The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 3

Summary

General Epanchin is rather curt to his visitor, assuming that he has come for money, lodging, or both. Myshkin confesses that he expected such a reception and prepares to leave. He seems so genuinely pleased, however, to have at last met the general and to have talked with him that Epanchin softens. He warms to the young man and questions him about his talents and when Myshkin explains that he is a master of calligraphy, he sets the prince to writing various specimens.

Ganya, the general's secretary, has taken a large photograph of Nastasya Filippovna from his portfolio and shows it to Epanchin. The general and Ganya discuss the portrait and also discuss the coming evening party honoring Nastasya's birthday: At last Nastasya has promised to announce whether or not she will leave Mr. Totsky and marry Ganya. Myshkin cannot help overhearing the talk. He notices the anxiety in both men and when he finishes with his sample of penmanship he takes a look at the photograph. Then, both Epanchin and Ganya are startled to learn that Myshkin has already heard of Nastasya Filippovna. But they are even more surprised to hear that Rogozhin has returned to Petersburg. The general fears trouble but Ganya, Myshkin notices, seems amused by the news of Rogozhin's return.

To change the subject, the general sizes up Myshkin's samples of calligraphy and is genuinely pleased by them. He promises Myshkin a place in his office and leaves to tell his wife that a certain Prince Myshkin, a relative of hers, is waiting to be introduced. Alone with Ganya, Myshkin once again studies the portrait of Nastasya Filippovna. He admires the combination of beauty and suffering he sees in the woman's face, then startles Ganya by wondering if Rogozhin might not marry Nastasya one day and murder her in the same week.

Analysis

The strangeness of Myshkin is once more impressed upon us by the general's reaction to the prince. Epanchin does not believe in surface appearances, nor can he imagine a man who confesses to knowing nothing of practical life. And adding to our growing interest in Myshkin are the many hints in this chapter of a certain "business" that Myshkin must transact here in Petersburg. Already he has mentioned this business and a desire to meet the Epanchins as though the two matters were related. And, in this chapter Myshkin attempts to explain more fully the business he wants advice about. Four times he begins, but four times he is interrupted. Our curiosity must wait.

General Epanchin seems to have much at stake in Nastasya's decision to marry Ganya. But Ganya has more at stake. He jokes about accepting Nastasya's decision, but it is far from a joking matter. If he does accept, it will cost him his self-respect; if he does not, the decision will cost him his job. Also, the role of Mr. Totsky, Nastasya's patron for many years, is uncertain at this point. And another interesting matter in this discussion of the birthday party is the fear that Nastasya might be capricious and, on a whim, refuse to marry Ganya. The complexities come full circle when Myshkin, overhearing the conversation between the general and Ganya, announces that Rogozhin has returned to Petersburg. The unwinding of the twenty-four-hour span of Part I has begun. From now on, its pace will quicken until all of the major characters are brought together at Nastasya's birthday party and all of the submerged anxieties and violence are released.

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At the end of Part III, Nastasya and Rogozhin each ask Myshkin the same question. What was it?




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