The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Part IV: Chapter 9

Clearly and reasonably, and with great psychological insight, he drew a picture of the prince's past relations with Nastasia Philipovna. Evgenie Pavlovitch always had a ready tongue, but on this occasion his eloquence, surprised himself. "From the very beginning," he said, "you began with a lie; what began with a lie was bound to end with a lie; such is the law of nature. I do not agree, in fact I am angry, when I hear you called an idiot; you are far too intelligent to deserve such an epithet; but you are so far STRANGE as to be unlike others; that you must allow, yourself. Now, I have come to the conclusion that the basis of all that has happened, has been first of all your innate inexperience (remark the expression 'innate,' prince). Then follows your unheard-of simplicity of heart; then comes your absolute want of sense of proportion (to this want you have several times confessed); and lastly, a mass, an accumulation, of intellectual convictions which you, in your unexampled honesty of soul, accept unquestionably as also innate and natural and true. Admit, prince, that in your relations with Nastasia Philipovna there has existed, from the very first, something democratic, and the fascination, so to speak, of the 'woman question'? I know all about that scandalous scene at Nastasia Philipovna's house when Rogojin brought the money, six months ago. I'll show you yourself as in a looking-glass, if you like. I know exactly all that went on, in every detail, and why things have turned out as they have. You thirsted, while in Switzerland, for your home-country, for Russia; you read, doubtless, many books about Russia, excellent books, I dare say, but hurtful to YOU; and you arrived here; as it were, on fire with the longing to be of service. Then, on the very day of your arrival, they tell you a sad story of an ill-used woman; they tell YOU, a knight, pure and without reproach, this tale of a poor woman! The same day you actually SEE her; you are attracted by her beauty, her fantastic, almost demoniacal, beauty — (I admit her beauty, of course).

"Add to all this your nervous nature, your epilepsy, and your sudden arrival in a strange town — the day of meetings and of exciting scenes, the day of unexpected acquaintanceships, the day of sudden actions, the day of meeting with the three lovely Epanchin girls, and among them Aglaya — add your fatigue, your excitement; add Nastasia' s evening party, and the tone of that party, and — what were you to expect of yourself at such a moment as that?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" said the prince, once more, nodding his head, and blushing slightly. "Yes, it was so, or nearly so — I know it. And besides, you see, I had not slept the night before, in the train, or the night before that, either, and I was very tired."

"Of course, of course, quite so; that's what I am driving at!" continued Evgenie, excitedly. "It is as clear as possible, and most comprehensible, that you, in your enthusiasm, should plunge headlong into the first chance that came of publicly airing your great idea that you, a prince, and a pure-living man, did not consider a woman disgraced if the sin were not her own, but that of a disgusting social libertine! Oh, heavens! it's comprehensible enough, my dear prince, but that is not the question, unfortunately! The question is, was there any reality and truth in your feelings? Was it nature, or nothing but intellectual enthusiasm? What do you think yourself? We are told, of course, that a far worse woman was FORGIVEN, but we don't find that she was told that she had done well, or that she was worthy of honour and respect! Did not your common-sense show you what was the real state of the case, a few months later? The question is now, not whether she is an innocent woman (I do not insist one way or the other — I do not wish to); but can her whole career justify such intolerable pride, such insolent, rapacious egotism as she has shown? Forgive me, I am too violent, perhaps, but — "

"Yes — I dare say it is all as you say; I dare say you are quite right," muttered the prince once more. "She is very sensitive and easily put out, of course; but still, she . . . "

"She is worthy of sympathy? Is that what you wished to say, my good fellow? But then, for the mere sake of vindicating her worthiness of sympathy, you should not have insulted and offended a noble and generous girl in her presence! This is a terrible exaggeration of sympathy! How can you love a girl, and yet so humiliate her as to throw her over for the sake of another woman, before the very eyes of that other woman, when you have already made her a formal proposal of marriage? And you DID propose to her, you know; you did so before her parents and sisters. Can you be an honest man, prince, if you act so? I ask you! And did you not deceive that beautiful girl when you assured her of your love?"

"Yes, you are quite right. Oh! I feel that I am very guilty!" said Muishkin, in deepest distress.

"But as if that is enough!" cried Evgenie, indignantly. "As if it is enough simply to say: 'I know I am very guilty!' You are to blame, and yet you persevere in evil-doing. Where was your heart, I should like to know, your CHRISTIAN HEART, all that time? Did she look as though she were suffering less, at that moment? You saw her face — was she suffering less than the other woman? How could you see her suffering and allow it to continue? How could you?"

"But I did not allow it," murmured the wretched prince.

"How — what do you mean you didn't allow?"

"Upon my word, I didn't! To this moment I don't know how it all happened. I — I ran after Aglaya Ivanovna, but Nastasia Philipovna fell down in a faint; and since that day they won't let me see Aglaya — that's all I know."

"It's all the same; you ought to have run after Aglaya though the other was fainting."

"Yes, yes, I ought — but I couldn't! She would have died — she would have killed herself. You don't know her; and I should have told Aglaya everything afterwards — but I see, Evgenie Pavlovitch, you don't know all. Tell me now, why am I not allowed to see Aglaya? I should have cleared it all up, you know. Neither of them kept to the real point, you see. I could never explain what I mean to you, but I think I could to Aglaya. Oh! my God, my God! You spoke just now of Aglaya's face at the moment when she ran away. Oh, my God! I remember it! Come along, come along — quick!" He pulled at Evgenie's coat-sleeve nervously and excitedly, and rose from his chair.

"Where to?"

"Come to Aglaya — quick, quick!"

"But I told you she is not at Pavlofsk. And what would be the use if she were?"

"Oh, she'll understand, she'll understand!" cried the prince, clasping his hands. "She would understand that all this is not the point — not a bit the real point — it is quite foreign to the real question."

"How can it be foreign? You ARE going to be married, are you not? Very well, then you are persisting in your course. ARE you going to marry her or not?"

"Yes, I shall marry her — yes."

"Then why is it 'not the point'?"

"Oh, no, it is not the point, not a bit. It makes no difference, my marrying her — it means nothing."

"How 'means nothing'? You are talking nonsense, my friend. You are marrying the woman you love in order to secure her happiness, and Aglaya sees and knows it. How can you say that it's 'not the point'?"

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At the end of Part III, Nastasya and Rogozhin each ask Myshkin the same question. What was it?