Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 2 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 2, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

A few days after the birthday party Prince Myshkin leaves for Moscow to retrieve his inheritance and is away from Petersburg for six months. The narrator lists a number of competing rumors circulating about what happened after that fateful day. In fact, Ganya is ill for a time, resigns his position in General Epanchin's company, stops supporting his family, and returns Nastasya Filippovna's money. Meanwhile, Varya marries Ptitsyn, who takes care of the Ivolgin family, except for the general, who is in debtors' prison. Varya becomes friendly with the Epanchin sisters. Later, Kolya strikes up an acquaintance with the Epanchins on his own and becomes a favorite of Mrs. Epanchin.

Mrs. Epanchin's friend, old Princess Belokonsky, has been receiving Myshkin in Moscow. Myshkin's fortune is somewhat entangled, and he gives money to disreputable people who claim to be creditors, so he has lost some of his money. Nastasya is in Moscow but runs away from Rogozhin a few times after promising to marry him and then disappears for a while, along with Myshkin.

Back in Petersburg, Totsky's pursuit of the eldest Epanchin sister Alexandra fizzles out on its own, while Prince Shch., a respectable suitor, begins pursuing Adelaida, and Evgeny Pavlovich (in full: Evgeny Pavlovich Radomsky), an imperial aide-de-camp, courts Aglaya. In this period Aglaya gets a short letter from Prince Myshkin in which he says he had the urge to remind her of himself. He says he needs the Epanchins, but especially Aglaya, and hopes she is happy. She happens to put the prince's letter in Don Quixote de La Mancha and "laughs terribly" when she notices what she has done.

Chapter 2

In June the Epanchins move to their dacha (summer home) outside the city, in Pavlovsk, and a few days later Prince Myshkin returns to Petersburg. The first thing he does is visit Lebedev, who lives alone with his four children since his wife recently died in childbirth. Also staying with Lebedev is an insolent nephew, about 20, who refuses to leave until his uncle loans him money. Myshkin has come in response to Lebedev's letter about Nastasya Filippovna. The prince is aware that Rogozhin is back in town and wants to know if Lebedev has brought her and Rogozhin together again after she abandoned him at the altar in Moscow. Lebedev says Nastasya asked him to save her, and thus he has arranged for her to stay with his sister-in-law in Petersburg. Lebedev has recently bought his own dacha in Pavlovsk and invites the prince to rent part of it, to which he readily agrees.

Analysis

As noted by literary critic Alexander Spektor, the unreliable narrator in The Idiot creates interpretive anxiety about the actions and motivations of the primary characters. By withholding information, the narrator makes it impossible for the reader to reach a definitive moral interpretation of the story. Beginning in Part 2, the narrator begins to show signs of unreliability when he says rumors are flying about what happened after Nastasya Filippovna ran off with Rogozhin, and what part Prince Myshkin may have played in what seems to be a love triangle of sorts. The narrator claims: "Of the prince's adventures in Moscow and generally in the course of his absence from Petersburg, we can supply very little information." Nonetheless, the crafty narrator, after spitting out a number of stories that are clearly untrue, satisfies readers' curiosity: first by filling them in on what has been going on in Petersburg in the Epanchin and Ivolgin households and then by providing some reliable tidbits about Myshkin's adventures in Moscow.

What remains unclear, however, is whether Nastasya ran from Rogozhin to Myshkin. The next chapter in the story confirms that she did, but the narrator doesn't say how long Nastasya and the prince were together or how they parted. Suddenly, Myshkin shows up in Petersburg, apparently after he gets a letter from Lebedev telling him that Nastasya has returned to town. At this point it is unclear why Lebedev has written to the prince, what role he has been playing behind the scenes, and why the prince is pursuing Nastasya. Myshkin tells Lebedev to "leave off serving two masters" and asks him, "Did you manage to sell her to him like the other time, or not? Tell me the truth." Based on his remarks, it appears that Lebedev played a role at some point in helping Rogozhin track down Nastasya, perhaps while she was staying with Myshkin.

Lebedev is now estranged from Rogozhin, he tells the prince, and he has provided Nastasya with a place to stay. Another mystery is why Myshkin inexplicably sends Aglaya a communication, which looks suspiciously like a love letter: he says, "I need you, I need you very much." The reader learns later in the novel that he sent this letter while Nastasya was staying with him, but the narrator never explains why he reached out to Aglaya at that particular time—perhaps because he realized that Aglaya was the one he loved and not Nastasya. Aglaya files his letter in her copy of Don Quixote (1605) by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616) and then laughs at what she's done, clearly associating him with the idealistic knight of the famous comic novel who leaves home to save the defenseless people of the world. Myshkin has some mission in coming back to Petersburg, although the narrator does not comment on what it might be. It appears that he might still be on a mission to save Nastasya.

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