Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 4 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 4, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Ganya still has the hope he might win back Aglaya, and his sister Varya had discreetly been doing her part to reunite the couple. But now she tells her brother that Prince Myshkin and Aglaya are engaged. Ganya is unhappy about this and blames his disgraceful family for his inability to kindle Aglaya's interest. Most recently, the theft of the 400 rubles by General Ivolgin has become common knowledge. But Varya says Ganya doesn't understand Aglaya at all. He is too conventional for Aglaya and has "a mean little soul."

Ganya tells Varya how Ippolit is now living with the Ivolgins and spreading gossip, even telling Nina Alexandrovna that he stole the money to give to his mother, Nina's husband's former mistress. Just then, a number of people burst in: Ptitsyn, General Ivolgin, Nina Alexandrovna, Kolya, and Ippolit.

Chapter 2

General Ivolgin is in a state because Ippolit is tormenting him and has called him a liar who makes up stories. Since no one will defend the general, he storms out of the house. Ganya and Ippolit now begin fighting, and Ganya yells at him for spreading stories about the theft, which was little more than a drunken incident. He calls Ippolit trash and brings up his failed suicide. Ippolit says he will leave the house and tells Ganya he hates him because he is "the personification ... of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and vile ordinariness." After he leaves Ganya shows his sister a note, in which Aglaya asks him to meet her at the green bench in the morning and to bring Varya along.

Analysis

Despite her previous disagreements with her brother Ganya, Varya makes it her mission to do what she can to get her mercenary brother and Aglaya together, which is why she invests so much time in her friendship with the Epanchin sisters. But Mrs. Epanchin realized what she was up to and discreetly barred her from the house in Part 2, Chapter 12. Therefore, the information Varya gives to her brother about the engagement is largely supposition. Nonetheless, Varya understands something about Aglaya's personality: her romantic and idealistic nature is drawn to the prince. Ganya doesn't have an iota of romance, virtue, or whimsy in his personality, so it is no wonder Aglaya is not interested in him. But Ganya, rather than take responsibility for his "mean little soul," rationalizes that Aglaya's rejection of him is a response to the bad qualities possessed by his family.

When Ganya shows his sister the letter from Aglaya, which asks for a meeting, they are both foolishly optimistic, thinking he still has some chance as a suitor, despite so much evidence to the contrary. Ippolit is right to say Ganya is quite ordinary and self-satisfied, and he does not have the self-awareness or humility necessary to know where he stands with people. Although Varya is more practical than her brother (she was astute enough to marry a prosperous money lender), both siblings overestimate their value to other people as well as their own good qualities, although Ganya has a better understanding of his mediocrity than does his sister. Both siblings are like their father in that they have no shame about chasing after money and even manipulating other people to get it.

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