Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 3 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 3, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Although the Epanchin family is respected and respectable, they are also eccentric. Mrs. Epanchin fears her own eccentricity, as well her daughters', might be hindering their marital prospects. She is most worried about Aglaya, capricious and uncontrollable.

Mrs. Epanchin is mulling over these thoughts during a gathering at her house, in which the conversation turns to politics. Evgeny Pavlovich is attacking Russian liberalism, which he says is an attack on Russia itself. Prince Myshkin agrees with him, saying some of these liberals have no conscience. Evgeny challenges the prince, however, for not recognizing that Ippolit and the rest who came to the dacha have the same "perversion of ideas and moral convictions." Kolya lets out that the prince has invited Ippolit to move to the dacha so he can see the trees and that the boy is grateful. Evgeny begins making fun of Ippolit, and the prince says it doesn't matter if he can't forgive him. When Evgeny says he forgives him, the prince responds that he ought to also accept Ippolit's forgiveness.

Chapter 2

Prince Myshkin apologizes for what he has said. He has a hard time expressing lofty thoughts, which he ought to keep quiet about. These words enrage Aglaya. "No one here is worth your little finger, or your intelligence, or your heart," she says. Kolya begins teasing her about "the poor knight," and she blurts out she would not marry such a ridiculous man as the prince, to which he answers he never asked her and had no thought to do so. Aglaya becomes very merry and asks him to escort her to the vauxhall (public gardens) with the rest of the young people.

While they are chit-chatting and waiting for the music to begin, Nastasya Filippovna appears with her entourage and confronts Evgeny Pavlovich, ruthlessly informing him that his uncle shot himself that morning after embezzling government funds. In a state of shock, Evgeny says nothing, but his indignant friend says Nastasya ought to be whipped. In response she snatches another man's riding crop and hits the friend hard across the face. He rushes to strike her, but Myshkin seizes his arms and stops him.

Analysis

A critique of nihilism continues in these two chapters, beginning with Evgeny Pavlovich's criticism of liberalism. After spending 10 years in Siberia as a result of his own radical activity, Dostoevsky became a reactionary who lumped liberals, socialists, and atheists together, as enemies of the Christian community and the Russian Orthodox religion. Thus, Evgeny's position on liberals is similar to the author's. Evgeny calls the Russian liberal a "non-Russian liberal," who attacks the "very essence" of Russia and "hates and beats his own mother." (Russians often refer to Russia as "Mother Russia.")

An important backdrop to the political ideas in the novel is the shocking case of the tutor who murdered six people, first mentioned by Evgeny in Part 2, Chapter 10. Dostoevsky had read about this case in the newspapers from home (he wrote The Idiot while he was abroad), in which a teenage tutor from a noble family killed his 11-year-old student along with five members of the boy's household. Evgeny again brings up the defense attorney, who said that since the boy was destitute, it had "naturally [occurred] to him to kill those six people." The lawyer likely thought that his perverse notion was "the most liberal, the most humane and progressive thing that could possibly be said in our time," Evgeny says. And since Myshkin readily agrees with Evgeny, he again scolds the prince for not taking Ippolit and his friends to task, since they have similar ideas.

But the prince is operating on a level higher than politics, which is why he meekly chastises Evgeny: not only should Evgeny forgive Ippolit, but he should also accept Ippolit's forgiveness. Myshkin means that since Ippolit is dying, he needs to forgive the people who can still enjoy life. In accepting Ippolit's forgiveness Evgeny would acknowledge the sorrow of the boy—not even a man yet—as he faces his premature death. This depth of compassion is something beyond the understanding of either Evgeny or Prince Shch., which is why Myshkin asks for forgiveness of them. He knows they don't understand, and he is sorry he has made them feel uncomfortable.

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