The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 9

Summary

Ganya says that Burdovsky's case is fabricated and/or distorted and that Burdovsky insults himself and his mother. From letters Ganya has seen, it can be proved that Burdovsky was born two years after his mother was legally married to Mr. Burdovsky. Furthermore, Mr. Paylishtchev had gone abroad a year and a half before Burdovsky was born and remained abroad for three years, and Burdovsky's mother has never been out of Russia.

Burdovsky then confesses that he has been betrayed and begs to leave but Ganya insists that he stay. He continues that indirectly Paylishtchev already has been most generous to Burdovsky. Long ago, Pavlishtchev was fond of a serf girl, the sister of Burdovsky's mother, and, because she died before they could be married, Pavlishtchev bestowed a considerable dowry on Burdovsky's mother, in memory of the sister. Burdovsky's father speculated with the dowry, lost the money, took to drink, and died. Then, Ganya says, Pavlishtchev took pity on Burdovsky's widow and gave her an allowance of 600 rubles a year; Pavlishtchev was always kind to Burdoysky because Burdovsky looked so pitiful, could not speak plainly, and seemed to be a cripple. Pavlishtchev, Ganya emphasizes, was one of the most tender of men and perhaps it was these qualities which were misinterpreted and perverted into the slanders heard tonight.

Ippolit objects to such disgusting talk, but Ganya insists that Burdovsky know how deeply he was loved by Pavlishtchev, especially since Burdovsky has so publicly castigated the man.

All this is too much for Lizaveta Prokofyevna. She rages at the young intruders, charging them with hypocrisy; they boast before witnesses of accepting no money but one can be certain that Myshkin will come to them later and offer them his friendship and his money. Isn't it so, she asks Myshkin. And softly, Myshkin affirms that she is right. The prince is a fool, she says, and they too are fools for imagining that she cannot see through their connivings. Burdovsky, she indicates, is quite capable of murder. He would rob and steal for conscience sake. Values are being thrown to the wind, she cries; upstarts are demanding respect and justice after they have committed slander — and all for "conscience." Already Ippolit, she says, is corrupting young Kolya with atheism, but then Lizaveta stops suddenly for Ippolit has collapsed in a frenzy of coughing.

Wiping blood from his lips, Ippolit asks if he may explain but already Lizaveta Prokofyevna is ministering to him, telling him he must lie down and that he needs nursing. Ippolit eases into a chair Madame Epanchin has seized for him and says that tonight he wishes to say farewell to them all. He compliments Madame Epanchin on her originality and then he turns to Aglaia and expresses his gratitude for being able to look upon such loveliness before he dies. He then asks Madame Epanchin if she might not stay and if it might be possible for them to have tea together. Tea is served, almost immediately, as though Lebedyev had already prepared for the possibility.

Analysis

Besides learning more about Myshkin's early years and about his guardian, Mr. Pavlishtchev, in this chapter, we learn that Burdovsky and his companions are frauds. The real interest concerns Ganya's character. In Part I, he was a proud, spiteful clerk; now he defends Myshkin against Burdovsky's charges, giving point-by-point refutations. As Myshkin's private investigator, he seems to have become an admirable young man and devoid of his earlier vanity.

Ippolit, too, seems to change. In the previous chapter, Dostoevsky seemed to be poking fun at the young man; Ippolit cried out in defense of Burdovsky; he admitted that he did not approve of Keller's vicious article, but added almost hysterically that "publicity is the legal right of all." And, to Myshkin's statement that Burdovsky's lawyer was taking advantage of his client, Ippolit replied, squeaking, that Myshkin's remarks were "insulting, false, and irrelevant." Now, after watching the usually meek Prince Myshkin refute every claim of Burdovsky, Ippolit demands that Ganya not patronize Burdovsky. He collapses in a fit of coughing and blood-spitting, recovers, and softens under Lizaveta Prokofyevna's transformation. And then be holds them all spellbound as he talks of beholding beauty (Aglaia) before he dies; he even asks if tea can be served, a distorted variation of the Last Supper, or a condemned prisoner's last meal. We are wary of Ippolit but our sympathies go out to the frail consumptive who reveals an appreciation of beauty and who longs to talk over tea, because in a short time he will, he declares, be dead.

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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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