Study Guide

The Idiot Part 1, Chapter 4

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 1, Chapter 4

  • The general grabs Myshkin and heads in to have lunch with the fam.
  • When they walk in, Epanchin gives Mrs. Epanchin a kiss on the cheek, but it's clear to him that the situation is tense for some reason.
  • Still, they sit down to eat a good meal.
  • And we? Well, we don't get any food, but we do get a whole heck of a lot of backstory to set up the rest of the novel. This whole chapter basically cuts away from the action to jump back into the past and tell us the whole deal with the Epanchin family, Totsky, Ganya, and Nastasya Philipovna. Let's dive in, shall we?
  • The Epanchins have three daughters. They are all very nice and pretty and whatever, but the most beautiful is the youngest one—Aglaya.
  • Everyone in the family has sacrificed for her advancement, without any resentment. It just seems inevitable that she is going to have some kind of stellar marriage and so the other sisters even give up some of their dowry to make hers ginormous.
  • Epanchin is kind of an enlightened dad, not bothering the girls too much with the marriage market, but the oldest daughter is now twenty-five, and you know what that means. Better get a husband fast before she ends up an old maid.
  • And just like that, Epanchin's friend Totsky, a very young man of only fifty-five years old, is suddenly all hot to marry one of the daughters. (All together now, EWWWWW.)
  • So, yeah, hands off Aglaya, Tostky—but hey, you can have the oldest daughter. Who is just nice and obliging and self-sacrificing enough that she'd even be willing marry you. And if that doesn't sound like the beginning of a totally fantastic marriage, we don't know what does. Ah, almost-like-out-of-filial-obligation. How romantic.
  • Anyway, Totsky and Epanchin come to this agreement and slowly nudge things along. But there is a wrench in the works—namely, Nastasya Philipovna.
  • Remember all that stuff about how Totsky paid for her education and then set her up in a house in the country? Yeah, that all happened, except this also happened: he was totally getting it on with her that whole time. While she was very young, completely under his power, and had no ability to leave or say no. He really is such a wonderful benefactor to the needy, no? (Just to clarify, back in the day this doesn't seem to have qualified as rape, but it's still clear from the context of the novel that Totsky was massively inappropriately taking advantage of his power. So all those grossed out feelings you're having? Totally on track.)
  • Well, it turns out, while he was having his fun out in the countryside, he also decided to get married. Because you know, he's really a dedicated family man.
  • Nastasya Philipovna found this out, and the next time he came to visit her, Totsky found a totally different Nastasya in place of the compliant girl he was used to.
  • She told him off in no uncertain terms, and then threatened to completely undo his life and any potential marriage that he might be considering. She also busted out with some legal precedent for him being in the wrong. And finally? She is suddenly ten times as hot and beautiful as she had ever been before.
  • Totsky was floored, and also terrified. Turns out he likes whatever he does in the country to stay in the country, and a huge scandal tarnishing his name is his number one fear.
  • Totsky quickly considered his options, and decided that she couldn't do him any actual harm, so he might as well try to diffuse the situation in some way other than just having her quickly killed off.
  • He decides to marry her off to someone. To have this happen, he sets her up in a house in Petersburg, with all the luxuries and comforts money can buy, and introduces her to all sorts of eligible bachelors. But no, she's not interested. She just leads a quiet life and saves all the money he gives her.
  • This is when General Epanchin comes into the picture. When Totsky makes a play for the oldest Epanchin daughter, he also spills the beans about this whole Nastasya Philipovna situation.
  • The two friends decide to push her to marry Epanchin's clerk Ganya, who seems to already have the hots for her anyway.
  • They go to her house, make a long speech about how clearly Totsky is in the wrong for how he treated her—but how now they might as well not ruin any more lives.
  • Nastasya Philipovna seems totally reasonable. She agrees to marry Ganya with the condition that his family not object to her (we get the sense that Ganya's family thinks she's damaged goods and so they think she's beneath them).
  • Totsky also tell her that he'll throw 75 grand into the mix as a way to pay her back for her ruined life. So, he's an insurance adjuster?
  • She agrees to the money as well, but says that Ganya needs to know about the money beforehand.
  • So how do things stand now?
  • To spice things up, there are a few rumors going around:
  • 1) Somehow Nastasya Philipovna and the Epanchin daughters are communicating behind the scenes.
  • 2) Nastasya totally knows that Ganya is only marrying her for the money, and that he is a mercenary and grossly selfish dude.
  • 3) Ganya might have had some feelings toward her to begin with, but as soon as money entered the marriage transaction, he now just hates her and has decided to "take it out on her" after marriage, whatever that means. (Nothing good, obviously.)
  • 4) General Epanchin himself suddenly has the hots for the Nastasya and bought her a super expensive necklace for the birthday party that night.
  • 5) Mrs. Epanchin knows all about this necklace and is not happy.
  • General Epanchin is super-psyched to have Myshkin at lunch with him because that way his wife won't bring up his extramarital interests. For now.

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