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

Summary

The morning after his epileptic seizure, Myshkin wakes with a sense of foreboding; he is absolutely certain that something is going to happen to him today. He has little time to brood, however, for he is visited, first of all, by Vera Lebedyev, then by Lebedyev himself and by Kolya (who wants to know all that happened at the party, listens, and weeps in silence as he hears Myshkin's detailed confession). All of these visitors come before one o'clock.

After one o'clock, Myshkin is visited by the Epanchins. Myshkin apologizes, once more, for the vase, but Lizaveta Prokfyevna hushes the prince. She has come, she says, to assure Myshkin that whatever may happen, he may always count on the Epanchins to be his friends. The rest of the family echo Madame Epanchin, and they leave. Myshkin ponders Aglaia's ambiguous behavior; on arriving, she offered the prince a sweet smile; then, on leaving, she also smiled at him; yet, she did not say a word. Myshkin vows to visit them that evening, but his thoughts are interrupted by Vera Lebedyev. She tells Myshkin that Aglaia has whispered to her a message for the prince: Myshkin is not to leave the house until seven o'clock . . . or nine o'clock . . . this evening; Vera is uncertain of the exact time.

Myshkin has yet another visitor. Coughing blood, and with his eyes glittering, Ippolit tells the prince that Ganya and Aglaia have indeed had their tryst on the green bench. He is surprised by Myshkin's manner and by Myshkin's saying that he knew yesterday that Ganya . . . but the prince does not finish because he begs Ippolit not to speak of the matter any longer. Ippolit warns Myshkin that he be wary; Ganya and Varya are scheming and Ippolit must explain everything he knows. After all, one cannot die without explanations.

Ippolit then reveals that not only did Ganya receive an invitation to the green seat but that he, Ippolit, also received an invitation, one he had begged for because he wished to reveal a secret to Aglaia Ivanovna. While Ippolit and Aglaia sat on the bench, however, their conversation was interrupted by Ganya and Varya, out for a stroll. They made their escape, says Ippolit, but again he warns Myshkin that Varya is very clever and may be planning something. Ippolit then tells the prince that he went to Aglaia for one purpose — to arrange a meeting between her and Nastasya Filippovna. Myshkin's interest is sparked.

What's more, says Ippolit, he enraged Aglaia by hinting that she enjoyed Nastasya's "leavings." Myshkin is horrified, and even more so after Ippolit says that Aglaia and Nastasya will meet today. Ippolit leaves then, laughing. Myshkin's head is in a whirl. What can be the purpose of the meeting between the two women?

At seven o'clock, Aglaia appears on Myshkin's verandah, alone, her face pale. She asks Myshkin to escort her to Nastasya Filippovna's apartment and he realizes that he is following the girl against his will.

Rogozhin meets the prince and Aglaia at the door and says that there is no one in the house except the four of them. Nastasya is waiting. She is dressed simply, in black. She and Aglaia are immediately discourteous to one another and Myshkin is soon aware of Aglaia's intense hatred of Nastasya. He prays that she will not mention the letters.

First of all, Aglaia expresses her pity for Myshkin and her concern over the fact that such a good and simple man might believe that he could be happy with a woman such as Nastasya Filippovna. Aglaia charges Nastasya with having never loved Myshkin, of torturing him and then abandoning him. Nastasya is too vain, she says, and has such a mad self-love that she cannot love anyone else. What right, she cries, does Nastasya have to meddle with the prince, especially after the blatantly insulting and degrading treatment she has given him?

Nastasya answers that she has never said — either to Aglaia or to the prince — that she loves Myshkin. She concedes that Aglaia is correct in saying that she ran away from Myshkin, however. And then Aglaia charges her with declaring, by implication, her love for Myshkin. Nastasya Filippovna, she says, has too much vanity and has not married Rogozhin because even that marriage would clear her of all her grievances.

Nastasya looks unbelievingly at Aglaia; perhaps, Nastasya thinks, she herself is mad, for although her manner has often been cynical, she feels that she is far more modest and truthful than people believe. She listens to Aglaia continue to charge her with not really wanting to be respectable; if she had really wanted to be respectable, says Aglaia, she would have become a washerwoman.

Myshkin then stops Aglaia; what she has said is unjust. Rogozhin listens and Nastasya Filippovna trembles with anger, saying that once she believed Aglaia to be perfect. Now her opinion has changed. Aglaia came out of fear — because she was afraid that Myshkin still loved Nastasya; Aglaia had to see for herself which woman Myshkin loved more. Take Myshkin, she says, take him and leave my house; then she drops into a chair and bursts into tears, but suddenly rises and faces Aglaia. She tells Aglaia that she, Nastasya, can make the prince obey and that Aglaia will then have to go home alone. Shall I make good my threat, she cries!

Aglaia runs to the door but Nastasya continues: She will not marry Rogozhin merely to please Aglaia, and, turning to Myshkin, she reminds him of his promise to marry her and tells him that she ran away from him for one reason — to set him free. If, Nastasya says, Myshkin does not at once come to her, then Aglaia may have him. Myshkin looks at Aglaia and appeals to her: Can she not see what a despairing woman Nastasya is? Aglaia runs from the room and Myshkin follows her, but is clutched at by Nastasya, who collapses at his feet. Myshkin stops and carries her back to her room and, moments later, she begins laughing hysterically. I've been mad, she shouts.

Rogozhin looks at them, then leaves without a word. Myshkin comes to Nastasya and holds her, stroking her hair and face gently; he says nothing, he merely listens to her weeping and babbling.

Analysis

In this climactic scene between the two principal men and the two principal women, it is not the men who are the aggressors; nor, initially, is it even the femme fatale, Nastasya Filippovna, who plays the major role in this scene. Aglaia, the young lady of quality, surprises them all, and us too, as she rages at Nastasya, calling her, as it were, a whore, a poseur, and a corrupter of the gentle Prince Myshkin.

Myshkin's act of protecting Nastasya from Aglaia's sharp-tongued attack is expected, but it does little real good because Nastasya's illusions about Aglaia's goodness are destroyed. Aglaia was Nastasya's living symbol for innocence and purity, and now, before her eyes, she sees what she believed to be beautiful become ugly. The shock is reminiscent of Myshkin's reaction to Rogozhin's reproduction of Christ; in both cases, the subject matter is expected to be beautiful and suddenly one is struck by its ugliness.

Nastasya's weapon against Aglaia is not the name-calling Aglaia uses; it is truth. Nastasya reveals the truth about why Aglaia has come to her house and, for a moment, she seems to give up the battle for Myshkin, but then recovers; her spirit, as we have already seen, is very strong. She will not be manipulated by the sweet-faced, vixenish Aglaia. Her vanity and sense of female rivalry move her to fury. But, just as Aglaia manipulated Myshkin into coming to Nastasya's and displaying before him the fallen woman, Nastasya manipulated Myshkin as her pawn in this female duel. And Myshkin allows such behavior, despite his knightish role. Neither of the women will allow the other to use her, but Myshkin is not that rigid, he is, in fact, almost too flexible.

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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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