Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev

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...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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 described, Nabokov looks back on his young hero with gentle, often wry bemusement. Fyodor, dreamy, impractical about mundane matters such as money and keys, is preoccupied with absorbing the perceptions and finding the form best suited to his literary gift. The news of the day, the vulgarity of his Berlin surroundings, catch his derisive attention only fleetingly, if at all. Although reverent toward the memory of his beloved father, the family, and the settings of his Russian childhood (memorialized in his poems), Fyodor, unlike most of the emigres, is perfectly happy with his marginal, alien existence. Exile affords him a unique freedom for his life and art.

Zina’s lot is less happy. Although she is the daughter of a cultivated, idolized Russian-Jewish father, her stepfather Shchyogolev, a jocular and anti-Semitic philistine, makes her home life oppressive. Employed as a typist ina law office, she loathes the bourgeois atmosphere of her surroundings. Like Fyodor, she carries the treasures of an idyllic past in her memory. Strong-willed and resolute, she is direct, almost imperious. A longtime admirer of Fyodor’s poetry, she quite literally...

(The entire section is 614 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Davydov, Sergei. “Nabokov’s Aesthetic Exorcism of Chernyshevskii,” in Canadian-American Slavic Studies. XIX (Fall, 1985), pp. 357-374.

Johnson, D. Barton. “The Chess Key to The Gift,” in Worlds in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov, 1985.

Karlinsky, Simon. “Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel Dar as a Work of Literary Criticism,” in Slavic and East European Journal. VII (Fall, 1963), pp. 284-290.

Rampton, David. “The Gift,” in Vladimir Nabokov: A Critical Study of the Novels, 1984.

Salomon, Roger B. “The Gift: Nabokov’s Portrait of the Artist,” in Critical Essays on Vladimir Nabokov, 1984. Edited by Phyllis A. Roth.