Part One, Chapter Eight
by Dennis Abrams
Ganechka’s apartment: “…six or seven rooms, large and small…but in any case not at all what the pocket of an official with a family…could afford. But it was intended for keeping tenants with board and service.” Ganya’s unhappiness and shame at the family’s financial situation, his mother and sister’s insistence on renting out rooms. Three rooms for rent — Myshkin in the middle room, Ferdyshchenko on the right, the one on the left still vacant. The family’s living situation: one room for General Ivolgin and the youngest son, 13 year old Kolya, one room for Nina Alexandrovna and Varvava Ardailonovna, and the drawing room by day, Ganya’s study and bedroom at night. Ganya “was the great tyrant of the family.” Mother and daughter in the drawing room, along with a visitor, Ivan Petrovich Ptitsyn. Nina Alexandrovna: “”…a thin, pinched face and a deep darkness under her eyes…she looked sickly…her whole manner betrayed a woman who had seen better society.” Varvaria: “…She resembled her mother very much…firmness and resolution could be seen in her face…was rather hot-tempered; and her brother sometimes even feared that hot-temperedness.” Small talk about Switzerland — Myshkin’s lack of belongings. Ganya reminds Myshkin not to babble. Ferdyshchenko introduces himself, “His face was fleshy and ruddy, his lips thick, his nose broad and flattened, his eyes small, puffy, and jeering, as if constantly winking…His clothes were on the dirty side.” Ferdyshchenko warns Myshkin not to loan him money. “The prince learned later that this gentleman, as if out of duty, had taken upon himself the task of amazing everyone by his originality and merriment, but it somehow never came off.” General Ivolgin “retired and unfortunate” introduces himself. Had Ivoglin been in love with Myshkin’s father? Was he a “true friend” of Myshkin’s father? Was there a trial? “Owing to certain circumstances, we let rooms — an unheard-of-degradation! I, for whom it only remained to become a governor-general!” Nina Alexandrovich: “You’ll have to excuse Ardalion Alexandrovich a great deal if you stay with us…though he won’t bother you very much; and he dines by himself…if my husband ever addresses you concerning the payment of the rent, tell him you’ve given it to me.” Mother and daughter discuss the decision that will be made that night regarding Ganya’s proposed marriage to Nastasya Filippovna. Ganya blames Myshkin for his family’s knowledge that the decision will be made that night — Ptitsyn jumps in, “I’m to blame here, Ganya, and nobody else.” Nina Alexandrovna announces she’s “resigned” to the wedding, Varya, not so much. Myshkin leaves the room and, hearing the doorbell try to ring, goes to answer it. It’s Nastasya Filipovna, who, thinking Myshkin is the butler, flings off her coat, and yells at him to go announce her, surprised that he knows who she is. Prince Myshkin announces Nastasya Filippovna.
A few observations:
1. Why does everybody seem so astonished that Myshkin had been in Switzerland of all places?
2. I really liked the introduction of General Ivolgin. Is he drunk? Delusional? What happened that brought him to the condition he’s in, both mental and financial? Did anyone else find him like a character out of Dickens? And wasn’t his whole conversation with Myshkin an exercise in absurdity? It was the Vasilkovsky regiment, no, it was the Belomirsky. His name was Nikolai Petrovich, no, Nikolai Lvovich. My mother died of a chill, no, not of a chill. Brilliant.
3. You think there are going to be continuing problems between Ganya and Myshkin?
4. Does Nastasya Filippovna know how to make a theatrical entrance or what?
5. And once again…money and the lack of it…
And finally, a bit more from Joseph Frank:
“The world into which the Prince is plunged upon his unexpected arrival in St. Petersburg is locked in the grip of conflicting egoisms, a world in which the desire for wealth and social advantage, for sexual satisfaction, for power over others, dominates and sweeps away all other humane feelings. All these motives are given full play in the intrigue, which in Part I revolves around the drama of Nastasya Filippovna (who, in retrospect, will survive as Dostoevsky’s major female protagonist) and her…entanglement with Prince Myshkin.
Her appearance has been preceded by a narrative of her past as a destitute but aristocratic orphan, sequestered and violated at sixteen and kept in sexual bondage by Totsky. In contrast to the conventional literary type of the betrayed, fallen, but ultimately redeemable woman — like the heroine of La dame aux camelias, a novel by Dumas the Younger that Totsky naturally admired — Nastasya is cast by Dostoevsky as degraded in the eyes of society but blamelessly pure, not unlike Clarissa Harlowe. At age twenty she descends on Petersburg as a self-avenger, determined to assert herself against the terrorized Totsky’s self-protective scheme to pawn her off with a dowry on the greedy Ganya Ivolgin. This would clear the way for Totsky’s own marriage to one of the two older Epanchin daughters. Facing the insurmountable contradiction of inner purity and her outward disgrace, Nastasya Filippovna as a character is irremediably doomed…”
Part One, Chapters Nine and Ten