Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, a young man in his mid-twenties and a descendant of one of the oldest Russian lines of nobility, is on a train to Saint Petersburg on a cold November morning. He is returning to Russia having spent the past four years in a Swiss clinic for treatment of a severe epileptic condition. On the journey Myshkin meets a young man of the merchant class, Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin, and is struck by his passionate intensity, particularly in relation to a woman-the dazzling society beauty Nastassya Filippovna-with whom he is obsessed. Rogozhin has just inherited a very large fortune from his dead father and he intends to use it to pursue the object of his desire. Joining in their conversation is a civil servant named Lebedyev - an "omniscient" gentleman with a profound knowledge of social trivia and gossip.