the would-be society novel clashes with a theological imperative: the re-establishment of a Christological vision, which Dostoevsky introduces into the novel embodied in the Christ-like Prince Myshkin. The presence of Christ in the drawing room of the marriage plot appears as a kind of embarrassment of genre. Taking this scenario as its departure point, the article approaches the relationship between embarrassment and narrative in The Idiotfrom two perspectives, one grounded in the vision of disintegration, the other in the vision of cohesion. Firstly, it shows how the embarrassment of this generic quandary is allied to formal difficulties in the novel’s handling of temporality and the configuration of its character system. Secondly, in discussing the possibility of unity for which the novel yearns, embarrassment is shown to participate in the ethical constitution of the reader. This study locates emotion (embarrassment) in the novel’s genre, narrative structure, and text, and locates the reader's emotion, too. Informed by sociologist Erving Goffman’s seminal analysis of embarrassment, this article also speaks to those engaged in the study of affect and the history of emotions.