Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky

Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky (steh-PAHN troh-FIH-mo-vihch vehr-hoh-VEHN-skih), a former professor of history, a free thinker, a mild liberal, and an old-fashioned, dandified intellectual. The protégé of Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina, a wealthy provincial aristocrat, he has lived for years on her country estate, first as the tutor of her impressionable son, later as the companion and mentor of his temperamental, strong-willed friend. At times he and his patroness quarrel violently, but usually their relationship is one of mutual understanding and respect. One of the old man’s claims to fame is the fact that a poem he had written in his student days was seized by the authorities in Moscow, and he still believes that he is politically suspect. Weak-willed, opinionated, hedonistic in a mild way, he has indulged his own tastes and personal comfort while allowing his only son to be reared by distant relatives. At the end, appalled by the revelation of his son’s nihilistic and criminal activities, and seeing himself in the role of an intellectual buffoon in the service of Varvara Petrovna, he wanders off to search for the true Russia. Like King Lear, he is ennobled by suffering, and he dies with a deeper knowledge of himself and his unhappy country, divided between the moribund tradition of the past and the revolutionary spirit of the younger generation. Dostoevsky seems to make Stepan Trofimovitch an illustration of the way in which a generation of sentimental, theorizing, intellectual liberals bred a new generation of nihilists and terrorists who believed only in violence and destruction.

Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky

Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky (PYOH-tr steh-PAHN-o-vihch), Stepan’s nihilistic, revolutionary, despicable son, who has traveled widely and engaged in a number of political intrigues. Really an antihero, he is an early model of the modern, exacting, scientific, psychological fanatic and iconoclast. A monster in his capacity for irreligiosity, deception, and destruction, he undermines the moral integrity of his friend Nikolay Vsyevoldovitch Stavrogin, creates discord between his father and Varvara Petrovna, conducts a campaign of terrorism in the provincial town to which he returns after a number of years spent in study and travel, and foments criminal activities that include arson and murder. If his father’s chief trait is self-delusion, Pyotr’s is the ability to delude others and lead them to their ruin. He is always sure of his mission, fanatical in his single-minded belief in dissent and destruction, and convinced that the end justifies any means. Filled with a sense of his own power, he is totally wicked and corrupt, although he is not without charm to those who do not know his real nature.

Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin

Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin (vahr-VAH-ruh PEHT-rov-nuh stahv-ROH-gihn), a wealthy woman who indulges her son, befriends Stepan Trofimovitch, pays for the schooling of Pyotr Stepanovitch, and takes into her household as her companion the daughter of a former serf. Tall, bony, yellow-complexioned, she is impressive in her outspoken, autocratic behavior. Abrupt and unsentimental for the most part, she is also capable of deep feeling. Her strength of character is shown at the end of the novel, when she begins to rebuild her life after revelations of Stepan Trofimovitch’s dilettantish intellectualism, her son’s weakness and waywardness, and the ruthless violence of the revolutionary group. Her final blow is her son’s suicide.

Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch Stavrogin

Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch Stavrogin (nih-koh-LI vsyeh-voh-LOH-do-vihch), the son of Varvara Petrovna. A mixture of the sensitive and the coarse, the sensual and the spiritual, he has lived abroad for a number of years. There, he has engaged in revolutionary activities and debauchery with a number of women, including Marya Timofyevna Lebyadkin,...

(The entire section is 1744 words.)