When General Yepanchin first meets Prince Myshkin, he is convinced that the prince wants something from him. Myshkin continuously reassures the general that his only intention in coming is to make the acquaintance of the general and Madame Yepanchin, the prince's only relative in St. Petersburg. Myshkin's frankness and friendliness finally convince the General, who becomes more pleasant. The prince then tells Yepanchin and Ganya (who is also in the room at this point) how Mr. Pavlishev and then Dr. Schneider supported him for two years. Myshkin says he was sent to the clinic in Switzerland to cure him of his "idiocy."

The general asks the prince if he is skilled for any sort of administrative post. Although Myshkin says his education was irregular and that he does not really have any skills, he soon reveals a gift for excellent handwriting when he writes a phrase—"Zeal overcomes all"—in beautiful calligraphy. Yepanchin is very impressed with the handwriting and offers Myshkin a moderate position. He also suggests that the prince rent one of the rooms in Ganya's apartment.

Meanwhile, Ganya takes out a photograph of Nastassya Filippovna and shows it to the general. As Myshkin is writing, he witnesses a rather personal conversation between Yepanchin and Ganya. The former says that Nastassya Filippovna has promised finally to announce whether or not she will marry Ganya on the day of her twenty-fifth birthday, at this evening's party. Ganya seems a bit hesitant about the approaching decision, but the general tells him that he should be thrilled if she decides to marry him. Apparently, Ganya's family, particularly his mother and sister, are fervently opposed to the marriage due to the fact that Nastassya Filippovna is a "fallen woman"—she lost her virginity prior to marriage and lived with Totsky.

Myshkin suddenly notices the photograph of Nastassya Filippovna and remarks on her extraordinary beauty. Yepanchin and Ganya are surprised to hear that Myshkin has already heard about her from Rogozhin. Ganya's reaction to the prince's story of Rogozhin and his plans for Nastassya Filippovna appears mixed. Upon seeing the picture of Nastassya Filippovna once again, the prince marvels at her beauty and suggests that she has suffered very much. To Ganya's question of whether Rogozhin will marry her, Myshkin replies that Rogozhin will certainly marry her but may kill her several weeks afterward.

Their conversation is interrupted by an invitation for Myshkin to see the general's wife. The Yepanchins' three daughters have long been ready for marriage, but the General and his wife long ago decided not to push their daughters into marriages that they did not desire themselves. However, as the eldest, Alexandra, has already reached the age of twenty-five, it is certainly time to get her married.

Afanassy Totsky, a friend of the general and a very wealthy aristocrat, announced his desire to marry around the same time. Although the Yepanchins' prettiest daughter is Aglaya, Totsky could not hope to getting her, so there has been talk of him marrying Alexandra.