Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 2 Chapters 5 6 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 2, Chapters 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 5

After leaving Rogozhin, Prince Myshkin fails to find the Epanchins at home and also misses Kolya at the hotel. He finds himself in an odd state of mind, feeling as if reality were not quite real. At one point he returns to a shop he remembers passing when he noticed that Rogozhin was following him, in order to reassure himself that the shop actually exists. This mood seems much like the ones that used to precede his epileptic fits: right before a fit he would experience "the sense of life, of self-awareness, increased nearly ten-fold." He feels that "all his doubts, all his worries were as if ... resolved in a sort of sublime tranquility." Another part of his mind knows these feelings are simply his illness, but he finally thinks they do reflect "prayerful merging with the highest synthesis of life." Myshkin now goes to the house where Nastasya Filippovna has been staying and finds she has moved to Darya Alexeevna's summer place. The prince once again sees Rogozhin following him. When he gets back to his hotel, Rogozhin is there already, and when they look into each other's eyes, Rogozhin raises a knife to stab Myshkin, who falls down in an epileptic fit. The hotel servants find him, put him to bed, and call a doctor. Kolya returns and takes the prince in a carriage to Lebedev's summer house.

Chapter 6

Prince Myshkin settles in at Lebedev's dacha (summer home) and recovers quickly. Mrs. Epanchin, whose dacha is only steps away from Lebedev's, visits with her three daughters while Kolya is also visiting with his entire family. General Ivolgin, as he does whenever he meets a new young person, claims to have carried Aglaya in his arms when she was a baby. Oddly enough, he did in this case, since he lived near the Epanchins when the sisters were young children, and they remember interacting with the family.

Kolya embarrasses Aglaya by bringing up a conversation among the sisters, in which Aglaya referred to "the poor knight." Prince Shch., also visiting with the Epanchins, explains that the knight is the subject of a Russian poem, and the family was thinking about whose face might be used if Adelaida were to draw the knight. No longer embarrassed, Aglaya explains that the "poor knight" of the poem is a serious rather than comic Don Quixote, who devotes himself ascetically to the "pure beauty" of his chosen object, regardless of her behavior. The prince himself is very embarrassed by the turn the conversation has taken.

Analysis

According to some critics, The Idiot is the most autobiographical of Dostoevsky's novels. For example, like Dostoevsky, Prince Myshkin is away from home for a long time. The author spent 10 years in Siberia and four years in Western Europe while he was writing this particular book. He bases Nastasya Filippovna (as well as subsequent fatal women), on Polina Prokofyevna Suslova, with whom he had an affair while he was married to his first wife. Dostoevsky provides a detailed description of his ordeal before the firing squad in this novel, and he vividly describes what an aura feels like before an epileptic fit. It is no coincidence that the religious Myshkin, with his prophet-like qualities, is an epileptic.

Dostoevsky, who suffered from epilepsy himself, sometimes experienced before a fit moments of spiritual illumination—"unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion and completest life." He even said he would not exchange spiritual apprehensions that preceded his fits for all the other joys of life. Thus, Myshkin's epilepsy is still another indication that he is a "holy fool." The narrator notes that the prince, in a previous conversation with Rogozhin in Moscow, said that in these moments he was able to understand the phrase that "time shall be no more." He thinks about this, and how he and Rogozhin had become friends in Moscow; now they have become brothers, exchanging crosses. On the one hand, it is a piece of situational irony for Myshkin to think Rogozhin is his brother right before Rogozhin stabs him. But on the other hand, he is in a higher state of consciousness in which time, as well as contradictions, ceases to exist. And the prince is also experiencing suspicious thoughts about Rogozhin. In some part of his mind he understands that Rogozhin is his enemy. Right before his fit, Myshkin is wondering why Rogozhin has not noticed that Nastasya is insane and is sure that when he does, compassion will fill his heart. In a heightened spiritual state he feels guilty about "this base foreboding" he has about his "friend." Fortunately, Myshkin's fit saves him from the knife.

Myshkin's illness reopens the doors of friendship with the Epanchin family, who come to see him while he is recovering in Lebedev's dacha. Kolya brings out that Aglaya identifies the prince as the poor knight of the Pushkin poem, but as Dostoevsky biographer Joseph Frank (1918–2003) points out, she misunderstands the prince, as well as the type of Christianity he embodies. For Myshkin, Nastasya is not the symbol of a chosen ideal, but rather a madwoman for whom he is willing to suffer demeaning social consequences if he can only save her from herself.

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