(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Insulted and the Injured unfolds the emotional tragedy of a young woman who abandons her family and her good name for the sake of a grand passion. The story is related in a flashback as a chain of events that began in St. Petersburg a year before the book opens. The narrator is a penniless young author, Ivan Petrovitch, who becomes the confidant of all the other characters and is therefore able to explain their thoughts and motivations.

Ivan has been hailed as a genius, but his self-denying concern for everyone else’s problems prevents him from finishing his second novel, the proceeds from which would help him pay off his creditors. Orphaned in childhood, he has been brought up by Nikolai Sergeyitch Ichmenyev, a once-wealthy landowner now in reduced circumstances, and his wife, Anna Andreyevna Ichmenova. Ivan is in love with their daughter, Natasha Nikolaevna Ichmenyev. Natasha at first returns his feelings but soon confesses that she has fallen passionately in love with Alyosha Pyotrovitch Valkovsky, the weak-willed, naive son of Prince Pyotr Alexandrovitch Valkovsky.

The Ichmenyevs are devastated when Natasha leaves home to live with Alyosha. They feel not only dishonored but also humiliated, for the Prince, who was once Nikolai’s patron, has become his bitter enemy, and the two men are locked in conflict in a lawsuit. Nikolai disowns Natasha. The Prince is also opposed to Alyosha’s liaison with Natasha; he forbids their marriage and cuts off his son’s allowance. The Prince is scheming to have Alyosha marry a wealthy heiress, Katerina Fyodorovna Filimonov, and contrives to bring him constantly in contact with her.

Throughout the novel, Alyosha, an innocent victim of his father’s machinations, is torn between his fascination with Katerina’s youth and idealism and his love for Natasha. As he spends more of his time away from her, Natasha becomes sick with anxiety, and Ivan supports and comforts her.

Ivan also spends much time consoling the Ichmenyevs, especially when...

(The entire section is 836 words.)