The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapters 11-12

Summary

After the scene in the Ivolgin drawing room, Myshkin goes to his room and is followed by Kolya. Varya soon arrives and says that matters are a bit calmer though Ganya is very upset, and Kolya leaves to care for his father. Both Kolya and Varya have taken a great liking to Myshkin and try to soothe him for their brother's insult. Ganya enters then and is profuse in his apologies. He is adamant, however, about asking for forgiveness from Varya; they are all his enemies, he says.

When he and Myshkin are alone, Ganya begins to talk about himself. He has decided to marry Nastasya Filippovna, he says, and to Myshkin's question as to whether Nastasya will marry Ganya, Ganya says that she decidedly will, that there are certain "circumstances." Then he leaves the matter mysteriously in the air, explaining away Nastasya's dramatics as merely flutterings of vanity before her inevitable submission to fate — and to Ganya. She is not what she seems, while Ganya is, Myshkin is told. Ganya says further that he is taking Nastasya, the mistress of another man, openly for her money; he is no hypocrite, yet neither is he a fool: if Nastasya ever embarrasses him, he will leave her and take all the money. Nastasya is not at all clever, he says; after all, she imagines that he is madly in love with her.

After his long-winded talk, during which he openly confesses himself to be a scoundrel for being so clever, Ganya asks Myshkin for an honest opinion of him. Myshkin replies that Ganya is one of the most ordinary of men but perhaps a trifle weaker than most. He says this honestly and without malice. Ganya, displeased, changes the subject; he warns Myshkin not to lend the general money, saying that his father is the family disgrace — he even keeps a mistress. Then, returning to the subjects of Nastasya Filippovna and marriage and money, Ganya says that money is not really the object of his marrying Nastasya; money with be only a means to an end: with money, he will become a highly "original" man. He teases Myshkin about the prince's admiration for Nastasya, then leaves in high spirits.

Kolya enters and gives a note to Myshkin. The general is waiting at a tavern and wishes to talk with the prince. The general, it turns out. wants to borrow money and repays Myshkin with a number of anecdotes and a promise to show him the way to Nastasya Filippovna's house. On the way, the general makes two stops; the first, to introduce Myshkin to friends (he stops at the house of total strangers who are, fortunately, not home) and the second, to introduce Myshkin to Madame Terentyev, the general's mistress. The general is very drunk, and Myshkin is scarcely introduced to Mme. Terentyev before the general falls into a drunken stupor. Luckily, Kolya is there and apologizes again for the behavior of his family. He explains that he is a good friend of Mme. Terentyev's son, Ippolit. He would very much like Myshkin to meet the boy, but because Ippolit is ill, Kolya thinks it best to wait until later. He is surprised to discover that Myshkin is on his way to Nastasya Filippovna's house and says that Myshkin has been duped by the general, who, Kolya confesses, has never been to Nastasya's flat, and Kolya says that her address is not even near where the general said it was.

Outside Nastasya's house, Kolya leaves Myshkin and wishes him good luck.

Analysis

After he humiliates Myshkin, Ganya comes to the prince's room and apologizes, an act typical of many of Dostoevsky's characters. But, whereas many of these types confess for the pleasure of exposing the black depths of their souls (an exercise of pride), Ganya comes for a completely different reason.

After his temper cools, Ganya comes to Myshkin because he must not lose Myshkin as an ally, however much he might envy and dislike the prince. In a matter of hours Myshkin has managed to gain the intimacy of Aglaia and the interest of Nastasya Filippovna, which Ganya has found impossible to accomplish. Myshkin is a harmless tool, Ganya reasons, and might be of use later. Ganya is sure that Myshkin is harmless because he has already accused the prince of deception several times and discovered that he is innocent.

Ganya brags to Myshkin of his schemes once he possesses Nastasya Filippovna, and in this scene we realize how very little insight Ganya has. He is absolutely wrong about Nastasya's affections, for she does not believe that Ganya loves her madly, as he claims, nor does she believe Ganya to be free of shame, which he also claims. The handsome Ganya is strutting, rebuilding his pride, even to bragging about being a first-rate scoundrel. Myshkin, in all honesty, corrects Ganya's image of himself, saying that Ganya is first-rate in nothing and that he is entirely lacking in originality. Apparently, the prince delivers the worst of insults. Throughout this novel many of the characters reveal their burning desire to be "original."

Ganya's statement that with money he can be original is one of the most trite and pathetic beliefs of those without money. Ganya wants instant attention, instant individualism, instant wealth; he wants people to say, "There goes Ivolgin, king of the Jews." This is heavily ironic, for Ganya refers to his being a master moneylender and he confides this dream to Myshkin, a Christlike figure.

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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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