Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 1 Chapters 15 16 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 1, Chapters 15–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

A dozen men have barged in, all somewhat drunk. They are led by Rogozhin, with Lebedev at his heels. When Rogozhin sees Nastasya Filippovna, he is awestruck and says nothing for several seconds. Then he places a large packet of money on the table, tidily wrapped in a stack of paper and tied with twine—100,000 rubles. Nastasya rants about fleeing from men for the past five years, but in the end she is Rogozhin's type of woman. She berates both Ganya for continuing to pursue her after Rogozhin's first stunt and General Epanchin for his inappropriate gift on the eve of her engagement. She accuses Ganya of being willing to do anything for money. Nastasya says she has acted with pretensions for five years out of spite; rather, she belongs in the street. She asks if anyone present will take her without anything, if she abandons even her last rag, and the prince says that he will. Myshkin declares his love in passionate words and reveals he has inherited a fortune. He takes out a letter from a lawyer, which is the business he has alluded to previously and is the reason he's back in Russia.

Chapter 16

Ptitsyn looks at the letter and declares Prince Myshkin has come into a large fortune, through a series of deaths that have left him as the only surviving heir. Everyone now realizes the prince has proposed, and Nastasya Filippovna names herself a princess. Rogozhin is devastated and demands that Myshkin give her up. Myshkin asks Nastasya to forgive Rogozhin, who loves her. The prince promises he will never reproach her for being with Totsky under duress. He will be honored if she consents to be his wife, and he will take care of her. Nastasya recalls that as a teenager in the country, she had dreamed of a prince, kind and good, who would rescue her from her dishonored state and tell her she was not guilty. However, she won't be like Totsky and ruin a baby. Rather, she'll go off with Rogozhin, who now becomes deliriously happy.

Nastasya announces to the company she will throw the packet of money into the fireplace, and if Ganya retrieves it quickly without any gloves, burning his fingers just a little, he can keep it. Nastasya stirs up the fire and throws the packet in, much to everyone's horror. But Ganya does not take the bait as everyone remains mesmerized, watching the packet burn. Ganya turns to leave, but he faints instead, and Nastasya snatches the money out of the fire with a pair of tongs. Because the packet is so well wrapped, the money remains intact. Nastasya puts the money beside Ganya and then leaves with Rogozhin and his crew. Myshkin also runs out and catches a cab to follow Rogozhin's troikas (vehicles pulled by horses).

Analysis

Prince Myshkin feels compelled to prevent Nastasya Filippovna's marriage to Ganya because he wishes to protect her from a man who will clearly mistreat her. The prince has been smitten by Nastasya from the moment he saw her portrait, but whether he is truly in love with her or only loves the sorrow he discerns in her eyes—which he wishes to alleviate—is an open question. She herself calls the prince a benefactor who would take her "out of the kindness of his heart."

Nastasya blames herself for consenting to be Totsky's mistress: since he did not forcibly rape her, she holds herself responsible for their liaison. She irrationally does not take into consideration that she was an orphan from a young age and a child of 12 when Totsky took special charge of her. The narrator indicates that by age 20 she has stopped having sexual relations with Totsky—after she comes to Petersburg to berate him and make it difficult for him to marry—even if Totsky continues to pretend she is his mistress. In Petersburg she lives a chaste and quiet life, which now seems to be no more than a pretention to her. Rather, she names herself as a woman of the street who belongs with Rogozhin. At least he loves her, but he is a crude sensualist whose love obsession is primarily physical. He has brought money to buy off her other suitors: very well, she will choose the man who repels her, in order to hurt herself for spite. Nastasya's psychological response to being abused by Totsky is ressentiment turned inward against herself, or self-laceration. She is furious about what Totsky has done to her, but she has no real power to punish him. Therefore, she uses her anger to punish herself by pretending to be what these crude men—Totsky, General Epanchin, Ganya, and Rogozhin—see when they look at her.

Only Myshkin sees her for who she really is, and she immediately falls in love with him during this scene. He is the prince she has dreamed of, the one who would save her and remind her she was a good person. Her prince has arrived—her fantasy standing before her in the flesh—but she refuses to take advantage of his innocence. She has too much self-hatred to believe she deserves to be loved by a good man, and she will not reprise what Totsky has done to her—take advantage of someone incapable of giving unequivocal consent. Yet Nastasya will have the last word among these materialists: in the most dramatic scene in the novel, she throws 100,000 rubles in the fire and watches them all squirm. Rogozhin is not worried about the money, however, reveling in her mad act and happily claiming her as his prize.

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