The Idiot - Part 1 Ch. I-V Summary & Analysis

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Part 1 Ch. I-V Summary

In a third class carriage from Warsaw to St. Petersburg, three men partake in a lively discussion. One of the men is Prince Myshkin. He is in his early twenties and so honest and open, he comes across as an innocent. He tells his two companions, Rogozhin and Lebedev, he suffers from epilepsy and has spent the last few years in a hospital in Switzerland. The other two men laugh at his openness, but Myshkin takes no offense and laughs along with them. As the conversation continues, Myshkin mentions that he is a Prince. The statement raises the interest of Lebedev, who has heard of the Myshkin family. Myshkin says he is the one of the last remaining, and he is going to Russia to find Madame Yephanchin, a distant relation.

Rogozhin tells Lebedev he is one of the famous Rogozhin's. Lebedev's incredulous response begins a rivalry between the two men that lasts the remainder of the journey. Rogozhin tells Lebedev and Myshkin that his father has just died, and he coming back to Russia to claim his inheritance. Sometime before he had deeply upset his father by buying Nastassya Flippovna earrings with money his father gave him to pay off an account. Lebedev proves to Rogozhin that he knows Nastassha Flippovna, and Rogozhin turns even more aggressive towards Lebedev.

Rogozhin turns his attention back to Prince Myshkin, inviting him along to meet Nastassya Flippovna. Myshkin accepts the offer, but first he has to travel to Liteyny.

The Prince arrives at General Yephanchin's house in Liteyny. The General is a self-made man, who made his name and fortune through shareholding. Now at 56, he has three daughters and a wife whom he loves.

Initially the footman treats Myshkin suspiciously. In the footman's eyes, he claims to be a Prince, yet dresses poorly and carries few belongings. The footman insists Myshkin stay in the anteroom. Eventually however he decides the Prince is merely simple and despite himself begins to enjoy the Prince's conversation. Myshkin talks eloquently about execution until the footman grants him permission to smoke, a request he had previously denied him. Just as Myshkin is about to light his pipe, another footman walks into the room and invites Myskin through to the General.

The General's assistant, Ganya, takes Myshkin into the General's office. The General greets him cordially; however, when Myskin tells him why he is here, the General admits he cannot help him. Myshkin is about to leave when the General changes his mind. He sees what a genuine person the Prince is and continues their conversation, delving deeper into the Prince's personal life. Myshkin tells the General about his affliction, his time in hospitals and his current situation. The General asks if he has any skills and after a few modest denials, the Prince admits he is an excellent calligrapher. Ganja fetches a pen and some paper and Myshkin goes to work on some examples.

The General meanwhile finds a picture of Nastassya Flippovna, prompting an animated conversation between himself and Ganja. When Myshkin finishes his work, he asks to see the picture and proceeds to tell them of his conversation with Rogozhin on the train. Both Ganya and the General know of Rogozhin, but neither of them like him.

Myshkin's writing examples impress the General. He tells Myshkin he can find him both a job and a place to stay in St. Petersburg with Ganja. Myshkin again looks at the picture of Nastassya Filippovna and says she has a beautiful, yet tragic face. Ganja asks him if he thinks Rogozhin will marry her, and Myshkin says yes, but he will murder her the next day. Myshkin's answer turns Ganja pale.

The General prepares to see his wife and three daughters. All his daughters are beautiful and particularly the youngest, Aglaya. She is so lovely the family have plans for her to marry the richest, most perfect man they can find. The General's friend, Totsky, asks him if he can marry one of his daughters. The General knows Totsky to be wealthy and of good character. He offers him his eldest daughter, Alexandra. At 25, she is sensible, loyal and handsome.

Unfortunately, Totsky has one major problem. Eighteen years ago, he took in Nastassya when she was a child, after both her parents died. Initially Nastassya was a normal young girl, shy and emotional, but as she grew older, her behavior became erratic. Totsky feared she would ruin his high social standing and he has unsuccessfully tried to entice her into a marriage. He must find a suitor if he is going to marry Alexandra.

The General suggests Ganya will make an excellent husband, and it is common knowledge he had been in love with her for a number of years. The General and Totsky visit Nastassya with the proposal. To their surprise, Nastassya greets them pleasantly. She accepts Totsky's offer of money and then says she will seriously think about marrying Ganja. It soon becomes clear Ganja's family is not so keen on Nastassya. To complicate matters further, the General has also become an admirer of Nastassya and has even bought her a gift of pearl earrings. His wife has found out about it, but the General thinks he can calm his wife down. Usually the General would run away from such a potential conflict, but with Prince Myshkin in tow, he feels quite safe.

The General leaves Myshkin outside and approaches his wife. He makes the Prince sound so strange his wife prepares herself for the worst. The General calls Myshkin in and leaves for an important date.

Madam Yephanchin sees her husband was exaggerating, and she takes to Myshkin immediately, talking to him about their family's prestigious pasts. Her three daughters, Adelaida, Aglaya and Alexandra, also take to the Prince, and it is not long before his attentions turn to the three young women. They ask him about his illness and his travels and Myshkin responds eloquently. He tells a few interesting and vivid stories about people waiting to die before Adelaide asks him to tell a story about when he fell in love. The Prince says he has never fallen in love, but he has experienced the feeling of extreme happiness.

Part 1 Ch. I-V Analysis

In this opening section, Dostoevsky introduces the three major characters of the book, Prince Myshkin, Rogozhin and Nastassya Flippovna, foreshadowing the intense love triangle they will develop through the novel. He paints the Prince as an innocent, and, combined with his light complexion and blue eyes, there is already a suggestion of a Christ-like figure that becomes more obvious in later chapters. In contrast, Rogozhin is the devil, and, in fact, Rog in Russian means horn. He has a dark complexion and black eyes and his aggressive behavior on the train is in comparison to the Prince's gentle nature. Despite these differences, they share similarities that mark them both as potential suitors for Nastassya. Both of them are exceptionally honest and open people. Rogozhin and Lebedev laugh at the Prince for telling people that the doctors have just released him from a mental institute, but Rogozhin unashamedly tells everyone he is on the way to claim his inheritance from his recently deceased father, who he had previously fallen out with. The natural ease in which they both impart the information shows the individuality that will attract a similar interest in Nastassya.

Lebedev represents the other side of society, to which the aforementioned characters can never quite give themselves. He also has a sense of himself, but he is restrained by a need to fit in. The character of Ganja personifies this need. Ganja tries desperately to be original, but it only leads him to becoming someone he is not. Like so many of the other characters, for example Aglaya and Madam Yepanchin, he shows respect for the uniqueness of Rogozhin, the Prince and Nastassya, but can only express it through anger. In this section, for example, he accuses the Prince of being an unashamed gossip.

The reader does not meet Nastassya Filppovna in this chapter, but the other characters bring up her name on numerous occasions. First, Rogozhin declares his love for her on the train carriage, and second General Yephanchin and Ganja discuss her while they look at her picture. The Prince sees the picture and says she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. His declaration that she has a tragic face foreshadows not only her death, but also the role she plays as both the Prince and Rogozhin's lover. As a Christ-like figure, the Prince has a need to cleanse Nastassya's soul and help her find her happiness. Rogozhin understands he can never help her in that way but knows marriage to her will fulfill his darker desires. Near the end of the section, the Prince tells Ganja that Rogozhin will probably murder Nastassya, foreshadowing not only the murder at the end of the book, but Rogozhin's foreboding and murderous presence that casts a dark shadow across the whole narrative.

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