The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 10

Summary

Radomsky carefully watches Ippolits behavior; he wonders if the young man's profuse compliments to Lizaveta Prokofyevna do not foreshadow some awful eccentricity. His thoughts are confirmed, for Ippolit begins to reveal crucial information concerning the attack on Prince Myshkin's character. Lebedyev, he says, edited the satiric newspaper article before it was published. With a great show of humility and shame, the prince's landlord admits that what Ippolit says is true, but he is sure Prince Myshkin will forgive him.

Keller, the boxer, speaks then and says that yesterday morning, in a secret agreement, he paid Lebedyev, not to correct the article's style but to supply facts about the prince; this Lebedyev did. He did not correct the manuscript. Lebedyev corrects Keller: he did edit the first half of the article and his work is obvious; the last half contains atrocious grammar.

There is excited talk but Ippolit interrupts with more details; Myshkin has sent money to Burdovsky's mother, and, in all sincerity, offers friendship to Burdovsky. He laughs at this irony and Lizaveta Prokofyevna is offended by his laughter. Radomsky accuses the consumptive young man of believing in "the triumph of right." Ippolit disagrees and, while Radomsky talks about the "right of might," Ippolit seems to drift in and out of consciousness.

Speaking again, Ippolit says that he never wished to corrupt Kolya. Others can seek the truth without him, for he leaves no trace nor deed of himself behind. Indeed, if consumption had not already destroyed him, he would kill himself. Madame Epanchin cannot bear such confession and darts to him and presses his head to her bosom, where he sobs convulsively. Myshkin then offers Ippolit his hospitality and offers the same to Ippolit's friends. Lizaveta Prokofyevna snaps at Myshkin that she can take Ippolit home with her. Suddenly, however, Ippolit raises up, pale and staggering, and denounces them all, especially Prince Myshkin. He hates him, he cries, for it was Myshkin who broke him, and drove him to shame.

Madame Epanchin composes herself and also attacks the prince; she accuses him of dragging them through an entire evening of foolishness; but, she claims, he has not succeeded in mocking her, for she has now comprehended the prince's character. She grows more frenzied and, finally, flees down the terrace steps. Two of the Epanchin girls leave Myshkin with genuine affection but Aglaia leaves without a word.

Before the Epanchin family reaches the road, a magnificent carriage halts before Myshkin's villa and one of the gorgeously dressed ladies inside calls out to Radomsky. Don't worry about the IOUs, she says, and the carriage departs. A madwoman, Radomsky declares. But Myshkin has recognized the beautiful, ringing voice within the carriage.

Analysis

Chapter 10 centers upon Ippolit Terentyev. The weak young man holds the curiosity of the guests very much as Myshkin is capable of doing; in fact, Myshkin is rather replaced, as the center of interest, in this chapter; he is in the background during much of this scene. Ippolit is obviously very near death, alternately pale and flushed, coherent and preoccupied, and such a spectacle is fascinating — repulsive and yet magnetic. One cannot be really sure that he speaks sincerely. He seems to balance along a thin edge between truth and mockery; his tone, at times, seems ironic: the impromptu tea party is absurd in that its connotation of manners and niceties is antithetical to the rude and boorish scene just ended. His comment on the exquisite china, provided, he says, in honor of Lizaveta Prokofyevna, is mocking because Lebedyev's hypocrisy is well known. Ippolit acts as if he were orchestrating his bitterness; first, he set the ridiculous tea party scene, then the tone of the scene with his comment on Lebedyev's "honor." Now, he sets Lebedyev into motion, performing grotesque parodies of humility.

Lizaveta Prokofyevna has attacked Ippolit and his friends as frauds and she has jeered at Myshkin's humility. Now Ippolit is demonstrating to us the quick change of mood he can produce in even Madame Epanchin, who only moments before was seething in the name of truth. Obviously, now, Madame Epanchin's values are not so iron-clad and absolute that she cannot be changed quick as lightning. As for Lebedyev, although everyone knows of his pettiness and hypocrisy, he is tolerated here, even by the social-minded Lizaveta Prokofyevna.

Ippolit means to tear away several layers of illusion before he finishes, especially now that the furor concerning "the son of Pavlishtchey" is over. He will reveal Lebedyev's role in the matter. Yet, even after Ippolit reveals that Lebedyev furnished details about the prince so that Keller could write his satire, that Lebedyev corrected some of the copy, and that he invited the young men to his house and then feigned disgust — even after this and Lebedyev's histrionics, no one seems to particularly care, except perhaps Madame Epanchin. Everyone else seems far more upset by Ippolit's candidness than by what he has said.

Ippolit points out that Myshkin's goodness has had negative results, as far as Burdovsky is concerned. Ippolit, like Rogozhin and Myshkin on occasion, seems deranged, but we can see a vein of wisdom in his wild monologue. To him, the world seems mad; he realizes that the pomp that covers truth is too heavy to be removed once and for all, and he refers to Nature who creates her best beings (Christ, for example) only to laugh at them.

But frustration has simmered too long in Ippolit. He overflows with invective; in his last days, he will not be nursed by Madame Epanchin and he will not be judged by those high in society. Especially he rejects Myshkin's ready, though unoffered, benevolence. Like Nastasya Filippovna, Ippolit is proud and reacts defensively to Myshkin's humility, which would purify him. Ippolit will not be broken; his pride is too valuable and too strength-giving to be exchanged for Myshkin's meek, all-embracing love and forgiveness.

The mysterious carriage and the strange voice that calls to Radomsky prepare us for the reappearance of Nastasya Filippovna. We have seen how Myshkin is managing nicely to live in the Epanchin milieu-without Nastasya — and now she returns. And now, by degrees, we will see the slow collapse of the prince's sanity.

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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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