Part Two, Chapter Nine
by Dennis Abrams
Ganya presents Burdovsky with the facts about his parentage. Burdovsky was born two years after her marriage with his father, Mr. Burdovsky. Pavlishchev had left Russia a year and a half before Burdovsky had been born, and his mother had never left Russia. There is, however, a good reason why Burdovsky might believe that Pavlishchev was his father: Burdovsky’s mother was the sister of a “house-girl serf” who Pavlishchev had loved and would have married her if she hadn’t unexpectedly died. Instead, he raised Burdovsky’s mother like a relation, set aside a dowry for her, and although many thought he’d marry her, she instead married Burdovsky’s father, “a totally impractical man, having received fifteen thousand as your mother’s dowry, abandoned his job, got into commercial ventures, was cheated, lost his capital, could not bear his grief, began to drink, which caused his illness, and finally died prematurely, in the eighth year of his marriage to your mother.” Pavlishchev was fond of the young Burdovsky, “it appears he loved you mainly because as a child you had a speech defect and the look of a cripple, a pathetic, miserable child…” Thus, because of his attachment, rumors spread that he was actually the father, rumors Burdovsky believed. Burdovsky’s mother, living in poverty. Ganya: “First, Mr. Burdovsky can now be fully certain that Mr. Pavlishchev loved him out of magnanimity and not as a son.” A new view of Chebarov. Ganya tells Burdovsky that he can now accept money from Myshkin. Lebedev’s nephew throws an envelope down on the table, returning Myshkin’s initial gift of two hundred fifty roubles (not fifty as the newspaper article said). Myshkin apologizes for the way he offered Burdovsky the ten thousand roubles, much to the dismay of Lizaveta and Aglaya. The envelope only contains one hundred of the two hundred fifty roubles, “Of course, a hundred roubles aren’t two hundred and fifty, and it’s not all the same, but what’s important is the principle; it’s the initiative that’s important and the fact of the missing hundred and fifty roubles is merely a detail. What’s important is that Burdovsky does not accept charity from you, Your Highness, and in this sense a hundred is the same as two hundred and fifty…Burdovsky is poor, Burdovsky has no millions, and Chebarov presented the bill after his trip. We hoped to win…Who would have acted differently in his place?” Evgeny: “This reminds me, of a famous defense made recently by a lawyer, who, presenting poverty as an excuse for his client, who had murdered six people at one go in order to rob them, suddenly concluded along these lines: ‘It is natural,’ he says, ‘that my client out of poverty, should have taken it into his head to commit this murder of six people, and who in his place would not have taken it into his head?” Lizaveta has enough, “It’s time to break off this galimatias!” Lizaveta’s once in every three years unleashed wrath. Her anger at Myshkin for begging forgiveness from the ‘young Nihilists, and because she knows that the next day he’ll go to visit them to offer “his friendship and capital.” Her accusation of Burdovsky: “Your money, your ten thousand, perhaps he won’t take, perhaps in good conscience he won’t, but he’ll come in the night and put a knife in you, and take it from the strongbox. Take it in good conscience! He doesn’t find it dishonest! It’s a ‘noble impulse of despair,’ it’s ‘negation,’ or devil knows what it is…Pah! Everything’s inside-out, everybody’s topsy-turvy.” She continues: “Mad! Vainglorious! They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in Christ! You’re so eaten up by vanity and pride that you’ll end by eating each other, that I foretell to you. Isn’t this havoc, isn’t it chaos, isn’t it an outrage? And after that this disgraceful creature goes asking their forgiveness!” Lizaveta blames Ippolit for corrupting Kolya, “He raves about you only, you teach him atheism, you don’t believe in God, but you could do with a good whipping, my dear sir! Ah, I spit on you all!” Lizaveta tells Myshkin that if he goes to visit the nihilists the next day, “Then I don’t want to know you!” Ippolit informs Lizaveta that he will be dead in two weeks, bringing an end to her outpouring of rage. Lizaveta apologizes to Myshkin, “You’re not worthy of my having tea with you…” Tea is served.
This section pretty much speaks for itself, but a couple of observations.
1. The obvious link between Myshkin and Burdovsky, both loved by Pavlishchev for their infirmities, “…I have deduced from precise evidence, [Pavlishchev] had all his life a certain tender inclination towards everything oppressed and wronged by nature, especially in children…”
2. The attempted explanation for the missing 150 roubles is, honestly, one of the funnier things I’ve read in a while — who knew Dostoevsky had that kind of scene in him?
3. And finally, Lizaveta Prokofyevna’s big “scene,” her despair at the changing world around her was, I think, absolutely thrilling — I was absolutely enthralled. And I must say that the further we go into the book, the more enthralling I’m finding it.
What’s going on with all of you? Is The Idiot coming together as a reading experience for you? Now that it appears that most of the major characters have been introduced and are in place — is it making more sense?
Part Two, Chapter Ten