Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Andrey Petrovich Bersenev

Andrey Petrovich Bersenev (ahn-DRAY peh-TROH-vihch behr-SEH-nehv), who is twenty-three years old when he is introduced, tall and swarthy, with a sharp, slightly curved nose, broad lips, and small gray eyes. He speaks with a slight lisp that becomes more marked when he is agitated. His mother died when he was quite young, and under the insistent guidance of his father he received a thorough education. He is a graduate of Moscow University. He is inclined to take an abstract and generalized view of life. Although he tries to win Yelena’s favor, he feels awkward and uneasy in her presence. She admires his intellectual attainments, but once he tells her about Insarov, she turns instead to the other man. Bersenev eventually takes up scholarly pursuits abroad, and research in Germany and France yields ponderous though learned articles of some length.

Pavel Yakovlevich Shubin

Pavel Yakovlevich Shubin (PAH-vehl ya-KOV-leh-vihch SHEW-bihn), a fair-haired and childishly attractive man, twenty-six years old at the beginning of the novel. He is a cousin three times removed of Anna Vasil’yevna. He studied medicine at Moscow University but for academic reasons was forced to leave after one year; instead, he took up art and achieved some recognition for his undeniable talent. He works at sculpture and produces various works, including satirical representations of Insarov, Anna, and himself. He remains a confidant of Bersenev, and they often discuss social and romantic matters. Although he is attracted to Yelena, he places himself in a false position and makes little headway among others who are interested in her. In the end, he settles in Rome, where he is known as a promising young artist.

Yelena Nikolayevna Stakhova

Yelena Nikolayevna Stakhova (yeh-LEH-nah nih-koh-LAH-yehv-nah STAH-khoh-vah), a twenty-year-old woman who becomes Insarov’s wife. She is tall, with a pale complexion, large gray eyes, straight features, and a sharp chin; she has dark brown hair and a delicate neck, as well as slender hands and feet. Shubin complains that her likeness is difficult to recapture in sculpture; indeed, Yelena appears subject to impetuous, almost feverish changes of mood that are not readily comprehensible to others. She has become impatient with her parents’ strictures, and she can be stern...

(The entire section is 1081 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Elena is a charming, courageous, proud young woman. Considered a novelist’s novelist, Turgenev is a master of the technique of developing character: Elena is presented not only through the narrator’s relaying her direct thoughts, and through her diary, but also through the responses of the other characters to her. Shubin is a delightful character in his own right, with his quick insight into other people, but his response to Elena creates an added dimension to her. The same is true of Andrei: Not only is he a separate, well-drawn portrait of the man who is intellectually committed to ideas—who lives ideas, as Turgenev did himself when a graduate student in philosophy—but also his serious response to Elena gives yet another dimension to her character. This technique is of central importance in drama, and, like good drama, Turgenev’s dialogue also makes the characters come alive for the reader.

The one major character who is not completely successful is Insarov. Too much the stereotypical hero, Insarov is without those human traits that could make him a fully believable figure. Although Elena represents one type of the universal Russian woman, with her ability to sacrifice her own well-being for her ideals, Insarov remains merely the man to whom such a woman devotes her life rather than a full-bodied character in his own right.

Other characters would be as well-suited to a drama of the mid-nineteenth century as to this novel because of their easily recognizable traits: Elena’s mother remains the kind but ineffectual landowner; Elena’s father is the typical man whose chief interest in life is chasing women; Zoya is the shallow, attractive young woman (a blonde) whom successful, middle-class men wish to marry. Turgenev’s accomplishment in creating such characters lies in his giving life to their individual moments, so that even though they are subordinated to Elena, they have an integrity of their own.

Finally, there is Uvar Stahov, the paternal relative, a typical Slavophile—that is, a Russian who rejects all Western European influences. At the same time, in his slothful mannerisms and in his taking a long look at life yet not participating actively in it, he represents another character type, modeled on the title figure in the novel Oblomov (1859; English translation, 1915) by Ivan Goncharov.


(Great Characters in Literature)

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

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

Gutsche, George. “Turgenev’s On the Eve,” in Moral Apostasy in Russian Literature, 1986.

Ripp, Victor. Turgenev’s Russia: From “Notes of a Hunter” to “Fathers and Sons,” 1980.

Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age, 1959 (revised edition).