The House on the Embankment

by Yuri Trifonov

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Characters Discussed

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Vadim Alexandrovich Glebov

Vadim Alexandrovich Glebov (vah-DIHM ah-lehk-SAN-droh-vihch GLEH-bov), a literary critic whose life has been defined by envy, anger, and caution. He avoids taking firm stands on any issue until the last possible moment, avoids contradicting people, and carefully nurtures his relationships without growing too close, all of which result in his ability to fit in with practically any circle of people without actually committing himself to being a part of any one group exclusively. As a boy, he enjoyed special authority among his friends because his mother worked at a cinema to which he could take his friends without paying. That authority vanished when Lev Shulepnikov moved to the neighborhood because Lev owned a film projector. Glebov eventually enters an institute to study literature, later becoming the lover of Sonya Ganchuk, his adviser’s daughter. When an attempt is made to oust his adviser, Glebov does not rise to his defense, which in essence is an act of betrayal. Shortly thereafter, he abandons Sonya. By the end of his career, he is a well-ensconced establishment figure in literary circles, even having the uncommon privilege of being allowed to travel abroad as part of his duties.

Lev Mikhailovich Shulepnikov

Lev Mikhailovich Shulepnikov (mih-KHAH-ih-loh-vihch shew-LEHP-nih-kov), or Shulepa (shew-LEH-pah), a childhood friend of Glebov and the chief object of Glebov’s childhood envy. Arrogant and bold because of his stepfather’s influence, he owns foreign toys, wears good clothing, and is the object of his neighbors’ respect and envy. Separated from Glebov during the war, Lev again encounters him at the institute. Eventually, Lev is party to the attempt to oust Professor Ganchuk. When his second stepfather loses his influence, Lev ceases to enjoy his many privileges and ends up poor, haggard, and working in a dead-end job.

Nikolai Vasilievich Ganchuk

Nikolai Vasilievich Ganchuk (nih-koh-LAY gahn-CHEWK), a professor of literature. Although a literary scholar and intellectual, Ganchuk nevertheless idealistically and rather blindly accepts socialist ideology. A participant in the ideological and intellectual literary wars of the 1920’s, Ganchuk is fiercely interested in literature and discusses literature and literary criticism with uncommon verve. When Glebov enrolls at the institute, Ganchuk becomes his adviser and champions his cause for graduate student status. When Glebov fails to defend him some years later, Ganchuk forgives him. Within an hour after he is finally removed from the department, he is spotted thoroughly enjoying a pastry in a shop. At the age of eighty-six, after he moves into a much smaller apartment, he is still busy, subscribing to eighteen newspapers and keeping up with popular science and television, and he still longs to hold on to life.


Narrator, a childhood friend of Glebov who remains unidentified in the story. His childhood is consumed with envy of Anton Ovchinnikov, because of the latter’s intellectual brilliance, and of Glebov, because of Glebov’s ability to get along with anybody. In his old age, the narrator remembers his childhood friends and childhood happiness with scorn and bitterness.

Sonya Ganchuk

Sonya Ganchuk, Professor Ganchuk’s daughter and Glebov’s lover during his years at the institute. She is submissive, kind, and sympathetic. Sonya’s first response to all people is pity, which sometimes leads to absurdities such as pitying the victimizer almost as much as the victim. She falls in love with Glebov in sixth grade, but he does not think twice about her until he is studying at the institute. Glebov abandons her shortly after her father loses his position. She eventually dies, before her father does.

Boris Lvovich Astrug

Boris Lvovich Astrug...

(This entire section contains 700 words.)

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(LVOH-vihch AH-strewg), a graduate student and member of Ganchuk’s clique. He is a poor lecturer, unable to make an impression on people. On that pretext, he is discharged from his position as part of the attack on Ganchuk.


Druzyaev (drew-ZYAH-ehv), the dean of studies at the institute. To discredit Ganchuk, Druzyaev attempts to persuade Glebov to find another adviser on the pretext of avoiding the appearance of nepotism.

Anton Ovchinnikov

Anton Ovchinnikov (ov-CHI-nih-kov), another of Glebov’s childhood friends. Modest, musical, and seemingly all-knowing, Anton at an early age senses that his friends are changing and that their carefree childhood has passed irrevocably.

The Characters

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Glebov is an individual who uses up his vitality achieving what he wants but then is too tired to enjoy it. He attends international literary congresses and has a dacha. The reader assumes that his wife, Marina, was once the student activist Marina Krasnikova, “a loud girl in a perpetual state of excitement,” not unlike Glebov’s daughter, Margot. Glebov changes from a timid, resentful child into a short-tempered, outwardly successful man. Along the way, he loses his integrity. He misses the opportunity to confront the past and himself with honesty. Although Glebov has some sympathy for others (he feels sorry for the Bychkovs) and a conscience, he rationalizes, fails to see connections, and conveniently forgets. He tells himself that Bear and Manyunya were “bad boys” and that nothing “very terrible” happened to them. Later, he rationalizes his semi-betrayal of Ganchuk by convincing himself that Ganchuk once behaved ruthlessly and that he cannot help him anyway.

As a child, Glebov lived in an atmosphere of anxiety. His father, whose motto was “Don’t stick your head out,” hid his fear under glib humor: “He seemed to feel suffocated as though by some ancient traumatic fear.” Glebov’s once understandable fear and resentment become a justification for opportunism and a lack of moral courage. Glebov does not crave power as much as he desires security, success, and genteel comfort. (He loves the old books and carpets in Ganchuk’s study.) Glebov is dishonest with himself, about his motives and the harm to others that results. He does not consciously connect the beginning of his physical desire for Sonya with his desire for the Ganchuks’ dacha in Bruskovo. When the Ganchuk relationship becomes a hindrance, he loses his desire for her and wonders if it was really love or a only physical attraction. He decides that it was the latter. Sonya is a rare and compassionate individual, with sympathy for everyone. Glebov considers her sympathy indiscriminate and is capable of appreciating Sonya only in a limited way, mainly in terms of how he benefits from her goodness. He cannot admit any connection between her breakdown and his betrayal. Although Glebov compromises himself, he arouses the reader’s sympathy.

Lev’s slide into obscurity parallels Glebov’s rise to success. As an arrogant boy and young man, Lev impresses others with his boldness, lies, and material possessions. Whatever natural confidence he may have is enhanced by his two powerful stepfathers. Lev has a cynical awareness of the reality of power struggles that Glebov lacks. When Glebov asks his help in the Ganchuk affair, Lev becomes angry at his desire to avoid getting his hands dirty—the price of success. To his credit, Lev does not speak out against Ganchuk, but he remains a contemptuous, unpleasant individual.

Several characters represent the older generation that lived through the Bolshevik Revolution. Once a pitiless revolutionary, the old Marxist intellectual Ganchuk is an idealist, a bit self-important but kindly, unlike his mean-spirited enemies at the Institute. Interestingly, after his defeat at the Institute, Ganchuk begins to reassess the idea that troubled Fyodor Dostoevsky: If death is the end, “then all is permitted.” His wife, Yulia Mikhailovna, is almost a caricature. Enjoying comfort herself, she rages against the hypocrites who espouse Marxism and secretly harbor bourgeois ideas, and Glebov is one whom she has in mind. Lev’s mother embodies some of the worst qualities associated with the czarist nobility: indifference and haughty superiority. In contrast, Glebov’s grandmother, a peasant type, compassionately comforts Glebov on the last evening of her life.

The narrator may be identified as Yura the Bear and a persona of the author, Yuri Trifonov. The narrator recalls feats of bravery (Bear was the strongest boy) and the shame of moving (Bear’s family left Moscow). The novella is, in part, autobiographical. Yuri Trifonov’s father, like Lev’s real father, fell from power and was imprisoned under Stalin in the 1930’s. Like Bear, Trifonov would have known the humiliation of no longer belonging. The narrator is honest, for he admits at times that his memory and interpretation may be affected by his resentment of Glebov. He has strong affection for his friends, and his pain of moving is, in large part, the pain of losing his friends. As an adult, he is not afraid to look back.


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Eberstadt, Fernanda. “Out of the Drawer and into the West,” in Commentary. CXXIX (July, 1985), pp. 36-44.

Hosking, Geoffrey. “Yuri Trifonov,” in Beyond Socialist Realism, 1980.

McLaughlin, Sigrid. “Jurij Trifonov’s House on the Embankment: Narration and Meaning,” in Slavic and East European Journal. XXVI, no. 4 (1982), pp. 419-433.

Pankin, B. “A Circle or a Spiral? On Iurii Trifonov’s Novels,” in Soviet Studies in Literature. XIV (Fall, 1978), pp. 65-100.




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