“In her desires Nastasya Filipovna was always irrepressible and merciless, once she decided to voice them, capricious and even useless for her as those desires might be.”

The Idiot
Part One, Chapter Thirteen
by Dennis Abrams

The prince’s worries: “The worst thing…will be if they don’t receive me and think something bad about me, or perhaps receive me and think something bad about me…” Myshkin decides that he must tell Nastasya Filippovna not to marry Ganya: “Don’t marry this man and don’t ruin yourself, he doesn’t love you, he loves your money, he told me so himself…” Nastasya’s “not very large but indeed magnificently decorates apartment.” Totsky’s former generosity. “Nastasya Filippovna did not reject the luxury, even liked it, but — and this seemed strange — never succumbed to it, as if she could always do with out it…” Without comment, the maid goes to announce the arrival of Prince Myshkin. The other guests: Totsky and Epanchin, Ganya but without Varya, Ferdyshchenko, “one pathetic little old school teacher, invited for God knows what purpose, some unknown and very young man, who was terribly timid and kept silent all the time, a sprightly lady of about forty, an actress, and one extremely beautiful, extremely well and expensively dressed, and extraordinarily taciturn young lady…” With little conversation going on, the appearance of the prince “was even opportune.” Nastasya’s pleasure at his arrival. More witticisms from Ferdyshchenko. “The Lion and the Ass.” Nastasya’s enjoyment, “Those who wished absolutely to call on her had no choice but to put up with Ferdyshchenko.” Myshkin struck and dazzled by Nastasya. “Everything in you is perfection…even the fact that you’re so thin and pale…one has to no wish to imagine you otherwise…I wanted so much to come to you…I…forgive me…” “‘Don’t ask forgiveness,’ Nastasya Filippovna laughed. ‘That will ruin all the strangeness and originality. And it’s true, then, what they say about you, that you’re a strange man. So you consider me perfection, do you?'” “I do.” “Though you’re a master at guessing, you’re nevertheless mistaken. I’ll remind you of it tonight…” Ganya and Ferdyshchenko discuss the prince’s feelings for Nastasya; the school teacher chimes in, “…judging by the way the prince blushes at an innocent joke like an innocent young girl, I conclude that, like a noble youth, he is nurturing the most praiseworthy intentions in his heart.” Nastasya Filippovna is extremely fond of “all such original old men and women, and even of holy fools…” An invitation for champagne. Nastasya’s fever. Ferdyshchenko suggests a parlor game: “…each of us…tell something about himself, but something that he himself, in good conscience, considered the worst of all the bad things he’d done in the course of his life; and that it should be frank, above all, that it should be frank, no lying!” After discussion, lots are drawn — Ferdyshchenko will go first.

1. I loved the narrator’s little dig when listing the guests at Nastasya’s party: “one pathetic little old schoolteacher, invited for God knows what purpose…” Those little intrusions…

2. The unexpected actions of Nastasya: “…the strange, sometimes very abrupt and quick outbursts of Nastasya Filippovna, who also took wine and announced that she would drink three glasses that evening, in her hysterical and pointless laughter, which alternated suddenly with a silent and even sullen pensiveness, it was hard to make anything out…” What exactly is she planning? What is she waiting for?

3. And finally the parlor game. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to see exactly what Prince Myshkin has to confess.

An excerpt from an essay by Victor Terras, “The Hierarchy of Meanings in The Idiot” — well worth reading:

“The nineteenth-century novel is a form of verbal art characterized by inherent contradictions. Its dependence on plot and storyline is in conflict with its purported realism. ‘Poetic truth’ may clash with empirical truth. The nineteenth-century novel tends to advance an ideological, moral, or religious thesis, allegedly of general validity, yet it finds expression in terms of specific individualized characters and particular events. The real thus may clash with the ideal, the universal with the particular. The nineteenth-century novel pretends to the status of a work of art, yet it almost always pursues certain utilitarian ends, such as advocating a political program or catering to the ephemeral tastes of a fickle reading public. The concerns of real life thus make frequent intrusions into a world created by the imagination.

We know that the public, as well as most critics, tended to judge Dostoevsky’s novels on their topical and ideological content, paying scant attention to their artistic merit. Yet we also know that Dostoevsky was a highly conscious artist who was much concerned with giving his ideas the proper artistic expression. We know that Dostoevsky believed in certain religious truths, and that he held to fairly narrow political opinions, but also that he was greatly concerned with getting his facts straight.

Dostoevsky’s novels are ‘ideological’ in that their author felt that he was fulfilling a Christian and a national commission. He was also a realist who honestly tried to present the facts of life, and Russian life in particular, as he saw them, and even as they were perceived by his ideological opponents. He was inclined to give his opponents a voice in the concert of his polyphonic compositions. Readers have often chosen to embrace a voice or a viewpoint as the message of the Dostoevskian novel, when extrinsic evidence suggests that Dostoevsky had something different in mind, but was playing devil’s advocate extremely well.

Some readers have interpreted The Brothers Karamazov, and “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter in particular, as bearing an anti-Christian, or at least a heretical message, although we know that Dostoevsky wanted the message to be in full accord with Russian Orthodox doctrine. Other readers have seen an irresoluble conflict between Dostoevsky’s psychological realism and his religious message, finding, for instance, that the Epilogue of Crime and Punishment false and out of character.

The way to account for some of these difficulties is to distinguish, throughout Dostoevsky’s novels, a hierarchy of epistemologically distinct meanings: empirical, moral, allegorical, and anagogic.

There is, to begin with, a realistic narrative that develops a plot after the common fashion of a nineteenth-century novel. On this level we also meet digressions of an essayistic nature, as well as various subtexts: journalistic in the form of allusions to topical events; literary, in the form of allusions or polemical responses to readily identified works of Russian or foreign literature; and personal, in the form of references to Dostoevsky’s personal life or an earlier work of his own.

Then there is the moral level. Throughout Dostoevsky’s oeuvre, many structured arguments regarding various moral topics are unfolded. Such is, for example, the argument about ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ people, conducted in Crime and Punishment and in “the Grand Inquisitor” chapter of The Brothers Karamazov/ Such are also the question regarding the relation between faith and miracle in The Brothers Karamazov and the question of good deeds versus emotional attitude, as developed explicitly in The Idiot and implicitly in the story of the Marmeladov family in Crime and Punishment.

Furthermore, there is an allegorical level. Crime and Punishment may be, [Demons] must be, read as an allegory of the Russian revolution. The Brothers Karamazov is an allegory of fatherhood and sonhood, and of sensual, intellectual, and spiritual man — among other things.

In all of Dostoevsky’s novels we observe intrusions of the mystical. While the plot unfolds in a world of ordinary affairs and characters, diabolical and heavenly elements appear from time to time. I am thinking of the massive Christian symbolism introduced in connection with Sonia Marmeladov, or of the various shapes in which the diabolical appears throughout The Brothers Karamazov. While the moral and allegorical level are structured and may be ‘closed’ or ‘open’ much as the plot is, the mystical element remains unstructured: we have, as it were, intrusions from other worlds, whose entirety remains unknown and whose logic escapes us. But Dostoevsky’s characters are gifted with an intuitive sense that allows them to recognize these intrusions. Of course, much of what may be said to belong to the mystical level may be subjected to a psychoanalytical interpretation — that is, seen as a projection of neuroses peculiar either to Dostoevsky’s characters or to Dostoevsky himself. Dostoevsky certainly leaves the door open to such reading.

It is the task of the novelist to harmonize these different levels of meaning. Some critics — Nabokov, for example — have said that Dostoevsky had failed in this task. Not only Soviet critics have found the Christian message, moral as well as mystical, merely a tedious nuisance. I believe that such a view has the corollary that Dostoevsky was not a very good novelist. Nabokov is therefore right — on his terms. I shall not try to show that Dostoevsky is a great novelist in spite of these objections. But I shall try to show that the different levels of meaning are all strong and important, so that to ignore one or more of them is tantamount to misreading and misinterpreting the work in question.

Each of these four levels of meaning is associated with certain featured themes, though some themes and motifs may appear in different versions on different levels of meaning. For example, in The Idiot the theme of a condemned man — that is, a man who knows that he will die within a very brief span of time — appears on all four levels of meaning. Several executions are described or mentioned, and one of the main characters, Ippolit Terent’ev, suffers from what was then called ‘galloping consumption,’ and dies as expected. His condition has intriguing moral implications. Ippolit points out that he could very well commit a heinous crime with total impunity, since his case would never come to trial, even if the law actually tried to prolong his life.

The whole text of the novel makes it clear that the theme of a condemned man is also presented as an allegory of the human condition. Finally, the same theme stands in the very center of the metaphysical dilemma developed on the anagogic level of meaning. The realization that Christ Himself was a condemned man who was executed and died is introduced with great poignancy.”

I have to say that looking at Dostoevsky’s work like this makes sense to me — more from this essay as we go along.

The Weekend’s Reading:

Part One, Chapters Fourteen – Sixteen.

Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.

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6 Responses to “In her desires Nastasya Filipovna was always irrepressible and merciless, once she decided to voice them, capricious and even useless for her as those desires might be.”

  1. Catherine says:

    What a conclusion to Part 1! Dostoyevsky certainly knows how to build and maintain suspense, although the motivations of the characters seem to be constantly shifting. Many of the characters display traits of “idiocy,” and not just the primary Idiot, the Prince, who certainly seems naive but is not lacking in intelligence or empathy.

    As in C&P I have a difficult time keeping some of the characters straight, the alternate use of first and patronymic names and last names without the first are confusing to me and I don’t always want to look at the list of characters, which at least is conveniently located at the beginning.

    Dennis, the pace is fine with me — I’m thoroughly enjoying the book, your summaries and the additional critiques you present. Thanks!

    • Catherine:

      I agree with you that Part One built up in a very satisfying manner. I have to confess, though, that I find my constantly looking at the list of characters at the beginning of the book — for some reason, I seem to have a mental block against all forms of Totsky’s name, as well as that of Ptitsyn…

  2. artmama says:

    I like t make outlines, so I will use one to keep track of these points:

    Dostoevsky’s Novels and The Four Levels of Meaning

    I. Empirical
    A. Realistic narrative
    B. Essayistic
    C. Journalistic
    D. Literary
    E. Personal

    II. Moral
    A. Ordinary and extraordinary people in Crime and Punishment
    B. The relation between faith and miracle in The Brothers Karamazov
    C. Good deeds versus emotional attitude in The Idiot

    III. Allegorical
    A. Crime and Punishment & Demons – Russian revolution.
    B. The Brothers Karamazov – fatherhood/sonhood, and
    sensual/intellectual/spiritual man

    IV. Anagogic or Mystical
    A. Christian symbolism
    B. the diabolical
    C. Intrusions from other worlds
    D. Projection of neuroses

  3. Peter Kemmerle says:

    Hi. I chimed in yesterday when I discovered this blog. I’ve now read all the posts on the first book of The Idiot, and I want to reitierate my gratitude to Dennis and his collaborators for all the effort you’ve put into this. I read the novel slowly, by myself, without referring to any secondary sources. Last year I did the same with BK.

    I’m going to cut and paste a kind of synopsis that I did a couple of months ago of Book I of The Idiot. I didn’t attempt to summarize everything or include all characters. It was more of an outline of the characters and plot movement. I’m still not sure why I did this. I spent hours and hours on it because I was just awestruck, poleaxed, dumbfounded at this creation. I guess I wanted to see if the story could be retold in a stripped down way and still retain its force, its power to amaze. I left page numbers in to the Pevear/ Volokhonsky translation in case I wanted to go back and flesh this out. I’ve shared this with a number of friends and gotten not a single response of any kind. Makes me feel a bit like Myshkin. All excited, but about what?

    Nastasya Filippovna’s Birthday Party

    The train

    The story takes place in Russia some time in the middle of the 19th century. It begins on a train to St. Petersburg. [p. 5] Prince Myshkin is returning from four years in Switzerland, where he was being treated for epilepsy. He’s riding in a third-class car because he is utterly broke. He has no family. Carrying all his belongings in a small cloth sack, the Prince is on his way to visit his only living relative, the wife of General Epanchin.

    It’s night. Across from the Prince sits another young man, Rogozhin, who is eager to talk. [p. 6] Rogozhin has just learned that he has inherited millions, and he’s racing back to do whatever he has to do to win the most beautiful woman in St. Petersburg, Nastasya Filippovna. [p. 11] He’s in very high spirits.

    The two men talk, and Rogozhin is taken by this pale man who looks years younger than his age, 26. By the end of the trip they’re both feeling warmly toward each other and strike up an unlikely friendship. As the train is pulling into St. Petersburg station, they have this exchange: Rogozhin asks the Prince if he “fancies the female sex,” and the Prince, embarrassed by the question, says that because of his inborn illness, he doesn’t know women. “Well in that case,” Rogozhin exclaims, “you come out as a holy fool, and God loves your kind.” [p 15, end of Chapter I]

    Prince Myshkin

    Whenever people meet the Prince, they notice something different about him right away. They can’t put their finger on it. Some think he’s an idiot. Others call him innocent. All agree that he’s an original, and in the Russia of this time people tend to be well disposed toward an original.

    Though people are curious about him, they aren’t necessarily respectful. In fact, there’s something about the Prince’s way that seems to invite teasing. People make fun of him to his face. They talk about him while he’s present as if he were a child. And yet they soon realize that he’s not an idiot. It’s just that whenever he speaks, he confounds expectations, which often causes a stir. For example, when he tells Rogozhin and another man in the railway car that he plans to visit his only living relative, the wife of General Epanchin, they gawk at him in amazement. How can he expect to be received by such a family without an introduction? The Epanchins are important people, and the Prince is a pauper, and mad to boot. [p. 8] Then the Prince admits he wrote the General’s wife and got no response, they roar with laughter at his naivety.

    The trait that people notice about the Prince but can’t express is what we would call “care.” What animates and motivates the Prince above all things is that he cares for other people. Agape is another word for it: big, whole-hearted, unconditional love. He never pretends that he doesn’t care. He owns up to his caring, to the love he feels for people. He’s disposed to love people by his nature. How could it be otherwise? Why waste time not loving?

    At General Epanchin’s

    Upon his arrival in St. Petersburg, Prince Myshkin goes directly to the house of General Epanchin. Because of his special way—or because he is utterly without guile, or because he’s an entertaining spectacle—he’s admitted to see the General without an appointment. [p. 25, beginning of Chapter III]

    The General is so dull and self-absorbed that he’s one of the few not to be interested in the Prince as unique specimen. But the General realizes that the strange Prince will cause enough hubbub in the household to provide him cover for a momentary escape, so he brings the Prince back into the house and introduces him to the family. [p. 37, beginning Chapter IV]

    The Prince immediately hits it off with the General’s wife and three daughters, especially the youngest and most beautiful of the daughters, Aglaya. It happens that in these times the General is giving a lot of thought to the future marriages of his three daughters. All three have good prospects, being part of a wealthy and established family, but they’re not without problems. They’re older than the normal age for marriage, for one thing, and they’re strong-willed, opinionated, well educated, and they aren’t in any hurry to get married.

    For an afternoon the daughters and their mother enjoy teasing the Prince. He entertains them at great length—first with the story of a prisoner about to face a firing squad. [p. 60] The condemned man self-consciously divides his last five minutes to bidding farewell to his comrades (two minutes), thinking about himself for the last time (two minutes), and looking around him (one minute). [p. 60] According to the prisoner, who was reprieved at the last second,

    . . . nothing was more oppressive for him at that moment than the constant thought “What if I were not to die! What if life were given back to me—what infinity! And it would all be mine! Then I’d turn each minute into a whole age, I’d lose nothing, I’d reckon up every minute separately, I’d let nothing be wasted!” He said that in the end this thought turned into such anger in him that he wished they would hurry up and shoot him.

    This story was followed sometime later with a story about how he developed a deep friendship with the children of the Swiss village where he was living. He tells the four Epanchin women how the friendship solidified when he persuaded the children to love a young, consumptive woman whom they had been teasing mercilessly. [pp 67-76] The Prince seems to speak in parables, like Jesus, and the women in the Epanchin family are fascinated.

    While the Prince is talking with his family, the General himself is conniving with a man name Totsky, who would like to marry one of the General’s daughters. This fact has a great bearing on the story of Nastasya Filippovna’s 25th birthday party because before Totsky can marry one of the General’s daughters, he must take care of a problem that’s nagged him for 5 years: Nastasya Filippovna.

    The great sin

    Totsky is a wealthy landowner. It happens that 18 years ago Totsky began supporting an orphan on one of his estates. She was the daughter of one Barashkov, a petty landowner whose small estate was next to one of Totsky’s. Barashkov was poor, unlucky, and deeply in debt. One day his house burned down, killing his wife. As a result of this terrible misfortune, Barashkov went mad and died in delirium a month later. Out of a sense of pity, Totsky arranged for his orphaned daughter to be brought up in the large family of one of his stewards.

    Some years later, Totsky passes through that estate and finds that Barashkov’s orphaned daughter is now 12 years old. Because she is sweet, lively, and clever, and promises to become a great beauty, Totsky broadens the scope of her education greatly by hiring a Swiss-educated governess to take charge of her upbringing. When she is 16, Totsky has her installed in an elegant home in a faraway village where she knows no one. He fits her out with a housekeeper and a maid, musical instruments, a library, paintings, prints, pencils, brushes, pains, an astonishing greyhound” and . . . himself. For the next four years, Totsky stays with the girl several weeks every summer. Her name is Nastasya Filippovna. [p. 41]

    The formidable Nastasya Filippovna emerges

    When in her twentieth year a rumor reaches Nastasya Filippovna that Totsky is about to be married to a rich, beautiful girl of noble birth, a change comes over her. One day she turns up unannounced at Totsky’s in St. Petersburg and threatens to make his life miserable. She has no legal basis for causing him a problem, mind, but Totsky realizes that’s irrelevant. It’s Nastasya Filippovna herself who is the threat. She’s totally transformed—no longer a charming, timid, lively, naïve, sometimes melancholy and pensive provincial girl, she’s a woman outraged. To Totsky’s surprise, she demonstrates that she knows the way the world works. She wields her sarcasm and contempt with panache. Totsky is frightened down to his socks.

    She’s up front about her plan, which is to prevent his marriage at any cost—not because there’s anything in it for her, but out of spite. She wants to be able to laugh at him, she says, “to my heart’s content, because now I, too, finally feel like laughing.” [p. 42]

    Totsky, it’s said, “loved and valued himself, his peace, and his comfort more than anything in the world” [p. 43]. He couldn’t tolerate the slightest disturbance in the life that he had established for himself, which was starting to “acquire such a beautiful form.” [p. 43]

    Totsky is convinced that humiliating him is more important to her than anything and everything else in Nastasya Filippovna’s life.

    This situation has now been going on for 5 years. Totsky has set up Nastasya Filippovna in a nice apartment in St. Petersburg. She goes to the opera and the theatre and receives people in her salon. For Totsky, she’s like a bomb waiting to go off.

    The plan to neutralize Nastasya Filippovna [p. 46-47]

    The General tries to help Totsky deal with Nastasya Filippovna in order to clear the way for his middle daughter to marry Totsky. Their plan is to give 75,000 roubles to the General’s clerk, Gavrila Ardalionovich, known as Ganya, to marry Nastasya Filippovna. Ganya wants the 75,000 and he wants to have Nastasya Filippovna, but he doesn’t want the one to be a quid pro quo for the other. Still, he’s beholden to the two wealthy men and he accepts the offer hesitantly. [p. 33] [pp. 46-47]

    When the General and Totsky approach Nastasya Filippovna with their plan Totsky also offers her 75,000 to marry Ganya on condition that she renounce all threats to ruin his life. Both the men are actually surprised that she does seem to take what they think is a more worldly, reasonable stance. [p. 47] After all, isn’t 75,000 roubles a wiser choice than revenge?

    Nastasya Filippovna agrees to accept the 75,000, but not for marrying Ganya. She says she’ll take it as compensation for the maimed life that Totsky has left her with. She’ll agree to marry Ganya only if he and his family have no misgivings about her former life. [p. 49] In any event, she refuses to give a definite answer until later that night at her birthday party. And she keeps for herself the right to say no up until the last minute, the same right that was granted to Ganya. [p. 49]

    A lot of people have a stake in Nastasya Filippovna’s decision. Will she marry Ganya and stop making trouble for Totsky? If she does, the General will be greatly relieved, and Totsky, who shows no remorse at having ruined the life of a girl, will have bought his life back.

    Ganya has the most riding on Nastasya Filippovna’s decision. On the afternoon of the birthday party he is in an absolute frenzy, terribly conflicted. He knows being paid to marry her is shameful and wrong, but he decides to go through with it anyway. He wants to be rich and powerful, and the 75,000 would give him the stake to play.

    Rogozhin also has a fierce interest in Nastasya Filippovna’s decision. He’s as worked up about it as Ganya is. Rogozhin causes a huge sensation that afternoon when he shows up with his entourage at his rival Ganya’s house. [p. 113] It happens that Nastasya Filippovna is visiting Ganya and his family that afternoon too, as is the Prince. They all witness Rogozhin’s offer to “buy out” Ganya. First he offers 100 roubles, then immediately raises it to 3,000, then to 18,000, 40,000, and finally to 100,000 roubles. [p. 115] Rogozhin is as single minded as a human can be. He’s almost frothing at the mouth as he leaves Ganya’s, promising to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of raising 100,000 roubles in cash between now and the birthday party that evening.

    The birthday party

    There aren’t many people at the party. Totsky and the General are there, of course, and Ganya, who waits like a prisoner in the block to hear his fate announced. Whatever the outcome, it’ll involve his humiliation. The other guests include a school teacher, an old woman with a frank tongue, and a beautiful German woman who doesn’t speak a word of Russian.

    In addition, Ferdyshchenko, the buffoon, is there. Ferdyshchenko is deliberately irritating. He even affronts Totsky and the General, and then hides cleverly behind his buffoonery when he succeeds in provoking them. Ferdyshchenko is Nastasya Filippovna’s knife. If Totsky and the General want to be in her presence, then they’ll have to pay for it by enduring Ferdyshchenko and his insinuations. That’s the kind of woman Nastasya Filippovna is: someone who’ll invite a buffoon to her birthday party in order to make fun of her tormenter. [p. 139]

    The Prince arrives at the birthday party [p. 134]

    The birthday party is under way when the Prince arrives. He has not been invited. In fact, he met Nastasya Filippovna for the first time that afternoon. But during that meeting he sees that she is a great soul. He senses that she is driven by tremendous hurt. He loves her though he hasn’t “fallen in love with her” in a romantic way. He loves her because she’s a pure soul who has been abused by a rich, arrogant, perfidious cad.

    The Prince’s sole interest in the birthday party is to save Nastasya Filippovna from making a terrible mistake.

    How does Nastasya Filippovna handle it when the Prince shows up unannounced? With grace and conviction. She receives him warmly and begs his pardon for not having invited him earlier. He’s so embarrassed by her attention and by her glowing beauty that he’s speechless. Nastasya Filippovna notices the Prince’s discomfort [p. 139], which endears him to her even more.

    That’s the kind of woman Nastasya Filippovna is: She sees the Prince’s embarrassment as proof of his honesty and kindness, and she loves him for it. They’re the only two people who see what a ruthless and awful game of power society is. They stand outside it, critique it, reject the roles they’re given.

    No one, of course, has a greater stake in Nastasya Filippovna’s announcement than she does herself. Throughout the evening she’s nervous, high strung, prone to outbursts. She alternates between hysterical laughter and pensive silences.

    Le petit jeu [p. 141]

    When Ferdyshchenko proposes a parlor game she jumps right on it. Ferdyshchenko has seen it played once before and says it didn’t work. Everyone who hears his idea thinks it’s awful, except for Nastasya Filippovna, who insists that they play it. The men have to draw lots and each in turn must tell about the worst thing he ever did. Women are exempt. No man is required to participate, but clearly anyone who wants to be a player can’t back off such a challenge.

    In the playing of the parlor game, Ferdyshchenko himself gets the worst of it. [pp 146-147] He admits to stealing. The General manages to tell a story that works to his advantage by telling about a outburst of temper he had when he was young that may or may not have caused the death of an old woman. [pp. 148-150] He’s felt so bad about it that in compensation he now supports two elderly women in an old folks home. Totsky tells of a cruel practical joke he once played, but since Totsky’s intervention in the case helped a married man vanquish a would-be cuckold, Totsky also finds a way to turn the confession of his worst act to his advantage. [pp 150-153]

    Nastasya Filippovna is disappointed in the game and declares it over. She says now she’ll make the announcement that everyone has been waiting for. [p. 153]

    The long-awaited announcement

    But instead of saying whether she’s decided to marry Ganya, she turns dramatically to the Prince and says, “Tell me what you think: should I get married or not? I’ll do as you say.” [p. 153]

    Everyone is dumbfounded. The Prince is considered a simpleton, a freak, a side show. He’s one of those oddities that originate in Russia or other hard scrabble places like northeast Brazil. He’s a holy fool. He’s all heart. He has no brain for strategizing, not for a moment does he think about maneuvering for his own benefit. The Prince stammers, “No…don’t” and Nastasya Filippovna says “and so it will be!” [p. 154]

    What an uproar! Totsky and the General try to reason with her. How could she let such a serious matter be decided by this . . . childlike creature? But try as they might they can’t change Nastasya Filippovna’s mind. She says, “The Prince is this for me, that I believe in him. He is the first truly devoted man in my whole life. He believed in me from the first glance, and I trust him.”

    Then Ganya has his say. He steps forward, trembling, and thanks Nastasya Filippovna sarcastically for the “extreme delicacy with which she has treated” him and also voices his horror that she has let the Prince make this decision. [p. 154]

    Nastasya Filippovna’s eyes flash. The worm Ganya dare be offended?! All you want, she tells Ganya, is your 75,000. Too bad. [p. 155] She’ll get back to Ganya in a minute, but first she’ll tell Totsky what her decision means for him. He’s free. He needn’t worry that she’ll go after him. And he can keep the 75,000 roubles he offered her.

    Now, she says, she’s free for the first time in her life. She wants to take nothing that she has into the next part of her life. She plans to vacate the apartment tomorrow. She announces that there will be no more “evenings” like this at her home. [p. 155]

    Rogozhin and the 100,000 roubles [p. 155, beginning Chapter XV]

    Just as she gets up to leave and put the final punctuation mark on the evening, Rogozhin arrives with his entourage of rowdies. They leave their four troikas outside and come in to watch the drama that Rogozhin is about to set in motion. Rogozhin leads the pack into the drawing room and lays a package on a table in the middle of the room. It’s five inches high and seven inches long, wrapped in newspaper and tied with string. Love-struck Rogozhin has worked ceaselessly throughout the afternoon and come up with the 100,000 he promised Nastasya Filippovna. What will the capricious, unpredictable, most beautiful woman in St. Petersburg do?

    Since not everyone present had been at Ganya’s in the afternoon, many don’t know how Rogozhin bid 100,000 roubles for Nastasya Filippovna [p. 162]. Next it’s time for Nastasya Filippovna to tell more of her story—how Totsky kept her like a countess, how she could have married a noble, someone much higher up in society than Ganya. She’d even considered marrying Totsky for a while. But finally, she says, after five years of playing this game of spite, she’s tired. She thinks her only choices are going carousing with Rogozhin or becoming a washer woman. Polite society, indeed all society between the two extremes of party animal and washer woman, is closed to her. Even Ferdyshchenko won’t take her now, she says.

    Ferdyshchenko pipes up, “Maybe I won’t take her,” he says, “but the Prince will.”

    The plot twists one more time.

    “Is it true?” asks Nastasya Filippovna.

    The Prince confirms that it’s true, and without hesitation Nastasya Filippovna recognizes his sincerity. She knows he makes the offer of marriage to her out of kindness. “I’ve found a benefactor!” she says, but she wastes no time in refusing the Prince’s offer of marriage. “How are you going to live?” she asks the Prince, “if you’re so in love that you’ll take Rogozhin’s kind of woman?”

    The Prince promises to make an honest woman out of her.

    “How can you go getting married, when you still need a nursemaid to look after you?” She says.

    The Prince explains himself at greater length. In a trembling voice, in front of all present, he says to Nastasya Filippovna that he knows she has emerged pure from the sufferings of hell. (Totsky, at the pinnacle of society, couldn’t begin to understand the destruction he has caused.) Her urges her not to blame herself or feel ashamed. And not to make things worse for herself by running off with Rogozhin. That’ll just cause more shame and regret later. And it’s like dynamiting a bridge after crossing it, allowing for no return passage.

    The Prince inherits millions

    And besides, says the Prince, maybe they wouldn’t be so poor. At this, he pulls from his pocket a letter he received when he was in Switzerland. The letter is the reason he has returned. Written by a lawyer in St. Petersburg, Salazkin. It informs the Prince that he has come into a large inheritance from a distant relative. [XVI p. 165]

    Jaws drop. All are flabbergasted. Could it be true? It takes a few moments to sink in. Then the clerk Lebedev, who has been quiet until now, quickly puts all doubt to rest. He knows Salazkin, knows his signature, knows the letter is no hoax. The Prince has inherited millions.

    The more the story unfolds, the more feverish Nastasya Filippovna gets. She impulsively accepts the Prince’s offer of marriage, and then she lords it over Rogozhin, telling him that she’s marrying someone even richer than he is—and a prince to boot! Rogozhin is in agony and cries out to the prince to “Give her up!” [p. 167] He offers to marry Nastasya Filippovna and give her everything he has. Everything! [p. 167]

    But Nastasya Filippovna doesn’t even respond to Rogozhin’s offer because something else has grabbed her attention.

    She asks the Prince, “Won’t you be ashamed afterwards that your bride almost went off with Rogozhin? [p. 167]

    “And won’t it shame you when they tell you afterwards that your wife was Totsky’s kept woman?” [p. 167]

    The Prince answers every question. Finally, in an attempt to reassure her once and for all he spells it all out.

    “I told you just now that I will take your consent as an honor, and that you are doing me an honor, and not I you. You smiled at those words, and I also heard laughter around me. Perhaps I expressed myself in a funny way, and was funny myself, but I still think that I . . . understand what honor is, and I’m sure that what I said was the truth. You were just going to ruin yourself irretrievably, because you would never forgive yourself for that: but you’re not guilty of anything. It can’t be that your life is already completely ruined. So what if Rogozhin came to you, and [Ganya] wanted to swindle you? Why do you constantly mention that? Very few people are capable of doing what you have done, I repeat it to you, and as for wanting to go off with Rogozhin, you decided that in a fit of illness. You’re still in a fit, and it would be better if you went to bed. You’d get yourself hired as a washerwoman tomorrow and not stay with Rogozhin. You’re proud, Nastasya Filippovna, but you may be so unhappy that you actually consider yourself guilty. [Emphasis added.] You need much good care, Nastasya Filippovna. I will take care of you. I saw your portrait today and it was as if I recognized a familiar face. It seemed to me at once as if you had already called me. I . . . I shall respect you all my life, Nastasya Filippovna.” [p. 168]

    That seems to settle it. “Thank you, Prince, no one has ever spoken to me like that. They all bargained for me, but no decent person ever asked me to marry him.” [p. 168] She asks Totsky and Rogozhin if they’re listening. [p. 168] For a while, she feels wonderful. “So I really am a princess,” she says. [p. 166] She brings her maids in the parlor to meet the Prince, telling them that they’re going to be married.

    Then suddenly it’s not settled because, finally, Nastasya Filippovna can’t bring herself to believe what the Prince said—that she was unhappy, not guilty. She thinks she’s not good enough for him. She believes she would only bring him down.

    This is a blow to the Prince. As he realizes that she really means to go off with Rogozhin, he groans and wrings his hands. [p. 169]

    It’s better this way, Nastasya Filippovna tells him. “You’d just start despising me tomorrow and we’d never be happy.” [p. 170]

    Now that she’s decided that she’ll accept Rogozhin’s offer to purchase her services, she turns on him briefly. Just because you’ve asked me to marry you doesn’t mean you get to keep the 100,000, she tells him. He’s so stupefied by the turn of events in his favor that he doesn’t even respond to this. [p. 169]

    When he does wake up to his sudden good fortune, it becomes quite a scene. He bellows: “She’s mine! It’s all mine! A queen!” Nastasya Filippovna is at the center of a group of people in the middle of the room, and Rogozhin is circling his prize, screaming, saying “Keep away!” [p. 170]

    A situation of utmost dread

    What we have here is a situation of utmost dread. A pure soul has been deeply hurt. For years, she dreamed that someone as good and kind and gentle as the Prince would come and rescue her. But instead of that someone, an arrogant rich man who thought he owned her would come, and dishonor her, offend her, debauch her, and leave her. She says she wanted to kill herself a thousand times but didn’t have the courage.

    Now the situation has become intolerable. She must exit. The escape she chooses is to demean herself purposefully by taking the 100,000 roubles and going off to carouse with Rogozhin. Only one person in the room really cares about what happens to her. Only one person is aware of the horrible self-destruction taking place. He has done all he can to prevent it, and he’s failed. The rest of the people in the room are busy making their self-calculations.

    The hundred thousand

    Nastasya Filippovna tells the drunken Rogozhin that she’s ready to go. The troikas are waiting. She picks up the packet of money, but there’s still one more twist in the story. Nastasya Filippovna has a score to settle with Ganya.

    “Ganka,” she calls him, “I want to reward you. Why should you lose everything? I want to look at your soul for the last time; you’ve been tormenting me for three long months; now it’s my turn. Do you see this packet? There’s a hundred thousand in it. I’m going to throw it into the fireplace.” [p. 171]

    If he pulls it out without using gloves, she tells him, he can keep it. [p. 171]

    “Ferdyshchenko,” she says, “throw the packet into the fire.” But Ferdyshchenko can’t bring himself to do it. “Ahh!” she cries, and seizes the fire tongs, stirs up the fire, and then flings the packet of money into the flames. [p. 171]

    Everyone in the room shrieks or gasps. They talk about her madness. The General wonders if they shouldn’t tie her up. [p. 172] It’s created an unbearable tension. They all stand watching the packet as the paper wrapping starts to smoke. The clerk Lebedev gets down on his knees and, screaming about his 13 hungry children, starts to crawl into the fire. [p. 172] Ferdyshchenko says that for a thousand he’ll pull it out with his teeth. [p. 173] Nastasya Filippovna forbids anyone but Ganya to touch it.

    The crowd parts. Ganya is left face to face with Nastasya Filippovna. He stands with his coat and gloves on, arms crossed, his mouth in a frozen smile. He doesn’t speak. He can’t speak. He watches the packet start to burn, but he has obviously made a resolve to endure all torment. It’s clear to all within moments that he won’t retrieve the packet.

    With many voices shouting at him to get the packet, Ganya turns away from the fire and starts to leave. The intensity of the moment is unbearable. He takes a couple of steps and faints.

    Quick as a wink, Nastasya Filippovna asks the maid to bring water to revive Ganya and pulls the packet out of the fire with the tongs. [p. 173] Everyone is relieved to see that only the outer wrapping has burned.

    Before the fact that the money is safe sinks in, Nastasya Filippovna disposes of it by giving it to Ganya, stooping down and placing the packet beside his unconscious body. “It’s all his,” she says. “He didn’t go after it, he held out! So his vanity is still greater than his lust for money.” [p. 174]

    Then she and Rogozhin lead the rowdy crowd of hangers-on down to the troikas and off they go.

    The General overtakes the Prince at the top of the stairs as he watches the troikas driving off. He pleads with the Prince to come to his senses and drop it. But the Prince will hear nothing of it. He breaks away, runs down the stairs, hails a cab, and follows Nastasya Filippovna, Rogozhin, and the rest to the party. [p. 175]


    • Catherine says:

      Wow! What a great summary! I’m impressed. Glad you’re following along behind us. I was lucky enough to find Dennis when he was starting Proust at the end of 2009 so am a long term follower. As you may have already found out, after Dostoyevsky we’re moving on to Shakespeare. Are you on Goodreads?

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