The main characters in Ivanov include Ivanov, Anna, Sasha, and Lvov.
- Ivanov is the play’s melancholic main character, who falls in love with his friend’s daughter while his wife is dying.
- Anna is Ivanov’s wife, who is dying of consumption and suffers her husband’s neglect.
- Sasha is the daughter of Ivanov’s friend Lebedev. She reveals her love for Ivanov, and Ivanov commits suicide before his wedding to her at the end.
- Lvov is Anna’s physician, who reveals that she is dying to Ivanov and recognizes the harmful effects of Ivanov’s neglect.
Last Updated on March 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1172
A member of the Russian gentry, Ivanov is described as a “perpetual member of the Council of Peasant Affairs,” which would make him a minor aristocrat. Thirty-five years old when the play begins, Ivanov is married to Anna Ivanov. A bookish, ruminative man, Ivanov is no longer in love with devoted Anna, perhaps because he is heavily depressed. Anna is suffering from terminal consumption. Ivanov is under heavy debt to his friend Lebedev’s wife, Zinaida, a fact that weighs heavily on him.
To escape the reality of his life, Ivanov often visits Lebedev’s house in the evenings. Moved by the faith that Sasha, Lebedev’s daughter, has in him, Ivanov falls in love with her, which devastates Anna. Though Ivanov’s actions and self-involved melancholic speeches don’t make him an endearing protagonist, Anna suggests that there is more to him that meets the eye. According to Anna, Ivanov was “splendid” just a few years before. A liberal during college, Ivanov’s idealism has since faded, because his lofty ambitions, such as starting a school for the poor, have never come to fruition.
After Anna witnesses Ivanov and Sasha’s kiss, Ivanov’s relationship with his wife worsens. In a fit of rage, he tells her that she is dying, which appears to devastate her. Though Anna’s death leads to his prospective wedding with Sasha, Ivanov is racked by guilt at his neglect of Anna. As the play concludes, Ivanov decides to spare Sasha the weight of his depression and shoots himself.
Kind and beautiful Anna is married to Nicholas Ivanov. Known as Sarah Abramson before she was married, Anna is from a wealthy Jewish family. Disappointed by her interfaith marriage, her parents have disowned her. Anna is suffering from terminal consumption and perhaps even more from her husband’s apathy.
One of the less discussed aspects of Anna’s life is the pervasive antisemitism she faces, especially from Ivanov’s uncle Count Shabelski, who often speaks to her in an offensive accent. Despite the fact that she has given up her faith to join the Ivanov household, she is never fully accepted into the gentile Russian milieu Ivanov inhabits because of her faith. Painted as a forgiving paragon at the play’s beginning, excusing Ivanov for his cruel dismissal of her, Anna finally confronts him when his relationship with Sasha grows serious. However, Ivanov’s cruel disclosure that she is dying stuns her, and his neglect hastens her death. Anna’s fate is emblematic of the status of women in her society as well as of the treatment meted out to the minority Jewish community.
Count Matthew Shabelski
Count Shabelski is an uncle of Ivanov’s who lives with him and Anna. Shabelski is representative of the fading Russian elite of the late nineteenth century. Perennially bored, sixty-two-year-old Shabelski’s chief entertainment is misanthropy. He often mocks Lvov for his honesty and his practice of medicine and Anna, his nephew’s wife, for being Jewish. Coached by Ivanov’s estate manager, Borkin, Shabelski flirts with the widow Martha Babakina, seeking to marry her for her fortune. Although Shabelski is often unpleasant to Anna, he reveals a surprising side to his personality when he confesses that he misses her.
Lebedev, the president of the board of the Zemstvo—a local government body—is a close friend of Ivanov. He and Ivanov were intellectuals and liberals in college together, and he now has a twenty-year-old daughter, Sasha. Lebedev is depicted as a warm, hospitable man whose parlor is as lively as that of Ivanov is empty. Lebedev often claims he is more generous than his frugal wife, Zinaida. The most endearing aspect of Lebedev’s personality is his loving relationship with his daughter. When Sasha expresses her doubts about marrying Ivanov, Lebedev advises her against it, since “it is better to live down a scandal than to ruin one’s life.”
Zinaida is a wealthy woman married to Paul Lebedev. She is presented as frugal to the point of miserliness, with guests to her home often complaining about her refusal to serve them food. Ivanov owes Zinaida money, for which she sends her husband to Ivanov’s home. When Sasha and Ivanov are to be married, Zinaida decides to subtract the loan amount from Sasha’s dowry. Zinaida’s portrayal may be seen as problematic today, because she is painted as an archetype of a nagging wife.
The daughter of Paul and Zinaida Lebedev, Sasha is an idealistic, intelligent young woman. Sasha is in love with the much older, married Ivanov. Repelled by the empty gossip others around her perpetuate, Sasha avoids judging people based on rumors. Her attraction to Ivanov is partly based on her perception of him as a tragic, brooding figure and partly on her own romanticism. Impetuous and passionate, Sasha represents the freshness of youth untainted by cynicism, a quality which appeals to the jaded Ivanov, who briefly imagines that Sasha’s idealism and love can rescue him. However, though Sasha is deeply in love with Ivanov, she is also shown to have a sense of self-preservation, like when she confesses to her father her trepidation about her upcoming wedding.
Lvov is a young government doctor who is treating Anna Ivanov. Morally upright and ethical, Lvov is also known for his unabashed honesty. As he refuses to participate in the decadence of the aristocracy that surrounds him, he is often viewed as a killjoy by others, such as Shabelski and Borkin. Lvov is a complex character whose pronouncements often carry a degree of truth. However, he is undone by his sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority. Lvov serves as the moral counterpart to Ivanov, often revealing to Ivanov the lapses in the older man’s behaviour. Ivanov, however, appears tormented by Lvov’s revelations. The most edifying aspect of Lvov’s behavior is his loyalty towards Anna.
Martha is a young widow, described as “the owner of an estate and daughter of a rich merchant.” Her fortune makes her an attractive match in the eyes of many, such as Borkin and Shabelski. Borkin engineers an alliance between Babakina and Shabelski so that he can indirectly profit from Shlabeski’s new fortune. Since Shabelski is much older than Babakina, her acceptance of the alliance highlights the compromised social position of women in the play’s milieu.
A distant relative of Ivanov and the manager of his estate, Borkin is presented to be as crude a character as Ivanov is refined. Scheming and unethical, Borkin is always on the lookout for plans to make easy money. His moral dubiousness is illustrated in the fashion in which he engineers a match between Shabelski and Babakina. Borkin is disliked by both Ivanov and Lvov. However, Borkin is also animated in a way that eludes Ivanov and is often described as the life of the party. Borkin represents the wild, natural man at some level, standing in contrast to Ivanov’s self-involved, passive intellectualism.