Mimetic Desire in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot with Continual Reference to René Girard

In: The Dostoevsky Journal

It is common to see Myshkin, the principal character of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, as a failed lover and a compassionate saintly figure, who gets entangled in a love triangle but cannot embody it. This paper challenges such a view and argues that Myshkin fully incarnates the violent dynamic of desire that governs the novel. With the help of René Girard’s notion of mimetic desire, the paper explores Myshkin’s relationship with Rogozhin as erotic rivalry. Instead of seeing the two characters as autonomous entities, it is suggested that they should be viewed as doubles, as two poles of the same consciousness. On this view, Myshkin’s compassion and Rogozhin’s lust become two different manifestations of the same desire, united by a conflict of interest, which drives the love triangle towards a violent resolution.