Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev

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Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev (FYOH-dohr kohn-stahn-TIH-noh-vihch GOH-dew-nov-chehr-DIHN-tsehv), a young Russian émigré writer who lives in Berlin. As the novel begins, Fyodor recently has published his first volume of poetry, a collection of works about childhood. The collection contains several gems of precise description but is destined never to receive the approval of a broad general audience. Over the course of the novel, Fyodor probes the possibility of using a variety of topics as the subject of a new written work: the suicide of Yasha Chernyshevski, the adolescent son of Fyodor’s friends, Alexander and Alexandra Chernyshevski; the life and disappearance of his own father, the famous Russian explorer and naturalist Konstantin Godunov-Cherdyntsev; and the life and public image of Nikolay Chernyshevski, a famous nineteenth century critic. During this time, Fyodor meets Zina Mertz and falls in love with her. The novel concludes after the publication of Fyodor’s controversial treatise on Nikolay Chernyshevski, a work that exposes the enormous fallacies in the critic’s theories on art but that also depicts the man as eminently human. Despite the generally unfavorable reviews his work receives, Fyodor is pleased, and as the novel ends, he looks forward to spending the night with Zina, oblivious to the fact that both he and she are locked out of their apartment.

Zina Mertz

Zina Mertz, a young woman who lives with her mother and stepfather, Marianna Nikolaevna and Boris Ivanovich Shchyogolev. A quiet and sensitive soul, she responds deeply to Fyodor’s aesthetic talents and serves as his supporter and muse during his work on Chernyshevski.

Konstantin Kirillovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev

Konstantin Kirillovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev (kohn-stahn-TIHN kih-RIH-loh-vihch), Fyodor’s father, a famous explorer who never returns from an expedition to the Far East during the period of the Russian Revolution and Civil War.

Nikolay Chernyshevski

Nikolay Chernyshevski (nih-koh-LAY chehr-nih-SHEHV-skee), a radical nineteenth century Russian journalist whose ideas on the relationship between art and life proved influential for succeeding generations of utilitarian critics.

Yasha Chernyshevski

Yasha Chernyshevski, the son of Alexander and Alexandra Chernyshevski, an impressionable youth who becomes caught up in a complex emotional triangle with two friends, Rudolf Baumann and Olya G., and who kills himself as part of a triple suicide pact. The other two, however, are horrified by his act and decide not to kill themselves.


Koncheyev (kohn-CHEH-yehv), an émigré poet whose work Fyodor very much admires. Fyodor conducts two imaginary conversations with Koncheyev on the subject of Russian literature and Fyodor’s own writing.

Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski

Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski (yah-KOV-leh-vihch), an émigré Russian who has become mentally unbalanced after the death of his son. Fyodor imagines how this man might perceive the ghost of his son appearing at regular intervals in their apartment.

Boris Ivanovich Shchyogolev

Boris Ivanovich Shchyogolev (ee-VAH-noh-vihch SHCHO-goh-lehv), Zina Mertz’s stepfather, a narrow-minded individual who relishes long-winded conversations about world politics, during which he reveals a tendency toward ethnic bigotry.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614

Vladimir Nabokov’s disclaimer to the contrary, Fyodor is in part an autobiographical figure. The young Russian emigre poet and writer in 1920’s Berlin, the aesthete, the admirer of butterflies, the composer of chess problems, the lover—all are recut facets of Nabokov’s life. Although the novel was written only ten years after the period...

(The entire section contains 1190 words.)

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Critical Essays