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Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 4 Chapters 11 12 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 4, Chapters 11–12 | Summary



Chapter 11

The next day Prince Myshkin goes to Petersburg and shows up at Rogozhin's house, but the servants tell him the couple is not there. Myshkin has booked the same hotel where he stayed previously, and when he goes out walking Rogozhin finds him and takes him back to his house. When they get there, Rogozhin shows him the body of Nastasya Filippovna, whom he has stabbed to death. He has covered her with an oilcloth and then a sheet and put out uncorked bottles of liquid to mask the smell of the corpse. Myshkin sits up all night with Rogozhin, patting his head and stroking his cheeks as he fitfully dozes. When the police break in, Rogozhin is delirious and unconscious, and Myshkin himself has reverted to the state he was in before he went to Switzerland.

Chapter 12 (Conclusion)

People worried about Prince Myshkin and Nastasya Filippovna had called the authorities, which is why the police break into Rogozhin's house after talking to the caretaker. Rogozhin suffers from brain fever but recovers and gives evidence against himself at trial and is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Siberia. Ippolit dies two weeks after Nastasya Filippovna. Evgeny Pavlovich is instrumental in returning Myshkin to Professor Schneider's clinic in Switzerland and visits his sick friend every few months. Schneider does not have much hope for the recovery of the catatonic prince. Evgeny, who is living in Europe, keeps Kolya informed about the prince, as well as Vera, with whom he develops an intimate correspondence. Aglaya marries a fake Polish count against the wishes of her parents and becomes estranged from her family. Mrs. Epanchin visits the prince with Adelaida and Prince Shch. and Alexandra. She weeps when she sees the sick prince, telling Evgeny that Russians abroad are a fantasy, but at least she's had a good Russian cry over the poor prince.


While Dostoevsky's novels are known to be dark and brooding, The Idiot is perhaps his darkest and most tragic novel, with no window on transcendence. Critic and translator Richard Pevear says this novel, which was supposed to be "filled with light ... ends in deeper darkness than any of Dostoevsky's other works." One of the central themes of the novel is the incompatibility of eros (sexual love) and agape (unconditional love). Myshkin does not accept that Aglaya's need for an exclusive love necessarily excludes his ability to continue loving Nastasya. At the same time Nastasya's feelings for Myshkin cannot be satisfied by his pity. Connected with this conundrum is the central symbol of this work, the dead Christ who is all too human. Myshkin is a Christlike figure who has Christ's humility and compassion but not his divinity. The novel raises the question of whether such a figure can be a savior, and the answer seems to be a resounding "No." Myshkin saves no one in the novel and is perhaps responsible in part for the death of Nastasya and the destruction of Aglaya, not to mention his own descent into idiocy and silence. There is something inhuman in his compassion, which Aglaya points to in Part 3, Chapter 8, when she says he has "no tenderness, only truth."

Literary critic Alexander Spektor points out that any character's attempt in the novel to impose meaning through discourse always ends in violence, and this is true for Prince Myshkin as well. The prince ruins both women in his life because of an untenable Christian vision and idea of justice that cannot possibly operate successfully in the material world. Further, his participation in the novel is an oxymoron because, although he is ethically pure, any voice at all in Dostoevsky's moral universe is "an emblem and a product of the fall." Perhaps the final message of the novel, then, is that a perfectly beautiful human being in a fallen world has no ability to make things significantly better. Rather, only through a belief in the redemptive power of the Russian Christ can a path open toward transcendence.

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