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The Idiot

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part II, Chapters 1–2

Part I, Chapters 15–16

Part II, Chapters 3–5

Summary

Part II begins six months after Nastassya Filippovna's party. Two days after that November evening, Prince Myshkin left St. Petersburg for Moscow. According to some rumors, he claimed his inheritance, which turned out to be smaller than initially expected. Furthermore, the inheritance shrank considerably because a large number of creditors suddenly appeared, and the prince satisfied all their claims.

Nastassya Filippovna and Rogozhin left that night for Yekaterinhof, but after a weeklong orgy there with Rogozhin and his company, Nastassya Filippovna ran away to Moscow. Rogozhin soon left for Moscow as well. Ganya fell ill after the party; when he was given the package with the money that Nastassya Filippovna left for him, he asked Myshkin to return the money to her. When the prince left, he and Ganya parted as friends.

The Yepanchins heard news of Myshkin through rumors and letters of the old Princess Belokonskaya, who wrote to Madame Yepanchin. The prince had obviously left quite an impression on the Yepanchin household, but General Yepanchin's wife refused to mention Myshkin's name before Belokonskaya's letters gave reason to once again speak of him. The Yepanchins also learned that Rogozhin found Nastassya Filippovna in Moscow. She ran off again, but came back and promised to marry him. Then she suddenly ran off for a third time, just before the wedding.

The Yepanchins made plans to spend the summer abroad; Alexandra's engagement to Totsky never finalized. However, the plans for a trip abroad were thwarted by the appearance of a certain Prince S., who became interested in Adelaida. The wedding was set for next spring. Meanwhile, a dashing twenty-eight-year-old named Yevgeny Pavlovich Radomsky began to show interest in Aglaya, which further postponed the trip abroad.

As for the Ivolgins, a lot changed in their household in these six months. Varya married Ptitsyn. Nina Alexandrovna and Ganya moved to Ptitsyn's house with Varya. General Ivolgin was put in debtor's prison, largely due to the efforts of his mistress, the widow of Captain Terentyev. Nina Alexandrovna secretly visited him in prison. Kolya became friends with the Yepanchins, and the only member of that family who did not like him was Aglaya. One day Kolya brought Aglaya a letter from Myshkin in which the prince merely asked her how she was doing and said he wished for her happiness. The Yepanchins left for their summer residence in Pavlovsk, a small town near St. Petersburg.

After his six-month absence, Myshkin comes into the train station in St. Petersburg. He feels a pair of eyes watching him, but he cannot recognize their owner. After checking in at a hotel, the prince goes to the house of Lebedev to try to find out Nastassya Filippovna's whereabouts. Lebedev and his children are in mourning because Lebedev's wife has recently died in childbirth. Myshkin meets Lebedev's nephew, whom he does not like for some reason. Lebedev chatters on about his reading and praying, such as his prayers for Madame du Barry, a mistress of Louis XV who has been guillotined. Lebedev's nephew tells the prince that Lebedev frequently tells lies, simply from habit.

When Myshkin and Lebedev are left alone, the prince says he has come in response to Lebedev's recent letter. Myshkin then asks about Nastassya Filippovna. Lebedev says that she left Rogozhin before their wedding in Moscow and came to St. Petersburg. Lebedev adds that she is afraid of Rogozhin, but that she is even more afraid of Myshkin. Lebedev suggests that the prince spend some time to the country, and he offers to lodge him in his house.

Analysis

The style of the beginning of Part II contrasts sharply with the end of Part I. The tone of Chapter 1 is very nonchalant and removed from the events that take place in the lives of the characters. Whereas at the end of Part I we feel ourselves right in the middle of the dramatic intensity of the novel, in the beginning of Part II the plot seems very far away. The narrator himself is not sure of everything that has happened; he has to reconstruct the story by piecing together rumors and letters, such as the letter from Princess Belokonskaya to Madame Yepanchin. Therefore, we are given only a patchwork, reconstructed account of what has happened to the characters during the last six months.

Chapter 1 centers on the Yepanchin household and the changes that have taken place in it, foreshadowing the growing importance of the Yepanchin women in the plot. Both Adelaida and Aglaya have new fiancés: Prince S. and Yevgeny Radomsky, respectively. Prince S. is described as a man with many great qualities, very hardworking and with a thorough understanding of contemporary events. He is introduced as a rather practical man who has served in the government and in the rural administration. Aglaya also has a new fiancé in Yevgeny Radomsky, another virtually perfect young man whose only flaw may be his rumored female conquests. We learn that the Ivolgins have moved into Ptitsyn's house and that both Varya and Kolya have established friendships with the Yepanchins. Finally, we learn what has become of Myshkin and Nastassya Filippovna. Though the prince is busy following her, he takes time to write a rather strange note to Aglaya, which Kolya delivers. In the note Myshkin expresses a need that he has for Aglaya, and he asks her if she is happy. Aglaya places the note in a book, which she later notices to be Don Quixote. She laughs when she realizes which novel it is, perhaps thinking about how similar the hero of the novel and the writer of the note are.

The narrative picks up in the present when Myshkin arrives at the train station in St. Petersburg—a parallel scene to the beginning of the novel. The contrast between his first and second arrivals into the city highlight the changes that have taken place in him and his life. His clothes are, though more expensive, still rather inappropriate and strange; this time, however, the clothes are strange not in that they are foreign but in that they are too fashionable for him. Another difference is that Myshkin arrives alone, yet feels a pair of burning eyes watching him as he descends from the train.

The house of Lebedev presents a range of falsehoods. First, Lebedev comes to meet Myshkin in an old coat even though he has a brand-new coat to wear—an attempt to unmistakably demonstrate his poverty. Second, Lebedev tells the prince several falsehoods. Lebedev's nephew warns Myshkin that Lebedev always performs and frequently lies. Ironically, Lebedev professes to be quite religious. He frequently reads the Bible and prays, even for the soul of Madame du Barry, a high-class prostitute who became the mistress of Louis XV. Before she was guillotined, she begged for one last moment of life. Madame du Barry is another example—along with Marie and Nastassya Filippovna—of a fallen woman who is driven to destruction.

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