Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

N. N.

N. N., a middle-aged Russian country landowner who narrates the story of his unhappy love affair many years earlier. In his story, he is twenty-five years old, financially secure, and without responsibility. He travels throughout Europe anxious to experience life. He finds himself more fascinated by faces than by places. Although he possesses all the skills to move gracefully through society, he nevertheless is awkward around women; he has difficulty asserting his affection for them and is easily hurt by coquetry or rejection. A sensitive, self-conscious man, he seeks out natural landscapes that mirror his moods. When he meets two fellow Russians, a man his age and a younger woman, he is intrigued by their personalities and their relationship. He notes how different they are in looks and temperament, and he cannot believe that they are brother and sister, as they profess to be. His friendship with the man ripens quickly, and his awkwardness around the young woman becomes infatuation. His increasing social intimacy with the brother soon collides with his increasing emotional intimacy with the sister. The moment at which he must choose between etiquette and passion is the climax of the story.


Gagin (GAH-gihn), a former Guardsman, now a gentleman of leisure after inheriting the estate of his father, who passed away four years earlier. Twenty-four years old, tall, slim, and well-groomed, Gagin neither looks nor acts like (according to N. N.) the typical Russian on the Grand Tour in Europe. He spends his...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The narrator, N.N., is a familiar figure in Ivan Turgenev’s fiction, similar to the heroes of several other works, such as Pervaya lyubov (1860; First Love, 1884) or Veshniye vody (1872; Spring Floods, 1874; better known as The Torrents of Spring, 1897). The character has obvious autobiographical elements. His age, sex, social position, and “philosophy” are more or less identical with Turgenev’s own, but like other quasi-autobiographical characters, he is not endowed with the author’s literary talent and success. Private means, from estate (and serf) ownership, supply the resources so that these young men can devote themselves entirely to private life; concerns over money seldom obtrude themselves. Like Asya, several of Turgenev’s other stories take place outside Russia, particularly at spas in Germany (where Turgenev himself also spent much of his time until 1870), thus setting them apart from the Russian social concerns Turgenev evoked in such novels as Nakanune (1860; On the Eve, 1871) and Ottsy i deti (1862; Fathers and Sons,1867). Asya’s ambiguous situation, suspended by illegitimacy between two classes, echoes the position of Turgenev’s own illegitimate daughter, Polina, and also that of the illegitimate daughter of his uncle, who was actually called Asya.

N.N. is also typical of other Turgenev heroes. He exhibits a certain sexual fecklessness,...

(The entire section is 421 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Annenkov, Pavel Vasilevich. “The Literary Type of the Weak Man: Apropos of Turgenev’s Story ‘Asja,’” in Ulbandus Review. I (Spring, 1978), pp. 90-104.

Chernyshevsky, Nikolai. “The Russian at the Rendez-vous,” in Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, and Dobrolyubov: Selected Criticism, 1962. Edited by Ralph E. Matlaw.

Dessaix, Robert. Turgenev: The Quest for Faith, 1980.

Freeborn, Richard. Turgenev: The Novelist’s Novelist, 1960.

Schapiro, Leonard. Turgenev: His Life and Times, 1979.

Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age, 1977.