“Enough of these passions, it’s time to serve reason.”

The Idiot
Part Four, Chapters 10-12
by Dennis Abrams

The wedding of Prince Myshkin and Nastasya Filippovna is set for one week after Evgeny’s visit. There is a rumor that it was General Ivan Fyodorovich and hid wife Lizaveta Prokofyevna who were responsible for Evgeny’s visit — there was nothing they could do on their own. General Ivolgin has died after suffering a second stroke eight days after his first. Myshkin attended the funeral and was the subject of much whispering, talk and finger pointing — Nastasya Filippovna was not there, neither was the “captain’s widow.” Was Rogozhin there — was it his eyes that Myshkin saw? Keller’s praise of Myshkin, “now he could see for himself that the prince was thinking at least ten times more nobly than all of then ‘taken together!’ For he wanted not brilliance, not riches, and not even honor, but only — truth!” Lebedev conspires to have Myshkin committed, and brings a doctor to evaluate the case. His decision? “…if all such people were taken into custody, who then would be the custodians?” Lebedev decides to once again side with Myshkin. Ippolit, who was angry at Kolya for ignoring him and spending time with his dying father and widowed mother shifts his ire to Myshkin and his upcoming marriage before attempting to make peace with him by advising him to run away to get married, but adding, “‘I’m only afraid for Aglaya Ivanovna: Rogozhin knows how much you love her; love for love; you’ve taken Nastasya Filippovna from him, he’ll kill Aglaya Ivanovna; though she’s not yours now…’ He achieved his goal; the prince went away no longer himself.” Nastasya had been distressed during the days leading to the marriage, convinced that Rogozhin was waiting in the garden to kill her; her hysterics on the eve of the wedding, “What am I doing! What am I dong! What am I doing to you!” Society’s disapproval of the very public marriage, but on that day of the wedding, Nastasya has achieved her goal, “to hold her head still higher before them, to outshine them all with the taste and wealth of her finery — ‘let them shout, let them whistle, if they dare!'” Crowds gather for the eight o’clock in the evening wedding at the church, around Lebedev’s dacha, near Darya Alexeevna’s house. Fears for Myshkin. The prince leaves for the church. Nastasya, “white as a sheet,” leaves Darya’s house to acclaim from the crowd, “A princess! I’d sell my soul for such a princess!…a life for one night with me.” As Nastasya approaches the waiting carriage, Rogozhin appears, “She rushed to him like a madwoman and seized him with body hands. ‘Save me! Take me away! Whatever you like, now!'” Rogozhin takes her to the train station. The fifty rouble mantilla. The news of Nastasya’s escape with Rogozhin reaches the church. “The prince left the church looking calm and brisk…” Sympathy for Myshkin. The next morning, Myshkin takes the first train to St. Petersburg.

Myshkin goes directly from the station to Rogohzin’s and is told that he is not at home, although the caretaker seems to contradict that. Myshkin goes to the Izamailovsky quarter where Nastasya’s last apartment was, with a teacher’s widow — the widow and her family have not seen her and are shocked to learn of the events of the previous evening. Myshkin registers at the hotel he’d stayed at previously and returns to Rogozhin’s — still not there. Myshkin goes back to the teacher’s as well as to other places where Nastasya had stayed — no luck. Nastasya’s deck of cards, her copy of Madame Bovary. The teacher’s widow volunteers to go to Pavlovsk that evening. Myshkin returns to his hotel that evening, the same hotel he had been staying at when Rogozhin attacked him with a knife, and realizes that “..if Rogozhin was in Petersburg, then even if he was hiding for a time, all the same he would end by coming to him, the prince, with good or bad intentions, perhaps, just as then.” He was right — fifty paces away from the hotel, Rogozhin finds him, “come with me, brother, you’ve got to.” Rogozhin carefully sneaks Myshkin into his house — the rooms are dark, the windows are covered. Rogozhin’s room: Nastasya is on the bed, “covered from head to foot with a white sheet, but the limbs were somehow vaguely outlined…Scattered in disorder on the bed, at its foot, on the chair next to the bed, even on the floor, were the taken-off clothes, a costly white silk dress…peeping from under the sheet, the tip of a bare foot was outlined; it seemed carved from marble and was terribly still. The prince looked and felt that the more he looked, the more dead and quiet the room became. Suddenly an awakened fly, buzzed, flew over the bed, and alighted by its head.” Rogozhin had killed Nastasya the night before, “…the knife seemed to go in about three inches…or even three and a half…just under the left breast…but only about half a tablespoon of blood came out on her nightshirt; no more than that…” Rogozhin and Myshkin begin to lose their minds, each in their own way. Rogozhin asks Myshkin to sleep with him on the floor. Nastasya’s cards. Many hours later, people burst into the room, “they found the murderer totally unconscious and delirious. The prince was sitting motionless on the bed beside him, and each time the sick man had a burst of shouting or raving, he quietly hastened to pass his trembling hand over his hair and cheeks, as if caressing and soothing him. But he no longer understood anything of what they asked him about, and did not recognize the people who came in and surrounded him.”

Rogozhin’s apartment had been opened in the presence of the police, Lebedev, the teacher’s widow and Darya Alexeevna, and Rogozhin’s brother. Rogozhin, after suffering from ‘brain fever’ for two months, is tried and sentenced to fifteen years hard labor in Siberia — his fortune went to his brother, his mother, Old Mrs. Rogozhin, “goes on living in this world and seems to recall her favorite son Parfyon occasionally, but not very clearly: God spared her mind and heart all awareness of the horror that had visited her sad house.” Ippolit died two weeks after Nastasya’s death. Kolya became closer to his mother. Myshkin is sent back to Switzerland, to Schneider’s institution, where he visited every few months by Evgeny — Schneider “frowns and shakes his head more and more; he hints at a total derangement of the mental organs; he does not yet speak positively of incurability, but he allows himself the saddest hints.” Evgeny and Vera Lebedev have become closer. Aglaya had suddenly married an emigre Polish count, who, it turned out, was not actually a count and had no fortune, “He had captivated Aglaya with the extraordinary nobility of his soul, tormented by sufferings over his fatherland.” Six years after the marriage, the ‘count’ had brought about a complete quarrel between Aglaya and her family. The Epanchin’s visit Myshkin and Lizaveta, “seeing the prince in his sick and humiliated condition, wept with all her heart. Apparently everything was forgiven him.” And the last word: “”Poor Lizaveta Prokovyevna wanted to be in Russia and, as Evgeny Pavlovich testified, she bitterly and unfairly criticized everything abroad: ‘They can’t bake good bread anywhere, in the winter they freeze like mice in the cellar,’ she said. ‘But here at least I’ve had a good Russian cry over this poor man,’ she added, pointing with emotion to the prince, who did not recognize her at all. ‘Enough of these passions, it’s time to serve reason. And all this, and all these foreign lands, and all this Europe of yours, it’s all one big fantasy, and all of us abroad are one big fantasy…remember my words, you’ll see for yourself!’ she concluded all but wrathfully, parting from Evgeny Pavlovich.”


And so we come to the end of what I found to be a fascinating and ultimately very rewarding reading experience. The book works, I think, in a lot of very interesting and unexpected ways. Some thoughts on the end:

Nastasya Filippovna tries to save herself for the last time by marrying Myshkin, but again, it seems to me, it’s an impossibility because of who she is: her self-blame and guilt over her “ruined” life overpowers her self-love and her desire to marry the Prince and to save herself, although she does, I suspect truly love him. But by running to and away with Rogozhin, she instead runs to her death.. Rogozhin tells Myshkin that Nastasya Filippovna even insists on going to his house when they reach St. Petersburg—another indication that her escape with Rogozhin is an act of suicide — she chooses to die, as she sees her only two choices in life as either living with her shame or ruining the prince’s life by marrying him. And although Myshkin, because of the mixture of pity and love that he feels for her is perfectly willing to marry her (while not seeming to understand exactly what marriage means), she realizes that he also loves Aglaya. Myshkin, then is unable to save Nastasya Filippovna from death, just as he is unable to save General Ivolgin, who dies shortly after his first stroke. And at the same time, Rogozhin is also ruined. Having murdered Nastasya (an event which was both predicted and foreshadowed from the beginning) he is not only sentenced to a labor camp in Siberia, but also descends (like Myshkin) further into a state of mental illness. Myshkin, ultimately, is helpless and unable to do anything to prevent the ruin of either Nastasya Filippovna or Rogozhin. In both cases, all he can do is stroke their heads like children in an attempt to comfort them.

After the disastrous meeting between Aglaya and Nastasya Filippovna, Myshkin, it seems to me, begins to lose his already somewhat tentative grasp of reality, losing it completely after Nastasya Filippovna’s murder. That decline in the prince’s sanity seems to be mirrored in the narration itself, as the narrator gradually loses omniscience throughout the novel. By the end, the narrator resorts to rumors and gossip in constructing the novel’s events and cannot tell with any degree of certainty whether the events of the wedding actually occurred in the way he is about to tell. Like Myshkin, who ironically seems to become more and more of an “idiot” as the novel progresses, the narrator seems to descend into a state of ‘idiocy’ reflected by his inability to retell the novel’s events with any certainty or be able to interpret them with any credible explanation.

The Idiot ends by having gone full circle geographically. Myshkin takes a train from Switzerland to St. Petersburg, follows Nastasya Filippovna to other cities, goes to Pavlovsk, returns to St. Petersburg, and finally is sent back to the same clinic in Switzerland where he began his journey. The prince arrives in St. Petersburg almost as a ‘messiah’ sent (by whom?) to help many of the main characters of the novel; however, when he fails to save them from destruction he returns to the clinic in a state of complete mental degradation. It might be overly exaggerated though, to characterize his trip as a complete failure. Certainly, at the end of the novel, Nastasya Filippovna, General Ivolgin and poor Ippolit are dead, while the lives of Rogozhin and Aglaya are virtually ruined. Even so, Myshkin has had an indelible effect upon the people he has met, particularly younger characters like Kolya and Vera Lebedev and even older ones such as Lizaveta Prokovyevna.

I’ll have more to say about the book this week as well as posting what others have to say, and I’ll also begin to post introductory essays to our next book, Demons.

A few last things…

1. Why did it take me to the end of the book to realize that the captain’s widow (General Ivolgin’s mistress) was Ippolit’s mother?

2. And a question for the group — why did Dostoevsky give the last word to Lizaveta Prokofyevna?

3. And finally…now that you’ve made it through to the end…what are your thoughts about the book? Did you enjoy it? Was it what you expected? Share with the group…

More tomorrow.

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5 Responses to “Enough of these passions, it’s time to serve reason.”

  1. PatRosier says:

    I’ve been wondering why Lizaveta Prokofyevna got the last words, too. Perhaps she stands for something “ordinary” and ongoing, with “home” as the true basis of life. I’m really not certain.

    I certainly am pleased to have read this book. I find some of the emotion and language overwrought, but got used to it as the book went on. The word “wrath” and it’s variations leaps out at me from pages everywhere now. For example, I am rereading Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red and it occurs reasonably often there. (The book is set in late 15th century Istanbul)

    The character of Prince Myshkin got more real to me as the book went on. The idea of “goodness” in a person and what “good” that can do interested me. As did the ineffectiveness of good intentions, in spite of their appeal. The narrator interested me, too, as he (I assume it’s D, I guess) moved in and out of the action, and, as Dennis has pointed out, got more confused as the main characters got confused/ lost their reason.

    Such a lot going on in this book, as in Crime and Punishment. I like D’s big themes and find it fascinating how relevant they are to the contemporary world. (Which I suppose is the nature of big themes.)

    I’m looking forward to Demons, about which I know nothing and have barely previously heard.

    Thank you for your commentary and additional readings, Dennis, I find them extremely valuable and they enrich my understanding of the books.

  2. Minnikin says:

    I thought the last word to Lizaveta Prokofyevna worked on a number of levels: She is the connection (a distant relative) that brings Myshkin to St Petersburg in the first place. Her words are even more apt – ‘all of us while abroad, are just a fantasy…’ (David McDuff translation): The prince, (like Raskolnikov in C & P) is an outsider – there is always something that sets the prince apart from people (People laugh/deride/talk about him even when he’s in the room! … and yet, many of them remain fascinated by him). This, despite the fact that one of the reasons he returns to Russia is to be with his fellow countrymen. Even though he’s ‘home’ he is ‘abroad’.

    I read a commentary by Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) somewhere online and he made an interesting point about the much talked about ‘Myshkin as a Christ-figure’. Williams looked at it from a slightly different angle:

    ‘Although he has first been represented to us as a kind of Christ-figure, selfless, forgiving and compassionate, we realise with alarm as the book goes on that Myshkin’s lack of self-awareness is increasingly destructive for those around. He turns out to be almost a parody of Christ. The book ends with murder and insanity and no resolution in sight.’

  3. Eddie Chism says:

    Dennis, as to your #1, I too had forgotten that Ippolit was the widow’s son until the chapter where General Igolvin leaves the house of his son-in-law after the argument with his son. Ippolit was staying in the house at that time, and a brief allusion was made to the fact. I looked back at the scene where Myshkin met the widow, and right afterwards Kolya introduces him to Ippolit and talks about how the relations between Ippolit’s mother and Kolya’s father is more shameful for Ippolit, since she is a woman, and there is no shame for a man in such a situation! He then immediately reconsiders whether this is just a prejudice – perhaps this is the origin of his later obsession with arguing “the woman question” or whatever they call it.

  4. Evansrck says:

    The Idiot was my first foray into Dostoyevsky,and boy what a foray it was! A right emotional rollercoaster! I seemed to see a strange trend with Myshkin. From the start of the book he still appeared to be shaking off his illness and often appeared very childlike in his dealings. But as the plot progressed I felt like he matured an incredible amount. He often sounded like an old man who had experienced everything when it comes to people, the way he was able to disclose their intentions to them in an almost fatherly way.

    But as you said, he soon gets so overwhelmed with the goings on around him that he starts to revert. It was actually sad to see him descend into his madness like that. I found myself rather infatuated with Aglaia, Haha, and was genuinely hoping that it would work out, after all, he deserved to be happy. But alas, twas not to be! The way D worked up to the final confrontation between Aglaia and Fillipovna, and Myshkin’s delirium (for lack of a better word) afterward was masterful.

    The way the book ended, with Aglaia running off with a deviant Pole, Fillipovna dead, and the poor prince out of his mind and completely unaware of it all, was pretty hard for me to swallow. I guess I’m used to the Hollywood ending, where even if the hero doesn’t get the girl it still ends on a happy note. I guess, in a strange way that I almost feel more for Aglaia then anyone else. The prince is currently out of his mind and would think nothing of the name Nastasya or Aglaia, Epanchin, Lebedyev, Fantasy or Rogohzin. Nastasya is well, dead. But from the moment she was introduced I knew that was to be, she really brought upon herself and the limits of my pity only stretched so far. But Aglaia, despite her rather peevish and annoying facade, underneath was a very caring and genuine person. You knew that she truly loved the prince and for her to publicly acknowledge it to none other than Nastasya fillipovna was agony for her. And she ended up crushed by what I would say was her first and only true love. So, in the end, for whatever reason (other than that given by the author) she ran away with a false baron, fell out with her family and, as far as we know, is now in complete disgrace.

    Those are just my thoughts on it. Sorry they are a bit rambley, but it is my first time analysing Dostoyevsky.

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