From charlesreid1


The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is an attempt to portray a truly beautiful soul. Here's a summary from the Bantam Classic edition:

Despite the harsh circumstances besetting his own life - abject poverty, incessant gambling, the death of his firstborn child - Dostoyevsky produced a second masterpiece, The Idiot, just two years after completing Crime and Punishment. Int it, a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power and sexual conquest than with the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections. Extortion, scandal and murder follow, testing Myshkin's moral feelings as Dostoyevsky searches through the wreckage left by human misery to find "man in man." The Idiot is a quintessentially Russian novel, one that penetrates the complex psyche of the Russian people. "They call me a psychologist," wrote Dostoyevsky. "That is not true. I'm only a realist in the higher sense; that is, I portray all the depths of the human soul."

The Cover

The Idiot Cover.jpg


A page with quotes from The Idiot is at The Idiot/Quotes.

Character List

The hand-made character list from the front of my copy of the book:

The Idiot Characters.jpg


Summary and Analysis

Part One

The Opening

The book opens with a particularly memorable paragraph:

Towards the end of November, during a warm spell, at around nine o’clock in the morning, a train of the Petersburg–Warsaw line was approaching Petersburg at full steam. It was so damp and foggy that dawn could barely break; ten paces to right or left of the line it was hard to make out anything at all through the carriage windows. Among the passengers there were some who were returning from abroad; but the third-class compartments were more crowded, and they were all petty business folk from not far away. Everyone was tired, as usual, everyone’s eyes had grown heavy overnight, everyone was chilled, everyone’s face was pale yellow, matching the color of the fog.

The story begins with Prince Myshkin (mysh is Russian for mouse) taking a train into Petersburg after being abroad in Switzerland for four years to be treated for epilepsy. It isn't long before he's entered into a conversation on a grim topic: capital punishment, and execution by the guillotine:

Think: if there’s torture, for instance, then there’s suffering, wounds, bodily pain, and it means that all that distracts you from inner torment, so that you only suffer from the wounds until you die. And yet the chief, the strongest pain may not be in the wounds, but in knowing for certain that in an hour, then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, then now, this second—your soul will fly out of your body and you’ll no longer be a man, and it’s for certain—the main thing is that it’s for certain.

Here there’s the sentence, and the whole torment lies in the certainty that there’s no escape, and there’s no greater torment in the world than that.

The prince is preoccupied with this topic, the moments before death. He first begins speaking with General Empachin's footman about this topic, then later, when he meets the General's wife and daughters, the same topic comes up again.

This is one of the Prince's peculiarities. Another is his ability to get easily caught up in the schemes of the people around him. He's quiet, he's a good listener, he hides no information, it's easy for people to forget he's there, he makes a good/honest/reliable messenger or note carrier.

Oh yeah. He also falls in love with beautiful women very easily.

Vagueness abounds through the novel. Take this passage, for instance:

Something peculiar took place in Ganya as he was asking this question. It was as if some new and peculiar idea lit up in his brain and glittered impatiently in his eyes. The general, who was genuinely and simple-heartedly worried, also glanced sidelong at the prince, but as if he did not expect much from his reply.

What idea is Dostoyevsky referring to? He's going to let the reader find out for themselves. What do these glittering eyes and sidelong glances actually mean? It's unclear.

Compare this to Tolstoy's narration in Anna Karenina, which clearly lays out the various states of mind of both Anna and Vronsky during their period abroad in Italy, when their desire for each other wanes, even while their love for each other grows:

One consolatory reflection upon her conduct had occurred to her at the first moment of the final rupture, and when now she recalled all the past, she remembered that one reflection. "I have inevitably made that man wretched," she thought; "but I don’t want to profit by his misery. I too am suffering, and shall suffer; I am losing what I prized above everything—I am losing my good name and my son. I have done wrong, and so I don’t want happiness, I don’t want a divorce, and shall suffer from my shame and the separation from my child." But, however sincerely Anna had meant to suffer, she was not suffering. Shame there was not. With the tact of which both had such a large share, they had succeeded in avoiding Russian ladies abroad, and so had never placed themselves in a false position, and everywhere they had met people who pretended that they perfectly understood their position, far better indeed than they did themselves. Separation from the son she loved—even that did not cause her anguish in these early days. The baby girl—his child—was so sweet, and had so won Anna’s heart, since she was all that was left her, that Anna rarely thought of her son.


Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires. For a time after joining his life to hers, and putting on civilian dress, he had felt all the delight of freedom in general of which he had known nothing before, and of freedom in his love,—and he was content, but not for long. He was soon aware that there was springing up in his heart a desire for desires—ennui.

Tolstoy uses an interior dialogue, much like Dostoyevsky used for Raskolnikov's interior monologue, dipping into his stream of consciousness, in Crime and Punishment. Tolstoy fills Anna's interior monologue with her own monologue about her feelings. And Tolstoy is able to fluidly switch a paragraph later to describing Vronsky's mentality in as much detail.

We are told much about our characters from observations about their behavior, toward others around them, their behavior when they're alone, the ambiguous twinkles in their eyes or screwing up of the eyes - whatever that means...

Among other things, he had adopted a system of not rushing his daughters into marriage, that is, of not “hovering over” them and bothering them too much with his parental love’s longing for their happiness, as involuntarily and naturally happens all the time, even in the most intelligent families, where grown-up daughters accumulate.

Nastassya Filippovna

We end up spending a lot of time in Part One on some back-stories and circumstances, because the tangle of relations in The Idiot get complicated pretty quickly.

This complex and troublesome “occurrence” (as Totsky himself put it) had begun very far back, about eighteen years ago.

Soon only one girl, Nastya, was left, the younger one having died of whooping cough. Totsky, who was living abroad, soon forgot all about them. One day, some five years later, Afanasy Ivanovich, passing by, decided to have a look at his estate and suddenly noticed in his country house, in the family of his German, a lovely child, a girl of about twelve, lively, sweet, clever, and promising to become a great beauty—in that regard Afanasy Ivanovich was an unerring connoisseur.

Nastassya begins her life in an emotional prison, and longs for freedom. This is what's driving her irrational, compulsive behavior: she longs to live a life where she is free, independent. Further anecdotes:

but all the same an extraordinary upheaval took place in Nastasya Filippovna’s life after that. She suddenly showed an extraordinary resolve and revealed a most unexpected character. Without further thought, she left her little country house and suddenly went to Petersburg, straight to Totsky, all on her own. He was amazed, tried to begin speaking; but it suddenly turned out, almost from the first phrase, that he had to change completely the style, the vocal range, the former topics of pleasant and elegant conversation, which till then had been used so successfully, the logic—everything, everything!

Valuing nothing, and least of all herself (it took great intelligence and perception to guess at that moment that she had long ceased to value herself and, skeptic and society cynic that he was, to believe in the seriousness of that feeling), Nastasya Filippovna was capable of ruining herself, irrevocably and outrageously, facing Siberia and hard labor, if only she could wreak havoc on the man for whom she felt such inhuman loathing.

This loathing that Nastassya has for Totsky is the same kind of loathing and hatred that Anna Karenina feels for her husband Karenin. Both women are imprisoned, and under the control of some powerful man. But Dostoyevsky's descriptions of the changes in Nastassya (here, when she's still under the control of Totsky) are contradictory, filled with ambiguity:

However, he recalled moments, even before, when strange thoughts had come to him, for instance, while looking into those eyes: it was as if he had sensed some deep and mysterious darkness in them. Those eyes had gazed at him—and seemed to pose a riddle. During the last two years he had often been surprised by the change in Nastasya Filippovna’s color; she was growing terribly pale and—strangely—was even becoming prettier because of it.

The Epanchins

We meet the Epanchin girls:

“It’s simply my small drawing room, where we gather when we’re by ourselves, and each of us does her own thing: Alexandra, this one, my eldest daughter, plays the piano, or reads, or sews; Adelaida paints landscapes and portraits (and never can finish anything); and Aglaya sits and does nothing.

Aglaya is the prettiest and youngest of the sisters.

When Prince Myshkin visits the Epanchin family, he brings up the topic of capital punishment again, as he did in the conversation with General Epanchin's footman earlier in Part 1. This anecdote, however, gives us more insight into Dostoyevsky's fixation on the topic: the prince delivers an anecdote that parallels Dostoyevsky's own experiences of being condemned to execution, and the execution being called off at the last moment.

The passage is worth quoting at length:

"I once heard the story of a man who lived twelve years in a prison—I heard it from the man himself. He was one of the persons under treatment with my professor; he had fits, and attacks of melancholy, then he would weep, and once he tried to commit suicide. His life in prison was sad enough; his only acquaintances were spiders and a tree that grew outside his grating-but I think I had better tell you of another man I met last year. There was a very strange feature in this case, strange because of its extremely rare occurrence. This man had once been brought to the scaffold in company with several others, and had had the sentence of death by shooting passed upon him for some political crime. Twenty minutes later he had been reprieved and some other punishment substituted; but the interval between the two sentences, twenty minutes, or at least a quarter of an hour, had been passed in the certainty that within a few minutes he must die. I was very anxious to hear him speak of his impressions during that dreadful time, and I several times inquired of him as to what he thought and felt. He remembered everything with the most accurate and extraordinary distinctness, and declared that he would never forget a single iota of the experience.

"About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear the sentence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten the criminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were taken to the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over their faces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group of soldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth on the list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. A priest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes of time left for him to live.

"He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminable period, an enormous wealth of time; he seemed to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, so that he made several arrangements, dividing up the time into portions—one for saying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple more for thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and another minute for a last look around. He remembered having divided his time like this quite well. While saying good-bye to his friends he recollected asking one of them some very usual everyday question, and being much interested in the answer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon those two minutes which he had allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going to think about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly as possible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minutes he would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? He thought he would decide this question once for all in these last three minutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittered in the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays of light sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from these rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minutes he would become one of them, amalgamated somehow with them.

"The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, 'What should I do if I were not to die now? What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!' He said that this thought weighed so upon him and became such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it." The prince paused and all waited, expecting him to go on again and finish the story.

"Is that all?" asked Aglaya.

"All? Yes," said the prince, emerging from a momentary reverie.

"And why did you tell us this?"

"Oh, I happened to recall it, that's all! It fitted into the conversation."

There's a key moment where Lizaveta Provnyenka (Mrs. Epanchin) asks Myshkin to comment on the beauty of her daughters, and when she presses him to say something about Aglaya, the youngest and most beautiful of the three daughters, he defers, and inadvertently slights her by comparing her to Nastassya Flippovna:

“Don’t tease him, my dears, he may be cleverer than all three of you put together. You’ll see. Only why have you said nothing about Aglaya, Prince? Aglaya’s waiting, and I am, too.”

“I can’t say anything now. I’ll say it later.”

“Why? She’s noticeable, I believe?”

“Oh, yes, she’s noticeable. You’re an extraordinary beauty, Aglaya Ivanovna. You’re so good-looking that one is afraid to look at you.”

“That’s all? And her qualities?” Mrs. Epanchin persisted.

“Beauty is difficult to judge; I’m not prepared yet. Beauty is a riddle.”

“That means you’ve set Aglaya a riddle,” said Adelaida. “Solve it, Aglaya. But she is good-looking, isn’t she, Prince?”

“Extremely!” the prince replied warmly, with an enthusiastic glance at Aglaya. “Almost like Nastasya Filippovna, though her face is quite different …”

They all exchanged astonished looks.

But the Prince's frankness and honesty throughout the conversation makes a big impression on the Epanchins, as we will discover in Part 2. Despite meeting them for only a single day, they remember him and he remembers them - particularly Aglaya. Even six months later, they welcome him back into their home immediately.

During that same conversation, Lizaveta Provonyenka says to her daughter Aglaya:

I am a fool with a heart but no brains, and you are a fool with brains but no heart; and we’re both unhappy, and we both suffer.”

Myshkin and Ganya

Myshkin has excellent recall abilities, and this makes him an ideal messenger; he has no information filter, and simply describes, in a completely honest way, everything he sees. Ganya is the first to take advantage of this fact. Here, after he visits the Epanchin girls, he is asked to deliver a secret note, from Ganya to Aglaya. Aglaya and the prince meet privately, and she tells the prince to read the note out loud, then to return the note to Ganya with no response. Ganya and Prince Myshkin:

“That can’t be! She couldn’t have told you to read it. You’re lying! You read it yourself!”

“I’m telling you the truth,” the prince replied in the same completely imperturbable tone, “and, believe me, I’m very sorry that it makes such an unpleasant impression on you.”

“But, you wretch, did she at least say anything as she did it? Did she respond in any way?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Speak then, speak—ah, the devil!…” And Ganya stamped his right foot, shod in a galosh, twice on the sidewalk.

“As soon as I finished reading it, she told me that you were trying to trap her; that you wished to compromise her, in order to obtain some hope from her and then, on the basis of that hope, to break without losses from the other hope for a hundred thousand. That if you had done it without negotiating with her, had broken it off by yourself without asking her for a guarantee beforehand, she might perhaps have become your friend. That’s all, I think. Ah, one more thing: when I had already taken the note and asked what the reply would be, she said that no reply would be the best reply—I think that was it; forgive me if I’ve forgotten her exact expression, but I’m conveying it as I understood it myself.”

Ganya's growing irritation with Prince Myshkin lead to Myshkin's growing irritation of Ganya (Gavrila Ardalionovich). It becomes unpleasant at one point:

“I must point out to you, Gavrila Ardalionovich,” the prince suddenly said, “that formerly I was indeed unwell, so that in fact I was almost an idiot; but I have been well for a long time now, and therefore I find it somewhat unpleasant when I’m called an idiot to my face. Though you might be excused, considering your misfortunes, in your vexation you have even abused me a couple of times. I dislike that very much, especially the way you do it, suddenly, from the start. And since we’re now standing at an intersection, it might be better if we parted: you go home to the right, and I’ll go left. I have twenty-five roubles, and I’m sure I’ll find furnished rooms.”


“A couple of words, Prince, I forgot to tell you, what with all these … doings. A request: do me a favor—if it’s not too much of a strain for you—don’t babble here about what just went on between me and Aglaya, or there about what you find here; because there’s also enough ugliness here. To hell with it, though … But control yourself, at least for today.”

“I assure you that I babbled much less than you think,” said the prince, somewhat annoyed at Ganya’s reproaches. Their relations were obviously becoming worse and worse.

Even Dostoyevsky's good-natured, beautiful soul becomes irritated and annoyed at Ganya's mistreatment.

The Ivolgins

(Chapter 8)

Myshkin and Ganya go to the house where Ganya lives with his family, the Ivolgins. (The names get a bit confusing here.)

Ganya (Gavril Ardalianovich) and Kolya (Nokolay Ardalianovich) are brothers. Ganya and Kola also have a sister, Varya (Varvara Ivolgin). Varya is married to Ptitsyn, a rich but unremarkable man.

Their father, General Ivolgin (Adalion Alexandrovich), is a drunkard and a chronic liar. He has a room in one part of the hall.

Their mother, Nina Alexandrovna, rents rooms and runs the house, and manages her husband (to some degree).

There are several other rooms, and one of the first people we meet here is Ferdyshchenko, a tenant:

“Do you have any money?” Ferdyshchenko asked suddenly, turning to the prince.

“A little.”

“How much, precisely?”

“Twenty-five roubles.”

“Show me.”

The prince took a twenty-five-rouble note from his waistcoat pocket and handed it to Ferdyshchenko. The man unfolded it, looked at it, turned it over, then held it up to the light.

“Quite strange,” he said, as if pondering. “Why do they turn brown? These twenty-fivers sometimes get terribly brown, while others, on the contrary, fade completely. Take it.”

The prince took the note from him. Ferdyshchenko got up from the chair.

“I came to warn you: first of all, don’t lend me any money, because I’m sure to ask.”

General Ivolgin is also a money-borrower, about which Nina Alexandrovna, the General's wife, also warns Myshkin.

The General begins by telling stories that sound like complete lies, something that he does a lot:

The prince began listening with a certain mistrust.

“I was passionately in love with your mother while she was still a fiancée—my friend’s fiancée.

He throws in enough truth that every once and a while he gets a detail right, and makes you wonder if there's an element of truth to anything else he's ever said. The implausibility of his stories, however, grows over time and removes all doubt.

We learn that that evening, Nastassya will give her verdict on whether she will marry Ganya. But unexpectedly, she makes an appearance at the Ivolgin household - something that rankles Ganya. He is particularly embarrassed at her meeting his father, who she catches red-handed in a lie.

Ganya has revealed that he is essentially buying Nastassya as a bride from Totsky (we got caught up on that backstory in previous chapters), and that he doesn't love her:

"How could she give you her consent and even present you with her portrait, when you don’t love her? Can it be that she, being so … so …”

“Experienced, you mean?”

“That’s not how I wanted to put it. Can it be that you could blind her eyes to such a degree?”

Nastassya's appearance is a big splash. First, she mistakes Myshkin for a footman:

The prince lifted the bar, opened the door, and—stepped back in amazement, even shuddered all over: before him stood Nastasya Filippovna. He recognized her at once from the portrait. Her eyes flashed with a burst of vexation when she saw him; she quickly came into the front hall, pushed him aside with her shoulder, and said wrathfully, flinging off her fur coat: “If you’re too lazy to fix the doorbell, you should at least be sitting in the front hall when people knock. Well, there, now he’s dropped my coat, the oaf!”

The coat was indeed lying on the floor; Nastasya Filippovna, not waiting for the prince to help her out of it, had flung it off into his arms without looking, but the prince had not managed to catch it.

“You ought to be dismissed. Go and announce me.”


“Ah, what an idiot!” Nastasya Filippovna cried indignantly, stamping her foot at him. “Well, what are you doing? Who are you going to announce?”

“Nastasya Filippovna,” murmured the prince.

“How do you know me?” she asked quickly. “I’ve never seen you before! Go and announce … What’s that shouting?”

“They’re quarreling,” the prince replied and went to the drawing room.

Ganya starts to become unhinged:

“Drink some water,” he whispered to Ganya, “and don’t stare like that …”

It was evident that he had said it without any calculation, without any particular design, just so, on the first impulse; but his words produced an extraordinary effect. It seemed that all of Ganya’s spite suddenly poured out on the prince; he seized him by the shoulder and looked at him silently, vengefully, and hatefully, as if unable to utter a word. There was general agitation. Nina Alexandrovna even gave a little cry. Ptitsyn took a step forward in alarm, Kolya and Ferdyshchenko appeared in the doorway and stopped in amazement, Varya alone watched as sullenly as before, but observed attentively. She did not sit down, but stood to one side, next to her mother, her arms folded on her breast. But Ganya came to his senses at once, almost at the moment of his reaction, and laughed nervously. He recovered completely.

“What are you, Prince, a doctor or something?” he cried as gaily and simple-heartedly as he could.

Next, she catches General Ivolgin in a lie, embarrassing just about everyone:

The Idiot (Vintage Classics) (Fyodor Dostoevsky) - Highlight on Page 110

Rogozhin and His Crew

Rogozhin (etymology: rog = "horn" in Russian) is a figure who bears many resemblances to Satan. And his appearance at the Ivolgins certainly hammers that role home: he comes to buy Nastassya Filippovna as a bride by outbidding Ganya, giving her money and promising to give her more.

You don’t know me? Ptitsyn is my witness! If I was to show you three roubles, to take them out of my pocket right now, you’d crawl after them on all fours to Vassilievsky Island—that’s how you are! That’s how your soul is! I’ve come now to buy you out for money, never mind that I’m wearing these boots, I’ve got a lot of money, brother, I’ll buy you out with all you’ve got here … if I want, I’ll buy you all! Everything!”

“Forty thousand then, forty, not eighteen!” cried Rogozhin. “Vanka Ptitsyn and Biskup promised to produce forty thousand by seven o’clock. Forty thousand! All on the table.” The scene was becoming extremely ugly, but Nastasya Filippovna went on laughing and did not go away, as if she were intentionally drawing it out.

The Idiot (Vintage Classics) (Fyodor Dostoevsky) - Highlight on Page 115

Ganya's anger at the Prince makes him unhinged; he sees some kind of conspiracy, continually accusing the Prince of bringing up Nastassya Filippovna and blabbing about it. Nastassya's appearance made him unhinged with his anger for Myshkin, and upon Rogozhin's appearance (in the presence of the Satan figure) he unleashes his temper:

Ganya’s eyes went dim and, forgetting himself entirely, he swung at his sister with all his might. The blow would certainly have landed on her face. But suddenly another hand stopped his arm in midair. The prince stepped between him and his sister.

“Enough, no more of that!” he said insistently, but also trembling all over, as if from an extremely strong shock.

“What, are you always going to stand in my way!” Ganya bellowed, dropping Varya’s hand, and, having freed his arm, in the utmost degree of rage, he swung roundly and slapped the prince in the face.

“Ah!” Kolya clasped his hands, “ah, my God!” There were exclamations on all sides. The prince turned pale. With a strange and reproachful gaze, he looked straight into Ganya’s eyes; his lips trembled and attempted to say something; they were twisted by a strange and completely inappropriate smile.

“Well, let that be for me … but her … I still won’t let you!…” he said quietly at last; but suddenly unable to control himself, he left Ganya, covered his face with his hands, went to the corner, stood facing the wall, and said in a faltering voice: “Oh, how ashamed you’ll be of what you’ve done!”

Ganya indeed stood as if annihilated.

“He’ll be sorry!” shouted Rogozhin. “You’ll be ashamed, Ganka, to have offended such a … sheep!” (He was unable to find any other word.) “Prince, my dear soul, drop them all, spit on them, and let’s go! I'll show you what a friend Rogozhin can be!”

The interaction between General Ivolgin and Rogozhin is like something out of Shakespeare:

"What is the meaning of this, pray?" Ardalion Alexandrovitch, deeply stirred, suddenly cried in a menacing voice, going up to Rogozhin.

The suddenness of the old man's outburst, after his complete silence till that moment, made it very comic. There was laughter.

"Whom have we here?" laughed Rogozhin. "Come along, old fellow, we'll make you drunk."

After Nastassya leaves, Ganya asks the Prince for his forgiveness. They end up talking about Nastassya, and Ganya reveals that his primary motive for marrying Nastassya is money.

General Ivolgin's Unsaintliness

Myshkin sets out to find Nastassya's party and show up there; in order to do this, he tries to ask General Ivolgin. However, this turns into a visit to a bar and a drunken walk through town to visit old addresses which may or may not be the right address in the first place. Then we meet the "captain's widow" that the General is somehow romantically involved with, in an uncertain way:

the prince, still innocently laughing it off. But it was not all right.

As soon as they went through the dark and low front hall into the narrow drawing room, furnished with a half-dozen wicker chairs and two card tables, the hostess immediately started carrying on as if by rote in a sort of lamenting and habitual voice: “And aren’t you ashamed, aren’t you ashamed of yourself, barbarian and tyrant of my family, barbarian and fiend! He’s robbed me clean, sucked me dry, and he’s still not content! How long will I put up with you, you shameless and worthless man!”

“Marfa Borisovna, Marfa Borisovna! This … is Prince Myshkin. General Ivolgin and Prince Myshkin,” the general murmured, trembling and at a loss.

“Would you believe,” the captain’s widow suddenly turned to the prince, “would you believe that this shameless man hasn’t spared my orphaned children! He’s stolen everything, filched everything, sold and pawned everything, left nothing. What am I to do with your promissory notes, you cunning and shameless man? Answer, you sly fox, answer me, you insatiable heart: with what, with what am I to feed my orphaned children? Here he shows up drunk, can’t stand on his feet … How have I angered the Lord God, you vile and outrageous villain, answer me?” But the general had other things on his mind.

After Myshkin fails to get Nastassya's address from General Ivolgin, he goes to Kolya, who is much more helpful.

So it means that Nastasya Filippovna invited you to her place straight off?” “The thing is that she didn’t.” “How can you be going, then?” Kolya exclaimed and even stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “And … and dressed like that, and to a formal party?” “By God, I really don’t know how I’m going to get in. If they receive me—good; if not—then my business is lost. And as for my clothes, what can I do about that?” “You have business there? Or is it just so, pour passer le temps b in ‘noble society’?” “No, essentially I … that is, I do have business … it’s hard for me to explain it, but …”


“Well, as for what precisely, that can be as you like, but the main thing for me is that you’re not simply inviting yourself to a party, to be in the charming company of loose women, generals, and usurers. If that were so, excuse me, Prince, but I’d laugh at you and start despising you. There are terribly few honest people here, so that there’s nobody at all to respect.

Indeed - and these are the sharks surrounding Myshkin.

It calls to mind a quote from the Bible, from the Book of Isaiah Chapter 5:

Isaiah 5:20-24 King James Version (KJV)

20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:

23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

24 Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 5:20-24

Nastassya's Birthday Party

In each of The Idiot's four parts, there is at least one climactic scene; in Part One, it is clearly the conclusion: Nastassya's birthday party.

Myshkin begins by showing up uninvited at the party, after Kolya guides him to Nastassya's house:

Nastasya Filippovna occupied a not very large but indeed magnificently decorated apartment. There had been a time, at the beginning of those five years of her Petersburg life, when Afanasy Ivanovich had been particularly unstinting of money for her; he was then still counting on her love and thought he could seduce her mainly by comfort and luxury, knowing how easily the habits of luxury take root and how hard it is to give them up later, when luxury has gradually turned into necessity. In this case Totsky remained true to the good old traditions, changing nothing in them, and showing a boundless respect for the invincible power of sensual influences. Nastasya Filippovna did not reject the luxury, even liked it, but—and this seemed extremely strange—never succumbed to it, as if she could always do without it; she even tried several times to declare as much, which always struck Totsky unpleasantly.

I asked permission to speak the truth, since everybody knows that only those who are not witty speak the truth.

At the party are a number of friends that Myshkin has made throughout the day (remember that this is still the same day in which the train showed up in St. Petersburg at the very beginning of the book!) But Nastassya hints that she will show her self-destructive side with a foreshadowing comment:

Saying this, she peered intently at the prince, trying at least somehow to interpret his action to herself. The prince might have made some reply to her amiable words, but he was so dazzled and struck that he could not even get a word out. Nastasya Filippovna noticed it with pleasure.


So you consider me perfection, do you?”

“I do.”

“Though you’re a master at guessing, you’re nevertheless mistaken. I’ll remind you of it tonight …”

They then begin to play a game, in which each person has to share the worst thing they've ever done in their life.

“I know an excellent and new petit jeu,” Ferdyshchenko picked up, “at least one that happened only once in the world, and even then it didn’t succeed.”

“What was it?” the sprightly lady asked.

“A company of us got together once, and we drank a bit, it’s true, and suddenly somebody suggested that each of us, without leaving the table, tell something about himself, but something that he himself, in good conscience, considered the worst of all the bad things he’d done in the course of his whole life; and that it should be frank, above all, that it should be frank, no lying!”


Just think, ladies and gentlemen,” Ferdyshchenko suddenly exclaimed in some sort of inspiration, “just think with what eyes we’ll look at each other later, tomorrow, for instance, after our stories!”


“But is this possible? Can this indeed be serious, Nastasya Filippovna?” Totsky asked with dignity.

“He who fears wolves should stay out of the forest!” Nastasya Filippovna observed with a little smile.

Ferdyshchenko begins by telling a story of stealing three roubles:

I passed through the corner room, there was a green three-rouble note lying on Marya Ivanovna’s worktable: she had taken it out to pay some household expenses. Not a living soul in the room. I took the note and put it in my pocket, why—I don’t know. I don’t understand what came over me. Only I quickly went back and sat down at the table. I sat and waited in rather great excitement; I talked nonstop, told jokes, laughed; then I went to sit with the ladies. About half an hour later they found it missing and began questioning the maidservants. Suspicion fell on the maid Darya. I showed extraordinary curiosity and concern, and I even remember that, when Darya was completely at a loss, I began persuading her to confess her guilt, betting my life on Marya Ivanovna’s kindness—and that aloud, in front of everybody. Everybody was looking, and I felt an extraordinary pleasure precisely because I was preaching while the note was in my pocket. I drank up those three roubles in a restaurant that same evening. I went in and asked for a bottle of Lafite; never before had I asked for a bottle just like that, with nothing; I wanted to spend it quickly.

Next comes General Ivolgin's "short anecdote,"

“It has happened to me, ladies and gentlemen, as to everyone, to do certain not entirely elegant deeds in my life,” the general began, “but the strangest thing of all is that I consider the short anecdote I’m about to tell you the nastiest anecdote in my whole life. Meanwhile some thirty-five years have passed; but I have never been able, in recalling it, to break free of a certain, so to speak, gnawing impression in my heart. The affair itself, however, was extremely stupid: at that time I had just been made a lieutenant and was pulling my load in the army. Well, everybody knows what a lieutenant is: blood boiling and just pennies to live on. I had an orderly then, Nikifor, who was terribly solicitous of my livelihood: he saved, mended, cleaned and scrubbed, and even pilfered everywhere, whatever he could to add to the household. He was a most trustworthy and honest man. I, of course, was strict but fair. At some point we were stationed in a little town. I was quartered on the outskirts, with a retired lieutenant’s wife, and a widow at that. The old hag was eighty or thereabouts. Her little house was decrepit, wretched, wooden, and she didn’t even have a serving woman, so poor she was. But the main thing about her was that she had once had the most numerous family and relations; but some had died in the course of her life, others had gone away, still others had forgotten the old woman, and her husband she had buried forty-five years earlier. A few years before then her niece had lived with her, hunchbacked and wicked as a witch, people said, and once she had even bitten the old woman’s finger, but she had died, too, so that for some three years the old woman had been getting along all by herself. My life with her was terribly boring, and she herself was so empty I couldn’t get anywhere with her. In the end she stole a rooster from me. The affair has remained cloudy to this day, but no one else could have done it. We quarreled over that rooster, and considerably, but here it so happened that, at my first request, I was transferred to other quarters on the opposite side of town, with the numerous family of a merchant with a great big beard—I remember him as if it were yesterday. Nikifor and I are joyfully moving out, we’re indignantly leaving the old woman. About three days go by, I come back from drill, Nikifor tells me, ‘You shouldn’t have left our bowl with the former landlady, Your Honor, we have nothing to serve soup in.’ I, naturally, am amazed: ‘How’s that? Why would our bowl have stayed with the landlady?’ The astonished Nikifor goes on to report that the landlady hadn’t given him our bowl when we were moving because, since I had broken a pot of hers, she was keeping our bowl in exchange for her pot, and I had supposedly suggested doing it that way. Such baseness on her part naturally drove me beyond the final limits; my blood boiled, I jumped up and flew to her. By the time I reach the old woman I’m, so to speak, already beside myself; I see her sitting all alone in the corner of the front hall, as if hiding from the sun, resting her cheek on her hand. I immediately loosed a whole thunderstorm on her: ‘You’re this,’ I said, ‘and you’re that!’—you know, in the best Russian way. Only I see something strange is happening: she sits, her face is turned to me, her eyes are popping out, and she says not a word in reply, and she looks at me so strangely, strangely, as if she’s swaying back and forth. I finally calm down, look closely at her, ask her something—not a word in reply. I stand there irresolutely; flies are buzzing, the sun is setting, silence; completely bewildered, I finally leave. Before I reached home I was summoned to the major’s, then I had to pass by my company, so that I got home quite late. Nikifor’s first words: ‘You know, Your Honor, our landlady died.’ ‘When?’ ‘This evening, an hour and a half ago.’ Which meant that, just at the time when I was abusing her, she was departing. I was so struck, I must tell you, that I had a hard time recovering. It even made its way into my thoughts, you know, even into my dreams at night. I, of course, have no prejudices, but on the third day I went to church for the funeral. In short, the more time passed, the more I thought about her. Nothing special, only I pictured it occasionally and felt rather bad. The main thing is, how did I reason in the end? First, the woman was, so to speak, a personal being, what’s known in our time as a human; she lived, lived a long time, too long finally. She once had children, a husband, a family, relations, everything around her was at the boil, there were all these smiles, so to speak, and suddenly—total zero, everything’s gone smash, she’s left alone, like … some sort of fly bearing a curse from time immemorial. And then, finally, God brings her to an end. At sunset, on a quiet summer evening, my old woman also flies away—of course, this is not without its moralizing idea; and at that very moment, instead of, so to speak, a farewell tear, this desperate young lieutenant, jaunty and arms akimbo, sees her off the face of the earth with the Russian element of riotous abuse over a lost bowl! No doubt I was at fault, and though, owing to the distance in time and to changes in my character, I’ve long regarded my deed as someone else’s, I nevertheless continue to regret it. So that, I repeat, I find it strange, the more so as, even if I am at fault, it’s not so completely: why did she decide to die precisely at that moment? Naturally, there’s some excuse here—that the deed was in a certain sense psychological—but all the same I never felt at peace until I began, about fifteen years ago, to keep two permanent sick old women at my expense in the almshouse, with the purpose of easing their last days of earthly life by decent maintenance. I intend to leave capital for it in perpetuity. Well, sirs, that’s all. I repeat that I may be to blame for many things in life, but I consider this occasion, in all conscience, the nastiest deed of my whole life.”


Afanasy Ivanovich fell silent with the same solid dignity with which he had embarked on his story. It was noticed that Nastasya Filippovna’s eyes flashed somehow peculiarly and her lips even twitched when Afanasy Ivanovich finished. Everyone glanced with curiosity at them both.

But when it is Nastassya's turn, she finally calls her marriage to Ganya into question. However, instead of making the decision herself, she passes it off to the Prince:

“But the promised anecdote before all!” the general warmly approved.

“Prince,” Nastasya Filippovna suddenly addressed him sharply and unexpectedly, “these old friends of mine, the general and Afanasy Ivanovich, keep wanting to get me married. Tell me what you think: should I get married or not? I’ll do as you say.”

Afanasy Ivanovich turned pale, the general was dumbfounded; everyone stared and thrust their heads forward. Ganya froze in his place.

“To … to whom?” asked the prince in a sinking voice.

“To Gavrila Ardalionovich Ivolgin,” Nastasya Filippovna went on as sharply, firmly, and distinctly as before. Several moments passed in silence; the prince seemed to be trying hard but could not utter a word, as if a terrible weight were pressing on his chest.

“N-no … don’t!” he whispered at last and tensely drew his breath.

“And so it will be! Gavrila Ardalionovich!” she addressed him imperiously and as if solemnly, “did you hear what the prince decided? Well, so that is my answer; and let this business be concluded once and for all!”

Like Anna Karenina, Nastassya Flippovna wants freedom, as a result of coming under the influence of a powerful man who wrecked her emotionally by keeping her under tight control. However, she avoids the existential anxiety of choosing to be free by pushing the choice off onto Myshkin.

Once Myshkin has made her decision for her, she blows up at Ganya for trying to buy her as a bride:

“Is trying to get at the seventy-five thousand, is that it?” Nastasya Filippovna suddenly cut him off. “Is that what you wanted to say? Don’t deny it, you certainly wanted to say that! Afanasy Ivanovich, I forgot to add: you can keep the seventy-five thousand for yourself and know that I’ve set you free gratis.

This, and the truth-telling drinking game, both build up Nastassya's recklessness and exhibit her disdain of money, which will culminate with her throwing notes into the fire, as will happen in a moment...

Enough! You, too, need to breathe! Nine years and three months! Tomorrow—all anew, but today is my birthday and I’m on my own for the first time in my whole life! General, you can also take your pearls and give them to your wife—here they are; and tomorrow I’ll vacate this apartment entirely. And there will be no more evenings, ladies and gentlemen!”


The guests went on being amazed, whispering and exchanging glances, but it became perfectly clear that it had all been calculated and arranged beforehand, and that now Nastasya Filippovna—though she was, of course, out of her mind—would not be thrown off.

Truly on cue, Rogozhin and his crew show up, most slightly drunk, with strangers in tow:

was totally unknown to any of Rogozhin’s people, but who had been picked up in the street, on the sunny side of Nevsky Prospect, where he was stopping passersby and asking, in Marlinsky’s style, for financial assistance, under the perfidious pretext that “in his time he himself used to give petitioners fifteen roubles.”

Rogozhin is captivated by Nastassya; he puts the hundred thousand rubles on the table:

Timidly and like a lost man he gazed at Nastasya Filippovna for several seconds, not taking his eyes off her. Suddenly, as if he had lost all reason and nearly staggering, he went up to the table; on his way he bumped into Ptitsyn’s chair and stepped with his huge, dirty boots on the lace trimming of the silent German beauty’s magnificent light blue dress; he did not apologize and did not notice. Having gone up to the table, he placed on it a strange object, with which he had also entered the drawing room, holding it out in front of him with both hands. It was a big stack of paper, about five inches high and seven inches long, wrapped firmly and closely in The Stock Market Gazette, and tied very tightly on all sides and twice crisscross with the kind of string used for tying sugar loaves. Then he stood without saying a word, his arms hanging down, as if awaiting his sentence.

Here again, we hear echoes of Dostoyevsky's theme - the moments before execution, the condemned man awaiting his fate. Rogozhin is sacrificing his freedom with those bank notes, to a fate of certain doom. Like a man who knows he is condemned...

Ganechka, I see you’re still angry with me? Did you really want to take me into your family? Me, Rogozhin’s kind of woman! What was it the prince said earlier?”

“I did not say you were Rogozhin’s kind of woman, you’re not Rogozhin’s kind!” the prince uttered in a trembling voice.

Can it be true what Rogozhin said about you, that for three roubles you’d crawl on all fours to Vassilievsky Island?”

“He would,” Rogozhin suddenly said quietly but with a look of great conviction.

“Well, then, why did I torment him [Totsky] for a whole five years and not let him leave me? As if he was worth it! He’s simply the way he has to be … He’s still going to consider me guilty before him: he brought me up, he kept me like a countess, money, so much money, went on me, he found me an honest husband there, and Ganechka here, and what do you think: I didn’t live with him for five years, but I took his money and thought I was right! I really got myself quite confused! Now you say take the hundred thousand and throw him out, if it’s so loathsome. It’s true that it’s loathsome … I could have married long ago, and not just some Ganechka, only that’s also pretty loathsome. Why did I waste my five years in this spite! But, would you believe it, some four years ago I had moments when I thought: shouldn’t I really marry my Afanasy Ivanovich? I thought it then out of spite; all sorts of things came into my head then; but I could have made him do it! He asked for it himself, can you believe that? True, he was lying, but he’s so susceptible, he can’t control himself. And then, thank God, I thought: as if he’s worth such spite!

No, it’s better in the street where I belong! Either carouse with Rogozhin or go tomorrow and become a washerwoman! Because nothing on me is my own; if I leave, I’ll abandon everything to him, I’ll leave every last rag, and who will take me without anything? Ask Ganya here, will he? Even Ferdyshchenko won’t take me!…”

Then the prince proposes marriage to Nastassya, another man who is willing to lay down his freedom and face certain doom at the hands of Nastassya Filippovna but is willing nonetheless.

How are you going to live, if you’re so in love that you’ll take Rogozhin’s kind of woman—you, a prince?…”

“I’ll take you as an honest woman, Nastasya Filippovna, not as Rogozhin’s kind,” said the prince.

“Me, an honest woman?”



“I don’t know anything, Nastasya Filippovna, I haven’t seen anything, you’re right, but I … I will consider that you are doing me an honor, and not I you. I am nothing, but you have suffered and have emerged pure from such a hell, and that is a lot. Why do you feel ashamed and want to go with Rogozhin? It’s your fever … You’ve given Mr. Totsky back his seventy thousand and say you will abandon everything you have here, which no one else here would do. I … love you … Nastasya Filippovna. I will die for you, Nastasya Filippovna. I won’t let anyone say a bad word about you, Nastasya Filippovna … If we’re poor, I’ll work, Nastasya Filippovna …”

Everyone asserted afterwards that it was also from this moment that Nastasya Filippovna went crazy. She sat there and for some time looked around at them all with a sort of strange, astonished gaze, as if she could not understand and was trying to figure something out. Then she suddenly turned to the prince and, with a menacing scowl, studied him intently; but this lasted only a moment; perhaps it had suddenly occurred to her that it might all be a joke, a mockery; but the prince’s look reassured her at once. She became pensive, then smiled again, as if not clearly realizing why …


“No, General! I’m a princess myself now, you heard it—the prince won’t let anyone offend me! Afanasy Ivanovich, congratulate me; now I’ll be able to sit next to your wife anywhere; it’s useful to have such a husband, don’t you think? A million and a half, and a prince, and, they say, an idiot to boot, what could be better? Only now does real life begin! You’re too late, Rogozhin! Take your packet away, I’m marrying the prince, and I’m richer than you are!” But Rogozhin grasped what was going on. Inexpressible suffering was reflected in his face. He clasped his hands and a groan burst from his breast. “Give her up!” he cried to the prince.


“And you thought it could really be?” Nastasya Filippovna jumped up from the sofa with a loud laugh. “That I could ruin such a baby? That’s just the right thing for Afanasy Ivanych: he’s the one who loves babies! Let’s go, Rogozhin! Get your packet ready! Never mind that you want to marry me, give me the money anyway. Maybe I still won’t marry you. You thought, since you want to marry me, you’d get to keep the packet? Ah, no! I’m shameless myself! I was Totsky’s concubine … Prince! you need Aglaya Epanchin now, not Nastasya Filippovna—otherwise Ferdyshchenko will point the finger at you!

Nastassya doesn't want to ruin the Prince, who she knows is helplessly in love with her, the way that Totsky ruined her. She doesn't want him to give up his freedom and face certain doom. She wants to save him.

Keep the seventy-five thousand, Afanasy Ivanych (you didn’t even get up to a hundred, Rogozhin outdid you!); as for Ganechka, I’ll comfort him myself, I’ve got an idea. And now I want to carouse, I’m a streetwalker! I sat in prison for ten years, now comes happiness! What’s wrong, Rogozhin? Get ready, let’s go!” “Let’s go!” bellowed Rogozhin, nearly beside himself with joy. “Hey, you … whoever … wine! Ohh!…”


“There will, there will! Keep away!” Rogozhin screamed in frenzy, seeing Darya Alexeevna approaching Nastasya Filippovna. “She’s mine! It’s all mine! A queen! The end!” He was breathless with joy; he circled around Nastasya Filippovna and cried out to everyone: “Keep away!”

His whole company had already crowded into the drawing room. Some were drinking, others were shouting and guffawing, they were all in a most excited and uninhibited state. Ferdyshchenko began trying to sidle up to them. The general and Totsky made another move to disappear quickly. Ganya also had his hat in his hand, but he stood silently and still seemed unable to tear himself away from the picture that was developing before him.

“Keep away!” cried Rogozhin.

“What are you yelling for?” Nastasya Filippovna laughed loudly at him. “I’m still the mistress here; if I want, I can have you thrown out. I haven’t taken your money yet, it’s right there; give it to me, the whole packet!


No, better let’s part nicely, because I’m a dreamer myself, there’d be no use! As if I haven’t dreamed of you myself? You’re right about that, I dreamed for a long time, still in the country, where he kept me for five years, completely alone, I used to think and think, dream and dream—and I kept imagining someone like you, kind, honest, good, and as silly as you are, who would suddenly come and say, ‘You’re not guilty, Nastasya Filippovna, and I adore you!’ And I sometimes dreamed so much that I’d go out of my mind … And then this one would come: he’d stay for two months a year, dishonor me, offend me, inflame me, debauch me, leave me—a thousand times I wanted to drown myself in the pond, but I was base, I had no courage—well, but now … Rogozhin, are you ready?” “Ready! Keep away!”

Now Nastassya decides to pit Ganya's love of money against his love of himself, his pride. She takes the hundred thousand rubles that Rogozhin has brought to buy Nastassya, and throws them in the fire, telling Ganya to humiliate himself and pull them out:

“Ganka, I’ve got an idea: I want to reward you, because why should you lose everything? Rogozhin, will he crawl to Vassilievsky Island for three roubles?” “He will!” “Well, then listen, Ganya, I want to look at your soul for the last time; you’ve been tormenting me for three long months; now it’s my turn. Do you see this packet? There’s a hundred thousand in it! I’m now going to throw it into the fireplace, onto the fire, before everyone, all these witnesses! As soon as it catches fire all over, go into the fireplace, only without gloves, with your bare hands, with your sleeves rolled up, and pull the packet out of the fire! If you pull it out, it’s yours, the whole hundred thousand is yours! You’ll only burn your fingers a little—but it’s a hundred thousand, just think! It won’t take long to snatch it out! And I’ll admire your soul as you go into the fire after my money. They’re all witnesses that the packet will be yours! And if you don’t get it out, it will burn; I won’t let anyone else touch it. Stand back! Everybody! It’s my money! I got it for a night with Rogozhin. Is it my money, Rogozhin?”


“She’s mad, isn’t she? Isn’t she mad?” the general pestered Totsky. “I told you she was a colorful woman,” murmured Afanasy Ivanovich, also gone somewhat pale. “But, after all, it’s a hundred thousand!…” “Lord, Lord!” was heard on all sides. Everyone crowded around the fireplace, everyone pushed in order to see, everyone exclaimed … Some even climbed onto chairs to look over the heads. Darya Alexeevna ran to the other room and exchanged frightened whispers with Katya and Pasha about something. The German beauty fled.


“Dearest lady! Queen! Almighty one!” Lebedev screamed, crawling on his knees before Nastasya Filippovna and reaching out towards the fireplace. “A hundred thousand! A hundred thousand! I saw it myself, I was there when they wrapped it! Dearest lady! Merciful one! Order me into the fireplace: I’ll go all the way in, I’ll put my whole gray head into the fire!… A crippled wife, thirteen children—all orphaned, I buried my father last week, he sits there starving, Nastasya Filippovna!!” and, having screamed, he began crawling into the fireplace.

“Away!” cried Nastasya Filippovna, pushing him aside. “Step back, everybody! Ganya, what are you standing there for? Don’t be ashamed! Go in! It’s your lucky chance!”

But Ganya had already endured too much that day and that evening, and was not prepared for this last unexpected trial. The crowd parted into two halves before him, and he was left face to face with Nastasya Filippovna, three steps away from her. She stood right by the fireplace and waited, not tearing her burning, intent gaze from him. Ganya, in a tailcoat, his hat and gloves in his hand, stood silent and unresponding before her, his arms crossed, looking at the fire. An insane smile wandered over his face, which was pale as a sheet. True, he could not take his eyes off the fire, off the smoldering packet; but it seemed something new had arisen in his soul; it was as if he had sworn to endure the torture; he did not budge from the spot; in a few moments it became clear to everyone that he would not go after the packet, that he did not want to.

“Hey, it’ll burn up, and they’ll shame you,” Nastasya Filippovna cried to him, “you’ll hang yourself afterwards, I’m not joking!”


The fire that had flared up in the beginning between the two smoldering logs went out at first, when the packet fell on it and smothered it. But a small blue flame still clung from below to one corner of the lower log. Finally, a long, thin tongue of fire licked at the packet, the fire caught and raced along the edges of the paper, and suddenly the whole packet blazed in the fireplace and the bright flame shot upwards. Everyone gasped. “Dearest lady!” Lebedev kept screaming, straining forward once more, but Rogozhin dragged him back and pushed him aside again. Rogozhin himself had turned into one fixed gaze. He could not turn it from Nastasya Filippovna, he was reveling, he was in seventh heaven. “There’s a queen for you!” he repeated every moment, turning around to whoever was there. “That’s the way to do it!” he cried out, forgetting himself. “Who among you rogues would pull such a stunt, eh?”


“It’s all his! The whole packet is his! Do you hear, gentlemen?” Nastasya Filippovna proclaimed, placing the packet beside Ganya. “He didn’t go in after it, he held out! So his vanity is still greater than his lust for money. Never mind, he’ll come to! Otherwise he might have killed me

The chaotic ending to Part One is well-summarized by a reference to harakiri, the Japanese practice of ritual suicide:

“You know, Afanasy Ivanovich, they say something of the sort exists among the Japanese,” Ivan Petrovich Ptitsyn was saying. “An offended man there supposedly goes to the offender and says to him: ‘You have offended me, for that I have come to rip my belly open before your eyes,’ and with those words he actually rips his belly open before his offender’s eyes, no doubt feeling an extreme satisfaction, as if he had indeed revenged himself. There are strange characters in the world, Afanasy Ivanovich!”

Part Two

The Opening

Whereas the entirety of Part One is spent on a single day, Part Two begins by skipping over six months in just a few paragraphs. The narrator's knowledge becomes sketchy and resorts to rumors. Myshkin departs for Moscow, Nastassya runs away from Rogozhin, Myshkin and Nastassya end up living together for a month in Moscow, and the entire cycle is repeated again: Nastassya leaves Myshkin for Rogozhin, and even cheats on Rogozhin. While these events are referenced throughout Parts 2-4, the narrator never explains straight out what happened during these six months. It is clear from the novel's events in Pavlovsk, however, that the changes each character underwent over six months was tremendous.

It was said then that there might have been other reasons for such a hasty departure; but of that, as well as of the prince’s adventures in Moscow and generally in the course of his absence from Petersburg, we can supply very little information. The prince was away for exactly six months, and even those who had certain reasons to be interested in his fate could find out very little about him during all that time. True, some sort of rumors reached some of them, though very rarely, but these were mostly strange and almost always contradicted each other.

Gradually the rumors that had begun to spread around town also managed to be shrouded in the darkness of ignorance.

The thing was that just two weeks earlier he had received undercover information, brief and therefore not quite clear, but reliable, that Nastasya Filippovna, who had first disappeared in Moscow, had then been found in Moscow by Rogozhin, had then disappeared again somewhere and had again been found by him, had finally given him an almost certain promise that she would marry him. And now, only two weeks later, his excellency had suddenly received information that Nastasya Filippovna had run away for a third time, almost from the foot of the altar, and this time had disappeared somewhere in the provinces, and meanwhile Prince Myshkin had also vanished from Moscow, leaving Salazkin in charge of all his affairs, “together with her, or simply rushing after her, no one knows, but there’s something in it,” the general concluded. Lizaveta Prokofyevna, for her part, also received some unpleasant information.

As the story moves outside of Petersburg, the narrator's knowledge of what happens becomes more and more sketchy, and reliant on rumors. The descriptions become much briefer, the brushstrokes more broad, and the time scales longer. Whereas Part 1 covered a single day, the first chapter of Part 2 covers six months.

Throughout Part 2, each of the characters that have been introduced in Part 1 are woven into an increasingly complex social web. At the same time, the narrator's tale becomes heavier in ambiguous language, undercurrents of emotion and body language communication that go undescribed, words with layers of meaning the reader can't possibly understand, because of the novel's lack of an omniscient narrator to describe various characters' inner stream of consciousness.

“I don’t know, in the crowd—it even seems to me that I imagined it; I’ve somehow begun to imagine things all the time.

Right away, there are several parallels between Part 1 and Part 2. Once the description of the six month period is finished, Part 2 spends much of its time on a single day - just as Part 1 covered a single day.

Both Part 1 and Part 2 begin the action with a train ride to St. Petersburg, though there is a big contrast between the two arrivals. In the second train trip, Myshkin arrives "sad and thoughtful and seemed worried about something," whereas during the first trip, he had made friends on the train, was eager to go straight to General Epanchin, and talked eagerly and openly with everyone.

Rogozhin is present at both arrivals. In Part 1, he is one of the new friends Prince Myshkin meets on the train; in the opening of Part 2, Rogozhin is a more insidious presence, only a pair of evil eyes, and his presence remains unannounced until later. This insidious presence will be detected by Myshkin throughout the rest of the novel, and the feeling of evil eyes watching becomes a sign of Rogozhin.

No one met him at the station; but as he was getting off the train, the prince suddenly thought he caught the gaze of two strange, burning eyes in the crowd surrounding the arriving people. When he looked more attentively, he could no longer see them. Of course, he had only imagined it; but it left an unpleasant impression. Besides, the prince was sad and pensive to begin with and seemed preoccupied with something.

Rogozhin's presence, though the Prince feels it, remains ambiguous; these kinds of series of events, with vague indications and ambiguous meanings, unexplained by the narrator, become more common.

There are other examples of vagueness in the opening of Part 2: the report we get of Myshkin's letter to Aglaya, filled with meaning, all ambiguous, which even the Prince doesn't understand:

How is it that I am writing to you? I do not know; but I have an irrepressible desire to remind you of myself, and you precisely.

The narrator leaves us hanging, without explaining such "irrepressible desires." Aglaya's response is no more clear, even to her sisters, who understand her best:

Aglaya laughed terribly—no one knew why. Nor did anyone know whether she showed her acquisition to any of her sisters.

Meeting with Lebedyev

After he arrives in Petersburg, the Prince goes first to Lebedyev, another character who was present in the opening of Part 1, and we see Myshkin's old friend behaving strangely. It recalls another of Dostoyevsky's themes in The Idiot, which appears throughout Part 2, the theme of mental illness. Except now, it is Lebedyev who seems to be acting strangely. Here, Lebedyev's nephew describes Lebedyev's behavior:

“I’ve been lying here for three days, and the things I’ve seen!” the young man went on shouting without listening. “Imagine, he suspects this angel, this young girl, now an orphan, my cousin, his own daughter; every night he searches for her sweethearts! He comes here on the sly and also searches for something under my sofa. He’s gone crazy from suspiciousness; he sees thieves in every corner. All night he keeps popping out of bed to see whether the windows are well latched, to check the doors, to peek into the stove, as much as seven times a night. He defends swindlers in court, and he gets up three times in the night to pray, here in the living room, on his knees, pounding his head on the floor for half an hour, and who doesn’t he pray for, what doesn’t he pray for, the drunken mumbler! He prayed for the repose of the soul of the countess Du Barry, 9 I heard it with my own ears; Kolya also heard it: he’s gone quite crazy!”

During Lebedyev and Myshkin's conversation, Dostoyevsky gives the reader some information on the Moscow back-story, about how Nastassya Filippovna was ready to marry Myshkin, but ended up leaving him at the altar and running to Lebedyev to hide her. This makes Nastassya's history ambiguous and difficult to sort out - how many times did she leave Myshkin? Rogozhin?

Most importantly, however, at this meeting Myshkin discovers that Aglaa Ivanovna and her family will be in Pavlovsk, and he also learns that Lebedyev has a house in Pavlovsk where Myshkin can stay.

Meeting with Rogozhin

The Prince also meets Rogozhin, with whom he has developed a relationship that the reader does not understand, and that the narrator alludes to only in passing:

They addressed each other as familiars. In Moscow they had often happened to spend long hours together, and there had even been several moments during their meetings that had left an all too memorable imprint on both their hearts. Now it was over three months since they had seen each other.

When they are talking, the Prince makes a promise to Rogozhin: not to see Nastassya Filippovna.This is a promise he quickly breaks, and will lead to the climactic scene of Part 2.

If it’s completely true that things have been made up again between you, I won’t even allow her a glimpse of me, and I’ll never come to see you either.

Rogozhin also reveals more of his circumstances with Nastassya Filippovna. We already know that Rogozhin is jealous and protective of Nastassya, but we also learn that, after she agreed to marry Rogozhin in Moscow a second time (after she abandoned Myshkin at the altar), she cheated on Rogozhin with a military officer:

“Didn’t she disgrace me in Moscow, with that officer, that Zemtiuzhnikov? I know for sure she did, and that’s after she set the date for the wedding herself.” “It can’t be!” cried the prince. “I know for sure,” Rogozhin said with conviction. “What, she’s not like that, or something? There’s no point, brother, in saying she’s not like that. It’s pure nonsense. With you she wouldn’t be like that, and might be horrified at such a thing herself, but with me that’s just what she’s like. So it is.

Rogozhin drops an implicit hint about killing Nastassya Flippovna, then tells Myshkin he physically beat her, and then there's this:

“Well, your love is indistinguishable from spite,” smiled the prince, “and when it passes, there may be still worse trouble. This I tell you, brother Parfyon …”

“That I’ll put a knife in her?”

The prince gave a start. “You’ll hate her very much for this present love, for all this torment that you’re suffering now. For me the strangest thing is how she could again decide to marry you. When I heard it yesterday—I could scarcely believe it, and it pained me so. She has already renounced you twice and run away from the altar, which means she has a foreboding!…

There's also the foreshadowing of an attack on Myshkin by Rogozhin, with the small knife Myshkin keeps playing with:

“This is all jealousy, Parfyon, it’s all illness, you exaggerate it beyond all measure …” the prince murmured in great agitation. “What’s the matter?”

“Let it alone,” Parfyon said and quickly snatched from the prince’s hand the little knife he had picked up from the table, next to the book, and put it back where it had been.

The Painting

Over the door to the next room hung a painting rather strange in form, around six feet wide and no more than ten inches high. It portrayed the Savior just taken down from the cross. The prince glanced fleetingly at it, as if recalling something, not stopping, however, wanting to go on through the door. He felt very oppressed and wanted to be out of this house quickly. But Rogozhin suddenly stopped in front of the painting.


"I saw the painting abroad and cannot forget it. But … what’s the matter …”

Rogozhin suddenly abandoned the painting and went further on his way. Of course, absentmindedness and the special, strangely irritated mood that had appeared so unexpectedly in Rogozhin might have explained this abruptness; but even so the prince thought it somehow odd that a conversation not initiated by him should be so suddenly broken off, and that Rogozhin did not even answer him.

It prompts Rogozhin to ask Myshkin about his belief in God, a question Myshkin avoids answering:

“But I’ve long wanted to ask you something, Lev Nikolaich: do you believe in God or not?” Rogozhin suddenly began speaking again, after going several steps.

“How strangely you ask and … stare!” the prince observed involuntarily.

“But I like looking at that painting,” Rogozhin muttered after a silence, as if again forgetting his question.

“At that painting!” the prince suddenly cried out, under the impression of an unexpected thought. “At that painting! A man could even lose his faith from that painting!”

“Lose it he does,” Rogozhin suddenly agreed unexpectedly. They had already reached the front door.

Myshkin then responds to Rogozhin's question indirectly with four allegories.

He’s really a very learned man, and I was glad to be talking with a true scholar. Moreover, he’s a man of rare courtesy, and he talked with me as if I were perfectly equal to him in knowledge and ideas. He doesn’t believe in God. Only one thing struck me: it was as if that was not at all what he was talking about all the while, and it struck me precisely because before, too, however many unbelievers I’ve met, however many books I’ve read on the subject, it has always seemed to me that they were talking or writing books that were not at all about that, though it looked as if it was about that.


In the evening I stopped to spend the night in a provincial hotel where a murder had taken place the night before, so that everyone was talking about it when I arrived. Two peasants, getting on in years, and not drunk, friends who had known each other a long time, had had tea and were both about to go to bed in the same little room. But, during the last two days, one of them had spied the silver watch that the other wore on a yellow bead string, which he had evidently never noticed before. The man was not a thief, he was even honest, and not all that poor as peasant life goes. But he liked the watch so much and was so tempted by it that he finally couldn’t stand it: he pulled out a knife and, while his friend was looking the other way, went up to him cautiously from behind, took aim, raised his eyes to heaven, crossed himself and, after praying bitterly to himself: ‘Lord, forgive me for Christ’s sake!’—killed his friend with one blow, like a sheep, and took his watch.”

Rogozhin rocked with laughter. He guffawed as if he was in some sort of fit. It was even strange to look at this laughter coming right after such a gloomy mood. “Now that I like! No, that’s the best yet!” he cried out spasmodically, nearly breathless. “The one doesn’t believe in God at all, and the other believes so much that he even stabs people with a prayer … No, that, brother Prince, couldn’t have been made up! Ha, ha, ha! No, that’s the best yet!…”


I saw a drunken soldier staggering along the wooden sidewalk, all in tatters. He comes up to me: ‘Buy a silver cross, master. I’m asking only twenty kopecks. It’s silver!’ I see a cross in his hand—he must have just taken it off—on a worn light blue ribbon, only it’s a real tin one, you could see it at first glance, big, eight-pointed, of the full Byzantine design. I took out twenty kopecks, gave them to him, and put the cross on at once—and I could see by his face how pleased he was to have duped the foolish gentleman, and he went at once to drink up his cross, there’s no doubt of that. Just then, brother, I was under the strongest impression of all that had flooded over me in Russia; before I understood nothing of it, as if I’d grown up a dumb brute, and I had somehow fantastic memories of it during those five years I spent abroad. So I went along and thought: no, I’ll wait before condemning this Christ-seller. God knows what’s locked away in these drunken and weak hearts.


Listen, Parfyon, you asked me earlier, here is my answer: the essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit in with any reasoning, with any crimes and trespasses, or with any atheisms; there’s something else here that’s not that, and it will eternally be not that; there’s something in it that atheisms will eternally glance off, and they will eternally be talking not about that. But the main thing is that one can observe it sooner and more clearly in a Russian heart, and that is my conclusion!

The "that" Myshkin refers to here is faith - the irrationality of faith. Here Myshkin almost seems to suggest that irrationality (and maybe paranoia too) are national traits, characteristics of the Russian heart.

“Never fear! Maybe I did take your cross, but I won’t kill you for your watch!” he muttered unintelligibly, suddenly laughing somehow strangely. But suddenly his whole face was transformed: he turned terribly pale, his lips quivered, his eyes lit up. He raised his arms, embraced the prince tightly, and said breathlessly: “Take her, then, if it’s fate! She’s yours! I give her up to you!… Remember Rogozhin!” And, leaving the prince, not even looking at him, he hastily went to his rooms and slammed the door behind him.

The Leadup to Rogozhin's Attempted Murder

For indeed he felt himself in an especially morbid mood that day, almost as he had felt formerly at the onset of the fits of his former illness.

Consequently, if that shop existed and that thing was actually displayed among the goods for sale, it meant he had in fact stopped for that thing. Which meant that the thing had held such strong interest for him that it had attracted his attention even at the very time when he had left the railway station and had been so painfully confused. He walked along, looking to the right almost in anguish, his heart pounding with uneasy impatience. But here was the shop, he had found it at last! He had been five hundred paces away from it when he decided to go back. And here was that object worth sixty kopecks. “Of course, sixty kopecks, it’s not worth more!” he repeated now and laughed. But he laughed hysterically; he felt very oppressed. He clearly recalled now that precisely here, standing in front of this window, he had suddenly turned, as he had earlier, when he had caught Rogozhin’s eyes fixed on him.

But some invincible inner loathing again got the upper hand: he did not want to think anything over, he did not think anything over; he fell to thinking about something quite different.

Reflecting on that moment afterwards, in a healthy state, he had often said to himself that all those flashes and glimpses of a higher self-sense and self-awareness, and therefore of the “highest being,” were nothing but an illness, a violation of the normal state, and if so, then this was not the highest being at all but, on the contrary, should be counted as the very lowest.

And yet he finally arrived at an extremely paradoxical conclusion: “So what if it is an illness?” he finally decided. “Who cares that it’s an abnormal strain, if the result itself, if the moment of the sensation, remembered and examined in a healthy state, turns out to be the highest degree of harmony, beauty, gives a hitherto unheard-of and unknown feeling of fullness, measure, reconciliation, and an ecstatic, prayerful merging with the highest synthesis of life?”

Was he dreaming some sort of abnormal and nonexistent visions at that moment, as from hashish, opium, or wine, which humiliate the reason and distort the soul? He could reason about it sensibly once his morbid state was over.

“At that moment,” as he had once said to Rogozhin in Moscow, when they got together there, “at that moment I was somehow able to understand the extraordinary phrase that time shall be no more. 23 Probably,” he had added, smiling, “it’s the same second in which the jug of water overturned by the epileptic Muhammad did not have time to spill, while he had time during the same second to survey all the dwellings of Allah.”

this last moment before the fit is in keeping with the theme of time before doom. the moments before an execution. different bc it doesnt have that certainty though.

There was a sort of lure in his contemplative state right then. His memories and reason clung to every external object, and he liked that: he kept wanting to forget something present, essential, but with the first glance around him he at once recognized his dark thought again, the thought he had wanted so much to be rid of.

wanting to forget. like tolstoy on tobacco. consciousness clings to things around you.

It at once became terribly disgusting and almost impossible for him to think further about his “sudden idea.” With tormentingly strained attention, he peered into everything his eyes lighted upon, he looked at the sky, at the Neva. He addressed a little child he met. It may have been that his epileptic state was intensifying more and more. The thunderstorm, it seemed, was actually approaching, though slowly.

The strange thing was that he kept coming to his mind as the murderer Lebedev had mentioned when introducing the nephew to him. Yes, he had read about that murderer very recently. He had read and heard a great deal about such things since his arrival in Russia; he followed them persistently. And earlier he had even become much too interested in his conversation with the waiter about that murder of the Zhemarins.

But another man’s soul is murky, and the Russian soul is murky; it is so for many. Here he had long been getting together with Rogozhin, close together, together in a “brotherly” way—but did he know Rogozhin? And anyhow, what chaos, what turmoil, what ugliness there sometimes is in all that! But even so, what a nasty and all-satisfied little pimple that nephew of Lebedev’s is! But, anyhow, what am I saying? (the prince went on in his reverie).

But anyhow, what was he doing making such a final judgment of them—he who had come only that day, what was he doing passing such verdicts? Lebedev himself had set him a problem today: had he expected such a Lebedev?

And his story today? No, that’s deeper than mere passion. Does her face inspire mere passion? And is that face even capable of inspiring passion now? It inspires suffering, it seizes the whole soul, it … and a burning, tormenting memory suddenly passed through the prince’s heart.

Yes, tormenting. He remembered how he had been tormented recently, when for the first time he began to notice signs of insanity in her. What he experienced then was nearly despair. And how could he abandon her, when she then ran away from him to Rogozhin?

No, Rogozhin was slandering himself; he has an immense heart, which is capable of passion and compassion. When he learns the whole truth and when he becomes convinced of what a pathetic creature this deranged, half-witted woman is—won’t he then forgive her all the past, all his suffering? Won’t he become her servant, her brother, friend, providence?

Compassion is the chief and perhaps the only law of being for all mankind.

And a short time ago, at the Tsarskoe Selo station, when he was getting on the train to go to Aglaya and suddenly saw those eyes again, now for the third time that day—the prince had wanted terribly to go up to Rogozhin and tell him “whose eyes they were”! But he had run out of the station and recovered himself only in front of the cutler’s shop at the moment when he was standing and evaluating at sixty kopecks the cost of a certain object with a staghorn handle.

And now, at the house, he stood on the other side of the street, some fifty steps away, at an angle, on the opposite sidewalk, his arms crossed, and waited. This time he was in full view and it seemed that he deliberately wanted to be in view. He stood like an accuser and a judge, and not like … And not like who?

Like Jesus (and not like Pilate, the accuser, the judge).

(Oh, how tormented the prince was by the monstrosity, the “humiliation” of this conviction, of “this base foreboding,” and how he blamed himself!) “Say then, if you dare, of what?” he said ceaselessly to himself, in reproach and defiance. “Formulate, dare to express your whole thought, clearly, precisely, without hesitation! Oh, I am dishonorable!” he repeated with indignation and with a red face. “With what eyes am I to look at this man now all my life! Oh, what a day! Oh, God, what a nightmare!”

In this gateway, which was dark to begin with, it was at that moment very dark: the storm cloud came over, swallowing up the evening light, and just as the prince was nearing the house, the cloud suddenly opened and poured down rain. And at the moment when he set off impulsively, after a momentary pause, he was right at the opening of the gateway, right at the entrance to it from the street. And suddenly, in the depths of the gateway, in the semidarkness, just by the door to the stairs, he saw a man. This man seemed to be waiting for something, but flashed quickly and vanished. The prince could not make the man out clearly and, of course, could not tell for certain who he was. Besides, so many people might pass through there. It was a hotel, and there was a constant walking and running up and down the corridors. But he suddenly felt the fullest and most irrefutable conviction that he had recognized the man and that the man was most certainly Rogozhin. A moment later the prince rushed after him into the stairway. His heart stood still. “Now everything will be resolved!” he said to himself with great conviction.

The Return to Pavlovsk

At the end of Chapter 5, in the aftermath of Rogozhin's attack and Myshkin's epileptic fit, Myshkin (and several other characters) move from Petersburg to Pavlovsk (a suburb of Petersburg some 15-20 km away). Myshkin is staying at Lebedyev's, and is recovering from his epileptic fit. Chapter 6 picks up three days later, with Myshkin in Lebedyev's house:

Incidentally: the monster [Kolya] comes regularly every day to inquire after your health, do you know that?”

“You call him monster a bit too often, it makes me very suspicious.”

“You cannot have any suspicions, not any,” Lebedev hastened to defer. “I only wanted to explain that the certain person is not afraid of him, but of something quite different, quite different.”

“But of what? Tell me quickly,” the prince pressed him impatiently, looking at Lebedev’s mysterious grimacing.

“That’s the secret.” And Lebedev grinned.

“Whose secret?”

“Yours. You yourself forbade me, illustrious Prince, to speak in your presence …” Lebedev murmured and, delighted to have brought his listener’s curiosity to the point of morbid impatience, he suddenly concluded: “She’s afraid of Aglaya Ivanovna.”

The Epanchins Visit Myshkin

Thinking Myshkin is on his deathbed, Madame Epanchin (Lizaveta Prokofnyenka), who lives just a few doors down from Lebedyev, goes with her daughters to visit Myshkin at Lebedyev's house, where they all congregate and sit on the veranda (an outdoor patio). There, the Epanchin daughters bring up the "poor knight" (a reference to Myshkin as a Quixotic character):

“Ardalion Alexandrych, my dear!” she called out behind him. “Wait a minute! We’re all sinners; when you’re feeling less remorse of conscience, come and see me, we’ll sit and talk about old times. I myself may well be fifty times more of a sinner than you are; well, good-bye now, go, there’s no point in your …” She was suddenly afraid that he might come back.

In each of Aglaya’s wrathful outbursts (and she was often wrathful), almost each time, despite all her ostensible seriousness and implacability, there showed so much that was still childish, impatiently schoolgirlish and poorly concealed, that it was sometimes quite impossible to look at her without laughing, to the great vexation of Aglaya, incidentally, who could not understand why they laughed and “how could they, how dared they laugh.”

“I don’t understand anything, what’s this about a visor?” Mrs. Epanchin was growing vexed and beginning to have a very good idea of who was meant by the name (probably agreed upon long ago) of the “poor knight.” But she exploded particularly when Prince Lev Nikolaevich also became embarrassed and finally as abashed as a ten-year-old boy. “Will there be no end to this foolishness? Are you going to explain this ‘poor knight’ to me or not? Is there some terrible secret in it that I can’t even go near?” But they all just went on laughing.

I don’t understand why Nikolai Ardalionovich suddenly thought of bringing it all up again. What was funny once, and appropriate, is quite uninteresting now.”

“Because there’s some new sort of foolishness implied in it, sarcastic and offensive,” Lizaveta Prokofyevna snapped.

“There isn’t any foolishness, only the deepest respect,” Aglaya suddenly declared quite unexpectedly in a grave and serious voice, having managed to recover completely and overcome her former embarrassment.

it could be supposed, looking at her, that she herself was now glad that the joke had gone further and further, and that this turnabout had occurred in her precisely at the moment when the prince’s embarrassment, which was increasing more and more and reaching an extreme degree, had become all too noticeable.

Aglaya wants to see the prince squirm. This seems to be the way that she assesses character - not to mention, she seems to derive a perverse pleasure from putting others in uncomfortable and awkward situations.

this poem directly portrays a man capable of having an ideal and, second, once he has the ideal, of believing in it and, believing in it, of blindly devoting his whole life to it. That doesn’t always happen in our time. In the poem it’s not said specifically what made up the ideal of the ‘poor knight,’ but it’s clear that it was some bright image, ‘an image of pure beauty,’


“Deepest respect,” Aglaia went on as gravely and earnestly in response to her mother’s almost spiteful questions, “because that poem simply describes a man who is capable of an ideal, and what’s more, a man who having once set an ideal before him has faith in it, and having faith in it gives up his life blindly to it. This does not always happen in our day.


it’s clear that that poor knight did not care what his lady was, or what she did. It was enough for him that he had chosen her and put faith in her ‘pure beauty’ and then did homage to her for ever. That’s just his merit, that if she became a thief afterwards, he would still be bound to believe in her and be ready to break a spear for her pure beauty. The poet seems to have meant to unite in one striking figure the grand conception of the platonic love of mediæval chivalry, as it was felt by a pure and lofty knight. Of course all that’s an ideal.


In the ‘poor knight’ that feeling reaches its utmost limit in asceticism. It must be admitted that to be capable of such a feeling means a great deal, and that such feelings leave behind a profound impression, very, from one point of view, laudable, as with Don Quixote, for instance. The ‘poor knight’ is the same Don Quixote, only serious and not comic. I didn’t understand him at first, and laughed, but now I love the ‘poor knight,’ and what’s more, respect his exploits.”

Yevgeny Pavlovitch

Next, Yevgeny Pavlovitch Radomsky shows up. Although the Prince guesses that he is not in Aglaya's good book, he actually expects to become the fiancé of Aglaya.

The young man [Yevgeny Pavlovitch], accompanying the general, was about twenty-eight, tall and well built, with a fine and intelligent face and a humorous and mocking look in his big shining black eyes. Aglaia did not even look round at him. She went on reciting the verses, still affecting to look at no one but Myshkin and addressing him only. He realised that she was doing it all with some object.


Aglaia was the only one who looked with perfect composure though with curiosity at Yevgeny Pavlovitch for a moment, as though she were simply trying to decide whether the civilian dress or the military suited him best, but a minute later she turned away and did not look at him again. Lizaveta Prokofyevna, too, did not care to ask any questions, though perhaps she too was rather uneasy. Myshkin fancied that Yevgeny Pavlovitch was not in her good books.

In any case Aglaia’s performance—a joke of course, though too ruthless and thoughtless—was premeditated. Every one had been talking (and “laughing”) about the “poor knight” for the last month. And yet as Myshkin recalled afterwards, Aglaia had pronounced those letters without any trace of jest or sneer, without indeed any special emphasis on those letters to suggest their hidden significance. On the contrary, she had uttered those letters with such unchanged gravity, with such innocent and naïve simplicity that one might have supposed that those very letters were in the ballad and printed in the book. Myshkin felt a pang of discomfort and depression.

Burdovsky and His Crew

About this time, Burdovsky and a rowdy crowd of youths show up. They begin acting insolent, and reveal that they've come to demand money from Myshkin. One of them is Burdovsky, one of them is Lebedyev's nephew, one of them is Keller (a character who will become important later), and one of them is Ippolit (who becomes a central character). Here is a description of Burdovsky:

There was not a trace of irony or introspection in his face, nothing but a complete blank conviction of his own rights; and, at the same time, something like a strange and incessant craving to be and feel insulted.

They read from an article about Myshkin, full of lies and insulting language, even calling him an idiot:

Our scion, wearing gaiters like a foreigner, and shivering in an unlined cloak, arrived about six months ago in Russia from Switzerland, where he had been under treatment for idiocy (sic!).

Once Kolya finishes reading the article aloud, he bursts into tears. Myshkin's reaction:

Myshkin felt, as over-sensitive people often do in such cases; he was so much ashamed of the conduct of others, he felt such shame for his visitors, that for the first moment he was ashamed to look at them.

They continue to insult him:

That’s why we’ve come here without any fear of being turned out into the street (as you’ve threatened just now) because we don’t beg but demand, and because of the impropriety of our visit at such a late hour (though we didn’t come at a late hour, but you kept us waiting in the servants’ room).


“We demand, we demand, we demand, we don’t beg,” Burdovsky gabbled thickly and turned red as a crab.


I hope you, prince, are progressive enough not to deny that. . . .”

“I am not going to deny anything, but you must admit that your article . . .”

“Is severe, you mean? But you know it’s for the public benefit, so to say, and, besides, how can one let such a flagrant case pass? So much the worse for the guilty, but the public benefit before everything.


“The son is not responsible for the immoral conduct of his father and the mother is not to blame,” Ippolit shrieked hotly.

“All the more reason for sparing her, I should have thought,” Myshkin ventured timidly.

“You are not simply naïve, prince, you go beyond that, perhaps,” Lebedyev’s nephew sneered spitefully.

“And what right had you!” Ippolit squeaked in a most unnatural voice.

“None whatever, none whatever,” Myshkin hurriedly put in.

The Epanchins watch how Myshkin reacts: he embraces Burdovsky, even agreeing to give him money. Even when Ganya intercedes and presents proof that Burdovsky's story is a lie and he does not have the right to any inheritance, Myshkin still insists on giving him money.

“Why, in the first place, I’ve had time to see clearly what Mr. Burdovsky is myself, I see now myself what he is. . . . He is an innocent man, taken in by every one! A helpless man . . . and therefore I ought to spare him, and in the second place, Gavril Ardalionovitch—to whom the case has been entrusted and from whom I heard nothing for a long time, because I was travelling, and afterwards was for three days ill in Petersburg—has just now, an hour ago, at our first interview, told me that he has seen through Tchebarov’s schemes, that he has proofs, and that Tchebarov is just what I took him to be.

Myshkin sat down and succeeded in making Burdovsky and his friends, who had leapt up from their seats, sit down again. For the last ten or twenty minutes he had been talking eagerly and loudly, with impatient haste, carried away and trying to talk above the rest, and he couldn’t of course help bitterly regretting afterwards some assumptions and some phrases that escaped him now. If he hadn’t himself been worked up and roused almost beyond control, he would not have allowed himself so baldly and hurriedly to utter aloud certain conjectures and unnecessarily candid statements. He had no sooner sat down in his place than a burning remorse set his heart aching. Besides the fact that he had “insulted” Burdovsky by so publicly assuming that he had suffered from the same disease for which he himself had been treated in Switzerland, the offer of the ten thousand that had been destined for a school had been made to his thinking coarsely and carelessly, like a charity, and just because it had been spoken of aloud before people. “I ought to have waited and offered it to him to-morrow, alone,” Myshkin thought at once, “now, perhaps, there will be no setting it right! Yes, I am an idiot, a real idiot!” he decided in a paroxysm of shame and extreme distress.

I have collected some well-authenticated facts to prove that your father, Mr. Burdovsky, who was anything but a business man, gave up his post on receiving your mother’s dowry of fifteen thousand roubles, entered upon commercial speculations, was deceived, lost his capital, took to drink to drown his grief, and fell ill in consequence and finally died prematurely, eight years after marrying your mother. She does not know (I concealed it from her too) that you, her son, were dominated by this idea. I found your much respected mother, Mr. Burdovsky, in Pskov, ill and extremely poor, as she has been ever since the death of Pavlishtchev. She told me with tears of gratitude that she was only supported by you and your help. She expects a great deal of you in the future, and believes earnestly in your future success . . .”

“This is really insupportable!” Lebedyev’s nephew exclaimed loudly and impatiently. “What’s the object of this romance?”

“It’s disgusting, it’s unseemly!” said Ippolit with an abrupt movement.

But Burdovsky noticed nothing and did not stir.

The Epanchins think Myshkin's behavior is absurd:

“I shall go out of my mind here!” cried Madame Epanchin.

“It reminds me,” laughed Yevgeny Pavlovitch, who had long been standing there watching, “of the celebrated defence made recently by a lawyer who, bringing forward in justification the poverty of his client as an excuse for his having murdered and robbed six people at once, suddenly finished up with something like this: ‘It was natural,’ said he, ‘that in my client’s poverty the idea of murdering six people should have occurred to him; and to whom indeed would it not have occurred in his position?’ Something of that sort, very amusing.”

“Enough!” Lizaveta Prokofyevna announced suddenly, almost shaking with anger. “It’s time to cut short this nonsense.” She was in terrible excitement; she flung back her head menacingly, and with flashing eyes and an air of haughty, fierce, and impatient defiance, she scanned the whole party, scarcely able at the moment to distinguish between friends and foes.

“ ‘It’s my fault,’ says he, ‘for daring to offer you a fortune.’ . . . And what are you pleased to be laughing at, you braggart?” she pounced suddenly on Lebedyev’s nephew. "‘We refuse the fortune,’ says he, ‘we demand, we don’t ask!’ As though he didn’t know that this idiot will trail off to-morrow to them to offer his friendship and his money to them again. You will, won’t you? You will? Will you or not?”

“I shall,” said Myshkin, in a soft and humble voice.

“You hear! So that’s what you are reckoning on,” she turned again to Doktorenko. “The money is as good as in your pocket, that’s why you boast and try to impress us. . . . No, my good man, you can find other fools, I see through you. . . . I see all your game!”


The girls stood on one side, almost scared, General Epanchin was genuinely alarmed, every one present was amazed. Some of those standing furthest away whispered together and smiled on the sly; Lebedyev’s face wore an expression of perfect rapture.


Lunatics! They regard society as savage and inhuman, because it cries shame on the seduced girl; but if you think society inhuman, you must think that the girl suffers from the censure of society, and if she does, how is it you expose her to society in the newspapers and expect her not to suffer? Lunatics! Vain creatures! They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in Christ!

“He was saying that this clown here, your landlord . . . corrected the article for this gentleman, the one they read this evening about you.” Myshkin looked at Lebedyev in surprise. “Why don’t you speak?” cried Lizaveta Prokofyevna, stamping her foot. “Well,” muttered Myshkin, scanning Lebedyev, “I see now that he did.” “Is it true?” Lizaveta Prokofyevna turned quickly to Lebedyev. “It’s the holy truth, your excellency,” answered Lebedyev firmly, without hesitation, laying his hand on his heart. “He seems to be proud of it!” she cried, nearly jumping up from her chair. “I am a poor creature,” muttered Lebedyev. His head sank lower and lower, and he began to smite himself on the breast. “What do I care if you are a poor creature? He thinks he’ll get out of it by saying he is a poor creature! And aren’t you ashamed, prince, to have to do with such contemptible people, I ask you once again? I shall never forgive you!” “The prince will forgive me,” said Lebedyev sentimentally and with conviction.


“I’ve heard a great deal about you of the same sort of thing . . . with great pleasure. . . . I’ve learnt to respect you extremely,” Ippolit went on. He said one thing, but said it as though he meant something quite different by the words. He spoke with a shade of mockery; yet, at the same time, was unaccountably excited. He looked about him uneasily. He was obviously muddled, and lost the thread of what he was saying at every word. All this, together with his consumptive appearance and strange, glittering, and almost frenzied eyes, could not fail to hold the general attention.


and everything you’ve said just now, and with such unmistakable talent, amounts in my opinion to the theory of the triumph of right before everything and setting everything aside, and even to the exclusion of everything else, and perhaps even before finding out what that right consists in. Perhaps I am mistaken.” “Of course you are mistaken; I don’t even understand you. . . . Further?” There was a murmur in the corner, too. Lebedyev’s nephew was muttering something in an undertone. “Why, scarcely anything further,” Yevgeny Pavlovitch went on. “I only meant to observe that from that position one may easily make a jump to the right of might, that is, to the right of the individual fist and of personal caprice, as indeed has often happened in the history of the world.


he would remember and talk with complete consciousness, chiefly in disconnected phrases which he had perhaps thought out and learnt by heart in the long weary hours of his illness, in his bed, in sleepless solitude.


I’ve lain so much on that pillow and looked out of that window and thought so much . . . about every one . . . that . . . a dead man has no age, you know. I thought that last week when I woke up in the night. . . .

Suddenly Ippolit got up, horribly pale and with an expression of terrible, almost despairing, shame on his distorted face. It was expressed chiefly in his eyes, which looked with fear and hatred at the company, and in the vacant, twisted, and abject grin on his quivering lips. He dropped his eyes at once and strolled, staggering and still with the same smile, up to Burdovsky and Doktorenko, who were standing at the verandah steps; he was going away with them.

“Ah, that’s what I was afraid of!” cried Myshkin; “that was bound to happen!”

Ippolit turned quickly to him with frenzied anger, and every feature in his face seemed to be quivering and speaking.

“Ah, you were afraid of that, were you? That was bound to happen, you say? Then let me tell you, if I hate anyone here,” he yelled, spluttering, with a hoarse shriek, “I hate you all, every one of you!—it’s you, Jesuitical, treacly soul, idiot, philanthropic millionaire; I hate you more than every one and everything in the world!

Here he choked completely. “He is ashamed of his tears,” Lebedyev whispered to Lizaveta Prokofyevna. “That was bound to happen. Bravo, the prince! he saw right through him.”

The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Note on Page 262 | Loc. 5291  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 09:24 AM

hard to understand whats happening because everything is ambiguous. what is dost trying to show us or tell us
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 262 | Loc. 5301-2  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 09:25 AM

Myshkin smiled at her with a bewildered face. Suddenly a rapid, excited whisper seemed to scorch his ear. “If you don’t throw up these nasty people at once, I shall hate you all my life, all my life!” Aglaia whispered to him.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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To Myshkin’s sensitiveness it went on gaining in significance during those three days (and of late he had blamed himself for two extremes, for his excessive “senseless and impertinent” readiness to trust people and at the same time for his gloomy suspiciousness).
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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As though I could suppose you had anything to do with an affair of that kind! But you are out of sorts to-day.” He embraced and kissed him. “Had anything to do with an affair of what ‘kind’? I don’t see that it is an ‘affair of that kind.’ ” “There is no doubt that person wished to damage Yevgeny Pavlovitch in some way by attributing to him in the eyes of those present qualities which he has not and cannot have,” Prince S. answered rather drily. Myshkin was confused, yet he continued to gaze steadily and inquiringly at Prince S.; but the latter did not speak. “And weren’t there simply bills? Wasn’t it literally as she said yesterday?” Myshkin muttered at last in a sort of impatience.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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But now it had become clear. Prince S., of course, put a mistaken interpretation on the incident, but still he was not far from the truth; he realised, anyway, that there was an intrigue in it. (“Perhaps though, he understands it quite correctly,” thought Myshkin, “but only does not want to speak out, and so puts a false interpretation on it on purpose.”) What was clearer than anything was that they had come to see him just now (Prince S. certainly had) in the hope of getting some sort of explanation. If that were so, then they plainly looked on him as being concerned in the intrigue. Besides, if this were so and really were of consequence, then she must have some dreadful object. What object? Horrible! “And how’s one to stop her? There is no possibility of stopping her when she is determined on her object.”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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As she was going, she added that Lizaveta Prokofyevna was in a fiendish temper to-day; but, what was most odd, Aglaia had quarrelled with her whole family, not only her father and mother, but even with her two sisters, and “that was anything but a good sign.” After giving him, as it were in passing, this last piece of news (which was of extreme importance to Myshkin), the brother and sister departed.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 269 | Loc. 5435-37  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:09 PM

He longed to think over and decide upon one step. Yet that “step” was not one of those that can be thought over, but one of those which are simply decided upon without deliberation. A terrible longing came upon him to leave everything here and to go back to the place from which he had come, to go away into the distance to some remote region, to go away at once without even saying good-bye to any one.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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He had a foreboding that if he remained here even a few days longer he would be drawn into this world irrevocably and that his life would be bound up with it for ever. But he did not consider it for ten minutes; he decided at once that it would be “impossible” to run away, that it would be almost cowardice, that he was faced with such difficulties that it was his duty now to solve them, or at least to do his utmost to solve them. Absorbed in such thoughts, he returned home after a walk of less than a quarter of an hour. He was utterly unhappy at that moment.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Note on Page 269 | Loc. 5441  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:11 PM

the passion. garden of gesthemane. wanting to run away from the people who need saving. willingness to sacriice his life for theirs by getting bound up. as though every person needs a personal savior... cat be one person. one must sacrifice only for one. no one can sacrifice for all.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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But suddenly, almost at the first word, he skipped to the conclusion and announced that he had so completely lost “every trace of morality” (solely through lack of faith in the Almighty) that he had positively become a thief. “Can you fancy that!” “Listen, Keller. If I were in your place I wouldn’t confess that without special need,” Myshkin began. “But perhaps you make things up against yourself on purpose?”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 270 | Loc. 5454-56  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:14 PM

Myshkin began at last to feel not exactly sorry for him, but, as it were, vaguely ill at ease on his account. It occurred to him to wonder, indeed, whether anything could be made of the man by any good influence.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Note on Page 270 | Loc. 5456  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:14 PM

second instance of this feeling. on the veranda he felt the same embarrassment for the whole party.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 270 | Loc. 5456-61  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:15 PM

His own influence he considered for various reasons quite unsuitable; and this was not due to self-depreciation, but to a peculiar way of looking at things. By degrees they got into talk, so much so that they did not want to part. Keller, with extraordinary readiness, confessed to actions of which it seemed inconceivable any one could be willing to speak. At every fresh story he asserted positively that he was penitent and “full of tears”; yet he told it as though he were proud of his action, and sometimes too so absurdly that he and Myshkin laughed at last like madmen. “The great thing is that you have a sort of childlike trustfulness and extraordinary truthfulness,” said Myshkin at last.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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“Can you really have more to add?” Myshkin brought out, with timid wonder. “Then tell me, please, what did you expect of me, Keller, and why have you come to me with your confession?” “From you? What did I expect? In the first place, it is pleasant to watch your simplicity; it’s nice to sit and talk to you. I know there is a really virtuous person before me, anyway; and, secondly . . . secondly . . .” He was confused.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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Of course, in the long run my object was to borrow money; but you ask me about it as if you saw nothing reprehensible in that, as though it were just as it should be.” “Yes . . . from you it is just as it should be.” “And you’re not indignant?” “No. . . . Why?”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Note on Page 271 | Loc. 5476  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:17 PM

as though the prince has resolved that he is who he is. that myshkin cannot change him. that he simply does these unpleasant things because it is hard wired to happen in his nature.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 271 | Loc. 5481-89  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:18 PM

a hellish thought occurred to me: ‘Why not, when all’s said and done, borrow money of him after my confession?’ So that I prepared my confession, so to say, as though it were a sort of ‘fricassee with tears for sauce,’ to pave the way with those tears so that you might be softened and fork out one hundred and fifty roubles. Don’t you think that was base?” “But most likely that’s not true; it’s simply both things came at once. The two thoughts came together; that often happens. It’s constantly so with me. I think it’s not a good thing, though; and, do you know, Keller, I reproach myself most of all for it. You might have been telling me about myself just now. I have sometimes even fancied,” Myshkin went on very earnestly, genuinely and profoundly interested, “that all people are like that; so that I was even beginning to excuse myself because it is awfully difficult to struggle against these double thoughts; I’ve tried. God knows how they arise and come into one’s mind. But you call it simply baseness! Now, I’m beginning to be afraid of those thoughts again. Anyway, I am not your judge.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 272 | Loc. 5490-92  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:18 PM

As for the money, you want it for riotous living, don’t you? And after such a confession, that’s feebleness, of course. But yet how are you to give up riotous living all in a minute? That’s impossible, I know. What’s to be done? It had better be left to your own conscience, don’t you think?”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 272 | Loc. 5502-6  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:20 PM

“Well, to you, only to you, I will tell the truth, because you see through a man. Words and deeds and lies and truth are all mixed up in me and are perfectly sincere. Deeds and truth come out in my genuine penitence, I swear it, whether you believe it or not; and words and lies in the hellish (and always present) craving to get the better of a man, to make something even out of one’s tears of penitence. It is so, by God! I wouldn’t tell another man—he’d laugh or curse. But you, prince, judge humanely.”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Note on Page 273 | Loc. 5506  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:22 PM

the prince as a humane judge. isnt humaneness a contrast to judgement? vengeance and justice. mercy is the opposite of justice. mercy mistaken for simple minded idiocy. people judge myshkin basely by his merciful actions.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 274 | Loc. 5537-40  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:24 PM

I am very sorry for Varya. I am sorry for Ganya. . . . No doubt they have always got some intrigues in hand; they can’t get on without it. I never could make out what they were hatching, and I don’t want to know. But I assure you, my dear, kind prince, that Ganya has a heart. He’s a lost soul in many respects, no doubt, but he has points on other sides worth finding out, and I shall never forgive myself for not having understood him before. . . .
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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“I daresay he’d have come of himself and made a tearful confession on your bossom! Ach, you’re a simpleton, a simpleton! Every one deceives you like a . . . like a . . . And aren’t you ashamed to trust him? Surely you must see that he’s cheating you all round?” “I know very well he does deceive me sometimes,” Myshkin brought out reluctantly in a low voice, “and he knows that I know it . . .” and he broke off.
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Note on Page 280 | Loc. 5654  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:32 PM

he knows ganyas nature and has from the very beginning. gaya was humiliated by the prince and humiliated the prince himself. yet... there doesnt seem to be any acknowledgement of that by myshkin
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 281 | Loc. 5678-80  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:34 PM

Oh, what a child you are, Lizaveta Prokofyevna!” “Do you want me to slap you at last?” “No, not at all. But because you’re glad of the note and conceal it. Why are you ashamed of your feelings? You’re like that in everything.”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
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“Come along! At once! It must be at once, this minute!” she cried in an access of extraordinary excitement and impatience. “But you’re exposing me to . . .” “To what? You innocent ninny! You’re not like a man! Well, now I shall see it all for myself, with my own eyes.”
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 282 | Loc. 5698-5701  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:36 PM

“Come along! At once! It must be at once, this minute!” she cried in an access of extraordinary excitement and impatience. “But you’re exposing me to . . .” “To what? You innocent ninny! You’re not like a man! Well, now I shall see it all for myself, with my own eyes.” “But you might let me take my hat, anyway. . . .” “Here’s your horrid hat! Come along! Can’t even choose his clothes with taste! . . .
The Idiot (Dover Thrift Editions) (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
- Highlight on Page 282 | Loc. 5703-6  | Added on Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 05:37 PM

“I stood up for you just now—said aloud you were a fool not to come. . . . But for that, she wouldn’t have written such a senseless note! An improper note! Improper, for a well-bred, well-brought-up, clever girl! Hm!” she went on, “Or . . . or perhaps . . . perhaps she was vexed herself at your not coming, only she didn’t consider that it wouldn’t do to write like that to an idiot, because he’d take it literally, as he has done. Why are you listening?”

Part Three

Part Four



The theme of epilepsy is prevalent throughout the novel - not just through Myshkin's affliction with epilepsy and succumbing to several epileptic fits during the course of the novel, but also in the way the novel's action is progressed. Each of the novel's four parts has a character who is going increasingly off the rails, and contains one (or more) climactic scene in which the tension bursts, everything that was unresolved is resolved, and inevitably the resolved tensions raise even greater complications for the next part of the novel.

Part 1 ends in Nastassya's birthday party, which goes from peaceful to tense to frenzied very quickly, culminating with Nastassya throwing the packet of 100,000 rubles in the fire. And Dostoyevsky knows how to create chaos:

“Dearest lady! Queen! Almighty one!” Lebedev screamed, crawling on his knees before Nastasya Filippovna and reaching out towards the fireplace. “A hundred thousand! A hundred thousand! I saw it myself, I was there when they wrapped it! Dearest lady! Merciful one! Order me into the fireplace: I’ll go all the way in, I’ll put my whole gray head into the fire!… A crippled wife, thirteen children—all orphaned, I buried my father last week, he sits there starving, Nastasya Filippovna!!” and, having screamed, he began crawling into the fireplace.

“Away!” cried Nastasya Filippovna, pushing him aside. “Step back, everybody! Ganya, what are you standing there for? Don’t be ashamed! Go in! It’s your lucky chance!”

But Ganya had already endured too much that day and that evening, and was not prepared for this last unexpected trial. The crowd parted into two halves before him, and he was left face to face with Nastasya Filippovna, three steps away from her. She stood right by the fireplace and waited, not tearing her burning, intent gaze from him. Ganya, in a tailcoat, his hat and gloves in his hand, stood silent and unresponding before her, his arms crossed, looking at the fire. An insane smile wandered over his face, which was pale as a sheet. True, he could not take his eyes off the fire, off the smoldering packet; but it seemed something new had arisen in his soul; it was as if he had sworn to endure the torture; he did not budge from the spot; in a few moments it became clear to everyone that he would not go after the packet, that he did not want to.

“Hey, it’ll burn up, and they’ll shame you,” Nastasya Filippovna cried to him, “you’ll hang yourself afterwards, I’m not joking!”

Who wouldn't feel a stomach-churning anxiety thinking about such a huge sum burning up in a fireplace for no good reason?

Part 2 has a similar buildup of tension between Rogozhin and Myshkin, the mysterious exchange of crosses and blessing by Rogoszhin's mother, Myshkin playing with the knife in Rogozhin's house, all leading up to Rogozhin's attempt to murder Myshkin and Myshkin's epileptic fit - when the tension is released.

In Part 3, the busy and fevered day, the drunken party at Myshkin's, and Ippolit's confession all work to ratchet up the anxiety and tension until it culminates in Ippolit's attempted suicide.

Part 4 has two culminating scenes, one being Myshkin's "performance" at the engagement party put on for high society, in which Myshkin breaks a vase and has an epileptic fit; the other being the confrontation between Aglaya and Nastassya, in which Myshkin, paralyzed by his anxiety, hesitates in choosing between Aglaya and Nastassya, leading to the loss of Aglaya and his doomed betrothal to Nastassya.

Human Goodness/The Ideal Human Being

Human Goodness and the Real World

Imminent Doom






Mental Illness


A page with quotes from The Idiot is at The Idiot/Quotes.