A Note on the Names
To English-speaking readers, the names of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov can be confusing. Characters are often referred to formally, with both their first and middle names: “Fyodor Pavlovich” or “Dmitri Fyodorovich.” In these cases, the middle names are almost always based on the name of the character’s father. As a result, the Karamazov brothers all have the middle name “Fyodorovich,” meaning literally, “son of Fyodor.” We learn very little about the father of Karamazov’s first wife, Adelaida Ivanovna, but from her middle name, we know that his name was Ivan. Keeping this device in mind can be a helpful way to distinguish the characters early in the novel when a character’s father also takes part in the story. When characters are not referred to in the formal manner, they are often referred to by informal nicknames, which may seem to bear little resemblance to their real names: Alexei Karamazov is called “Alyosha” throughout the novel, and Dmitri Karamazov is frequently called “Mitka.” Many characters have multiple nicknames. In the list that follows, each character’s most common nicknames are given in parentheses after the character’s full name. If the character is frequently called by one of many nicknames, the frequently used name is italicized.
Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov
Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov
Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov
(Vanya, Vanka, Vanechka) The second son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, and the middle brother between Dmitri and Alyosha. A brilliant student, Ivan has an acutely logical mind and demands a rational explanation for everything that happens in the universe. As a result of his inability to reconcile the idea of unjust suffering with the idea of a loving God, Ivan is plagued by religious doubt, and he oscillates between outright atheism and belief in a malevolent God. His forceful arguments about God’s cruelty toward mankind are compelling, but after they lead to the murder of his father, they drive him into madness.
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov
The wealthy patriarch of the Karamazov dynasty, the father of Alyosha, Dmitri, and Ivan, and almost certainly the father of Smerdyakov. Coarse, vulgar, greedy, and lustful, Fyodor Pavlovich lives a life devoted exclusively to the satisfaction of his senses, with no thought for those whom he betrays or hurts. Completely lacking in dignity despite his wealth, Fyodor Pavlovich is loathed by almost everyone who knows him. He has no affection for his children, and even forgets which of them belongs to which mother. His only goal in life is to have money and seduce young women such as Grushenka, whom he lusts after for much of the novel. Fyodor Pavlovich is eventually murdered by Smerdyakov.
Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlov
Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov
The son of Lizaveta and Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, Smerdyakov is raised by Grigory and his wife Marfa and is made to work in Fyodor Pavlovich’s house as a servant. Cursed with epilepsy, Smerdyakov also has a mean temperament, sometimes exhibiting outright malice and sometimes hiding behind a mask of groveling servitude. He is particularly interested in discussing philosophy with Ivan, whose advocacy of an antireligious amorality paves the way for Smerdyakov to murder Fyodor Pavlovich.
The wise elder at the monastery who acts as Alyosha’s mentor and teacher before his death in Book VI. Extremely intelligent and filled with an ardent and sincere religious faith, Zosima preaches a message of actively loving mankind, forgiving the sins of others, and cherishing God’s creation. The clarity of Zosima’s faith gives him extraordinary insight into the minds of the people he meets.
Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtsev
Katerina Ospovna Khokhlakov
Mikhail Osipovich Rakitin
A young seminary student whom Alyosha considers a friend, but who secretly despises him. Cynical and sarcastic, Rakitin is too sophisticated to have real religious faith, so he satisfies himself with adopting various fashionable philosophical theories. He quotes Nietzsche and claims to be a socialist. Deeply threatened by Alyosha’s apparently genuine moral purity, Rakitin secretly longs to see Alyosha become corrupted. As a result, he tries very hard to introduce Alyosha to Grushenka, whom he believes will shake Alyosha’s faith.
Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov
A wealthy landowner, the cousin of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s first wife, and briefly the guardian of the young Dmitri. Considering himself a political intellectual, Miusov utterly despises Fyodor Pavlovich.
Pyotr Ilyich Perkhotin
A friend of Dmitri’s, a young official who snoops around after Dmitri on the night of Fyodor Pavlovich’s murder.
Kuzma Kuzmich Samsonov
The old merchant who brings Grushenka to the town after her former lover betrays her.
A young retarded girl who lives as the village idiot. She dies giving birth to Smerdyakov, leading most people to suspect that Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov either seduced or raped her.
A famous defense attorney from Moscow who represents Dmitri at the trial.
The prosecuting attorney at Dmitri’s trial.
A severe and ascetic monk who hates Zosima.
Nikolai Ivanov Krasotkin
(Ilyushechka, Ilyushka) The son of a military captain, who once saw his father beaten up by Dmitri. Proud and unwilling to be cowed by the larger boys who pick on him, Ilyusha befriends Alyosha, but becomes ill and dies toward the end of the novel.
Grigory Kutuzov Vasilievich
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov’s servant, who, along with his wife Marfa, raises Smerdyakov from birth.