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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Woman Question

A girl grows up at home, and suddenly in the middle of the street she jumps into a cab:  'Mother, I was married the other day to some Karlitch or Ivanitch, goodbye.'  And is it the right thing to behave like that, do you think?  Is it natural, is it deserving of respect?  The woman question?  This silly boy--she pointed to Kolya--even he was arguing the other day that that's what 'the woman question' means....They regard society as savage and in human, because it cries shame on the seduced girl; but if you think society inhuman, you must think that the girl suffers from the censure of society, and if she does, how is it you expose her to society in the newspaper and expect her not to suffer? (Part II, Ch. 9)

After Myshkin becomes the victim of an extortion attempt, Madame Epanchin expresses displeasure with Myshkin for being gullible but also chastises those who tried to take the latter's mone.  In the above passage, Dostoevsky divulges his conservative views and references Natasya without saying her name.

Madame Epanchin reproves those who seek to prey on Myshkin's generosity in order to claim money to which they have no legal right.  They know he will grant them money they do not deserve because, as Myshkin reasons, they would not go through with such a scheme unless they really needed the money.  Nevertheless, Madame Epanchin points out  that just because Myshkin is willing to, and likely will, give them the money does not make them any less despicable.  She brings up the "woman question" to make the point that the end does not justify the means. 

The second part of the quote makes the point that it is hypocrital to proclaim society unjust and then participate in society's unjust treatment of an individual.  Though the point made corresponds to the earlier part of her tirade, there is an implicit reference to Natasya, who has not appeared in Part II but has mostly been on the run from Rogozhin.  However, the suggestion of her causes the reader to recall her importance to the narrative and may signal an imminent reappearance.

The above painting is Spring Maiden (1884) by Frank Dicksee.

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