Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lev Glebovich Ganin

Lev Glebovich Ganin (GLEH-boh-vihch GAH-nihn), the alias of a twenty-four-year-old Russian émigré who lives in a Berlin pension with several other émigrés. Bored with a dreary love affair with a woman named Lyudmila, Ganin discovers that a fellow boarder’s wife, a woman named Mary who is due to arrive in Berlin from Russia in just a few days’ time, is actually his own first love. Breaking off his current affair, he spends the next few days dreaming about the romance he shared with Mary as a youth and about the difficult conditions of their separation. Stimulated by these memories, he decides to intercept Mary at the station and to resume his romance with her. He succeeds in getting Mary’s husband, Alfyorov, hopelessly drunk on the eve of Mary’s arrival, but as he sets out to meet her train, he realizes that there is no need to renew their acquaintance, because the image of Mary that he had been reviving in his mind is the only Mary that truly matters. As the novel ends, he boards a train and leaves Berlin for the south.

Aleksey Ivanovich Alfyorov

Aleksey Ivanovich Alfyorov (ah-lehk-SAY ee-VAH-noh-vihch alf-YOH-rov), Ganin’s garrulous neighbor in the pension. Smug and self-absorbed, Alfyorov waxes eloquently about his admiration for...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

There is a piquancy to the use of a third-party narrator in Mary, as the love story is based, at least modestly, on Vladimir Nabokov’s own adolescent love affair with a girl named Tamara. That affair was ended by the intrusion of the Russian Revolution. The third-party voice is used to enter the minds of other characters, but in the main the narrator remains very close to Ganin and manifests much of his tonal and intellectual attitude toward the events of the novel.

Ganin, in many ways, is a precursor of the major male character as he is developed in much of Nabokov’s work. He is intelligent, perceptive, often coldly aristocratic, and distanced from those with whom he associates. Certainly part of his attraction for Klara lies in his ambiguous hauteur, his self-contained confidence. There is, however, an aspect of his character which is only occasionally seen by the other characters. He has been, in the past, a young man of feeling, and his memory of the affair is charged with tenderness and an eye for the beauty of the Russia he has left behind. Now his emotions seem limited to the satisfying of his sexual appetites and he is restrained, if not icily cool, in his relations with others. He can, however, be gratuitously kind, as he is to Podtyagin and in the way he senses the lovelorn despair of Klara.

Perhaps the best thing about Nabokov’s methods of characterization in this novel lies in the ease with which he conveys their...

(The entire section is 404 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Field, Andrew. Nabokov: His Life in Art, 1967.

Lee, L. L. Vladimir Nabokov, 1976.

Morton, Donald E. Vladimir Nabokov, 1974.

Proffer, Carl, ed. A Book of Things About Vladimir Nabokov, 1973.

Rowe, William Woodin. Nabokov’s Deceptive World, 1971.