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

Summary

After the scandalous scene in the park, Madame Epanchin's curiosity is intensified: Radomsky, she fears, is a scoundrel, despite Prince S.'s recommendations. And there is another matter that confounds her: Aglaia seems to know much more about Nastasya Filippovna's relationship with Yevgeny Pavlovitch than she pretends. Madame Epanchin, thus, gathers her company upstairs — all except Myshkin. He is left below, on the terrace, deeply puzzled by what happened in the park. He stares blankly, seemingly oblivious of the whole universe.

It is quite dark when Aglaia comes out onto the terrace. She seems surprised to find Myshkin there and, after inquiring whether or not he would like tea, she nonchalantly asks the prince, what he would do if someone challenged him to a duel. Would he run away? Does he know anything about guns? Myshkin confesses he has never even loaded a gun, so Aglaia instructs him about the gunpowder one needs, the bullets, and the loading procedure. Myshkin, she says, must immediately practice shooting every day. Aglaia's concern and her lecture are superfluous to the prince; he is sitting beside a beautiful young woman and is oblivious of her chattering.

When Aglaia's father comes out on the terrace, she leaves Myshkin and the general is free to question the prince. He cannot understand his wife's hysterics, he says; furthermore, how does Myshkin explain Nastasya Filippovna's actions? She is mad, Myshkin tells the general, but Ivan Fyodorovitch does not believe that the matter is that simple. To him, Nastasya seems too conniving and fiendish; he feels that she obviously had a motive for slurring Yevgeny Paylovitch's character. As for Radomsky, the general has seen no unseemly behavior; he has heard, though, that the young man proposed to Aglaia and that she refused him point-blank. Myshkin is shocked at what the general says; such an idea is impossible! The general, however, says that his daughter is "wilful and whimsical" beyond words and that she has told her family that Nastasya intends, at all costs, to marry Prince Myshkin and to get Yevgeny Pavlovitch turned out of the Epanchin house. Finally, the general says that, regardless of his daughter's actions, he and his wife are genuinely fond of the prince.

Alone, Myshkin reads the note Aglaia has slipped to him; it is a request for a rendezvous — on the green seat in the park. Aglaia has an exceedingly important matter to discuss with the prince. Bumping into Keller, the boxer, Myshkin learns more news. Keller says that Myshkin will soon be challenged; Myshkin has insulted the young officer by seizing his arms and the officer seeks revenge. Keller offers his services as a second to the prince. Ridiculous, Myshkin says, and walks on alone, looking forward to the morrow and his meeting with Aglaia on the green bench.

But Myshkin is not alone for long. The pale face of Rogozhin appears out of the darkness. He has received Myshkin's letter, he says, and has come to him as Nastasya Filippovna's representative; she must see Myshkin. The prince promises to see Nastasya, then turns to Rogozbin and asks him not to be angry, nor bitter, any longer. They must forget what happened that night on the stairs; it was madness, Myshkin says, and as for Nastasya, she obviously loves Rogozhin: she torments him out of love for him. Rogozhin then says that Myshkin is in exactly the same sort of muddle that he is, that Myshkin is head over heels in love with a girl (Aglaia) that behaves as capriciously as Nastasya Filippovna. But no matter, says Rogozhin, for Nastasya Filippovna has vowed to marry the prince to Aglaia and only then will she marry Rogozbin. Thus, he says, his marriage is in the prince's hands.

Madness, says Myshkin, but has second thoughts when he learns that Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaia have been corresponding. Myshkin then changes the subject: Today is his birthday, he says, and a new life awaits him; Rogozhin must join him in celebrating it.

Analysis

As has already been noted, Aglaia is not as worldly nor as nonchalant as she sometimes would seem. Now she seems surprised to find Myshkin on the darkened terrace when she comes downstairs, but she has a note ready to slip to him and she is obviously serious about the possibility that Myshkin may have to fight a duel with the officer he restrained from attacking Nastasya Filippovna. Ironically, Myshkin is not serious at this moment. Enchanted by Aglaia's beauty, the farthest thing from the prince's usually grave mind right now is a duel. One should not assume, though, that Myshkin's vague behavior is because he is sexually stirred by Aglaia Epanchin. In Aglaia, Myshkin sees beauty, precious friendship, and sweetness. Here, Myshkin seems very much like a child who has unwittingly committed a crime, and Aglaia, like a protective mother.

The only matter that seems to trouble Myshkin is Nastasya's behavior. Like himself, Myshkin believes that the girl is mad; she has suffered until she has become mad with guilt. He cannot convince General Epanchin, but neither can the general convince Myshkin that Aglaia and Radomsky have discussed marriage. In fact, Myshkin is even further confused by the general's idea that his daughter has said that Nastasya Filippovna intends to marry the prince. Thus Myshkin's complete bewilderment at Aglaia's note asking that the two meet in the park.

Earlier Myshkin was blissful; now he has doubts and is confused, even more so after he meets Keller and hears that a duel is imminent and after he meets Rogozhin and learns that Nastasya wants to see him and that she has vowed to marry Myshkin to Aglaia! What is the truth at this point? Myshkin decides that a new life awaits him; it is the eve of his birthday. Possibly his usual concern with untangling the lives of his friends has been put aside for the moment; possibly the prince has felt the first stirrings, platonic as yet, of romantic love.

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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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