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Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 2 Chapters 9 10 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 2, Chapters 9–10 | Summary



Chapter 9

Ganya addresses Keller, the author of the article, chiding him for playing fast and loose with the facts. Ganya has proof Pavlishchev was out of the country during the time Burdovsky was conceived and born to his legal parents. Further, this rumor of "illegitimacy" is based on Pavlishchev's kind treatment of Mrs. Burdovsky, which is based in his love for her sister, a house serf who died before he could marry her. Pavlishchev took responsibility for Burdovsky's mother from the time she was 10, gave her a dowry, and even supported the young Antip after Mr. Burdovsky died.

Young Mr. Burdovsky, a man of principle, refuses to take money from Prince Myshkin and insists on returning the 250 rubles he sent already. Doktorenko berates Myshkin for offering Burdovsky financial help in a way that forces him to refuse it. When Ganya opens the envelope of money, there are only 100 rubles inside, the rest supposedly spent on Chebarov's expenses. Doktorenko now claims they will all pay Myshkin back, ruble by ruble, and he continues to shout and berate the prince. Everyone is disgusted by Doktorenko's antics, and Mrs. Epanchin gives a thorough tongue-lashing to the nihilists, showering a good deal of her wrath on Ippolit, sick and dying of consumption. She also berates the prince, for forgiving the nihilists and apologizing for making them uncomfortable. She accuses Ippolit of corrupting Kolya but then feels remorse when he begins coughing; she tells him to sit down and take it easy.

Chapter 10

While Ippolit accepts a cup of tea from Lebedev's daughter Vera (in full: Vera Lukyanovna Lebedev), the rascal proudly admits to helping Keller write the hateful editorial against Prince Myshkin. Mrs. Epanchin has turned motherly toward Ippolit, who has overtaxed himself. Ippolit continues to hold forth, and Mrs. Epanchin keeps telling him to go to bed. Evgeny Pavlovich, who is courting Aglaya, accuses Ippolit and his comrades of promoting the right of force: those who are strongest should win. Ippolit has lost interest in a political conversation and has turned to personal melodrama, telling everyone he is not yet 18 but is already a dead man.

As Mrs. Epanchin's party is leaving, a carriage pulls up, and a woman yells to Evgeny, claiming she has persuaded Rogozhin to buy up his promissory notes. Evgeny is mortified and claims he has no idea what she means.


These two chapters, in which four rowdy young men are unmasked and then scolded, is a serious interlude in which the author critiques the Russian nihilists, as well as a comic scene in which Mrs. Epanchin is shown to have a compassionate heart. Translator and critic Richard Pevear explains that the term nihilism first showed up in German philosophy to mean annihilation—for example, Buddhism was considered a nihilistic philosophy because its goal is to annihilate the ego self. Later the French defined nihilism as the rejection of religious or moral principles, and in 1860s Russia nihilism was associated with the young socialists who wanted to destroy the existing social order.

Burdovsky in this scenario is not a real nihilist, since he does not wish to take money from Prince Myshkin once he realizes he has been misled. He lives by a set of moral values, unlike Lebedev's nephew Doktorenko, who believes it is unnecessary to follow society's rules and moral standards, yet hypocritically expects Myshkin to fork over money to Burdovsky, the supposed rightful heir of Pavlishchev. When he learns this is not true, Doktorenko offers no apology for his behavior. Instead, he pretends that the crew will return the missing portion of the 250 rubles Myshkin sent Burdovsky, and which they stole, supposedly for the crooked lawyer's "expenses."

Evgeny Pavlovich, who is courting Aglaya, makes fun of these young men, comparing them to the murderer who killed six people because it was natural for him to do so, according to his defense attorney. Mrs. Epanchin gives the young men a dressing down for demanding money, not asking for it, without showing any gratitude, yet expecting the prince to give them money out of a feeling of loyalty and gratitude toward Pavlishchev who raised him from childhood. She calls Ippolit a "stinker" because he has been schooling Kolya in nihilism and atheism. Yet when Ippolit begins coughing and she sees how sick he is, she immediately relents and acts kindly toward him. Finally, Lebedev adds an additional comic note, bragging about correcting the first half of the hateful newspaper article but disavowing the second "illiterate" half, which he did not look at. Despite the indignation of the Epanchin party, the prince forgives them all, including Ippolit, who says he hates him "more than anything or anything in the world." Before parting, Mrs. Epanchin says, "Thank you, Prince, eccentric friend of our house, for the pleasant evening ... Your heart must surely be glad of your success in hitching us to your foolery."

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