Summary and Analysis
The evening engagement party is arranged and it is also arranged that Princess Byelokonsky shall make an appearance; after all, her patronage carries social weight and the Epanchins count heavily on this fact, particularly her approval of the prince. It is an unhappy fact, but one that must be dealt with: Myshkin must, at some time, be introduced into society.
In contrast, Myshkin scarcely attaches any importance to the approaching event. Of much more importance to him is Aglaia's growing capriciousness. Myshkin begins to fear what might happen during the party only after Aglaia visits him and mocks his awkwardness, and chides him that she will laugh-especially if he were to break a valuable Chinese vase during the party. Furthermore, she says, if Myshkin begins talking at length about capital punishment or any such controversial subject, she will scoff at him and he may never show himself again. Myshkin sees that Aglaia's threat is quite in earnest and he grows uneasy. He fears the worst: that besides breaking the vase, or launching into a tirade, he might collapse in an epileptic seizure.
Next day, Myshkin learns some strange news. Lebedyev comes to him and confesses that he has written an anonymous letter to Lizaveta Prokofyevna, exposing the correspondence between Aglaia and Nastasya Filippovna. Now, says Lebedyev, winking, he has a letter from Aglaia, addressed to Nastasya and says that there even exists one from Aglaia to Ippolit. The letter that Lebedyev gives Myshkin, however, is yet another — one written by Aglaia to Ganya (it is the same note mentioned earlier that Ganya showed to his sister with such triumph). Myshkin accuses Lebedyev of being a spy and of sinking to unthinkable depths; Aglaia is to be implicitly trusted, of that, Myshkin has no doubt. But the prince does not trust Ganya. Myshkin almost decides to deliver the letter himself but meets Kolya and entrusts him with the mission.
At nine o'clock, Myshkin makes his appearance at the Epanchins' party. Already the drawing room is filled with guests. Myshkin is perfectly dressed and behaves splendidly; he speaks quietly and modestly. For the first time in his life, the prince is able to see a tiny corner of Russian society and he is impressed with their elegance and their apparent frankness; his gaze does not penetrate the social veneer, however, and he does not realize, Dostoevsky tells us, that the company is, by and large, made of rather empty-headed people. Aglaia is pleased by Myshkin's behavior, for in spite of his speaking little, he seems to be enjoying himself.
Again we see that, desperately as Aglaia has said that she wishes to get away from her family and discover Europe and herself, she is still very much a part of her middle-class background. She greatly fears Myshkin's disgracing herself and her family; she worries as much about that possibility as her mother does. Aglaia is so nervous, in fact, that she uses threats against her fiancé and succeeds in rooting her own fears in him.
Aglaia, like Ganya, seems capable of being quite capricious, but, also like Ganya, she seems incapable of real courage — the courage of her emotions. Unlike Nastasya and Rogozhin, Aglaia does not dare defy society or fate. Her vanity seems far stronger than her love for Prince Myshkin. She transforms Myshkin into his old invalid self; she leaves him trembling for fear he might dissolve in epileptic spasms.
In spite of the prince's realization that Aglaia's love for him seems shallow, Myshkin remains trusting; her letters to Nastasya, Ippolit, and Ganya are indicative of nothing sordid. Thus Myshkin continues his faith in Aglaia.
The prince's faith in everyone except Ganya is shown to us in the remainder of this chapter. Earlier, Dostoevsky has allowed us to draw our own conclusions about the discrepancy between Myshkin's point of view and what was actually taking place. But now he is not content to do that. It is almost as though Dostoevsky were unleashing some of his own undisguised hatred of social pretense. We are sure that something is being readied; Dostoevsky is spending too much time showing us Myshkin, childlike in the midst of beautifully colored, dangerous social tigers.