Part Three, Chapter Four
by Dennis Abrams
Myshkin approaches his dacha with Rogozhin, only to find a party on the terrace, “he saw that they were all drinking, and drinking champagne, and it seemed they had been at it for quite a while, so that many of the revelers had managed to become quite pleasantly animated.” Good wishes for the prince’s birthday. Lebedev promises that the champagne beings served is his, not Myshkin’s. In attendance: Lebedev, Ippolit, General Ivolgin and his daughters, Ganya and Ptitsyn, Kolya, and, much to Myshkin’s surprise, Evgeny Pavlovich and Burdovsky. Lebedev, babbling, references Hamlet. Vera Lebedev is the first to greet Myshkin, wishing him, “a happy life starting this very day.” Ippolit’s happiness at seeing Myshkin. Burdovsky says he’s there as Ippolit’s escort and simply presses Myshkin’s hand. The reappearance of Ferdyshchenko, “who had appeared from God knows where.” Evgeny informs Myshkin that he’d like a few words with him: First of all, he has taken care of the business with Kurmyshev — there will be no duel. As regards to the other matter, Evgeny would rather wait until the crowd disperses, “I’ve come to seek your friendship, my dear Prince. You are a most incomparable man, that is, you don’t like at every step, and maybe not at all, and there’s one matter in which I need a friend and an adviser, because I now decidedly find myself among the unfortunate…” The feverish animation of Ippolit. Myshkin’s disappointment that he had had two glasses of champagne. Keller and his fondness for reading about the English Parliamentarians, …”‘my noble opponent, who has astonished Europe with his proposal,’ that is, all those little expressions, all that parliamentarianism of a free nation — that’s what our sort finds attractive!” Lebedev, the railroads, credit, and the law of self-preservation. “The law of self-destruction and the law of self-preservation are equally strong in mankind! The devil rules equally over mankind until a limit in time still unknown to us. You laugh? You don’t believe in the devil? Disbelief in the devil is a French notion, a frivolous notion. Do you know who the devil is? Do you know what this name is?” Is a noisy delivery of bread better than spiritual peace? A drunken discussion of famines. A drunken discussion of a man who, “in the course of a long and meager life…had personally killed and eaten in deepest secrecy sixty monks and several lay babies — about six, not more, that is, remarkably few compared with the quantity of clergy he had eaten…” “But how can one eat sixty monks?” “Though he didn’t eat them all at once, which is obvious, but maybe over the course of fifteen or twenty years, which is quite understandable and natural…” The frequency of famines. Myshkin, not laughing at Lebedev as is everyone else, talks about life in Switzerland, the isolation of the ancient castles, and the hard work of the poor people who had built them. Were clergymen fatter? Lebedev analyzes the psychological and juridical condition of the criminal. Babies are too small to eat, and “in my personal opinion, is not nourishing, is perhaps even too sweet and cloying…” Why not become a monk yourself instead of confessing to such a terrible crime? “Show me something resembling such a force in our age of crime and railways…” Keller’s displeasure with Lebedev’s speech: “The man attacks enlightenment, preaches rabid twelfth-century fanaticism, clowns, and even without any innocence of heart: how did he pay for this house, may I ask?” A moment between Rogozhin and Ganya. Evgeny is vexed that Ippolit has foisted himself on Myshkin.
What the hell was that? “Probably that in the twelfth century only monks could be eaten, because only monks were fat.”? “We see it clearly from the facts: it is mentioned that he did, after all, eat five or six babies — a comparatively insignificant number, but portentous in another respect.”? “And, first of all, in my opinion, a baby is too small, that is, not of large size, so that for a given period of time he would need three or five times the number of lay babies as of clergymen, so that the sin, while diminishing on the one hand, would in the final end be increased on the other, if not in quality, then in quantity.”? I’m not at all certain how to interpret Lebedev’s virtual monologue…any thoughts?
I also loved the little narrative intrusion here, “The prince was surprised to see a terribly disheveled, flushed, winking and laughing face, in which he instantly recognized Ferdyshchenko, who had appeared from God knows where.”
The Weekend’s Reading:
It’s going to be a bit longer than normal, but…it’s a major scene, absolutely fascinating, and there’s no way to cut it or break it up in any logical manner, so…
Part Three, Chapters Five-Seven
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.