Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 1 Chapters 7 8 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 1, Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

Mrs. Epanchin opines that she and the prince are exactly alike. When pressed to say something about Aglaya's face, Prince Myshkin says she is beautiful like Nastasya Filippovna and reveals that Nastasya presented Ganya with her portrait. The women want to see it and send Myshkin to get it. Ganya gets angry when Myshkin comes for the portrait, calling him an idiot, but asking him to slip a note to Aglaya. In transit and alone with the portrait, the prince kisses it. After he brings it to Mrs. Epanchin, she calls for Ganya and asks him if he's getting married, to which he replies "No." When the women leave, Ganya accuses the prince of blabbing his business.

Aglaya returns so Myshkin can write in her album, and while he is occupied, Ganya whispers in her ear, "One word from you—and I'm saved." She creates a pretext for leaving the room with Myshkin and shows him Ganya's note—much longer but with the same message. If he broke off his engagement to Nastasya by himself, Aglaya would "probably become his friend," she says, but because "his soul is dirty ... [he] asks for a guarantee." She sends Myshkin back to Ganya with the note, who becomes further enraged because "the idiot" has been taken into the women's confidence on such short notice. He continues to berate Myshkin, who finally makes a stand and refuses to go home with him. Ganya, embarrassed, recalls himself and apologizes, and they set off.

Chapter 8

Ganya's household consists of his mother Nina (in full: Nina Alexandrovna Ivolgin), his sister Varya (in full: Varvara Ardalionovna Ivolgin), his father General Ivolgin (in full: General Ardalion Alexandrovich Ivolgin), his 13-year-old brother Kolya (in full: Nikolai Ardalionovich Ivolgin), and a boarder named Ferdyshchenko. Prince Myshkin meets General Ivolgin, an inveterate drinker and liar who claims to have been a good friend of the prince's father. He gets on the topic of Ganya's impending marriage and vows that "an ambiguous woman" will not cross his threshold. Ganya's mother tells her son she is resigned to the marriage, but his sister says she will leave if he brings such a bride home. Just then, Nastasya Filippovna shows up and is announced by the prince, who happens to see her ringing the broken doorbell.

Analysis

Prince Myshkin's ability to read faces and his seeming gift to predict the future at times—for example, in Part 1, Chapter 3 he tells Ganya that Rogozhin might marry Nastasya Filippovna and then stick a knife in her a week later—are grounded not in a supernatural ability but rather in a deep well of compassion and empathy. This allows him to clearly see people's character and motives. Since he has no agenda and very little desire to get something from the other, he can see the other clearly. At the same time, because he doesn't judge others, they feel free with him and are more likely to show parts of themselves they normally keep hidden. Mrs. Epanchin recognizes that she is like the prince, and he has called her a "perfect child." Both of them have largely escaped the corruption that comes with growing into adulthood, and they forgo the masks people wear to hide themselves. Mrs. Epanchin is the second most compassionate character in the book, although she too quickly loses her temper and is more impatient with people than he.

In these two chapters the reader learns more about Ganya, an educated, impoverished man who worships money and is attempting to claw his way into the prosperous middle class. His father may have been from the aristocratic class, but this hardly matters because he has fallen so far from his original social status—becoming a useless drunk and a burden on his family. As noted by literary critic Roger Anderson, Ganya is "emblematic of the emerging capitalist who eagerly exchanges money for an existential identity" and "is symptomatic of the new Russia that Dostoevsky feared."

Ganya is not concerned, as his mother and sister are, that marrying a kept woman will be a blot on the family honor. He is ready to do whatever is necessary to acquire wealth, including double dealing with two women. Ganya hopes Nastasya will accept him so he can get his hands on her 75,000 rubles. On the other, he is flirting with Aglaya, who is sure to have a sumptuous dowry, but he won't give up his first prospect without a sign from Aglaya: for him it is all about the money. Not surprisingly, Aglaya sees through Ganya ("his soul is dirty") and rejects him.

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