Summary and Analysis
Part II: Chapter 2
When Myshkin returns to Petersburg in June, most of his old friends are absent; they are all summering at Pavlovsk. Myshkin, however, does not find this out immediately, for the first thing he does is go see Lebedyev in Peski; there, he discovers strange things going on. Lebedyev is declaiming loudly to an audience of young people who are dressed in mourning. Myshkin surprises them all, and Lebedyev dashes out of the room, returning in ragged clothing. He is mocked by the young people for pretending to be poor, and protests that not only his clothes; but his life is in tatters: His wife has died only five weeks ago and has left him with a new baby daughter besides his other children. Lebedyev's nephew jeers at Lebedyev's dramatics, telling Myshkin that his uncle has just defended a scoundrelly moneylender in court. His uncle is a notorious liar and Myshkin should never believe him. Eventually Lebedyev is able to change the subject and takes Myshkin into the garden. There, Myshkin tells him that he has come in response to Lebedyev's letter. Lebedyev hedges, talking of an insult he suffered from Rogozhin. Then he talks of Nastasya Filippovna and says she is boasting of her freedom; he talks about the Apocalypse and his hobby of interpreting it, thereby successfully avoiding the subject of his letter to the prince.
Myshkin is thinking of other matters, and when he complains of a headache, Lebedyev suggests the country air, especially the air at his unoccupied villa at Pavlovsk. Myshkin takes Lebedyev's bait and asks if he might rent the villa. Shortly thereafter, the prince leaves and Lebedyev wonders at Myshkin's strange air of preoccupation.
Lebedyev, a silly clown in Part I, takes on major proportions in the remaining parts of this novel. It is he who calls Myshkin back to Petersburg. And it is Lebedyev who, throughout the rest of the novel, lies and betrays the prince, confessing and beating his breast in a fraudulent display of regret: The clown is no longer harmless.
Myshkin's reaction to Lebedyev is important; how often can Goodness forgive Treachery, especially when the treachery is quite obvious? Lebedyev's house is pretty and kept in excellent order, with a front yard full of flowers. It is infinitely more successful at concealing its dark interior than is Lebedyev. Myshkin arrives and finds the man mocking justice before an audience of his children and their friends. And he is told, in Lebedyev's presence, that Lebedyev donned a suit of rags when Myshkin appeared, instead of wearing his new clothes, and that Lebedyev defended (for a paltry fifty rubles) a moneylender who had cheated an old woman out of her life's savings. And, in addition to making a mockery of justice, Lebedyev is also making a mockery of mourning; his wife has died, but her death has precipitated a new show of her husband's hypocrisy.
Lebedyev is a clearly defined, dangerous hypocrite who has written the prince and asked him to return; now, Myshkin cannot discover why. Myshkin has other things on his mind, however, and already it seems a bad omen that, at the railroad station, he felt strange, glowing eyes on him. Once more Myshkin is drawn ever tighter, almost compulsively into the unpredictable world of Nastasya Filippovna, Rogozhin, Aglaia, Ganya, and Lebedyev; his preoccupation reveals this and, coupled with his headache, forewarns of an epileptic attack, the return of an illness that Myshkin has been free of for several years. Myshkin has returned to the world of so-called normal society, but already it is weakening him.