Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, a young man whose goodness, open-hearted simplicity and guilelessness lead many of the more worldly characters he encounters to mistakenly assume that he lacks intelligence and insight. As time passes, they begin to see the consequences of placing such a unique individual at the centre of the conflicts, desires, passions and egoism of worldly society, both for the man himself and for those with whom he becomes involved.
The Idiot includes descriptions of some of Fyodor Dostoevsky's most intense personal ordeals, such as epilepsy and mock execution, and explores moral, spiritual and philosophical themes consequent upon them. The artistic method of conscientiously testing his central idea meant that Dostoevsky could not always predict where the plot was going as he was writing. His primary motivation in writing the novel was to subject his own highest ideal, that of true Christian love, to the crucible of contemporary Russian society.