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The Idiot

The Idiot

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Idiot Part 4, Chapter 7 Summary

  • Suddenly, one of the party guests mentions something about Pavlichev (remember, the dude that took Myshkin under his wing and got him to that Swiss clinic?). Not only that, but he actually remembers Myshkin as a little boy.
  • Myshkin is psyched. No, like, really super-duper psyched to discover someone from his past—so psyched that his happiness starts to explode into an overflowing fountain of words.
  • At first, he is just reminiscing about his childhood with Pavlichev. He's a little over-excited, but still pretty normal.
  • But then, someone happens to comment that just before he died, Pavlichev converted to Roman Catholicism (from Russian Orthodoxy). And, well, this is when the proverbial crap starts hitting the proverbial fan.
  • Myshkin freaks out. Pavlichev a Roman Catholic? That's insane. And with that, starts a very, very long rant about:
  • (1) Catholicism is so far removed from correct Christianity (aka Russian Orthodoxy) that is actually worse than atheism. Atheism after all is belief in nothing, but Catholicism is a belief in Anti-Christianity.
  • (2) Actually, even more than that, Catholicism isn't really even a religion, but instead just a continuation of the Holy Roman Empire—basically, because of the Crusades, the Catholic Church is actually more a government/state than a religious organization, since only governments wage wars.
  • (3) Atheism and socialism (in other words, nihilism) actually come from Catholicism. How? Yeah, we're not so clear on that one either.
  • (4) Russians are so eager to embrace nihilism—and embrace it so strongly and with such conviction—because they are actually deeply spiritually hungry. All they need to do is to rediscover Russia and then they'll forget all this crazy nihilist nonsense.
  • At this point, Myshkin is almost yelling. He gets up, starts gesticulating, and, of course he knocks over that vase that Aglaya was warning him about the day before.
  • He starts to get really embarrassed, but then realizes that everyone is kind of laughing it off and generally doesn't seem too angry.
  • Even the Epanchins are being pretty cool about the whole thing.
  • Immediately, Myshkin is full of a weird feeling of extreme happiness. He starts talking again, about how he is really, really excited to meet these extremely kind and nice members of the nobility—because he is one of them himself, and also because he has only heard bad things about them and is so happy to see that these bad things aren't really true.
  • Then he starts telling them that it's easy to see God in every tiny thing in the world—a child, the grass, a sunrise—and then he has an epileptic seizure. Aglaya sees it coming quickly enough to catch him before he falls to the ground.
  • (Okay, Shmoop brain snack time—this is actually pretty much an autobiographical description of what Dostoevsky's own seizures felt like to him. He wrote that just before each one, he would get this crazy feeling of oneness with the universe and overwhelming love, and the feeling that he was about to understand everything about everything. Actually, he's not the only epileptic who experiences something like this before seizures, which is probably why way, way back in the day epilepsy sufferers were thought to be connected to the divine in some unique way.)
  • Right, so, seizure.
  • The guests leave after he recovers.
  • It's still sort of unclear what society thinks about him—basically something along the lines of, well, he's obviously a very good man, but so ill that he is probably not marriage material.
  • Mrs. Epanchin again goes back and forth about it.
  • When Aglaya again declares that she isn't Myshkin's fiancée, her mom snaps at her for being so cold, but then the narrator reveals that this is unfair because Aglaya actually has some kind of plan or something up her sleeve. Huh.

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