Part Two, Chapter Eight
by Dennis Abrams
The ‘young Nihilists’ take Myshkin to task for making them wait in the lackey’s quarters — Myshkin responds by saying that he hadn’t known they were waiting for him. Lizaveta urges Kolya to read to the group an article from a “weekly newspaper of the humoristic sort…Proletarians and Scions, an Episode from Daily and Everyday Robberies! Progress! Reform! Justice! The article, although not naming names, the article is clearly about Myshkin. It attacks his father for having “died under investigation for the unexpected disappearance of all the company funds during a card game,” attacks him for his “idiocy,” and claims that his guardian, “let’s call him P,” was an idler, “lascivious,” and had fathered a child out of wedlock, who should be the rightful heir to the money that Myshkin had inherited, as well as the money that had been spent on Myshkin’s education — it is “Pavlischev’s son,” one of the young Nihilists, who claims that in the name of all that is fair and just he should have received the inheritance and therefore expects Myshkin to do the right thing and turn the money over to him. The embarrassment of Myshkin’s friends having listened to the article. “First of all, I am not ‘my dear sir’ to you…” The prince’s anguish, stating that everything in the article is untrue. Why were Burdovsky and his friends angry that Myshkin had discussed the case with his friends, when they had published the story in a newspaper? Lebedev’s nephew: “That is why we came here…for the mere reason that we do not ask but demand…” “‘Demand, demand, demand, and do not ask!…’ Burdovsky babbled, and turned red as a lobster.” Myshkin speaks: “Tell me, why did you publish the article? Every word of it is slander; therefore, in my opinion, you have done something base.” Keller admits that he wrote the article. Myshkin speaks: In Moscow, Burdovsky’s agent, Chebarov, approached him, “but I didn’t like him at all. I only understood from the first that this Chebarov was the chief thing and that it may have been he who prompted you to start all this, Mr. Burdovsky, taking advantage of your simplicity, if I may speak frankly…I’ll tell you directly, gentlemen, that this seemed to me a most crooked affair, precisely because of Chebarov…” Myshkin find it impossible to believe, given the goodness of Pavlischev, “he was the most chaste man in the world,” and that Burdovsky was so willing to publicly shame his mother, that the incident had ever occurred. But, since Burdovsky to do such a thing “must be a simple, defenseless man, a man easily swayed by crooks…” he has decided to give him ten thousand roubles. “He’s an innocent man, but whom everybody is deceiving! A defenseless man…and therefore I must spare him.” Gavrila Ardalionovich has found proof positive that Mr. Burdovsky isn’t Pavlischev’s son. “And I’m convinced that he doesn’t understand a thing! I, too, was in such a condition when I left Switzerland…” Myshkin’s embarrassment and sense of shame that “he had ‘insulted’ Burdovsky by so publicly supposing him to have the same illness for which he himself had been treated in Switzerland — besides, that, the offer of the ten thousand instead of the school had, in his opinion, been made cruelly and carelessly, as if it were charity, and precisely in that it had been spoken aloud in front of other people. ‘I should have waited and offered it tomorrow when were alone,’ the prince thought at once, ‘and now it’s unlikely that I can put it right! Yes, I’m an idiot, a real idiot!'”
I don’t have much to say about this section except for this:
1. I loved the newspaper, both for the sense of what that kind of satirical piece would have been like, in addition to its humor — you can tell how much Dostoevsky enjoyed writing it.
2. Myshkin — for the first time, I’m feeling like I’m getting a handle on him, and actually felt a sense of admiration for the way in which Dostoevsky showed his intuitive sense getting to the heart of the matter, and love for the feeling of shame he felt for putting ‘Pavlischev’s son’ in his place in such a public way.
What were your feelings reading this? Did it enhance your sense of who Myshkin is — did it make him less of a cipher?
Part Two, Chapter Nine