10 biggest jerks in Russian literature

A still from "The Karamazov Brothers." Kirill Lavrov, right, as Ivan, and Valentin Nikulin as Smerdyakov.

A still from "The Karamazov Brothers." Kirill Lavrov, right, as Ivan, and Valentin Nikulin as Smerdyakov.

You wouldn’t fancy meeting one of these guys in real life. Even in the fictional worlds, they’re appalling enough.

 1. Eugene Onegin (eponymous novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, published in 1833)

Yevgeny Kibkalo in the opera

Eugene Onegin is considered the pearl in Pushkin’s vast heritage. The most influential Russian poet of the 19th century wrote this skillful masterpiece that fully portrays life in Russia at that time, and its eponymous hero embodies the vices of his era.

A bored nobleman who has never worked a single day leads an idle life full of pointless entertainment, mocks his best friend, pretends to make moves on his love (just for the fun of it), and then shoots him dead in a duel. What a jerk.

 2. Alexey Molchalin (Woe from Wit by Alexander Griboedov, 1825)

Alexandra Kuzenkina as Sofya and Vladimir Prokoshin as Molchalin in Alexander Griboyedov's play Woe from Wit staged at the Mossovet Theater in Moscow

Woe from Wit is a successful play from 1825 that mocks the hypocrisy of the Russian aristocracy, where everyone obsesses over connections and influence, entirely forgetting about integrity and honesty.

Molchalin, whose name means “the silent one,” serves as secretary to an old nobleman and is ready to do anything to get a promotion – including faking romantic feelings for the daughter of his boss. His name is a synonym for a cunning and unprincipled careerist who is ready to kiss everyone’s backside if it will help him get ahead.

 3. Stepan Plyushkin (Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, 1842)

Plyushkin by artist P. V. Boklevsky

In Dead Souls the protagonist, Pavel Chichikov, travels across provincial Russia buying dead serfs from their owners (to perpetrate financial fraud), and encounters very different but mostly unpleasant landowners. Plyushkin is perhaps the worst of them – an old greedy man who collects everything he can and hordes it, even though his estate is literally rotting in dirt.

 4. Porfiry 'Little Judas' Golovlyov (The Golovlyov Family by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, 1880)

As you may have noticed, 19th century Russian authors loved to criticize the aristocracy, and no one did it better than the brutally honest Mikhail Saltykov. In The Golovlyov Family he described a dysfunctional noble family where children are cheating, deceiving and fighting each other to get their share of the inheritance.

Porfiry Golovlev, nicknamed “Little Judas,” seems to be the worst. Through deception and betrayal, he amasses all his family property in his hands, but in the end he finds no satisfaction in it. He dies miserable and alone, much like everyone else in this novel. Saltykov is not for the faint-hearted.

 5. Grushnitsky (A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, 1840)

Leonid Gubanov as Grushnitsky and Karina Shmarinova as Princess Mary in a scene from the movie

The protagonist of Lermontov’s only novel, Grigory Pechorin, resembles Eugene Onegin (see above). He’s another tired-of-himself nobleman unable to feel anything, who ruins the lives of everyone else. Nevertheless, Pechorin understands his sinful nature and is a clever man.

But he has a doppelganger in the novel, the self-loving mediocrity, Grushnitsky. This officer has all of Pechorin’s vices without his talents, so he disgusts the readers even more. When Pechorin kills him in a duel it almost comes as a relief.

 6. Marfa Kabanova (The Storm by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, 1860)

Women can also be villains, and playwright Aleksandr Ostrovsky proves it in The Storm, which was written in 1859. Marfa Kabanova is a widow who rules her family with an iron fist. Morose and often flaunting her Orthodoxy, Kabanova basically drives her daughter-in-law Katerina to suicide. Kabanova symbolizes the medieval, obscurantist and dark side of Russia that has annoyed progressive Russians for centuries.

 7. The Kuragin family (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1865-1869)

L-R: Actors playing Ellen Kuragin, Anatole Kuragin and Natasha Rostova in the film

Tolstoy’s monumental novel reflects the vices and virtues of his époque, and so the Kuragins are responsible for vices. The old Prince Vasily Kuragin, a cunning and arrogant plotter, does all he can to promote himself at court, including some rather dark schemes.

The children are even worse. Vasily’s son, Anatole, seduces the innocent Natasha Rostova despite being secretly married to a Polish woman. Anatole’s sister, Hélène, is a typical gold-digger who cheats on all her lovers and lawful husband. Plus, these two are rumored to have an incestuous affair. The Kuragins embodied everything that Tolstoy despised.

 8. Pavel Smerdyakov (The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1879-1880)

Valentin Nikulin as Smerdyakov in

We could fill this list entirely with characters from Dostoevsky, who was great at portraying terrible human beings. Yet, Pavel Smerdyakov, the bastard son of old Fyodor Karamazov who served as a cook in his house, is probably the worst.

A natural-born hater, Smerdyakov detests everyone: his father, Russia, the world and himself. He claims that it would be nice to “flog Russian people.” A servant himself, he dreams of becoming a master and punishing everyone. Smerdyakov plots and executes the murder of his own father, and kills himself.

 9. Guard (The Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov, 1966-1967)

It’s a collective image – any guard working in Soviet labor camps, where Shalamov spent 14 years during the rule of Stalin. His prose is basically documental. Gathered in a collection of short stories entitled, The Kolyma Tales, Shalamov describes the awful existence of hungry, powerless prisoners and guards who sometimes kill inmates for no reason, just out of sheer senselessness. And Shalamov didn't make out a thing: such people actually existed and there was plenty of them.

 10. Andrey Komyaga (Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin, 2006)

Actor Viktor Rakov as Komyaga in

This novel combines satire and dystopia. The year is 2027 and Russia has become an ultra-Orthodox monarchy where the new oprichniks (originally – Ivan the Terrible’s henchmen) terrorize the nation in the name of the Tsar, killing and blackmailing everyone. That’s what Komyaga, the novel’s protagonist, does. His day includes murders and rapes, as well as drugs and orgies; and always with the name of God on his lips.

Which Russian character are you? Find out by taking our quiz.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Read more

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies