Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596
Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Myshkin
Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Myshkin (lehv ni-koh-LI-eh-vihch MEWSH-kihn), a noble man whose behavior at first is only strange and unconventional but who later shows a deterioration of mind. Short, slight, with light hair and moustache, nearly white beard, and searching blue eyes, he arrests the attention of all who see him. His naïve, unblemished goodness, in part the result of his long epilepsy, causes men to doubt him and women to love him. Toward the end of his life, he is wholly compassionate, selfless, and pitying. In his weakened, susceptible condition, he degenerates until he is unable to cope with life, decisions, hatreds, worldliness. Able to see human foibles without malice, to reverence the human condition without judgment, to love without the thought of attainment, he is a Christ figure set in a corrupt society where the facile, dishonest, worldly, and unconscionable prevail in absolute terms of money and position. His deterioration under heavy pressures of murder, disloyalty, vituperation, and vindictiveness is saintly, a martyrdom to unheroic life. A tragic figure, he is destroyed by those whom he loves most, and he is sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland.
Nastasya Filipovna (nahs-TAH-syah fi-lih-POHV-nuh), the tragic figure of despair and vindictiveness with whom the prince identifies himself. Beautiful in a dark, sulky way, Nastasya is the victim of a man’s lust. From this degradation, she rises to a sense of power over many men, the power that leads her to her death at the hands of the pathologically jealous Rogozhin. Drawn mysteriously to the benign young invalid, she also helps to determine his fate. A magnificent talker, a kind of actress of many parts, a moody dreamer, a defiant lover, she is a woman of great talents and deep motives.
Madame Lizaveta Prokofyevna Epanchin
Madame Lizaveta Prokofyevna Epanchin (lih-zah-VEH-tuh proh-KOH-fyehv-nuh eh-PAHN-chihn), a simple woman of great moodiness, honorable, sensitive, and inherently good. Beneath her outlandish speeches, even insults, she hides hurt feelings and a sensitive nature. Her husband, who loves and honors her, only increases her tensions because of his worldliness and business mind. She understands the goodness of Prince Myshkin, but she finally withdraws her daughter from marriage with him for purely conventional and genetic reasons. She is deeply devoted to her family, proud of her own heritage and position, and very Russian.
General Epanchin, her husband.
Aglaya Ivanovna (ahg-LAH-yuh ih-VAH-nov-nuh), the Epanchins’ youngest and most beautiful daughter, betrothed to Prince Myshkin. On her, the family had set a price—the best match to the finest man in all St. Petersburg—and for this reason the pampered beauty is a mass of contradictions with the saving grace of feminine, intuitive insights. She is virginal, capricious, reticent, yet loving, devoted and understanding. Her intense nature will not allow her to think of Nastasya and Myshkin as innocent; her jealousy is sombre and unrelenting, a cause of deep personal tragedy.
Parfen Rogozhin (PAHR-fehn roh-GOH-zhihn), a chance acquaintance of Prince Myshkin. A sensitive but impassioned sensualist who becomes deeply involved in the prince’s life, Rogozhin has higher traits than appear in his rough, dark, uncouth, and powerful exterior. His tragic nature, irascible yet contrite, turns him after the violent murder of Nastasya into a blubbering repentant. The world has perverted him through a niggardly father and jealous, vindictive relatives.
Ganya Ardalionovitch (GAH-nyuh ahr-dah-lih-OHN-o-vihch), General Epanchin’s secretary. Belying his appearance and manners, he is inwardly a thorough scoundrel. He hopes to marry Aglaya because of her money. He is also involved with Nastasya.