Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

by Nikolai Leskov
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

The characters of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District are:

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Katerina Izmaylova: Katerina is Zinovy's wife. She is young, attractive, lustful, and flirtatious. Like many young women of her time and station in life, she is illiterate. Katerina resents her provincial life and her father-in-law's rule. In Zinovy's absence, she has an affair with Sergey, the new farmhand.

Katerina maintains that both men and women can be brave, self-sacrificial, wise, and strong. She sees her affair with Sergey as an act of defiance against society. To Katerina, her husband Zinovy is weak, ineffectual, and sexless. Katerina does not find fulfillment with Sergey, however. His roving eye inspires only despair in her, and she eventually takes her own life. In the story, Katerina is guilty of the murder of three people: Boris, Zinovy, and Fyodor.

Sergey: Sergey is the new laborer at the Izmaylov property. He is lustful, conniving, and opportunistic. Sergey becomes enamored with Katerina and has an affair with her, despite knowing that she is a married woman and the lady of the house. His sensual nature fascinates Katerina, which explains why the latter is willing to take a risk in bedding him. For his part, Sergey aligns himself with Katerina but does not remain faithful to her. He eventually has an affair with Sonetka and Fiona.

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Zinovy Izmaylov: Zinovy is Katerina's hapless husband. He returns home to hear that he has been cuckolded. Furious by Katerina's disloyalty, Zinovy beats her. The story does not reveal much about Zinovy, but the text tells us that he holds the same misconceptions about women that Boris does. In the end, Zinovy dies at the hands of Katerina and Sergey.

Boris Izmaylov: Boris is Zinovy's father and Katerina's father-in-law. He rules his household with an iron hand and harbors contempt for Zinovy for his failure to keep his pretty wife satisfied. Boris is secretly enamored with Katerina. In his youth, Boris was a philanderer, and in Zinovy's absence, he shamelessly fantasizes about bedding Katerina. When he discovers Sergey in Katerina's bedroom, he flogs the farmhand himself and has the latter consigned to the store-room. Boris's life is short-lived, however, for Katerina kills him by serving him poisoned mushrooms.

Fyodor: Fyodor is Boris's distant relative. In the story, Katerina and Sergey murder the young boy after concluding that the latter would stand in the way of Katerina inheriting the entire Izmaylov estate.

Fiona: Fiona is a female convict who has an affair with Sergey. Fiona is mainly interested in satisfying her lusts and has little consideration for Katerina's feelings.

Sonetka: Sonetka is the second female convict who has an affair with Sergey. Their affair taunts Katerina for her failure to keep Sergey's interest. Sonetka later drowns after Katerina pushes her into the river.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 991

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 relations with Katerina, he submits to a severe lashing as a form of chastisement. He takes a somewhat less active part than Katerina in the murder of her husband and of young Fedya; in both instances, he restrains them while his lover administers the fatal blows. On the other hand, once he realizes that Fedya would be able to claim much of the Izmaylovs’ estate, it is Sergey who insists that they do away with the young boy. Sergey may be affected by stirrings of conscience, and he is easily swayed by religious appeals. A priest induces him to confess by emphasizing repentance and the final judgment. Once Sergey has confessed, he implicates Katerina without any reservations; it is his testimony that initiates proceedings against her. He feels no particular compunction in jettisoning Katerina for other lovers, and he bluntly informs her that, once she has fallen from a more elevated social station and become a convict like him, he has no special need for her. After a tawdry affair with Fiona, he precipitates the final crisis by taking warm woolen stockings Katerina has brought for him and presenting them, amid open displays of affection, to Sonetka, his most recent paramour.

Boris Timofeyevich Izmaylov

Boris Timofeyevich Izmaylov (tih-moh-FEH-yeh-vihch ihz-MAY-lov), the father of Zinovy, a man nearly eighty years old. He happens to be present during his son’s absence, and he sees Sergey surreptitiously leaving Katerina’s bedchamber; he then asks the young man pointedly what he has been doing with his daughter-in-law. He administers punishment by whipping Sergey and then locking him in a storeroom. When Katerina finds out, she demands that Boris release him. That night, he eats pickled mushrooms and kasha that Katerina has prepared; she has added a white powder used on rats, and Boris dies in a manner that outwardly resembles food poisoning.

Zinovy Borisovich Izmaylov

Zinovy Borisovich Izmaylov (zih-NOH-vee boh-RIH-soh-vihch), Katerina’s husband. He is more than fifty years old. Earlier, he had been widowed after a marriage of twenty years. He and his father would rise at dawn and then attend to business among local merchants. After being away for some time, he hears rumors of Katerina’s illicit love affair and returns home abruptly. When, instead of denying his accusations, Katerina parades Sergey in front of him, Zinovy fumes, rages, and slaps her face; Katerina takes him by the throat, has Sergey hold him down, and then beats him on the head with a candlestick before they throttle him to make sure that he is dead.

Fyodor Ignat’yevich Lyamin

Fyodor Ignat’yevich Lyamin (FYOH-dohr ih-GNAH-tyeh-vihch LYA-mihn), or Fedya, a young nephew of Boris’ cousin. Because funds to start the family business had been provided by way of this distant relative, he would stand to share in the capital. He is brought to the district by his aunt. He comes down briefly with chicken pox and reads lives of the saints with devoted interest. He is frightened enough to scream when Sergey appears; however, evidently according to plan, it is Katerina who smothers him with a pillow, after Sergey has pinioned his arms and legs.


Fiona (FYOH-nah), a female convict, formerly a soldier’s wife, described as beautiful and tall, with thick black hair and dreamy eyes. She seems willing to give in to any man, and others regard her as cheap and common. She is Sergey’s first lover in exile.


Sonetka (SOH-neht-kah), another convict, a blond woman of seventeen. Her sharp features and delicate rosy skin seemingly correspond to her reputedly passionate nature, though she does not yield herself easily to male blandishments. She responds to Sergey’s amorous attentions but evidently is not aware of Katerina’s jealousy.

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