Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, the “I” of the treatise, a man convinced of his own depravity. A theorist addressing imaginary listeners, his readers, he declares that he will tell only the truth. Ugly in face and misshapen in body, though with an intelligent, even practiced alertness, he was for many years morbidly shy and grotesque in his vices. A government clerk of a mean and vindictive disposition, he declares that he would devote his life to idleness and the creation of beauty could he live again. As it is, he will continue in the same vein, acutely conscious of his intellectual prowess, aware of the pleasure he finds in humiliating himself painfully. He knows himself a pretender (even this autobiographical sketch is in jest), but he is now incapable of feeling. He describes incidents that show his lack of acumen, his inability to love or take action, his despicable indulgence in self-pity, and his consciously depraved behavior. He presents his bookishness, his intense self-consciousness, his inability to follow a line of action, and his masochistic-sadistic impulses as examples of humankind’s perverse nature, which refuses the attainment of perfection or even the striving for it.


Liza (LIH-zuh), a peasant girl come to St. Petersburg, an inexperienced prostitute. As the victim of the narrator’s determined debauch, the rather handsome, strong, contemplative Liza finds in the...

(The entire section is 558 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Holquist, Michael. Dostoevsky and the Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Detailed readings of several works, including Letters from the Underworld. An introductory text contains information on Dostoevski’s Russia.

Jackson, Robert Louis. The Art of Dostoevsky: Deliriums and Nocturnes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. An authority on Dostoevski examines the novels written in Dostoevski’s last twenty years. Links the themes of these most important novels and considers Notes from the Underground.

Jones, Malcolm V. Dostoyevsky: The Novel of Discord. London: Elek Books Limited, 1976. Gives an overview of the complexity, chaos, and discord that are to be expected in Dostoevski. Extended section on Notes from the Underground, and concludes with extensive notes. A serious study of Dostoevski.

Leatherbarrow, William J. Fedor Dostoevsky. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Includes a biographical sketch and chronology of Dostoevski. Has commentary on Letters from the Underworld (also known as Notes from Underground) and his four major novels. Extended bibliography and an index.

Mackiewicz, Stanislaw. Dostoyevsky. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1947. Good companion to other, more critical evaluations of Dostoevski. Examines the women characters of the novels with relevance to the loves of Dostoevski’s life.