The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapter 8

Summary

On the green bench, Aglaia and Myshkin talk, first of all, about Ippolit's attempt at suicide — Aglaia likening the incident to her own determination, at thirteen, to poison herself. Myshkin says that he believes that Ippolit wanted the guests to gather around him, to beg him to remain alive; he wanted mankind's respect and love.

Aglaia changes the subject. She considers Myshkin to be the most honest of men, despite his being mentally afflicted. She asks him to be her friend. She can no longer stand her family's insinuations and she wants to run away; hopefully, Myshkin will help her. She longs to see a Gothic cathedral, to see Rome, and to study in Paris. She proposes that she and Myshkin leave together and teach abroad.

Myshkin's reaction is immediate: he says that her plan is absolute nonsense. Aglaia's temper flashes. She threatens to marry Ganya if Myshkin does not consent to her plan. She asks Myshkin why, if he is uninterested in her, he sent her a love letter. Again, Myshkin is thunderstruck. He explains that his brief note was a simple outpouring of his heart and that he wrote it at the bitterest moment of his life. That moment came, Aglaia charges, after he'd been living for a month with Nastasya Filippovna; she is furious and says that she does not love Myshkin; she loves Ganya and has promised, just two days ago, to marry him. Ganya adores her, she continues, and for proof he left his finger in a candle flame for half an hour. Myshkin says that none of Ganya's fingers are burned; he saw Ganya yesterday.

Aglaia goes off into a peal of laughter, admitting it to be all lies. She would like to shame Myshkin, she says, for she knows that six months ago the prince offered to marry Nastasya Filippovna, and that later when Nastasya ran away from Rogozhin she and Myshkin lived together. Just now, she says, Myshkin was dreaming about "that woman." In fact, she continues, it was for Nastasya Filippovna's sake that the prince came to the park. Myshkin admits that it is so, but that he doesn't love Nastasya and says that the time the two spent together was pure horror. Nastasya, he says, is convinced that she is degraded, but she is not to blame; she has been victimized. All her actions stem from her sense of shame. He has loved her, he admits, but his love was primarily pity. Now he does not love her; now she is mad.

Aglaia then tells Myshkin of the letters Nastasya has sent to her. Nastasya is very much in love with him, she tells the prince. Lizaveta Prokofyevna suddenly stands before the two young people, demanding to know what they are shouting about. Aglaia says that she will marry Ganya and that they will run away together. With that, she leaves. But Myshkin cannot; Madame Epanchin detains him. She wants a complete explanation.

Analysis

Once again Aglaia tries to understand how Myshkin feels toward her. And, she takes matters into her own hands very much like a capricious, but milder-mannered, Nastasya Filippovna. It is obvious that the prince has caught Aglaia's romantic fancy; he has lived abroad, is handsome, is honest and good. No doubt Aglaia believes that if she elopes with Myshkin, and can get him away from the chaos at Pavlovsk, she — and he — can be happy. All the prince needs is the love of a good woman and a focus — wife, family, job — for his compulsive compassion. Aglaia is anxious, indeed frantic, and in this scene she screams and laughs by turns; she must know whether or not Myshkin will be her lover, or whether he is a charlatan, or an idiot, or what. She cannot understand his present concern with Nastasya; probably Aglaia would never forgive him for living with Nastasya, for she is a young girl and is incapable of realizing that Myshkin is exactly what he appears to be. Ironically, when she say's that she has decided that Myshkin will be her best friend, it is in exactly that relationship that Myshkin would be happiest. He does not understand Aglaia's dislike of Nastasya; he cannot realize that she sees Nastasya as her rival, just as Rogozhin sees Myshkin as his rival. We are not surprised when Aglaia gathers up her skirts and flies angrily away; she does not understand the saintly logic of Myshkin and he does not understand (and perhaps is incapable of understanding) the very feminine logic of Aglaia.

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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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