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The Idiot

The Idiot

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Idiot Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary

  • Before we rejoin our old friend Prince Myshkin, we get a little background on General Epanchin and his family. Epanchin is a really rich guy, who came from nothing and now is very big deal both in the government and in business. He's got three grownup daughters, all pretty, but the youngest is the most beautiful. They aren't married yet, but it looks like they'll do well on the old marriage meat market because daddy can fund a big dowry.
  • Myshkin shows up to their house, rings the bell, and starts explaining to the servant who he is and what he wants. The servant gets stressed out right away by Myshkin—the immediate assumption is that he's some poor person coming to beg for money.
  • But Myshkin works some of his over-sharing magic on the guy, explains to him his whole life story. The servant is all, whoa, no visitor has ever spoken to me about anything before. Then Myshkin really wins him over by launching into a long monologue about a guy he saw executed, and how capital punishment is the worst thing ever because the mental suffering from the knowledge that you're going to die the next day is much worse than physical suffering from a wound.
  • (Shmoop brain snack: In his youth, Dostoevsky himself was sentenced to death for being involved with a group of radicals. This was back in the day when that kind of sentence was carried out within days, so no languishing on death row for these people. He and his buds were led out to a firing squad, put in front of the guns, and then pardoned. The whole thing had been a way to "teach them a lesson." So maybe Dostoevsky knows what he's talking about when he says that being condemned to death is way too much suffering for a person to go through.)
  • This turns out to be just the right ice breaker, apparently—hey, remember that for your next party.
  • The servant hooks up Myshkin with Ganya (we're still calling him Gavrilla Ardalionovich at this point), who works at one of General Epanchin's companies. Ganya looks like a bad news. He takes Myshkin in to see General Epanchin.
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