The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapter 2

Summary

Before the Epanchins and their guests can leave for the park, Myshkin jumps up and pleads for them to understand that he is to blame for all that has happened during the last three days. He is ill, he says, and has been ill for more than twenty years. He feels the need of explaining, yet fears that what he says will be misunderstood. He is extremely sensitive and feels that he will be laughed at.

Aglaia is furious at him for such a confession. Why should he apologize? Myshkin is too humble; he has no pride, she cries. Madame Epanchin throws up her hands at this new turn of matters, but Aglaia continues. She has suffered her limit of teasing on account of the prince, she says, and further, she will never marry him, under any circumstances! She bursts into tears and Myshkin tries to comfort the girl, saying gently that he hasn't ever asked for her hand. He is not worthy of the honor of asking; in fact, the thought has never occurred to him. Panic-stricken, he approaches Aglaia, but she confounds him further by going off into a sudden fit of laughter. And, as if infected by her sister's madness, Adelaida begins laughing. Finally, Myshkin begins to smile, content that they can all be happy again. They are all mad, mutters Madame Epanchin, as Prince S. and Yevgeny Pavlovitch and Kolya join the laughter.

Immediately they leave for the long postponed walk in the park. Aglaia insists on Myshkin escorting her, and on the way she points out a particular green bench in the park. She sometimes goes there, alone, she says, at seven o'clock in the morning, when everyone else is asleep.

They walk on until they reach the bandstand and there they join the rest of the party. Myshkin's mind drifts as he sits, waiting for the music; once more he wishes that he were gone from Pavlovsk, that he could be absolutely alone and that no one might know where he was. He recalls the mountains and the villages and the clouds of Switzerland. Lost in reverie, he stares absently ahead until Aglaia says, though not quite under her breath "Idiot!"

Myshkin does not react but suddenly his eyes focus on a familiar face, very pale, with curly black hair framing it. He wonders uneasily if it is an apparition. Aglaia, though Myshkin is unaware, grows uneasy herself for at least a dozen new visitors have arrived and, of them, one woman stands out; she is dressed very richly and talks and laughs more loudly than the rest. It is Nastasya Filippovna. Myshkin has not seen her for more than three months and, seeing her face, the prince is convinced that she is mad. All of her beauty, he feels, is poisoned by her madness.

Nastasya approaches Yevgeny Pavlovitch and tells him insolently that his uncle has just shot himself and that 350,000 rubles of government money are missing. Lizaveta Prokofyevna refuses to witness Nastasya's display of bad manners and leaves; only Myshkin and Radomsky remain. An officer friend of Radomsky's, who has been talking to Aglaia, says aloud that the hussy needs a taste of the whip and, darting up to him, Nastasya strikes him across the face with a riding whip. The officer lunges at her but Myshkin prevents further violence. He seizes the officer and twists his arms behind him.

Wrenching himself free, the officer then turns on Myshkin and flings him backward onto a chair. By now two of Nastasya's company (Keller, the boxer, is one of the men) are on either side of her. Rogozhin suddenly appears from the crowd and leads Nastasya away; she laughs at the officer's bloody face as she disappears.

The officer recovers himself and asks Myshkin who the woman was. A madwoman, Myshkin assures him, and the officer nods and leaves. The band begins playing again and Myshkin turns to follow the Epanchins. He realizes, however, that Aglaia has watched the entire scene, despite her mother's protestations. She explains that she "wanted to see how the farce would end."

Analysis

Aglaia's feelings for Prince Myshkin are ambivalent. The prince is a most unusual man and Aglaia admires his kindness and is, no doubt, intrigued by his pale good looks, but she cannot stand his lack of pride. Conviction he has, but no pride, and almost too willingly, he accepts the blame for whatever goes wrong. Here, Myshkin both embarrasses her and impresses her. She admires his argument concerning the prisoners and their sense of guilt but she is embarrassed by Myshkin's daydreaming, and by his confession that he is ill and that he is to blame for their having to witness the scene with Burdovsky and Ippolit.

Myshkin's defending Nastasya is very much like his earlier defense of Varya; he protected the latter from her brother's slap and he protects Nastasya from the wrath of an embarrassed and wounded officer. The prince's defending the two ladies is indeed very much like the poor knight already mentioned. Myshkin has qualities of goodness far beyond those of any other man Aglaia has met, yet he allows himself to appear ludicrous and Aglaia cannot bear that aspect of him, nor can she bear being associated with him when he is jeered at. Her outburst of tears and hysterical laughter point to the frustration she feels toward Myshkin. She simply cannot understand a man with no pride; yet Myshkin's lack of pride is the key to his character.

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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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