In a recent video on my channel, I was joined by a good friend of mine Warren Zhu to discuss our favourite quotes. During this discussion, I brought up a quote which I keep very close to my heart, “beauty will save the world” from Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Idiot.
While there are a plethora of different approaches to this quote, I feel that I would like to share a few of the things I personally take away from this idea. A few of these would be what Dostoevsky intended, but a few others would be a personal insight or understanding of such phrase.
I hope you will use these suggestions as a stepping stone to further your understanding of this profound idea and can develop it further and apply it to your life.
- The Beauty of Redemption
When read in context, I feel that this is what Dostoevsky is pointing towards. In the novel, Prince Myshkin is gazing upon an image of Nastasya, commenting that the beauty seen in the picture is sufficient to save the world.
What can he mean by this?
Surely it isn’t some form of physical beauty! What can it be?
This is where redemption comes in, but perhaps more apropos, it is the potential for redemption.
You see, Nastasya in The Idiot is does not have the most pure past, either due to her own capriciousness or the situation she was placed into. Nevertheless, despite such a shameful past, she is clearly beautiful and is seen to be able to have great light within her.
To me, this great light is her potential for redemption. Dostoevsky, using the antipodes of Myshkin (good) and Rogozhin (chaos) as the two states in which Nastasya swings between illustrates the potential for redemption but the simultaneous attraction to evil-doing found within all of us.
This form of redemption, best expressed by beauty (assuming we choose the good), would thus be sufficient to save the world, and this is best represented by a commitment to Christ (Myshkin in the story).
2. Beauty as the light.
Goodness, light and beauty have always been tied closely together in literature. Whatever is good, whatever is holy, whatever is beautiful is commonly tied with the brightness and hope. In the same way, we can see the importance of beauty and the light in the world today, and also in Dostoevsky’s time.
Dostoevsky lived in a time of change, the silence before the storm. He accurately predicted the rise of Socialism and destruction (Demons) and also viewed such changes as harmful and dark.
In a similar way, we can view ourselves as living in this time of change, society is moving in a direction away from the divine and what is good. It is a society which prioritises individual freedom and control over the need to follow what is good.
In such a situation, it is easy to be engulfed in the darkness of society and be lost in it ourselves. As such, we must focus on the light, focus on the beautiful to maintain on the right path despite the darkness.
An invitation to meditation:
What else can you gain from this verse? Think about it, discuss it with friends and family.
What role does beauty play in your life? Can it change you? Transform you?
Think about it!
For more discussions on quotes, feel free to check out my entire video on quotes which can be found here.