Study Guide

The Idiot Part 3, Chapter 1

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Part 3, Chapter 1

  • Okay, before the plot picks up again, Dostoevsky goes off on a little tangent complaining about the idea of "practical people." He writes that everyone is constantly complaining that there aren't enough of them go to around, but that in reality, the main qualities of a practical person is being really unoriginal and unimaginative, and having the go-along attitude of lemmings. Basically, picture a bunch of people constantly getting that "if a friend jumps off a bridge" lecture about thinking for yourself. So, as far as Dostoevsky is concerned, no one needs any more practical people, and instead we should all be encouraging the geniuses and inventors.
  • Okee-dokee then.
  • All of this is to say, that the Epanchins are a family of non-practical people, in Dostoevsky's sense of the word. Somehow for them, everything goes a little differently than for others, and Mrs. Epanchin finds this really upsetting.
  • Now she is fuming about her daughters—why aren't they married? Why are they pondering the role of women in society? Why do they want to cut off their hair? All good questions.
  • And also she is furious at General Epanchin for having anything to do with Nastasya earlier (remember how he brought her those pearls?), and thus exposing the Epanchin girls to the social suicide of being connected to her. It's all a little middle school, no?
  • Adelaida is married, so she is good to go, but Mrs. Epanchin is worried about the other two. Aglaya is way too picky, and Alexandra is way too calm and innocent.
  • In any case, now they are all sitting around at the Epanchins, and Radomsky is laying out a long argument against Russian liberals.
  • It's sort of confusing, and a lot of what he says is also supposed to be sarcastic or mocking, but the general gist is that Russian liberalism is way too extreme, and takes the idea of reforming Russia to the point of just being against anything Russian. So instead of being reformers or progressives, Russian liberals are pretty much just nihilists and rejectionists.
  • Alexandra gets all huffy about this, since that's a pretty big generalization to make, no? Prince Sh. backs her up, and also calls Radomsky out on never really being serious about anything he says.
  • Myshkin is all caught up in this discussion, but he seems to be agreeing with what Radomsky is saying.
  • Alexandra tries to cut the conversation short, since it's getting kind of awkward, and suggests a walk.
  • But Radomsky wants to get one last point in, about a six-person murder in which the defense was basically that society made the guy kill all those people. His question is–is this a singular case of one crazy guy, or is this indicative of some ill in the society at large?
  • Myshkin thinks about it and says that no, it's not an individual case. He brings up the criminals he met in a jail he visited—why? yeah, it's odd. Some were also mass-murderers and many didn't show any remorse about what they had done, but all knew that they had done something wrong and were criminals. Now, these new guys, says Myshkin, they don't even think that they've done anything wrong any more—that's what liberalism/nihilism is all about.
  • Everyone is pretty stunned to hear this.
  • Radomsky is kind of shocked to hear coherent sentences coming out of the prince's mouth. He is also surprised that Myshkin didn't call Burdovsky & company out about this when they tried to do the Pavlichev's son business.
  • Mrs. Epanchin sticks up for Myshkin—after all, he treated them like human beings, and in response got an apology letter from Burdovsky, and no one else had.
  • It then turns out that Ippolit also went to apologize to Myshkin, who brought him out to the country to get better. Kolya reports that he is getting better, but is probably not yet fit for company, since he would just get embarrassed and angry all over again.
  • Radomsky is not really ok with Ippolit being there, but says that he's willing to forgive him. Myshkin is all, um, no, actually, he should be the one forgiving you. Why? Because all he wanted was to give and get a blessing before dying, and instead felt made fun of.
  • This, um, causes even more awkwardness, and everyone goes out for a walk.

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