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The Idiot

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Part II, Chapters 3–5

Part II, Chapters 1–2

Part II, Chapters 6–9

Summary

After leaving Lebedev's house, Prince Myshkin goes to visit Rogozhin, whose house he very dark and dismal. Rogozhin opens the door and invites the prince inside. After remarking how similar the dark house is to Rogozhin's lifestyle, Myshkin tells him that he does not intend to interfere with his relationship with Nastassya Filippovna. If she decides to run from Rogozhin herself—which is what happened in Moscow—Myshkin will take her in. The prince does not hide his opinion that a marriage between Rogozhin and Nastassya Filippovna would result in mutual destruction. Myshkin loves her with pity and is also fond of Rogozhin himself.

Rogozhin tells Myshkin that Nastassya Filippovna has cheated on him; for this, he once beat her severely. Afterward, he refused to eat or drink until she forgave him. The prince tells Rogozhin that Rogozhin's love for Nastassya Filippovna is very close to hatred and that if the two ever got married, he would not forgive her for all the suffering she has caused him. Hence, Myshkin says he cannot understand why she is marrying Rogozhin. Rogozhin responds that she is doing so precisely because she knows that he will most likely kill her; she is really in love with Myshkin, but she feels she cannot marry him because she does not want to ruin his life.

Before Myshkin leaves, he notices a large garden knife hidden inside one of Rogozhin's books. As Rogozhin escorts the prince out, they pass by a painting by Holbein, of a Christ who has just been taken off the cross. Myshkin cannot help but stare at this painting for a long time; Rogozhin asks him if he believes in God. In response, the prince tells four stories, the fourth of which explains the essence of religion as he understands it. The story is of a young mother delighting in her newborn. The prince thinks that God feels joy in his creation much as the mother feels joy in her child. Myshkin and Rogozhin then exchange crosses, and Rogozhin takes the prince to his mother, who blesses the prince.

After Myshkin leaves Rogozhin's house, he goes to visit the Yepanchins. Not finding them at home, he leaves his card. He then decides to go to Kolya's hotel, but the boy is not there. After waiting for Kolya for several hours, Myshkin goes wandering about the city. He buys a train ticket to Pavlovsk to see Aglaya, but then suddenly changes his mind and leaves the train station. He is in a state of great agitation and emotional anxiety. His mind wanders from subject to subject. He thinks of what his epileptic fits are like. He describes them as a momentary glimpse of utter clarity before his mind is plunged into darkness.

Myshkin is then overcome with a desire to see Nastassya Filippovna. Acting contrary to what he promised Rogozhin, he goes to the house where she was staying in St. Petersburg. She is not at home, so the prince leaves his name with the maid who opens the door. As he starts walking back, he notices Rogozhin on the other side of the road, but pretends not to see him. Myshkin returns to the hotel, increasingly closer to experiencing a fit of epilepsy.

As the prince mounts the stairs, he sees Rogozhin, who is about to stab him. At that instant, however, Myshkin's body contorts as he finally experiences an epileptic attack. Rogozhin runs, and the prince falls down the stairs. Luckily, Kolya received the note Myshkin left him, and the boy comes to the hotel. Kolya recognizes the prince and makes sure he is taken to his room, where a doctor soon arrives to see him. Myshkin and Kolya then go to Lebedev's house. In three days, all of them are in Pavlovsk.

Analysis

The visit to Rogozhin's house further characterizes Rogozhin, explains his relationship with Nastassya Filippovna, and develops his relationship between the prince. Rogozhin's house mirrors its owner and his lifestyle. It is dark and dismal, and the windows have iron bars. The house is painted a dirty green color, while the walls inside are red. Indeed, dirt is frequently associated with Rogozhin, while red is the color of blood—a foreshadowing of Rogozhin's violence. Red is also present in Rogozhin's study: his bed is covered by a red morocco. On the whole, everything about Rogozhin's house is dark, heavy, and stifling. Analogously, his lifestyle is characterized by associating with crooks and drunks. His love for Nastassya Filippovna is a violent passion through which he wishes to possess her. In this respect, it is just as stifling as the iron bars on the windows. Myshkin is perceptive, noting the similarity between the house and its owner; he remarks that this is exactly what Rogozhin's house should be like and that this is how he imagined it.

The conversation between Rogozhin and Myshkin's develops the contrast between their respective loves for Nastassya Filippovna. While Rogozhin's love is passion and destruction, the prince's love is pity and compassion. Myshkin is afraid that if Rogozhin and Nastassya Filippovna ever got married, Rogozhin would kill her; he already beat her once. After all the suffering she has caused him, he will not forgive her. Rogozhin's love is almost like hatred—and he himself does not deny this characterization of his affection. Indeed, he goes so far as to reply that it is precisely because his love is destructive that Nastassya Filippovna wishes to marry him. Although she loves the Prince, she does not think that she deserves him nor does she want to ruin his life by a marriage with a "fallen woman." In addition, because she realizes that marrying Rogozhin is equivalent to suicide, she can never go through with it. She runs to the prince just before the wedding, but then returns to Rogozhin later. Much like Madame du Barry from the previous chapter, who begs for one last moment before being guillotined, Nastassya Filippovna asks for one last moment of life when she runs away from Rogozhin to the Prince.

Despite their many differences, Myshkin and Rogozhin feel a sort of affinity towards one another. Rogozhin admits that when they are not together, he begins hating the prince, but as soon as they are together, the hatred disappears. Much like Nastassya Filippovna, who seeks salvation from destruction by going to the prince, Rogozhin wishes the prince could save him from destructiveness. He exchanges crosses with Myshkin and even takes him to his mother. However, once the prince leaves and Rogozhin sees him near Nastassya Filippovna's house, he goes to the hotel with the intention of killing the prince. Ultimately, we see that Myshkin's goodness is unable to save Rogozhin from committing a sin.

The prince's timely epileptic fit prevents the murder. Chapter 5 is the first time in the novel when Myshkin describes his illness and then suffers an actual fit. He says that an attack is characterized by a momentary feeling of complete clarity of mind and an almost sublime understanding of life and its purpose. This moment is quickly followed by utter darkness. Before his fit, Myshkin wanders about the city. Mirroring his physical wandering, his mind wanders from subject to subject. The narrative becomes a sort of stream of consciousness for the prince's; we experience his thought process and feelings just before and during the epileptic fit. Because the narrator merges with Myshkin's consciousness, we learn little about the reason for the fit. The prince cannot himself clearly explain it, aside from a few vague remarks about him questioning his blame for the fate of Nastassya Filippovna. As we continue reading the novel, we must attempt to identify the immediate causes of the prince's attacks and the significance of epilepsy for his character.

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