Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District Characters

Nikolai Leskov


(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Katerina L’vovna Izmaylova

Katerina L’vovna Izmaylova (kah-teh-RIH-nah LVOV-nah ihz-MAY-loh-vah), the wife and, later, the widow of Zinovy Borisovich Izmaylov. She was born into a poor family, and she married at the age of twenty-four largely to improve her material circumstances. She is described as highly attractive, if not beautiful; her straight, thin nose, sparkling dark eyes, and black hair seem to accentuate the more direct appeal imparted by her fine white neck, firm breasts, and gracefully rounded shoulders. After five years as his wife, she has begun chafing at the dullness of life with Zinovy; she succumbs to Sergey’s charms and then entices him to continue their passionate though potentially very scandalous love affair. It is she who resolves to kill the three people who might create difficulties for them; once her mind is set on murder, she acts with a cold-blooded efficiency that even Sergey, as her accomplice, finds disconcerting. She apparently is susceptible to remorse only unconsciously, as when she dreams of a large sleek cat that has the voice and the accusatory features of her murdered father-in-law. Although she is capable of intense sensual yearnings, she is also, until the last, loyal to Sergey. She exhibits unflinching stoicism when, confronted with the evidence of her crimes, she confesses calmly and then is flogged before being sent into penal exile. By this time, she has conceived and given birth to a child, which she relinquishes without protest or second thought; however, when Sergey’s attention wanders to other women and he openly taunts her with his affection for Sonetka, she plunges her rival into the Volga river and then drowns herself.


Sergey (sehr-GAY), a clerk who works on the Izmaylovs’ property and who becomes Katerina’s lover. His brash but ingratiating manner arouses Katerina’s interest; he is also a handsome fellow, with ruddy features and long, black, curly hair that she finds particularly appealing. Although there are some hints that previously he may have carried on with other women, he is able to convince Katerina of his devotion to her. He displays some resentment of social privilege. When Katerina’s father-in-law obtains from Sergey an admission that he has had sexual...

(The entire section is 991 words.)