So, a rabbi, a priest, and a salesman are on a train…oh, wait, no, sorry, wrong story.
Three dudes are on a train, on their way to Petersburg.
Two are young-ish twenty-seven year old guys: one with dark curly hair, one with blond hair.
(Yeah, so, anytime you open up a nineteenth century book that starts off with two similar boys or girls, but one has black hair and one has blond hair? You're meant to compare and contrast them. It's a pretty common trick authors like to use. So maybe let's keep our eyes on these two.)
They strike up a conversation, and it turns out that the blond one, Prince Myshkin, is Mr. Overshare. Everything he says is way TMI. Seriously, nowadays, this guy would be giving away his social security number to email scammers.
Myshkin is an epileptic coming back from a long stay in a Swiss hospital where they didn't cure his epilepsy.
(Oh, heads up for a Shmoop brain snack: Dostoevsky himself was epileptic all his life, with the kind of epilepsy that would give him those full-body Dr. House-style grand mal seizures you always see on TV. He frequently talked about having religious experiences during his seizures, and many of his novels feature epileptic characters. It's always differently meaningful, but meaningful nonetheless.)
Myshkin has been supported by Mr. Pavlichev, who died a few years ago. Now he has no money and no family, and has come back to Petersburg to see General Epanchin's wife, who is a distant relative.
At this, a fat guy nearby jumps into the conversation—Lebedev, a copy clerk. He's basically Perez Hilton before TMZ was a thing—he knows everyone who is anyone and is full of gossip about all the important people in town.
Meanwhile, the black-haired dude, Rogozhin, has been making fun of Myshkin as his story is coming out, but soon he is sucked into the magical circle of love that seems to surround Myshkin and he suddenly busts out with his own history.
Rogozhin is from a really wealthy family, but he had a big fight with his dad and has run off. What was the big fight about? Oh, he just stole a bunch of his dad's money and bought jewelry for some hot girl. No biggie.
Now his dad has died, so he's coming back to town to deal with his mom and brother.
The hot girl, incidentally, is going to be pretty crucial to the whole novel. Her name is Nastasya Philipovna Barashkov, and up to now she's been kept as a ward—or maybe as a kept woman—by Totsky, a gross rich dude. Rogozhin is madly in love with Nastasya Philipovna.
Lebedev knows all about this also, of course, because he is just Mr. Us Weekly. He is also totally star-struck to be in the company of Rogozhin.
The train stops. Rogozhin now is all over Myshkin with love and offers of friendship and promises of a place to stay and fancy clothes. Yeah, it's a little weird, but Myshkin apparently just has this effect on people.
The prince says thanks, maybe later, and takes off to the Epanchins' house. Lebedev gets his wish and goes off with Rogozhin and some friends from the train station. The implication is that they're going to go get wasted.