Literature Study GuidesThe IdiotPart 4 Chapters 7 8 Summary

The Idiot | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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The Idiot | Part 4, Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

At one point the conversation touches on the prince's guardian and mentor, Pavlishchev, whom one of the guests says embraced Catholicism shortly before he died. This greatly upsets Prince Myshkin, and he launches into an attack on Catholicism as an "unchristian faith ... worse than atheism itself." In his view Catholicism distorts Christ because the Catholic Church is based on secular state power and is a continuation of the Western Roman empire. Socialism is a product of Catholicism, he says, since socialists attempt to replace the lost moral force of religion and aims to save people, not through Christ, but through violence. The world can be saved only through the Russian Christ. People try to calm Myshkin down, but he begins gesticulating and ends up breaking the Chinese vase. The prince takes the kindness of the guests, who are only being socially polite, for ideal Russian Christianity. He finishes by speaking about the beauty of the world and how it inspires happiness. Finally, he falls down in an epileptic fit.

Chapter 8

Prince Myshkin's seizure is mild, and he is mostly back to normal the next day. The Epanchins visit, and later Ippolit, who tells the prince Aglaya has met with the Ivolgin siblings and dismissed them for good. Ippolit also tells him Aglaya has called Nastasya Filippovna back to town and arranged a meeting. That evening Aglaya stops at the prince's dacha (summer house) so he can escort her to this meeting at Darya Alexeevna's dacha.

Aglaya berates Nastasya for writing letters and interfering in her relationship with the prince. She also criticizes Nastasya for not dropping Totsky sooner. Instead of going off with Rogozhin, she should have become a chambermaid or taken up some other kind of work. Nastasya retorts that Aglaya has come only because she wants to find out whom Myshkin loves more. Nastasya threatens to re-order Myshkin to marry her, as he had originally promised. The prince now looks at Aglaya, and he reproaches her by saying, while pointing to Nastasya, "It's not possible! She's ... so unhappy!" Aglaya rushes out of the room, and Myshkin starts to follow her, but then Nastasya faints. Thus, he picks her up and puts her on the armchair. When she comes around, Nastasya throws Rogozhin out, and Myshkin comforts her through her hysterics, petting her cheeks.

Analysis

In Book 4, Chapter 7 Prince Myshkin reflects Dostoevsky's own views about the Catholic Church versus the Orthodox churches. Myshkin attacks the Catholic Church because of its history of involvement with politics and its active involvement in temporal affairs. For hundreds of years the Catholic Church was the major power structure in Western Europe, and even kings had to submit to the authority of the pope. The schism between the Eastern and Western church occurred in 1054, and in Myshkin's view Western Christianity distorts the true face of Christ. The Russian Christ to which Myshkin refers is a figure of beauty and humility and infinite forgiveness. Jesus humbled himself by taking human form and willingly submitting to torture and dishonor to redeem man. This vision of Christ is the only one that can save Russia, in Myshkin's view, and he himself is an embodiment of the Russian Christ. The prince also willingly humbles himself before others and takes it as his mission to alleviate the suffering of fellow humans with his practice of compassion.

The fact that Myshkin has made a spectacle of himself before the society people is not a deal-breaker for Aglaya. But she is at the end of her rope with regard to Nastasya Filippovna, which is why she takes the prince along to confront her. Aglaya wants the prince to make an unambiguous choice—of herself over Nastasya. Because Nastasya has been tormenting her with letters, Aglaya also wishes to get some revenge, which is why she rubs metaphorical salt in Nastasya's wounds—faulting her for not leaving Totsky and for taking his money rather than hire herself out as a washerwoman. Clearly, Aglaya has little empathy, otherwise she would never have made such statements.

But now Nastasya plays the wild card in retaliation, threatening to hold onto the prince. By fainting she forces Myshkin to make a choice. He cannot abandon Nastasya in her desperate state, so he has no choice but to humiliate Aglaya, the woman he is in love with. Some critics have pointed out that it is doubtful whether Myshkin is even capable of sexual love, but clearly, at this crucial junction he chooses agape over eros. Eros is personal, sexual, devoted to one person to the exclusion of others, while agape is charity, or the kind of love that God has for human beings and they for God. Agape is unconditional love that is not dependent on time or circumstance.

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