Arkady- The illegitimate son of Versilov, and author of the notes, Arkady is the protagonist of the novel. His legal father is Makar Ivanovich Dolgoruky, and his mother is Sofya. Dostoevsky exemplifies Arkady’s adolescence through his “idea”, which is initially an important part of the novel, but by the end diminishes in significance. His idea is the belief that, through living frugally, he can gain wealth, which would allow him to break from his family and gain his own independence. He believes that this will allow him to rise above society. He is only 20 years old, has spent most of his life in boarding schools and with his tutor Nikolai in Moscow. He has never had significant contact with either Versilov or Makar.
Versilov- He is the biological father of Arkady. He has been married once before, but shortly thereafter becomes a bachelor. He is known to be a womanizer and his ultimately meets Sofya, a peasant girl that works on one of his estates and seduces her. Versilov pleads for Makar’s forgiveness and asks if he can take Sofya and the child. His presence in Arkady’s childhood is minimal as he is often abroad, but he returns and moves in with Sofya, Arkady, and Lizaveta. Although ‘devoted’ to Sofya, he has several other love affairs throughout the novel, first with Katerina, and then he proposes to Lydia, her handicapped sister.
Kraft- He is one of the characters whom Dostoevsky introduces at the meeting of distinguished young intellects. He believes that Russians are a second rate breed of humans to the Europeans and that their sole purpose in life is to try and become like the Europeans. He is convinced that that Russians are born this way and that they will die this way, and that there is little they can do to rise above this problem. His convictions lead to his despairs and ultimately he commits suicide. Dostoevsky uses Kraft to encompass the theme of suicide.
Makar- He is considered the legitimate father of Arkady. He was originally a serf on one of Versilov’s estates, but stayed as a free worker. A good friend of Sofya’s father, on his deathbed, Sofya’s father made Makar vow to marry his daughter. Makar’s presence in the beginning of the novel is minimal. Once or twice a year, Makar comes to visit, and pay his respects to Sofya and the family for a few days, and then leaves again, and is not heard of for a while. His presence in the novel does not become of great significance until the third part when he arrives to stay at the house permanently. He is old and very sick, but in his last few weeks of life, builds a close relationship with Arkady, and has a great influence over him. He likes to tell stories and is very simple hearted.
Lambert- He is one of Arkady’s few childhood friends. He and Arkady meet while they are at the boarding school, but they maintain a rather ambiguous relationship. He is a rather dark character, who has a bad influence over Arkady. He embodies the theme of human cruelty, and early on we see examples of this when he buys a canary, ties it to a tree and shoots it. He is also the one who gives Arkady his first experience with women, which leads to Arkady’s initial distaste for women, by bringing him to a prostitute and demeaning her. His primary role in the novel does not come in until later, as he randomly runs into Arkady passed out in the street one day. They meet up, and finding out about the letter, begins to plot against Arkady in order to get the letter and use it to his own advantage.
Tatyana- She is the long time family friend of Versilov. They all call her “aunt” although she is of no direct relation. She makes several appearances throughout the novel, as she is closely linked to nearly everyone. She and Arkady do not maintain a very close relationship, as she is very critical of everything that he does. She is very good friends with Katya, and the meetings that occur between Arkady and Katya often take place at her house.
Sofya- The mother of Arkady and estranged wife of Makar, she lives with Versilov in a small apartment in Petersburg. She is a rather quiet and simple-hearted woman, who is compassionate towards her children, but has a submissive personality. Arkady questions the validity of Sofya’s relationship with Versilov as they often go long periods of time without speaking and their love for one anther is not very visible. Sofya is very tolerant of Versilov’s behavior, and is always willing to accept him back again.
Anna- She is the half sister of Arkady, but they had only met each other once during their childhood.
Katya- She has been married once before to General Akhmakov, but is now a widow. Katya has an important connection to the letter which Arkady has sewn up into his jacket, as it has to do with money entitled to her. She was previously involved with Versilov, but their love affair did not last. She later becomes Arkady’s first romantic interest, even though she is 15 years his elder. The three of them get caught up into an interesting love triangle that causes some rivalry between father and son.
Lizaveta Makarovna (Liza)- Liza is the sister of Arkady, and the daughter of Versilov. Despite their biological link, she and Arkady do not have a very solid sibling relationship. They have spent the overwhelming majority of their lives separated, and although the two characters do have a natural fraternal love, they clearly appear to be somewhat unsure of each other. She can be characterized by her strongly humble and silent nature, and regularly desires to be passive in confrontational situations. Nonetheless, she manages to use this silence in order have quite a strong effect over Arkady’s decision making. As the novel progresses, we also learn that she has sexually been involved with the young prince Sokolsky, and has been impregnated with his child.
Prince Nikolai Ivanovich Sokolsky (The old prince)- Upon arriving in Petersburg, Arkady receives his first employment from the somewhat senile old prince. Arkady does not actually work in order to earn money, but merely sits with the prince to serve as a diversion from his mental woes. His functioning role in the novel is simply that he is still alive. The prince is the controversial centerpiece of Katerina’s damning letter, which is sewn into Arkady’s jacket, describing her attempt to curb the Prince’s rampant spending and elimination of family capital.
Prince Sergei Petrovich Sokolsky (The young prince)- The prince becomes one of the more tragic characters in this novel. He befriends the young Arkady in Petersburg, but we later learn that he believed Arkady was blackmailing him because of his relationship with Liza. His character seems to have walked directly out of Dostoevsky’s earlier work The Gambler. He frequents all of Petersburg’s roulette wheels, and is known by name in most of the gambling halls. The Prince is willing let all of his money, and consequently his livelihood, to be bet on one spin of the roulette wheel. He is very brash character, and is eventually conquered by his bold attitude.
Lydia- She is the physically debilitated stepdaughter of Katerina Nikolaevna. Although she never actually appears in the novel, and is mentioned only in the rumors that Arkady hears, her character is important because of the effect that she had upon Versilov while he was abroad. Lydia is given a marriage proposal from Versilov while he is in the height of his love for Katerina Nikolaevna. This proposal horribly complicates the love/hate attitude that defines the relationship between Versilov and Katerina.
Andrei Andreevich- Andrei is the legitimate son of Versilov’s first marriage, and is Arkady’s half brother. He does not serve a major role in the novel, and does not even appear until quite late in the narrative. The nickname “kammerjunker” is given to him, and their first meeting, in which he refused to actually meet Arkady face to face, mars their relationship.
Darya Onisimovna (also Nastasya Egorovna)- Although she is not directly related to any other characters, she becomes drawn into the narrative following the suicide of her young daughter Olya. She becomes a confidant of Tatyana Pavlovna, and even tries to intervene and help Arkady prevent the impending catastrophes.
Olya- Dostoevsky’s recurrent theme of suicide manifests itself into Olya. She is an intelligent and educated girl, but is forced into the depravity of prostitution in order to help sustain both her own and her mother’s lives. Versilov promises to help her, but she loses trust in his actions upon hearing from Arkady that Versilov is the father of an illegitimate child. After discovering the suicide, Arkady blames his words as being the ultimate cause of her desire to take her own life.
Pyotr Ippolitovich- After moving out of his family’s home, Arkady rents a small apartment from Pyotr Ippolitovich. He is quite a foolish but well-intentioned man, and is regularly attempting to reiterate various anecdotes that he has heard about Russia. As Versilov continues to visit his son at the apartment, he develops a somewhat humorous relationship with Pyotr Ippolitovich, and typically asks to hear some new news from him. Although he appears to be an inconsequential character towards the beginning of the novel, he is eventually dragged into and has an effect over the general plot progression.
Nikolai Semyonovich and Marya Ivanovna- Nikolai Semyonovich is a former tutor of Arkady’s, and Marya is his wife. The couple lives in Moscow, and is therefore quite isolated from the series of events in the novel. They are responsible for a sizeable portion of Arkady’s upbringing, and as such have had quite a large effect on his adolescent mindset. Their role in the novel also helps to construct the dominant theme of the effects of a fatherless and abandoned childhood. Arkady appears to have a rather strong respect for Nikolai, who becomes the only person to pour over the full manuscript of Arkady’s writing.
Semyon Sidorovich (Sidorych)- Regularly referred to only as the pockmarked man, this character has quite a strong effect over the plot, despite his minor role and late appearance into the novel in Part III. He is presented quite mysteriously, but his associations with Lambert can assure a reader that he is not a well-bred, morally upright man. The fact that he has his own lackeys doing his dirty work for him shows that he is definitely not without power. His motivations are also rather obscure, but in the end he does betray Lambert in order to help Arkady.
Alphonsine de Verdaigne (Alphonsinka)- Alphonsinka is Lambert’s French girlfriend. Originally she appears to be quite an affectionate and caring woman, but we quickly learn that she is just as base, if not worse than Lambert himself. She actively participates in both the planning and execution of his various schemes, and assists in procuring the infamous letter from the inside of Arkady’s jacket. She typically speaks in her native tongue, and by the end of the novel, Dostoevsky clearly portrays her as one of the novel’s weakest characters.