*St. Petersburg. Capital of Russia at the time in which the novel is set. The main characters of the novel, the poor clerk Makar Dievushkin and the seamstress Barbara (Varvara) Dobroselova with whom he corresponds, are denizens of one of the shabbier districts of the large city. As a consequence, the story provides only limited views of other sections of the capital. Makar’s letters to Barbara are filled with descriptions of the grubby, impoverished areas of the city, and it becomes clear that this gloomy cityscape has a woeful impact on the psyche of those who dwell in it. Makar’s presentation of city life focuses on three sites: his apartment, the streets through which he walks, and the office in which he works. His entire life seems circumscribed by these three realms.
In his descriptions of the people he encounters on the streets of the city, Makar again singles out the poor and the downtrodden. He finds the faces of the artisans and tradesmen frightening and depressing. In a long passage reminiscent of passages from Honoré de Balzac and Charles Dickens, Makar describes the pitiful sight of a young boy begging those passing by for help for himself and his dying mother. The boy is constantly rebuffed, and Makar foresees a grim future for him. Over the course of the novel, as the seasons change from spring to autumn, growing cold and darkness heighten the somberness of the St. Petersburg scenes that Makar describes.
Makar’s apartment. Makar’s home is a crowded St....
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