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Chapters 2 & 3
General Yepanchin about whom Myshkin had mentioned in the previous chapter leads a life of comfort in a sprawling house. He is a wealthy man who owns a factory, an estate and a few houses. Though uneducated, he is a man of the world. He has no lineage to boast of but marries a lady who is the last member of a decrepit royal family. He is proud of his wife and his three gifted daughters. The youngest of the daughters is the most beautiful and everyone in the house is aware of her superiority.
Prince Myshkin steps into their house at eleven oíclock and seeks an appointment with the master of the house. The servant is not convinced with his appearance and thus, questions him. The Prince tells him all about himself and his intention of meeting the general. After the servant is convinced, he introduces him to the Generalís secretary. Gavril Ardalionovich leads him to the General. The general interrogates him to ascertain his identity and purpose of visit. When he is convinced of the lineage of the Prince, he offers the youth a job. He asks Myshkin to write a few words to check his handwriting. As the youth writes the letters in beautiful calligraphy, the General is impressed and provides him employment in a government office. Yepanchin also offers the Prince twenty five rubles and accommodation in the house of Gavrila Ardalionovich.
These two chapters relate about the visit of the Prince to the Yepanchins. The Prince goes straight to the house of the General from the station with the intention of striking friendship with a few people in a new country. Thus, he arrives at the place with an open mind. As soon as he arrives, he introduces himself to the servant who opens the door for him. As the servant looks at him suspiciously, Myshkin talks about himself and the concept of justice in Russia and France. The servant is so impressed by the young manís words that he allows him to smoke. This incident and others that follow, reveal that the Prince has the ability to win over people by his talk. Those who look at him as a stranger in the beginning, become his friends after hearing him.
The two characters who are introduced in this chapter are Gavrila Ardalionovich and general Yepanchin. Gavrila Ardalionovich or Ganya is a handsome and smart young man who plays the part of an efficient secretary. Before ushering in the Prince into the presence of his employer, he ascertains the identity of the Prince. He exercises his authority in the house by controlling the servants. All the while the general talks to the Prince, he remains in the background doing his work. Only when the general invites him to participate in the conversation, he joins them. He is the man the general has chosen to woo and marry Nastasya. And Gavrila decides to propose to the girl because it might prove advantageous to him, even though he does not love her. Gavrila Ardalionovich is shrewd and cunning.
General Yepanchin is an interesting character. Without education or title, he succeeds in establishing his identity in the Russian society. From being a general in the army, he goes on to become a reputed shareholder of joint-stock companies. He is a wealthy and an influential man. Through sheer resourcefulness, practical sense and zest for life, he has carved a niche for himself in society.
The readers are given a description of Madam Yepanchin and her three daughters in this chapter. Lizaveta Prokofyevna was a lady of little means but of an ancient lineage when she married the General. With her ordinary looks, she is really lucky to have got married to the wealthy general. With the passing years, she has learnt to behave like an aristocrat. Her three daughters are luckier. They have wealth, position, beauty and intelligence. They are smart and spend their time usefully in pursuing hobbies of their choice. They are thus eligible girls in the marriage market, though they are in no hurry to tie the knot.
Dostoevsky shows his talent for wit and humor in these chapters, as he describes the Yepanchin family. He has convincingly drawn their interesting caricatures with a fine stroke of irony. The narrator says that, the General "though he did in fact have a practical sense and an experience with daily affairs, and some very remarkable ability, he liked to present himself not as an independent-minded man but as one who executed the idea of others, a person of "devotion without flattery" and - perhaps a sight of the times? - As a true openhearted Russian." He "so respected his wife, and at times so feared her, that he actually, in fact, loved her." His daughters were so accomplished that people looked at them with envy and "spoke with horror of the number of books they had read."
Dostoevsky voices forth his views through the Prince in this chapter. He describes the horrible act of Capital punishment that, he had experienced, as an incident that Myshkin had seen in France. As he himself had undergone the agony of waiting for death, he conveys the reaction of the condemned so convincingly that it evokes the sympathy of the readers for the victim and hatred for the act. Says Myshkin "Take a soldier and put him in front of a cannon in the midst of battle and shoot at him, he will still hope; but read this same soldier a death sentence which is certain, and he will lose his mind or begin to cry. Who could say that human nature can endure such a trial without slipping into madness? Why this ghastly, needless, useless outrage?"