Part Two, Chapters Eleven and Twelve
by Dennis Abrams
Three days before the Epanchins “forgive” Myshkin for the events at his tea party. During that time: Myshkin swerves between blaming himself for his gullibility, and “at the same time his ‘dark and mean’ suspiciousness.” Who was the mysterious lady in the carriage delivering her message to Evgeny Pavlovich? Prince Shch and Adelaida are the first to break the ice with Myshkin. Adelaida want to paint a tree, admits that she and Prince Shch are visiting Myshkin “incognito.” Myshkin tells Prince Shch that the lady in the carriage was no other than Nastasya Filippovna, claiming that Evgeny’s promissory notes which came from some moneylender to Rogozhin. Is the story true? Is Evegeny on friendly terms with Nastasya Filippovna? Is Myshkin involved? Nastasya’s magnificent carriage. “Now, though, it was becoming clear: Prince Shch. had, of course, interpreted the event wrongly, but still he had wandered around the truth, he had understand that it was an intrigue.” A visit by Vera Lebedev, followed by a visit from her sister, then Lebedev’s son. Myshkin learns that Keller is now staying with Vera Lebedev and has become friends with General Ivolgin, “he has declared that he was staying with them solely in order to complete his education.” Waiting for Ganya. Myshkin learns that Nastasya had been in Pavlovsk for four days, is living with Darya Alexeevna (the “sprightly lady” at Nastasya’s ill-fated party), and already has a whole circle of suitors surrounding her. The premeditation of the promissory note/carriage incident. Trips to Petersburg, the “infernal mood” of Lizaveta Prokofyevna, Aglaya’s quarrels with her entire family. Myshkin considers “fleeing, “he had the feeling that if he remained here just a few more days, he would certainly be drawn into this world irretrievably, and this world would henceforth be his lot. But he did not even reason for ten minutes and decided at once that to flee was impossible…” A visit from drunk Keller, who Myshkin intuits wants to borrow money — twenty-five roubles. A visit from Lebedev and a discussion of repentance. “Well, to you alone I’ll tell the truth, because you can see through a man: words, deeds, lies, truth — they’re all there together in me and completely sincere.” Lebedev’s indirect involvement in the carriage incident, “It’s not my intrigue, not mine…others, others are in it, and it’s sooner, so to speak, a fantasy than an intrigue.” What about Aglaya? Kolya arrives with news: Aglaya is quarreling with her family over Ganya; Lizaveta has thrown Varvara Ardalionovna “out of the house once and for all,” Ganya is dangerous in Lizaveta’s eyes. According to Kolya, the prince has changed, “You’re a terrible skeptic, Prince…I’ve noticed that since a certain time you’ve become an extreme skeptic; you’re beginning not to believe anything and to suppose everything…” Kolya announces triumphantly that Myshkin is jealous of Ganya “over a certain proud girl!” Returning from Petersburg, Myshkin runs into Ivan Fyodorovich, who takes the opportunity to tell him that he’d have visited him sooner except for Lizaveta, “At home…it’s simply hell, a riddling sphinx has settled in with us, and I go about understanding nothing…For me there’s no doubt that you have nothing to do with it,…but don’t visit us for a while, I ask you, as a friend, wait till the wind changes.” Evgeny Paylich is not yet bound by words or promises to the Epanchins. The general’s fear of Nastasya as well as his unnamed fears, “…I’m afraid…As if something’s hovering in the air, trouble flitting about like a bat, and I’m afraid, afraid!…”
Three days after the events with the “Young Nihilists” and the incident with Nastasya and the carriage, Lizaveta Prokofyevna comes alone to visit Myshkin. Her stated positions: “First, don’t you dare think, that I’ve come to ask your forgiveness; Second: not a word about those spiteful brats…if you utter so much as a single word about those impudent brats, I’ll get up and leave, and break with you altogether.” Her question: “…about two and half months ago, around Eastertime, did you send Aglaya a letter?” [The letter, Part Two, Chapter One: “Once you honored me with your confidence. It may be that you have completely forgotten me now. How is that I am writing to you? I do not know; but I have in irrepressible desire to remind you of myself, and you precisely. Many’s the time have needed all three of you very much, but of all three I would see only you. I need you, I need you very much. I have nothing to write to you about myself, I have nothing to tell you about. That is not what I wanted; I wish terribly much taht you should be happy? Are you happy? That’s the only thing I wanted to tell you.”] Myshkin recites the letter to Lizaveta from memory, “Sheer galimatias! What might this nonsense mean, in your opinion?” Myshkin denies being in love with Aglaya. Is Kolya a brat or not? Lizaveta worries that Aglaya is interested in Myshkin: “She’s a despotic, crazy, spoiled girl — if she falls in love, she’ll certainly abuse the man out loud and scoff in his face; I was just the same. Only please don’t be triumphant, dear boy, she’s not yours; I won’t believe it, and it will never be!” Lizaveta asks Myshkin to swear that he’s not married to Nastasya. “…but know this: Aglaya doesn’t love you, take measures, and she won’t be your wife as long as I live! Do you hear?” Lizaveta’s tear-stained pillow, “I have another grief of my own, eternal and ever the same.” Lizaveta belief that “God himself sent you to me as a friend and true brother.” Myshkin swears he does not know why Nastasya shouted from her carriage. Lizaveta swears that Aglaya will not be Evgeny’s wife. Lizaveta confirms that Ganya has been in touch with Aglaya; her anger at Myshskin’s trust in him. Ganya has put Aglaya in touch with Nastasya. Myshkin’s letter from Burdovsky thanking him for the money he gave to his mother, and confirming he will not take another kopeck from him. Myshkin lets slip that he has been forbidden to visit the Epanchin’s house by Aglaya, “If, after all that has happened, you intend to surprise me by visiting our dacha, then you may be assured that you will not find me among the delighted.” Lizaveta orders Myshkin to visit Aglaya immediately, “Well, now, I’ll see it all for myself, with my own eyes…of course, she herself was vexed that you didn’t come, only she didn’t reckon that she ought not to write like that to an idiot, because he’d tae it literally…She needs a buffoon like you, and it’s long she’s seen one, that’s why she wants you! And I’m glad, glad that she’s now going to sharpen her teeth on you! You deserve it. And she knows how, oh, she does know how!…”
An interesting couple of chapters, as the dust settles from everybody’s encounter with the “Young Nihilists,” as well as Nastasya’s shouted message from the carriage. A few observations and questions:
1. Who is playing games with who? What is Nastasya doing? Evgeny?
2. And on the level of personal relationships…Ganya and Aglaya? What does Aglaya want? Why is she starting arguments with her family? Even more intriguingly…what does Lizaveta want?
3. Didn’t Lizaveta’s description of her daughter sound like it could apply to Nastasya as well?
4. Not only does Myshkin seem to have been dropped into a world that he doesn’t understand, the inhabitants of that world don’t seem to quite understand it either. I find myself agreeing with Epanchin that, “it’s simply hell, a riddling sphinx has settled in with us, and I got about understanding nothing.”
That being said, the more I read the more I find myself intrigued and drawn into Dostoevsky’s world. In a very odd way, despite the religious overtones/Christ symbolism, the book seems, somehow, very modern both in structure (or lack thereof) and the ambiguities that seem to be piling up despite what, I’m guessing were Dostoevsky’s true intentions.
What are your thoughts about the book so far?
Part Three, Chapter One