Part IV, Chapters 4–6
Prince Myshkin is a bit late for his appointment with General Ivolgin, who tells the prince nervously that he has broken all relations with Lebedev. The general's reason is that Lebedev told a ridiculous lie that he has a wooden leg because one of his real legs was blown off during the War of 1812. General Ivolgin thinks that Lebedev, in lying so obviously, is hinting at the general's own lying and is therefore being disrespectful to him.
Myshkin tries to convince the general that Lebedev merely meant it as a joke, but the general is not persuaded. General Ivolgin then goes into yet another lie, telling the prince he served as Napoleon's page when the French were in Moscow. Myshkin goes along with the story, thinking he is making the general happy; indeed, the general does leave in high spirits. Later, however, General Ivolgin realizes the prince did not truly believe him, and he feels humiliated. After the fight with Ganya, the general leaves his family. Kolya runs after him and tries to convince him to return. Suddenly, the general begins to continuously repeat a lie from his Napoleonic story like a broken record—he has had a stroke.
It turns out that when Varya told Ganya that the Prince and Aglaya were engaged, she was greatly exaggerating the certainty of the matter. In truth, the Yepanchin sisters merely hinted at the possibility of an engagement. In the Yepanchin household there is no clarity regarding Aglaya's feelings, although everyone believes she is in love with the prince and will be engaged to him soon. Lizaveta Prokofyevna, Madame Yepanchin, is against the marriage with the "sickly idiot," but she does not know really know why she feels this way.
One day, Myshkin calls on Aglaya, but after he beats her in a card game, she mocks him and he leaves. In tears, she sends the prince a hedgehog that she buys from Kolya. The prince understands the animal as a sign of peace and he is ecstatic with joy. That same evening he calls on Aglaya again. In front of the rest of her family, she asks Myshkin if he is asking her to marry him. He replies that he loves her very much and that he is indeed proposing. She then continues to ask about his fortune and career plans. Her sisters start laughing and she joins them. The prince is saddened because it appears to him that she is mocking him again. Aglaya runs out and cries. The family is convinced that she does in fact love the prince, but when they reenter the drawing room, she is in the midst of apologizing to Myshkin yet telling him there can be no hope of a marriage between them. For several days after, the same episode is replayed again and again: Aglaya quarrels with and insults the prince and then asks for his forgiveness.
Myshkin briefly encounters Hippolite, who has just left Ptitsyn's house. The prince tells the boy that the most virtuous way he can die is with forgiveness of others' happiness.
WE learn that Varya was correct in telling her brother about a dinner party at the Yepanchins, which is to feature Princess Belokonskaya and other high-society friends and benefactors of the family. The Yepanchins, including Aglaya, are worried about the impression Myshkin will make at the event. The prince feels this worry and it makes him very nervous.
When Myshkin goes home, Lebedev visits and tells him that it is he who has been sending Madame Yepanchin anonymous letters informing her of Nastassya Filippovna's doings. Lebedev's most recent correspondence with Madame Yepanchin was been a letter from Aglaya to Ganya, which Aglaya sent via Vera, Lebedev's daughter. Madame Yepanchin threw Lebedev out. Myshkin sends the note to Ganya, its intended recipient, through Kolya.
The prince goes to the Yepanchins' that evening. He speaks little and makes a very pleasant impression upon the guests. Although the guests are nothing but a group of arrogant, affected people who think they are making the Yepanchins a great honor by associating with them, Myshkin believes he is in the company of the warmest of people in the world, who are all intimate friends with each other and with the Yepanchins.
General Ivolgin is among the many characters in the novel on the verge of utter personal ruin; he is also among many who come to Myshkin in search of consolation or assistance in saving themselves from destruction. The general is among the first of such characters whom the prince is unable to save. General Ivolgin is on the road to ruin from the beginning pages of The Idiot: we see immediately that he is a drunkard and a liar, disrespected or pitied by those around him. By the end of the novel, he has sunk to a new low—theft. Although he returns the money he initially steals from Lebedev, it seems this event has a profound effect upon him, completely destroying whatever traces of self-respect he had left. General Ivolgin stops drinking and breaks relations with Lebedev, and then he leaves home. Kolya notices that the general has not been acting like himself, but he attributes the change to the fact that the general has not been drinking for a week. In a very nervous and agitated state, General Ivolgin goes to Myshkin and requests an hour of the prince's uninterrupted time. The fact that the general requests a separate apointment rather than speaking about the matter bothering him right away already speaks to the gravity of the matter. It seems that the general's visit to Myshkin is a sort of desperate cry for help.
The prince proves unable to help. To begin with, he is late for the appointment with the general. Unwittingly, Myshkin starts out on the wrong foot, not responding with an adequate amount of respect for the general's problems. The prince is genuinely concerned about the general, however, and tries to help him. Therefore, when General Ivolgin begins yet another fabricated story about how he was once Napoleon's page, Myshkin not only acts as if he fully believes what he is being told, he even encourages the general's lie. Although the general feels ecstatic during their conversation and leaves in the highest of spirits, later he realizes that Myshkin doubted his story and was only trying to make him feel better. The prince's complacency becomes yet another wound to the general's self-respect. Although Myshkin has the best of intentions in going along with General Ivolgin's lie about Napoleon, his doing so perhaps leads to the general's breakdown and stroke.
The prince's relationship with Aglaya continues to be very turbulent and unclear. She seems to be in love with him, but then insults him and tells him that she will never marry him. In short, Aglaya continues to act like a spoiled, immature child: she either cannot identify her true feelings, refuses to acknowledge them, or simply does not act in accordance with them. Myshkin, however, is clearly blindly in love with Aglaya; he appears to be oblivious to her indecisiveness and is incapable of getting angry or upset with her. All Myshkin cares about is seeing and being with Aglaya. As soon as she makes up with him after insulting him, he is once again reinstated in his state of bliss.
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