Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Marya (Masha) Alexandrovna

Marya (Masha) Alexandrovna (ah-lehk-SAN-drov-nah), the narrator, a young noblewoman. She tells about her life from the age of seventeen, shortly after the death of her widowed mother, until she is about twenty-three, some four or five years after her marriage. A modest, intelligent woman as yet unaware of her great beauty, she lives with her sister and a governess on the family estate, Pokrovskoe. She falls in love with her legal guardian, Sergey Mikhaylych, a man more than twice her age. In time, he returns her love, and their romance culminates in marriage. Living with her husband and his mother on their estate, Nikolskoe, proves confining to the young woman. On a trip with Sergey to St. Petersburg, she is introduced to high society, becomes fully conscious of her attractiveness to men, and gradually is drawn to the worldly vanities of the capital. Three years later, while spending the summer in Baden, Masha only barely resists committing adultery with a handsome foreigner. Frightened, she returns to her marriage, which, after all, she had not meant to test so severely. Although her life with Sergey will never be quite the same, the marriage, now with two children to strengthen it, will be a sufficiently happy one.

Sergey Mikhaylych

Sergey Mikhaylych (sehr-GAY mih-KHAY-lihch), a serious, responsible landowner of the noble class....

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

For a male author to write a first-person narrative from the woman’s point of view was something of a tour de force for Tolstoy, as it was a feat never attempted by his rival and model, Turgenev (nor, indeed, ever again by Tolstoy). The consensus is that he succeeds remarkably well, especially in the first part. The complex and often contradictory emotions experienced by a girl on the verge of womanhood; her lost and helpless feeling as the senior surviving member of her family, to some extent responsible for her younger sister yet at the same time filled with the exuberance of youth and the desire to have a fulfilled life of her own—all this Tolstoy renders with acute psychological insight. To be sure, the form presents some difficulties. Like most reminiscential narrators, Masha, recalling these events in later years, is credited with a mnemonic capacity that far exceeds the limits of plausibility. More important, her understanding is necessarily limited; the reader has only her inferences about the inner life of Sergei Mikhailych, rather than the full revelations Tolstoy was able to provide when he used the perspective of the omniscient author (as he did in his great novels).

Masha’s development in the second part of the novel is, for the most part, handled convincingly. It is a process of maturation, as she outlives the romantic ecstasy of the honeymoon period, passes through what amounts to a “wild oats” phase, and finally settles down into...

(The entire section is 486 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayley, John. Tolstoy and the Novel, 1966.

Christian, R.F. Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction, 1969.

Gustafson, Richard F. Leo Tolstoy, Resident and Stranger: A Study in Fiction and Theology, 1986.

Kisseleff, Natalia. “Idyll and Ideal: Aspects of Sentimentalism in Tolstoy’s Family Happiness,” in Canadian Slavonic Papers. XXI (1979), pp. 336-346.

Poggioli, Renato. “Tolstoy’s Domestic Happiness: Beyond Pastoral Love,” in The Oaten Flute, 1975.