Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fyodor Dostoevsky's Description Of Ordinary, "Commonplace People" In His Book 'The Idiot'

There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief--in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as "commonplace people," and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself.

When the whole essence of an ordinary person's nature lies in his perpetual and unchangeable commonplaceness; and when in spite of all his endeavours to do something out of the common, this person ends, eventually, by remaining in his unbroken line of routine--. I think such an individual really does become a type of his own--a type of commonplaceness which will not for the world, if it can help it, be contented, but strains and yearns to be something original and independent, without the slightest possibility of being so. 



There is nothing so annoying as to be fairly rich, of a fairly good family, pleasing presence, average education, to be "not stupid," kind-hearted, and yet to have no talent at all, no originality, not a single idea of one's own--to be, in fact, "just like everyone else."

Of such people there are countless numbers in this world--far more even than appear. They can be divided into two classes as all men can--that is, those of limited intellect, and those who are much cleverer. The former of these classes is the happier.

To a commonplace man of limited intellect, for instance, nothing is simpler than to imagine himself an original character, and to revel in that belief without the slightest misgiving.

Many of our young women have thought fit to cut their hair short, put on blue spectacles, and call themselves Nihilists. By doing this they have been able to persuade themselves, without further trouble, that they have acquired new convictions of their own. Some men have but felt some little qualm of kindness towards their fellow-men, and the fact has been quite enough to persuade them that they stand alone in the van of enlightenment and that no one has such humanitarian feelings as they. Others have but to read an idea of somebody else's, and they can immediately assimilate it and believe that it was a child of their own brain. The "impudence of ignorance," if I may use the expression, is developed to a wonderful extent in such cases;--unlikely as it appears, it is met with at every turn.



This confidence of a stupid man in his own talents has been wonderfully depicted by Gogol in the amazing character of Pirogoff. Pirogoff has not the slightest doubt of his own genius,--nay, of his superiority of genius,--so certain is he of it that he never questions it. How many Pirogoffs have there not been among our writers--scholars--propagandists? I say "have been," but indeed there are plenty of them at this very day.

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