The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Summary and Analysis Part IV: Chapters 11-12

Summary

In Petersburg, Myshkin goes to Rogozhin's house but is not admitted. He is told that Rogozhin is not at home, and his questions are not answered. Concerning Nastasya Filippovna, he can learn nothing. Rogozhin's windows are closed, yet Myshkin seems to catch a glimpse of a corner of a curtain being lifted. The prince's next move is to go to Izmailovsky Polk, Nastasya's lodging. Again, Myshkin learns nothing about her whereabouts.

When Myshkin returns to Rogozhin's this time, he fails to get an answer at all. So, back at Nastasya's former lodgings, he goes to her rooms and studies them, but comes to no conclusion. Then, suddenly, he has an idea: He knows where he will find Rogozhin. Immediately, he goes to the hotel in which he stayed before, the hotel where Rogozhin made his attempt on Myshkin's life. And Myshkin's reasoning was correct: Not far from the hotel Rogozhin is waiting for him.

The two men go to Rogozhin's house, slip in very quietly, and go to Rogozhin's apartments. In the study, Myshkin notices that some changes have occurred since he was here last. A heavy green silk curtain is drawn and hides Rogozhin's bed. It is quite dark but Rogoxhin asks Myshkin not to light a candle. Myshkin asks about Nastasya and Rogozhin motions to the bed. She is there, he says, and leads the prince to the bed. There, Myshkin sees disorder all around — a white silk dress, flowers and ribbons, and, on the bed, the body of Nastasya Filippovna, horribly still.

Rogozhin motions Myshkin away and confesses that he killed Nastasya; The weapon was a knife. He stabbed her under the left breast and there was no more than half a tablespoon of blood; the bleeding was internal. Rogozhin pleads with Myshkin to stay and he puts pillows from the sofa on the floor so that they can be together. He leads Myshkin to the cushions and warns him about the smell from the body, but says that he has done his best; he covered her with good American leather and put four jars of uncorked disinfectant near her.

When Rogozhin finishes speaking, Myshkin bends over him and begins stroking his hair and his cheeks. At last, he puts his head next to the white face of Rogozhin and his tears flow onto Rogozhin's face. When the doors are finally broken open, Rogozhin is discovered unconscious and babbling, and Myshkin is sitting beside him. As Rogozhin breaks into babbling, Myshkin passes his hand over Rogozbin's head and face, as though to quiet him. The prince understands no questions, nor does he recognize the people standing around him. He has relapsed into insanity.

In a short epilogue, Dostoevsky tells us that after two months of suffering an inflammation of the brain, Rogozhin recovered. He was then tried and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude in Siberia; he accepted his sentence in silence.

Lebedyev, Keller, Ganya, and Ptitsyn are living as usual; little has changed in their day-to-day existences. Ippolit, he says, died unexpectedly not long after the death of Nastasya Filippovna.

Yevgeny Pavlovitch took an interest in Myshkin and by his efforts, Myshkin was returned to Dr. Schneider's clinic in Switzerland. Radomsky visits Myshkin often, but Schneider hints at a permanent impairment of the prince's mind; the possibilities for recovery are slight.

Radomsky has a letter from Vera Lebedyev and learns that Aglaia Epanchin has married an exiled Polish count, against her parent's wishes. To Vera, Radomsky writes that on one of his visits to the sanitarium, he met Prince S. and the Epanchin family. They seemed grateful for all he had done for the prince, he says, and Madame Epanchin wept when she saw Myshkin. Aglaia's husband, he writes, has turned out to be not a count at all, and Aglaia has joined the Catholic church and has turned against her family. Lizaveta Prokofyevna, he says, is quite disagreeable about her European travels; the bread is horrible. At least, though, she had "a good Russian cry" over Myshkin.

Analysis

Myshkin's long search for Nastasya Filippovna is Dostoevsky's way of stretching our tension. We, like Myshkin, are uneasy about the girl's fate for she is mad, we know that Rogozhin is murderous, and the combination is bound to be disastrous. Thus one should note the author's skill as he makes us wait for the horrible revelation by baiting us with the hint of a mysterious curtain being lifted, the gloomy Rogozhin house reappearing to quicken our fears, the tight-lipped servants and the locked doors . . . after these devices, we are sure that someone — either Nastasya or Rogozhin or perhaps both — must be dead in the house.

The details of Nastasya's wake are certainly nauseating — her being wrapped in leather and surrounded by disinfectant — but somehow the horror of murder is missing. Rogozhin is calm, as is Myshkin, and since we did not witness the murder, and because there was little blood, the scene is not soaked in melodrama. What makes the scene horrible is not the murder but Myshkin's comforting of Rogozhin. Myshkin's goodness and compassion are more terrifying than Rogozhin's murder of Nastasya. Dostoevsky shows us the ultimate in goodness, and it is grotesque: Myshkin's embracing the murderer, forgiving him as it were, weeping on his cheek as though in sorrow, but also in relief that, at last, the fate of the three has unraveled itself.

The best — and the worst — of the characters in this novel are united at the climax; united, in other words, like the best and the worst of each of us in ourselves. These extremes destroyed one another — and Nastasya — and the prince's broken self returns, full circle, to Switzerland. His pure goodness was a treasure offered to many people; now it has been bankrupted.

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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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