Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 1 Chapters 11 12 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 1, Chapters 11–12 | Summary



Chapter 11

Kolya, who is impressed with Prince Myshkin's behavior, visits him in his room, soon followed by Varya, who thanks him. Ganya next joins them and apologizes to the prince. After Varya leaves, Ganya says Nastasya Filippovna is sure to marry him. He congratulates himself for being honest about taking another man's mistress for money. The prince admits he thought Ganya a villain but now sees he is an ordinary man, "only very weak, and not the least bit original." Ganya dislikes his assessment and confides his intention to become rich using Nastasya's money, which will make him original. Nastasya is virtuous and has not had relations with Totsky in a long time, Ganya says, although he pegs her as a woman who loves to be dominated. After Ganya leaves, Kolya returns with a note from his father asking to see the prince.

Chapter 12

Kolya takes Prince Myshkin to a café not far away. The drunken Ivolgin wants money, and the prince gives him the little he has. Myshkin asks the general to take him to Nastasya Filippovna's house, but Ivolgin leads Myshkin on a wild-goose chase until they end up at the house of his mistress Marfa (in full: Marfa Borisovna Terentyev), a widow. Kolya is already there, since he is friends with the family, especially Ippolit (in full: Ippolit Terentyev), the eldest son who is very ill. Marfa berates the general for stealing and pawning her things and leaving her children impoverished, but the general falls asleep. Kolya agrees to take the prince to Nastasya's house. On the way Kolya attempts to defend his father, saying he's the victim of drink and disorder. He also tells Myshkin his mother and sister have been giving Marfa's family money.


Many critics, including Dostoevsky himself, have noted the structural difficulties presented by the novel. As an example, the narrator says Kolya is 13 in Part 1, Chapter 8, but six months later, the narrator says he is 15 (Part 2, Chapter 1). Dostoevsky acknowledged that both the turmoil of his life and the difficulty of his material and method prevented him from fulfilling his artistic endeavor as fully as he wished. Regardless, the book remains a stalwart example not only of Russian literature but of world literature as well.

As time passes Kolya spends more and more of his life away from his family. He is a child who is attempting to survive in a dysfunctional family, and he looks around for role models to understand how to become a man. His father is a drunk, a liar, and a cheat, leeching off his own family as well as his mistress's family, to the point where Nina Alexandrovna and Varya secretly must give them money from time to time. Kolya befriends Prince Myshkin because is a man of good character, something in short supply in his own household.

Ganya's bad character as well as his inability to read other people's thoughts and emotions continue to be evident in these chapters. The prince says he's not a villain, only because his compassion cannot allow him to reduce any individual to a "black hat" or a "white hat." When Myshkin looks at people he sees their suffering, illustrated in shades of gray. Ganya is weak, as Myshkin says, because he allows his pursuit of money to overshadow all other considerations, and he is unoriginal because he is just another greedy materialist. He freely admits he is marrying for money and believes he should be congratulated for being honest about it, since another man might pretend to take a cast-off mistress out of true feeling. Since it is doubtful Ganya could love any woman (his only love is money), he can imagine only a false suitor for Nastasya Filippovna. In addition, Ganya completely misreads Nastasya, thinking she will marry him to become respectable. He does not understand that Nastasya is in no way driven by what other people may think about her; rather, she is tormented by what she thinks about herself.

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