Louise Cowan

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We take up this evening our second chance at under-standing—not simply Dostoevsky’s enigmatic prince— but his intention in the novel The Idiot. For to ascertain the inner purpose of the work is one’s first task in doing any serious reading—and we have to remind ourselves over and over again that comprehending the “action” of the work is of primary importance. Shakespeare did not write Hamlet just to give us a portrait of the much-discussed prince of Denmark. He wrote it because it embodied an action: as C. S. Lewis wrote, Hamlet finds himself in a situation that analogically we all face at different times in our lives—and that is what gives power to the play—and it’s what we mean at UD when we defend the “universal” aspect of literature. It shows us by analogy something about ourselves and the world we live in. In the serious literary works we confront something in ourselves that we hadn’t seen before.