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.
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...
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