Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 3 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 3, Chapters 3–4 | Summary



Chapter 3

After this incident Aglaya finds Prince Myshkin on the terrace. She attempts to give him pointers about preparing and firing a gun, sure the offended officer, whom Nastasya Filippovna struck, will challenge him to a duel. After she leaves, General Epanchin tells Myshkin it's true Evgeny Pavlovich's uncle embezzled money. Moreover, Aglaya turned down Evgeny's marriage proposal over a month ago. According to Aglaya, Nastasya Filippovna wants her to marry the prince, which is probably the reason Nastasya is making trouble for Evgeny.

When Myshkin leaves, he reads the note Aglaya slipped into his hand when they said good night. It says to meet her in the park the next morning. The prince kisses the note. Now wandering around the park in the dark, Myshkin runs into Rogozhin, who delivers the message that Nastasya wants to see him. Rogozhin also says he is not sorry for raising a knife against the prince, so Myshkin's forgiveness, conveyed in a letter, is misplaced. He observes the prince is in love with Aglaya, but Nastasya is still in love with him. Nastasya says she'll marry Rogozhin only if the prince marries Aglaya, to which the prince miserably answers that she's mad. Myshkin suddenly remembers it's his birthday and asks Rogozhin to come back with him and celebrate.

Chapter 4

When the two men return to Prince Myshkin's dacha, they find a whole crowd of the prince's acquaintances drinking his champagne and celebrating his birthday, of which they have gotten wind from Keller. As usual, the talk turns to philosophy, and Lebedev opines that "the law of self-destruction and the law of self-preservation are equally strong in mankind." He then tells a story about a 12th-century serial killer who ate his victims during a time of famine but then confessed to the clergy, despite the terrible torture he would face. This is because the people of that era had beliefs that bound them together, and the man had remorse, unlike today's criminals.


After Prince Myshkin puts himself in danger by protecting Nastasya Filippovna, Aglaya reveals something of her feelings by attempting to school the prince in the fine points of handling a firearm in the event of a duel. The assignation she sets up the next morning is another clue about Aglaya's feelings, as well as Rogozhin's observation, after listening to him speak about women, that Myshkin has fallen in love with Aglaya. But the prince is still keeping the idea of a love between himself and Aglaya at bay, at least on a conscious level. Nonetheless, he feels elated and wishes Rogozhin to join him in celebrating his birthday, seemingly unconcerned that Rogozhin has just expressed his hatred toward him. Rogozhin's antipathy is understandable, given that Nastasya continues to torture him by making him a messenger to the prince, whom she clearly loves. Nonetheless, she is determined to marry him off to Aglaya so that he will no longer be a temptation for her, although Rogozhin doesn't entirely understand that that is her motive.

The undermining of Russian values by nihilism continues as a thread in Part 3, Chapter 4, when Lebedev tells a story of the 12th-century serial killer who retained some morality, unlike the criminals of Lebedev's day, who are atheists and nihilists. Lebedev is a comic figure but also a philosopher, and Dostoevsky often puts astute psychological observations in his mouth. For example, in Part 3, Chapter 4, he opines that man has an equally strong drive toward self-preservation and self-destruction, an observation that would be elaborated on by Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) in the next century.

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