Characters Discussed

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Arkady Makarovitch Dolgoruky

Arkady Makarovitch Dolgoruky (ahr-KAH-dee mah-KAH-roh-vihch dol-goh-REW-kee), the narrator and “raw youth” of the title. He is a boy of some talents but no social polish, and his attempts to strike a course for himself in life are hampered by his confusing social position and his unorthodox family situation. He is the legal son of a servant, the natural son of an aristocrat, and a volatile character, even by the standards of Russian literature. He is an exemplar of the dual nature, combining in himself a craggy, low selfishness with high principles and a warm, effusive love of others. The personality built on this cracked foundation is unformed and ill-directed. He is as likely to break out in shouted insults, or to remain haughtily silent, as to be gushingly affectionate. Arkady has a powerful talent for solitude. His ambition is to become a “Rothschild,” a man of immeasurable wealth and influence. Like his natural father, he is neither good nor bad but has a double nature and can be pulled both ways. Although he has this dual nature, he is good, because he understands that he is divided and must struggle to support his better self. The knowledge that he is divided, that he has no true strength over his own soul, gives him humility, which, in the eyes of the author, is close to true holiness.

Andrei Versilov

Andrei Versilov (ahn-DRAY vehr-SIH-lov), Arkady’s natural father, a nobleman. He is a figure in society, with a questionable reputation. In the first section of the novel, Arkady, in the bitterness of adolescence, is misled by a number of coincidences and, jumping to conclusions, denounces Versilov as an evil and degraded man. When Arkady finds out his mistake, he comes to love and esteem Versilov. He is revealed, through Arkady’s eyes, as a true cosmopolitan, endowed with the noblest progressive European spirit and committed to a utopian vision. Behind this truth, Versilov has a baser nature, a second self, that has an equal claim on him. He brings it out in a symbolic act: He breaks an icon, showing his rejection of religion. By the book’s end, he has changed for the better and come to terms with his other self. He does so, however, with the knowledge that he has not overcome it, that he lives with it still.

Makar Dolgoruky

Makar Dolgoruky (mah-KAHR), Arkady’s legal father, a religious pilgrim. In the many years since he lost his wife to Versilov, he has spent his time wandering across Russia, begging, going from shrine to shrine. His religion is not at all ideological but something more than an attitude. He is infinitely resigned, to the point of refusing to take pride even in his piety and obedience. This beatific disposition has a profound effect on Arkady’s extended family, particularly on Arkady himself. Enfeebled by age and his travels, he comes to stay with them. While Arkady is recovering from an illness, sunk in his worldly concerns, Makar distracts him, changing his own joy in the mystery of the world for Arkady’s dreadful, scientific certainties. Although Makar, desperately ill himself, dies soon afterward, it is his vision of the world that survives after Versilov’s own weaknesses have shown themselves.

Sofia Dolgoruky

Sofia Dolgoruky, Makar’s wife, the mother of Arkady by Versilov. She takes little part in the action of the book but remains its domestic center, perhaps because of the calming effect she has on her two random and rampant men, her lover and her son. She had had a...

(This entire section contains 688 words.)

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passionate affair with Versilov when she was his servant. Now that she is past middle age, he still has an emotional attachment to her (at least when his better self is dominant) and to her kind nature and selflessness. This attachment is perhaps not so surprising as that this pious woman had a passionate affair. She does not renounce it, although she feels that she must atone for it. This affair is her dual nature, and her humility in the face of her sin is, again, the author’s true piety.

The Characters

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Fyodor Dostoevski’s novels tend to emphasize characters rather than plot; many of his works seem to be character studies with only a veneer of action to glue the various personalities into a coherent whole. At the beginning of A Raw Youth, Andrei Versilov is a complete mystery to his son and to the reader. As Arkady begins to unravel the complex personality of his father, the reader begins to comprehend the enigmatic Versilov.

The first clue to Versilov’s character is a childhood remembrance of Arkady’s, as he eavesdrops upon his father practicing lines from a play. The child adores the rehearsing father, who appears as a heroic figure revolting against the hypocrisy, anti-intellectualism, and gossip of high society. As Arkady grows older, however, these feelings are balanced by a long period of parental neglect and ostracism by schoolmates, causing the boy great emotional distress. As a result, he begins a period of solitary dreaming and growing hatred toward his father.

When Arkady rejoins his family as a young adult, he gradually becomes close to Versilov and his hatred is balanced by his worship of the good qualities in Versilov’s character. Eventually the hatred is extinguished as Arkady realizes that his father is also consumed by an idea: a paradise without God, an earthly utopia. The sympathy and respect which Arkady and the reader feel for Versilov at this point are indications of the author’s sympathy for the father, even though Makar’s role in the novel is to demonstrate the ultimate failure of the nonreligious worldview. At a crucial moment, however, Versilov breaks an icon to demonstrate his lack of religious belief, and the author permits Versilov’s lack of faith to stymie all of his good deeds and idealism. For Dostoevski, this is the essence of Versilov’s tragedy.

Arkady is in many ways his father’s son. He permits the all-consuming passion of becoming a Rothschild to warp his personality; only when Arkady begins to appreciate the religious worldview of Makar does the youth achieve a semblance of peace. Arkady’s illness for nine days is symbolic; in Dostoevski’s novels internal chaos is often accompanied by physical disorder. The lengthy sickness signals the death throes of the internal battle; Arkady awakens to find Makar, the symbol of integration, at his bedside, and new life presents itself to the distraught youth.

Makar, whose young wife was seduced by Versilov, wanders through Russia, begging alms and visiting religious shrines. Meek and humble, Makar radiates the happiness which signifies peace of mind. His peace and joy present an antithesis to the chaos and unhappiness reigning in the Versilov household. His happiness anticipates the paradise without God to which Versilov aspires, and he does not need the Rothschild idea to prove that he is a human being with value.

Sofia Dolgoruky, Versilov’s mistress and the wife of Makar, takes little part in the action except to serve as a constant source of strength for Versilov. She suffers the hardships of her life because it is necessary to do so; her sufferings will expiate her sin toward her legal husband and assure her eventual salvation. For Sofia, a very religious person, salvation—not paradise on earth or money—is the ultimate goal, and this belief redeems her in the eyes of Dostoevski. Despite her irregular position, she is the only character who brings out feelings of love and tenderness within Versilov and Arkady at their worst moments; she alone brings an acquaintance with happiness.

Bibliography

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Jones, John. Dostoevsky, 1983.

Leatherbarrow, William J. Feodor Dostoevsky, 1981.

Mochulsky, K.V. Dostoevsky: His Life and Work, 1967.

Rzhevsky, Nicholas. “The Adolescent: Structure and Ideology,” in Slavic and East European Review. XXVI (1982), pp. 27-42.

Wasiolek, Edward. Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction, 1964.

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