This week, a drunken row over the merits of literary forms in Russia ended in a poetry-lover stabbing a champion of prose to death. This post is dedicated to the victim, as all but one of these heroes come from prose.
These are some great but mean + evil male protagonists of Russian lit. At key moments in the narrative, they all lacked compassion, emotion, or empathy. But boy were they memorable!
1. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin
Onegin is a 26-year-old dandy who leaves Saint Petersburg for the countryside, where he rejects the love of Tatyana and kills young poet Lensky in a duel. Onegin’s cynicism, arrogance, and selfishness are boundless. The MET is offering a new production of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin this season.
2. Lermontov’s Grigory Pechorin
In A Hero of Our Time, Grigory Pechorin is a bored, manipulative, and selfish man, described by the author as a “portrait built up of all our generation’s vices in full bloom.”
Halfway through the novel, Lermontov’s hero admits, “I became a moral cripple; I had lost one half of my soul, for it had shriveled, dried up and died, and I had cut it off and cast it away, while the other half stirred and lived, adapted to serve every comer. No one noticed this, because no one suspected there had been another half.”
3. Gogol’s Pavel Chichikov
Dead Souls, Gogol’s epic poem in verse is a true encyclopedia of the Russian soul. It’s full of quotable passages every Russian knows from childhood, like this: “Reclining against the leather cushions of the vehicle’s interior, Chichikov smiled with gratification at the sensation of driving fast. For what Russian does not love to drive fast? Which of us does not at times yearn to give his horses their head, and to let them go, and to cry, ‘To the devil with the world!’?”
4. Dostoevsky’s Pavel Smerdyakov
There’s no BuzzFeed future for Smerdyakov, who Dostoevsky says hung & buried stray cats as a child. An actual bastard, Smerdyakov is a vital character in The Brothers Karamazov who ends up killing the Karamazovs’ father. Growing up as a servant in his own father’s household, Smerdyakov was destined to become a determined low-life. In the end, he killed himself.
5. Bulgakov’s Azazello
In Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, the fallen angel & killer demon Azazello is a key member of Woland’s entourage who is both a seducer and a killer. In a book where Satan is portrayed as fair, generous, and kind character, someone had to be cold.
6. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s Iudushka Golovlyov
Porphyry Vladimirovitch Golovlyov was known in The Golovlyov Family under three names: “Iudushka” (Little Judas), “bloodsucker,” and “candid boy.” Iudushka Golovlyov is a corrupt and cruel hypocrite who brings down the whole Golovlyov clan. In the end, his frozen corpse is discovered half-way between the Golovlyov mansion and the cemetery.
7. Tolstoy’s Anatole Kuragin
An incredibly good-looking man, Anatole Kuragin is rumoured to have had an incestuous affair, is secretly married, and tries to elope with Natasha Rostova who tries to take her life when she finds out about his marriage. This Leo Tolstoy didn’t forgive, making Kuragin lose a leg in the Napoleonic Wars and erasing him from the plot of War and Peace sometime after the Battle of Borodino.
8. Ostrovsky’s Sergey Paratov
Things don’t end well in Without a Dowry. Life is cruel but romantic, and people like Sergey Paratov make it more vivid. He humiliated Larisa, the woman he loved, and was ultimately responsible for her tragic death.
10. Dostoevsky’s Nikolay Stavrogin
Stavrogin, in his own words:
“I know I ought to kill myself, to brush myself off the earth like a nasty insect; but I am afraid of suicide, for I am afraid of showing greatness of soul. I know that it will be another sham again—the last deception in an endless series of deceptions. What good is there in deceiving oneself? Simply to play at greatness of soul? Indignation and shame I can never feel, therefore not despair.” —The Possessed