Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 1 Chapters 13 14 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 1, Chapters 13–14 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13

Prince Myshkin is worried about how he will be received, but he is determined to tell Nastasya Filippovna not to marry Ganya because he doesn't love her. At Nastasya's party are some of her odd acquaintances and hangers-on, including Ptitsyn (in full: Ivan Petrovich Ptitsyn), a rich moneylender who is courting Varya; the Ivolgins' boarder Ferdyshchenko, a buffoon; and a female friend, Darya Alexeevna. Also in attendance are Totsky, General Epanchin, and Ganya. Ganya tells the older men what happened at his house earlier in the day, and Ptitsyn confirms that he has been busy trying to help Rogozhin amass the promised 100,000 rubles, since he doesn't have the cash readily available. Nastasya is pleased when the prince shows up. Ferdyshchenko proposes a nasty little party game, in which the men will tell, without lying, the worst deed they have ever done.

Chapter 14

Ferdyshchenko tells a story of how he stole, for no particular reason, a three-ruble note at a house party, with the result that a servant is blamed for the theft and summarily dismissed. Thinking his story amusing, he is surprised by the negative response of the company. General Epanchin next tells a story of berating a landlady, learning later she was dying while he was insulting her. (She simply said nothing, and he found out later she had died.) In an act of remorse he supports two sick old women at the almshouse. Next up is Totsky, who recounts beating out a friend in procuring rare red camellias for a married woman. Totsky delivers a bouquet of these flowers in the name of the husband, effectively cutting off any chance for his friend to win points with the married lady. He describes his action as a prank, but the devastated friend, who is in love, ends up volunteering for active duty in the Crimea, where he is killed. Nastasya is disgusted by this story, and she suddenly turns to Prince Myshkin and asks him whether she should marry Ganya, promising to do what he says. The prince says "No." Nastasya next releases Totsky from his promise of 75,000 rubles and otherwise sets him free, and she returns the expensive pearls to General Epanchin. She announces that she plans to vacate the apartment. It is now 11:30 p.m., and the doorbell rings loudly.

Analysis

Nastasya Filippovna wishes to use the parlor game proposed by Ferdyshchenko as a crucible in which to test the men. They are aware of her motive and, thus, those who agree to play seek to tell a true story of some misdeed while at the same time putting themselves in the best light. Ferdyshchenko, a buffoon, doesn't understand the nature of the game, which is why he tells the unvarnished truth about himself. He is surprised by Nastasya's outrage, not understanding that she is a person with strong moral principles despite the life she has been forced to lead.

General Epanchin is secretly lusting for Nastasya, which is both hidden and revealed by his expensive birthday gift. A shrewd gameplayer, he reveals that he inadvertently berated his landlady while she was dying, so he is not truly responsible for a moral wrong. He proves himself to be a moral man because he still feels guilty about what he did. Moreover, he atones for his mistake by supporting a few old ladies at the poorhouse.

Totsky attempts to follow General Epanchin's lead by telling a charming story in which he inadvertently had a hand in his friend's dying of heartbreak. This tale of a prank with unintended consequences enrages Nastasya for many reasons. First, the married woman in Totsky's story, like all this lady's fashionable friends, wants camellias because of a popular play that is all the rage. The Lady of the Camellias, by French author Alexandre Dumas, fils (1824–95), is the story of a courtesan who wears white or red camellias, depending on whether she is available to her lovers. The courtesan in the play is based on the real-life French courtesan Marie Duplessis, who began her career at age 16, the same age Nastasya became Totsky's mistress.

Second, the play is a tragic love story about how a disreputable woman dies young after being forced to abandon the man she truly loves. Totsky may not be consciously mocking Nastasya, as one critic has suggested, but nonetheless, there is a lie inherent in the parallel between Nastasya and the courtesan: neither Totsky nor Ganya loves her, and she had not become Totsky's mistress by choice. Third, the men participating in the parlor game have promised to tell their worst deed, and surely one of Totsky's worst deeds must be the deliberate grooming of a 12-year-old girl in his care, over a period of four years, for the purpose of turning her into his mistress. But Totsky believes he has done nothing wrong, since he has educated Nastasya and has always provided for her physical comforts. Because of this story, Nastasya is inspired to do something drastic.

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