Summary and Analysis Part IV: Chapter 9



The next incident, Dostoevsky tells us, was something so strange and so incredible that gossip spread like wildfire, even to the adjoining districts. He recounts for us several of the different versions of what happened. The truth, our author says, is very difficult to ascertain. He can say only one thing for certain: that the marriage in question was actually arranged; Myshkin did authorize Lebedyev, Keller, and a friend of Lebedyev's to undertake all arrangements. Also, it is known that Myshkin was with Nastasya Filippovna a great deal, fearful for her when he was not with her. It is also known that he called almost daily at the Epanchins' and was repeatedly refused admittance.

Dostoevsky tells us that he does not wish to justify Myshkin's actions; that is not his aim. Indeed, he is in complete sympathy with some of Yevgeny Pavlovitch's plain-spoken words to the prince. Radomsky tells Myshkin that he is to blame for the chaos. Myshkin agrees, but he maintains that he has never been so shocked as when he saw the terrible look in Aglaia's eyes as she lashed out at Nastasya. Radomsky then turns to other matters. To begin with, Myshkin's being called an idiot is ridiculous, a lie in fact, for the prince is far too clever to be dismissed as an idiot. Yet, Myshkin is not so brilliant that, by himself, he is able to see objectively what has happened to himself, Aglaia, and Nastasya.

Radomsky explains that Myshkin returned to Russia viewing it as a land of promise and hoping to be of service to it. On the day of his arrival, he was told the tragic story of an injured woman and, from that moment on, Myshkin took Nastasya as a symbol of injured, suffering beauty. He reminds the prince that, in the Bible, the woman in the temple was forgiven, but that she was not told that what she had done was right and that she was deserving of respect and honor. How could Myshkin put Aglaia to shame for the sake of Nastasya Filippovna. What will be the end of Myshkin's boundless compassion? Myshkin explains that he did run after Aglaia but that Nastasya fainted and that he stopped to assist her. Now he knows that he should have continued to follow Aglaia.

He seizes Radomsky's hand; together, he says, they must go to Aglaia and explain. Radomsky asks if Myshkin will marry Nastasya. Myshkin answers that he will, but that Aglaia must understand his reasons for doing so. She must realize that he is marrying Nastasya because she asks him to. Then he confesses that he has never been able to bear Nastasya's face; she is mad, he whispers.

As for love, Myshkin says that he loves both Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaia. Radomsky disagrees; more likely, Myshkin has never loved either one of them. Perhaps, the prince agrees, and then asks Radomsky if he will at least take a letter from him to Aglaia. Radomsky refuses and leaves, wondering what will become of the "poor idiot."


Radomsky's explanation of the prince's relationship with Aglaia and Nastasya seems credible, and even Myshkin admits the probable truth of the analysis, but the prince, even when he is confronted with the truth, cannot adjust his behavior. He will marry Nastasya because he has promised he would and, although she is mad, he pities her so that his allegiance is to her, not to Aglaia. He expects Aglaia to listen to this explanation, and he expects her to understand.

Dostoevsky is indeed illustrating the disastrous effects of simple goodness. Myshkin's motives are not those of a man; they are those of a saint, and his goodness is a quality foreign and incompatible in male-female, sex jealousy relationships.