“The prince is this for me, that I believe in him as the first truly devoted man in my whole life. He believed in me from the first glance, and I trust him.”

The Idiot
Part One, Chapters 14-16
by Dennis Abrams

Nastasya’s party continues, the parlor game of “name the worst thing you’ve ever done” begins. Has the prince ever stolen anything? Ferdyshchenko’s story: Two years earlier, at a party, he stole three roubles that were lying on the hostesses’ worktable. The maid Darya was under suspicion and questioned in front of the guests, Ferdyshchenko “showed extraordinary curiosity and concern…{and} began persuading her to confess her guilt.” That night Ferdyshchenko used the money for a bottle of Lafitte; the next day Darya was fired, “‘Only, of course, that’s not the worst thing you’ve done,’ Darya Alexeevna said with loathing.” “The dirtiest deeds are always dirty.” Ferdyshchenko pushes it too far, “These ‘blunders’ of bad tone and a ‘peculiar sort of boasting,’ as Totsky put it, occurred quite frequently with Ferdyshchenko and were completely in character.” Ptitsyn refuses to play. Epanchin’s story: While still a lieutenant, he boarded with an elderly widow, “her little house was decrepit, wretched, wooden, and she didn’t even have a serving woman, so poor she was.” There was bad blood between the two (a stolen rooster); when he was transferred, he learned that the widow had kept his one and only bowl because he had broken a pot of hers. He went back to berate her, found her “sitting all alone in the corner of the front hall, as if hiding from the sun, resting her cheek on her hand. I immediately loosed a thunderstorm on her,” only to later learn that she had died while he was berating her. “The main thing is, how did I reason it in the end? First, the woman was, so to speak, a personal being, what’s known in our time as a human; she lived, lived for a long time, too long finally. She once had children, a husband, a family, relations, everything around her was at the boil, there were all these smiles, to to speak, and suddenly — total zero, everything’s gone smash, she’s left alone, like…some sort of fly hearing a curse from time immemorial…but all the same I never felt at peace until I began, about fifteen years ago, to keep two permanent sick old women at my expense in the almshouse…I intend to leave capital for it in perpetuity.” “And instead of the nastiest, Your Excellency has told us one of the good deeds of your life…’ concluded Ferdyshchenko. Totsky’s story: The popularity of Dumas’ La Dame aux camellias, and the craze for camellias. When a friend hopes to win the favor of another friend’s wife with a bouquet of red camellias, Totsky goes out of his way to get a bouquet himself and present it to the wife as courtesy of her husband; the friend, crushed, asked to be sent to the Caucasus, and is killed in the Crimea, “And if I hadn’t snatched that bouquet from him, who knows, the man might be alive today, happy, successful, and it might never have entered his head to go and get himself shot at by the Turks.” Nastasya startles the room by addressing Myshkin: “Tell me what you think: should I get married or not? I’ll do as you say.” “Several moments passed in silence…’N-no…don’t!'” “And so it will be.” Totsky responds, asking why should the prince be involved, “The prince is this for me, that I believe in him as the first truly devoted man in my whole life. He believed in me from the first glance, and I trust him.” Ganya responds, Nastasya tells him to keep his roubles. Rogozhin, his friends, and his hundred thousand roubles arrive.

The arrival of Rogozhin, a dozen friends, and the package of roubles. Rogozhin’s nervousness, “his huge dirty boots.” The bundle of roubles wrapped in newspaper. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a hundred thousand…Look, right in front of you he has come and put a hundred thousand on the table, after these five years of innocence…He’s priced me at a hundred thousand! Ganechka, I see you’re still angry with me? Did you really want to take me into your family? Me, Rogozhin’s kind of woman!” Darya suggests that Nastasya keep the money and toss Rogozhin out. Nastasya Ganya how he could consider marrying her and taking her into his family, “I’m shameless, but you’re worse.” Nastasya’s red-letter day. Taking money from Totsky, loathing him. “No, it’s better in the street where I belong! Either carouse with Rogozhin or go tomorrow and become a washerwoman!” Myshkin, pressed by Ferdyshchenko, says that he’ll take Nastasya, just as she is, with nothing. “And he really does it out of the kindness of his heart, I know him. I’ve found a benefactor. Though maybe what they say about him is true, that he’s…like that. How are you going to live, if you’re so in love that you’ll take Rogozhin’s kind of woman…” “I’ll take you as an honest woman, Nastasya Filippovna, not as Rogozhin’s kind…I will consider that you’re doing me an honor, and not I you. I am nothing, but you have suffered pure from such a hell, and that is a lot…I…love you…Nastasya Filippovna. I will die for you, Nastasya Filippovna. I won’t let anyone say a bad word about you, Nastasya Filippovna…If we’re poor, I’ll work, Nastasya Filippovna.” Is it possible that Prince Myshkin has fallen into a major inheritance?

Its true — Myshkin has received an inheritance from the older sister of his mother of “a million and half, or possibly even more.” Nastasya is nearly forgotten — Myshkin is now the center of attention. “Everyone asserted afterwards that it was also from this moment that Nastasya Filippovna went crazy…’So I really am a princess!’ she whispered to herself as if mockingly.” Rogozhin is bewildered, the general begs Myshkin to come to his senses. Rogozhin’s suffering, “‘He’s drunk,’ said the prince. ‘He loves you very much.'” Myshkin vows he will never be ashamed of Nastasya. “You’re proud, Nastasya Filippovna, but you may be so unhappy that you actually consider yourself guilty. You need much good care, Nastasya Filippovna. I will take care of you. I saw your portrait today, and it was as if I had 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…” Differing views of the prince: A flatterer, a kind man, a cultivated man, but a lost one. Nastasya threatens to run off with Rogozhin, telling Myshkin that he needs Aglaya Epanchin now, “not Nastasya Filippovna,” while telling Ganya that if he hadn’t bargained with her, HE could have married Aglaya. Nastasya in a frenzy, “…now I want to carouse, I’m a streetwalker!” Rogozhin warns the others to stay away from Nastasya. Nastasya, in tears, tells Myshkin that it’s better this way, that “I dreamed for a long time…and I kept imagining someone like you, kind, honest, good, and as silly as you are, who would suddenly come and say ‘You’re not guilty, Nastasya Filippovna, and I adore you!'” To “reward” Ganya, Nastasya says she won’t keep Rogozhin’s money, and tosses it into the fireplace, telling Rogozhin that if he removes it from the flames, it’s his. Ganya, who had suffered too much that day, is unable to do it, turns to leave, and faints. Nastasya removes the package from the flames, and leaves it next to Ganya, “So his vanity is still greater than his lust for money.” Nastasya leaves with Rogozhin.

A few thoughts and observations…

1. Myshkin as Christ, Nastasya as Mary Magdalene?

2. I have to say that while “describe the worst thing you’ve ever done” is maybe the worst party game ever, the results were interesting. Did the stories tell us anything we didn’t know about the characters of the storytellers? And of course, Totsky’s story had nothing whatsoever to do with what he’d done to Nastasya…and also, was Nastasya’s “story” of the worst thing she’d ever done her refusal to marry Ganya, disappointing both Totsky and Epanchin as well as Ganya?

3. Nastasya’s “madness” — thoughts?

4. Now we know what Myshkin’s “business” in Petersburg was — does the inheritance seem natural? Forced? A deux ex machina?

5. I did love this description of Totsky: “(Incidentally speaking, he was an impressive stately man, tall, slightly bald, slightly gray-haired, and rather corpulent, with soft, ruddy, and somewhat flabby cheeks and false teeth. He wore loose and elegant clothes, and his linen was of astonishing quality. One could not have enough of gazing at his plump white hands.” Anyone who faults Dostoevsky as a stylist just need to read that…

6. And of course, there’s the symbolism of the popularity of “La Dame aux camellias,” the story of a courtesan who, in essence, dies sacrificing herself for the innocent young man she loves.

7. And again, of course, the overriding importance of money for all concerned: Ferdyshchenko with his stolen three roubles, Myshkin’s inheritance, the differing amounts people were willing to pay for Nastasya…

8. And finally, the sense that both Myshkin and Nastasya had that they somehow knew the other, had been waiting for them…

We’re now through Part One — What are your thoughts so far? How has the reading experience been for you? What do you think of the book so far? Please…share with the group.

Monday’s Reading:
Part Two, Chapter One


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5 Responses to “The prince is this for me, that I believe in him as the first truly devoted man in my whole life. He believed in me from the first glance, and I trust him.”

  1. Minnikin says:

    I must admit, I’ve found ‘The Idiot’ a very strange reading experience. In the same way that Prince Myshkin is propelled seemingly from nowhere into the situation he finds himself, so too it is for the reader: you are ‘dropped’ into the opening scene and it’s up to you to ‘listen’, grope around and pick up clues. While it was about chapter 6 that I started to feel comfortable (or more accurately, feel ‘less uncomfortable’), it still is, for the most part, a matter of clinging tight and hanging on! That said, the serialized nature of the original text means that the narrative is always pushing you forward to see what happens next.

    I’m also intrigued by Dostoevsky’s stated intention ‘to portray a truly beautiful soul’ in Myshkin – in practice, it seems so at odds with the day-to-day workings of the world. The scene of his declaration of love for Nastasya, for example, makes you cringe! A perfect human being, in the Christ-like sense that Dostoevsky would have meant – an impossibility??

    Dennis, you asked about Nastasya’s “madness” … Though Myshkin’s initial introduction to Nastasya was through a portrait, it is what he saw in that portrait (as he tells her later) that struck me. I supposed that it was her beauty that attracted him but in chapter 16 (part 1), he first tells her that she is suffering from fever/fit and is delirious and promises to look after her. He then tells her that he had seen the portrait earlier and it was as if he recognised a familiar face – it seemed to him that she was already somehow calling him…Is it just pity he feels for her or does he see something of himself in her??

    • I’m guessing part of it is not so much the possibility of a Christ-like figure, but how would that figure cope in a corrupt and earthly society as in the Russian that Myshkin is trying to learn. Good question about the pity — is it similar to that which Raskolnikov felt for Sonya?

  2. Eddie Chism says:

    The story about Ferdyshchenko stealing the 3 roubles and blaming it on a servant girl reminded me of the part in C&P where Luzhin tried to frame Sonya for stealing money from him.

  3. marchhare says:

    My favorite line so far, “To Ekaterinhof, follow those Troikas!”

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