Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Anna “Netochka” Nezvanova

Anna “Netochka” Nezvanova (NEH-toch-kah neh-ZVAH-noh-vah), the narrator and protagonist, a young girl. Her character—introspective, naturally calm, and sedentary—is revealed through her reactions to the often unlucky circumstances in which chance places her. Netochka is a good-hearted girl; she has less of the moral duplicity than one would expect from a Dostoevski protagonist. She does find herself repeatedly in irresolvable conflicts of loyalty. As a young girl (she is eight or nine when the story begins), she lives with her mother and stepfather in an unhappy family. As her stepfather’s character deteriorates, he enlists Netochka’s help in stealing money from his wife, leaving Netochka to face her mother’s ever more terrible anger alone. Both parents die as the family dissolves, and Netochka falls seriously ill. The wealthy Prince Khy takes Netochka to heart and takes her to live with his family. There, she finds herself living in the luxury of which she and her stepfather had dreamed, but she finds herself again at the center of family conflict. The prince’s wife and mother-in-law object to Netochka’s low origins. She is tolerated as long as she and Princess Katya, the prince’s willful and energetic daughter, are at odds. When Netochka manages to win Katya’s friendship, and thus wins for herself some happiness in this sterile home, she is condemned as a bad influence. She is then sent to live with Aleksandra Mikhailovna, the prince’s married daughter and Katya’s half sister. Aleksandra and Netochka are temperamentally suited...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As the narrator, Netochka is the only character who is consistently present and whose qualities are revealed in some detail and depth. A timid, fearful, and neglected child, she tries to understand and help her weak and wretched stepfather. It is clear that despite the privation and misery of her childhood, Netochka longs for love and bestows it on a man who takes advantage of her undeserved devotion. Dostoevski portrays Yefimov harshly and pitilessly, showing him to be a bitterly disappointed man who can forget his failures as a musician and as a husband and stepfather only in drink.

After the death of her parents and her adoption by the Prince, Netochka is very ill for a long time, and her grief and despondency annoy and puzzle little Katya, a lively, mischievous, and spoiled child. As Netochka begins to recover, her loving but timid nature is not recognized by Katya, but eventually the child realizes that Netochka is bravely and selflessly devoted to her. Their girlish and essentially innocent attachment to each other ends suddenly, but Netochka suffers from the separation much more than does the flighty and frivolous Katya.

Netochka’s second set of foster parents, Aleksandra and Pyotr, provide her with a comfortable and quiet life, but she is often bewildered and hurt by their strange relationship and their strange treatment of her. Pyotr is rarely at home, but Netochka’s immediate antipathy toward him is later justified as she discovers how spiteful and vindictive he is. Aleksandra’s character is portrayed with more complexity but no less mystery. Quite undependable in her moods—sometimes childish, sometimes motherly, at times gay and cheerful, at other times gloomy and despondent—Aleksandra realizes her weakness, endlessly begs forgiveness, is tender and suspicious by turns, but has been so demoralized by her secret sorrow and her husband’s hateful treatment of her that she loses her will to live.

When the story is brought to its abrupt end, Netochka’s courage and capacity for love, qualities which have always been dormant within her, are clearly and admirably revealed in her nascent willingness to act on all that she has experienced and observed.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849, 1976.

Grossman, Leonid. Dostoevsky: A Biography, 1975.

Hingley, Ronald. Dostoevsky: His life and Work, 1978.

Magarshack, David. Dostoevsky, 1963.

Welleck, Rene, ed. Dostoevsky: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1962.