Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Idiot, part 3

Nope, not quite done with The Idiot just yet.  This penultimate section was especially hard to get through because it’s all people talking and reading their letters despite the fact that it all takes place over the course of one night.

Also, my girlfriend arrived in the country about a month ago so I haven’t been able to shut myself off in a reading cave and really have at it like I’m used to doing.

Anyhow, part 3 continues the triangular relationship between prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin, Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov, and Aglaya Ivanovna Epanchin (some would say a four-way between those three and Gavrila Ardalionovich Ivolgin).  The first, most significant for this section, is the relationship between the prince and Aglaya.

The first night of the section follows after the prince makes amends with Aglaya’s family and they all go to hear a concert at a vauxhall.  While the atmosphere in the group is initially strained, the air is cleared in a puzzling way when the prince stammers out “I only meant to explain to Aglaya Ivanovna … to have the honor of explaining to her that I never had any intention … to have the honor of asking for her hand … even once…” (343, ellipses in the text).  Somehow, this rejection lightens the mood, despite coming after another ambiguous betrothal/rejection switch by Aglaya (the first being Nastasya’s at the end of part 1):

No one, no one here is worth your little finger, or your intelligence or your heart!  You’re more honest than all of them, nobler than all of them, better than all of them, kinder than all of them, more intelligent than all of them! … Why do you humiliate yourself and place yourself lower than everyone else?   (342)

The answer to her question is contained within the question: if the prince is better than everyone gathered, it’s precisely because he places himself lower.  “The Idiot”‘s idiocy has been shown time and time again to be honesty and humility as compared to his contemporaries. in terms of status.  This praise is followed by a repetition of the “poor knight” Don Quixote imagery by Kolya in response to Aglaya’s proclamations (343) and then shortly thereafter by Aglaya explicitly telling the prince that she will not marry him.  “I won’t marry you for anything! … Can one marry such a ridiculous man as you?” (343; N.B., note the similarities with Nastasya’s reason for rejecting the prince). Continue reading

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