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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The primary characters of Poor Folk (1846) by Fyodor Dostoevsky are Barbara Dobroselova and Makar Dievushkin. Though they differ in their circumstances of sex and age, they are united in their poverty. The novel comprises a series of letters between the two.

Barbara Dobroselova is a younger woman who lives with a cook, Thedora. She is bereft of both of her parents and is unmarried. She makes a small amount of money sewing and has a passing interest in literature. Makar supports her (though he himself is of small means). She subsists on very little and protests the small gifts that Makar gives to her. The reader learns of Barbara's history through a manuscript that she began writing about her childhood, which she sends to Makar. She was born in the country but moved to St. Petersburg after her father lost his job. He died when she was fourteen, leaving Barbara and her mother to live with the cruel and exacting Anna Thedorovna. The two eventually move out (to a different quarter of St. Petersburg), but Anna remains cruel to Barbara, whose father died owing her money. At the close of the novel, one Bwikov (a wealthy landowner) came back to marry her.

Makar Dievushkin is the other correspondent in the novel. He works as a government clerk and enjoys literature. One day, his boss takes pity on him and gives him money to buy new clothing. Makar is honest, generous, and sympathetic. He laments the poverty he sees in the streets, though he himself wears threadbare clothing. He also gives the small amount of money he does have to the Gorshkov family, who also occupies the boarding house.

The father of the Gorshkov family is called a "tchinovnik" in Makar's letter. He, too, works as a clerk, though he has been disenfranchised owing to lawsuit that he eventually wins. He is a kind, proud man who takes money from Makar only after refusing. One of his children and, later, Gorshkov himself pass away, though after his family is given financial security by the favorable outcome of the lawsuit.

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