On a warm and clear day at the end of August, Pyotr Alexandrovich arrives in a carriage drawn by “a pair of expensive horses.” He comes with his young relative, Pyotr Fomich Kalganov, who is friendly with Alexei. In “a very ancient” but “roomy” carriage, Fyodor Pavlovich arrives with Ivan Fyodorovich. Dmitri Fyodorovich is late. An elderly gentleman with “sweet little eyes” comes up to them, tipping his hat “and speaking in a honeyed lisp.” He’s the Tula landowner, Maximov. He directs them to where the elder Zosima lives—“shut up in the hermitage…about four hundred paces from the monastery…through the woods…” They follow Maximov, though Pyotr Alexandrovich tells him that they have come to see Zosima to address “a private matter” and, therefore, cannot invite Maximov to go in with them. Maximov says that he’s been already and that Zosima is “un chevalier parfait”—a perfect gentleman.
The differences in the carriages reveal the differences between the two sides of the family. Pyotr Alexandrovich is a man who likes to display his wealth (“expensive horses”). Fyodor drives an older carriage, despite having the money to buy a newer one, because he’s miserly and is comfortable with what he knows. Pyotr’s comment about going to express “a private matter” makes it clear that he isn’t interested in learning from the elder but in settling the matter of rights over the land that he shares with the monastery. Maximov’s comment about Zosima’s gentlemanliness may also be a sly remark about Pyotr’s pretentiousness in contrast to Zosima’s genuine good manners.
A little monk, “very pale and haggard,” arrives and greets them with “an extremely courteous and deep bow.” He tells the visitors that the Father Superior has invited the family to dine with him at one o’clock, after their visit to the hermitage. He also invites Maximov. Fyodor happily agrees, as does Pyotr Alexandrovich, though the latter is not pleased to share company with Fyodor and hopes that Dmitri doesn’t show up at all.
The monk’s appearance is a sign of his ill-health, but also his ascetic lifestyle of fasting and other forms of self-denial. This willingness to forget the self in order to be closer to goodness contrasts with Pyotr’s unwillingness to forget about his own interests for a moment, as well as his lingering resentment toward the Karamazovs.
Pyotr Alexandrovich warns Fyodor to behave himself during the visit to the Father Superior. When they arrive at the hermitage, Fyodor starts “crossing himself energetically before the saints painted above and on the sides of the gates.” He notes how not “one woman ever goes through [the] gates.” Then, he remembers that Zosima does receive ladies. The little monk says that female peasants lie near the porch, waiting for him. For “higher ladies,” there are “two small rooms” that were “built on the porch.” Madame Khokhlakov is waiting there now with her paralyzed daughter, Lise. Zosima has promised to see them, but he’s been very weak lately.
Pyotr’s warning comes from not wanting to be associated with Fyodor’s comic antics. However, Fyodor starts this immediately when he begins “crossing himself energetically.” This is an act of mockery that he thinks makes him look earnestly devout, yet he also on some level knows that he is playing the clown. Fyodor is interested in the monk’s denial of sex while he simultaneously commands worship from women all over the country and from every social class. Despite his suffering, Zosima remains committed to his duties.
The house where Zosima has his cell is “wooden, one-storied, with a front porch” and “surrounded with flowers.” Fyodor asks if the house looked like this during the time of Varsonofy, the previous elder, who supposedly disliked “such niceties.” Fyodor also says that Varsonofy “used to jump up and beat even ladies with a stick.” The little monk denies this as an absurd rumor. He then asks the visitors to wait while he announces them to Zosima. Pyotr Alexandrovich warns Fyodor once again to behave himself, otherwise Pyotr will make him pay. Fyodor wonders why Pyotr, a progressive Parisian, cares so much about the opinion of these clergymen. Fyodor tells Pyotr, sarcastically, that his cousin surprises him. Privately, Fyodor knows that he will inevitably “start arguing,” lose his temper, and then will “demean himself and his ideas.”
There is a contrast between the stern asceticism represented by the little house and the beauty of the flowers that surround it. However, this image reveals Zosima as someone who only takes what he needs from the world to survive but doesn’t ignore the world’s beauty. His religious faith doesn’t hinge on self-righteous denial of everything, like that of Father Ferapont, but on modest appreciation. Pyotr only cares about the clergymen to the extent that he doesn’t want Fyodor to spoil his chance at recouping his land rights. His vanity also makes him concerned that the elders will liken him to Fyodor.