Part One, Chapter Four
by Dennis Abrams
The daughters of General Epanchin, “were healthy young ladies, tall, blossoming, with astonishing shoulders, powerful bosoms, strong, almost masculine arms, and of course, owing to their strength and healthy, they liked to eat well on occasion, something they had no wish to conceal.” Their mother Lizaveta Prokofyevna, her capriciousness and impatience, and her “submissive and well-trained husband.” 12:30 family lunch: “…tea, coffee, cheese, honey, butter, the special pancakes the lady herself was particularly fond of, the cutlets, and so on, they were even served a strong, hot bouillon.” The General’s wariness on having lunch with is wife that particular due to a certain ‘anecdote.’ A flashback from the narrator: “Perhaps we will do no great harm to the vividness of our narrative if we stop here and resort to the aid of a few clarifications in order to establish directly and more precisely the relations and circumstances in which we find General Epanchin’s family at the beginning of our story.” The general, a “self-taught” man…”an experienced husband and adroit father…had adopted a system of not rushing his daughters into marriage…” But the oldest daughter Alexandra “had “suddenly and almost quite unexpectedly (as always happens) turned twenty-five,” and at the same time fifty-five year old “Afansy Ivanovich Totsky, a man of high society, with high connections and extraordinary wealth, again showed his old desire to marry.” Alexandra, “would perhaps not decline…she was a kind, reasonable girl and extremely easy to get along with; she might even marry Totsky willingly…” Totsky’s particular circumstances: The death of a petty landowner of good family, Filipp Alexandrovich leaves Totsky to take charge of his daughter, Nastya. As Nastya grows into a beauty, Totsky arranges for her education, then sets her up on a small estate “and the little village, as if on purpose, was called ‘Delight.'” After several years, rumors reach Nastasya Filippovna that in Petersburg, Totsky is planning to marry, and with that, “she left her little country home and suddenly went to Petersburg, straight to Totsky, all on her own.” A changed woman, she tells him that “she had never felt anything in her heart for him except for the deepest contempt to the point of nausea…[and] she had come to prevent this marriage of his, and to prevent it out of spite, solely because she wanted it that way, and consequently it must be that way…” Nastasya remains in Petersburg, and although she had no real power over Totsky, because of his “cowardice” he lived in terror of her, “Afanasy Ivanovich humbled himself and yielded to Nastasya Filippovna.” Totsky’s fear of Nastasya Filippovna. The stone in place of Nastasya’s heart. So, in order to free Totsky to marry his daughter, Epanchin hopes to encourage Nastasya to release him by marrying Gavrila Ardalionovich (and accepting seventy-five thousand roubles, “not as payment for her maidenly dishonor, for which she was not to blame, but simply as a recompense for her maimed life.” Will she marry him? Will Ganya’s family approve? Ganya worries that Nastasya heard that he “was marrying only for money, that Ganya’s soul was dark, greedy, impatient, envious, and boundlessly vain, out of all proportion to anything; that, although Ganya had indeed tried passionately to win Nastasya Filippovna over before, now that the two friends had decided to exploit that passion, which had begun to be mutual, for their own advantage, and to buy Ganya by selling him Nastasya Filippovna as a lawful wife, he had begun to hate her like his own nightmare.” General Ivan Fyodorovich Epanchin’s growing passion for Nastasya, “it was known that for [her] birthday the general had prepared his own present of an astonishing string of pearls, which had cost an enormous sum..” Word of the pearls had reached Elizaveta Prokofyevna. Prince Myshkin is a timely distraction.
So, now we know what exactly was going on with Ganya, Epanchin and Nastasya. What do you think was gained by the shift in narrative structure that Dostoevsky used to tell the story? And why do I think Nastasya is going to be trouble throughout the book? And why do I suspect she’s going to be one of my favorite characters?
Part One, Chapter Five