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Names in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin


By Vladimir Nabokov

In speaking to a person, the most ordinary and neutral form of address among cultured Russians is not the surname but the first name and patronymic, Ivan Ivanovich (meaning “Ivan, son of Ivan”) or Nina Ivanovna (meaning “Nina, daughter of Ivan”). The peasant may hail another as “Ivan” or “Vanka,” but otherwise only kinsmen or childhood friends, or people who in their youth served in the same regiment, etc., use first names in addressing each other. I have known a number of Russians with whom I have been on friendly terms for two or three decades but whom I would not dream of addressing otherwise than Ivan Ivanovich or Boris Petrovich as the case may be; and this is why the ease with which elderly Americans become Harrys and Bills to each other after a couple of highballs strikes formal Ivan Ivanovich as impossibly absurd.

A man of parts whose full name is, say, Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (meaning “Ivan, son of Ivan, surnamed Ivanov”; or in American parlance, “Mr. Ivan Ivanov, Jr.”) will be Ivan Ivanovich (often contracted to “Ivan Ivanych”: “y” pronounced as “u” in “nudge”) to his acquaintances and to his own servants; barin (master) or “Your Excellency” to servants in general; “Your Excellency” also to an inferior in office if he happens to occupy a high bureaucratic position; Gospodin (Mr.) Ivanov to a wrathful superior—or to somebody who in desperation has to address him but does not know his first name and patronymic; Ivanov to his teachers at high school; Vanya to his relatives and close childhood friends; Jean to a simpering female cousin; Vanyusha or Vanyushenka to his fond mother or wife; Vanechka Ivanov, or even Johnny Ivanov, to the beau monde if he is a sportsman or a rake, or merely a good-natured, elegant nonentity. This Ivanov may belong to a noble but not very old family since surnames derived from first names imply comparatively short genealogical trees. On the other hand, if this Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov belongs to the lower classes—is a servant, a peasant, or a young merchant—he may be called Ivan by his superiors, Vanka by his comrades, and Ivan Ivanych (“Mr. Johnson”) by his meek kerchiefed wife; and if he is an old retainer, he may be addressed as Ivan Ivanych in sign of deference by the family he has served for half a century; and a respectable old peasant or artisan may be addressed by the weighty “Ivanych.”

In the matter of titles, Prince Oblonski or Count Vronski or Baron Shilton meant in old Russia exactly what a prince, a count, or a baron would mean in continental Europe, prince corresponding roughly to an English duke, count to earl, baron to baronet. It should be noted, however, that titles did not imply any kinship to the Tsar’s family, the Romanovs (the Tsar’s immediate relatives were called Grand Dukes) and that many families of the oldest nobility never had a title. Lyovin’s nobility was older than Vronski’s. A man of comparatively unglamorous origin but a favorite of the Court might receive the title of Count from the Tsar and it seems likely that Vronski’s father had been ennobled that way.

To force upon a foreign reader the use of a dozen names, mostly unpronounceable to him, for the designation of one person is both unfair and unnecessary. In the appended list I have given full names and titles as employed by Tolstoy in the Russian text; but in my revised translation* I have ruthlessly simplified addresses and allowed a patronymic to appear only when the context absolutely demanded it. (See also Notes 6, 21, 30, 68, 73, 79, 89.)

A complete list of characters that appear, or are mentioned, in part one of Anna Karenin (note stress accents and the revised spelling of names):

The Oblonski-Shcherbatski Group

Oblonski, Prince Stepan Arkadievich (“son of Arkadi”); anglicized diminutive of first name: Steve; aged 34; of ancient nobility; formerly (till 1869) served in Tver, his home town, a city north of Moscow; is now (1872) head of one of the several government bureaus in Moscow; office hours: from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to around 5 p.m.; may also be seen on official business at his residence; has a house in Moscow and a country estate (his wife’s dowry), Ergushovo, twenty miles from Lyovin’s estate Pokrovskoe (presumably in the Province of Tula, south of Moscow, Central Russia).

His wife, Dolly (anglicized diminutive of Daria; the Russian diminutive is Dasha or Dashenka); full name: Princess Daria Aleksandrovna (“daughter of Aleksandr”) (wife of) Oblonski, born Princess Shcherbatski; aged 33 ; has been married nine years in part one.

Their five children (in February 1872), three girls and two boys: the eldest (aged eight) Tanya (diminutive of Tatiana); Grisha (diminutive of Grigori); Masha (Maria); Lili (Elizaveta); and baby Vasya (Vasilf). A sixth child is to be born in March, and two children have died, making eight in all. In part three when they go to their country place Ergushovo in late June 1872, the baby is three months old.

Dolly’s brother, unnamed, drowned around 1860 in the Baltic; and two sisters: Natalia (French form: Nathalie), married to Arseni Lvov, a diplomat and later an official at the Palace Offices (they have two boys, one called Mfsha, diminutive of Mihail); and Kitty (anglicized diminutive of Ekaterina; Russian diminutive: Katya, Katenka), aged 18.

Prince Nikolay Shcherbatski, a cousin.

Countess Maria Nordston, a young married woman, Kitty’s friend.

Prince Aleksandr Shcherbatski, a Moscow nobleman, and his wife (“the old Princess”) are the parents of Dolly, Nathalie, and Kitty.

Filip Ivanych Nikftin and Mihail Stanislavich Grinevich, officials of Oblonski’s bureau.

Zahar Nikftich (first name and patronymic), Oblonski’s secretary.

Fomin, a shady character in a case under discussion at Oblonski’s office.

* Along with the other sections of what is called the Commentary in this volume, Nabokov intended the account of names to be part of the prefatory matter to a textbook edition of Anna Karenin that would have contained a new translation. It is particularly unfortunate that this project was never completed. Ed.

Alabin, a society friend of Oblonski.

Prince Golitsyn, a gentleman dining with a lady at the Hotel d’Angleterre.

A Mr. Brenteln who married a Princess Shahovskoy.

Countess Banin, a lady at whose house Oblonski attends a rehearsal of some private theatricals.

Mrs. Kalinin, a staff captain’s widow, with a petition.

Mile. Roland, formerly the French governess of Oblonski’s children, now his mistress. She will be replaced in part four, chapter 7, about two years later (winter 1873-1874) by a young ballerina Masha Chibisova.

Miss Hull, their English governess.

Mlle. Linon, the old French governess of Dolly, Nathalie, and Kitty.

Matryona Filimonovna (“daughter of Filimon”), no surname; diminutive: Matryosha; the old nurse of the Shcherbatski girls, now nursing the Oblonski children. Her brother, a cook.

Matvey(the English would be Matthew), Oblonski’s old valet and butler.

Other servants of the Oblonski household: Mar’ya, a housekeeper of sorts; a chef; an assistant (female) cook, who prepares the servants’ meals; several anonymous maids; a footman; a coachman; a daily barber, and a weekly clockwinder.

The Bobrishchevs, the Nikitins, the Mezhkovs, Moscow families mentioned by Kitty in connection with gay and dull balls.

Korsunski, Egorushka (diminutive of Georgi), an amateur conductor of dances at the balls given by his friends.

His wife, Lydie (Lidia)

Miss Eletski, Mr. Krivin, and other guests at the ball.

The Karenin Group

Karenin (rhymes with “rainin’ “), Aleksey Aleksandrovich (“son of Aleksandr”), Russian nobility of unspecified ancientry, formerly (around 1863) Governor of Tver; now a statesman occupying a high rank in one of the Ministries, apparently Interior or Imperial Estates; has a house in Petersburg.

His wife, Anna Arkadievna (“daughter of Arkadi”) Karenin, born Princess Oblonski, Steve’s sister. Married eight years.

Seryozha (diminutive of Sergey), their son, in his eighth year in 1872.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna (“daughter of Ivan”), no surname mentioned, a friend of the Karenins, fashionably interested in the union of Catholic religions (Greek and Roman) and of the Slav nations.

Pravdin, a vaguely Masonic correspondent of hers.

Princess Elizaveta Fyodorovna Tverskoy; anglicized diminutive: Betsy; Vronski’s first cousin, married to Anna’s first cousin.

Ivan Petrovich (first name and patronymic), no surname given, a gentleman from Moscow, Anna’s acquaintance, who happens to travel on the same train with her.

An anonymous railway guard, crushed by a backing train; leaves a widow and a large family.

A number of people, passengers and officials, on trains and railway stations.

Annushka (lowly diminutive of Anna), Anna Karenin’s maid.

Mariette, Seryozha’s French governess, surname not given; at end of part four is replaced by Miss Edwards.

Kondrati (first name), one of the Karenins’ coachmen.

The Vronski Group

Vronski, Count Aleksey Kinlych, son of Count Kiril Ivanovich Vronski; diminutive Alydsha; a Cavalry Captain (rotmistr) of the

Guards and aide-de-camp at the Court; stationed in Petersburg; in Moscow on leave of absence; has an apartment in St.

Petersburg in the Morskaya Street (a fashionable quarter) and a country estate Vozdvizhenskoe, some fifty miles from

Lyovin’s estate, presumably in the Province of Tula, Central Russia.

His elder brother, Aleksandr (French: Alexandre), living in St. Petersburg, Commander of a Regiment of the Guards, father of at least two daughters (the elder is called Marie) and of a newborn boy; his wife’s name is Varya (diminutive of Varvara), nee Princess Chirkov, daughter of a Decembrist. Keeps a dancing-girl.

Countess Vronski, mother of Aleksandr and Aleksey, has an apartment or house in Moscow and a country estate nearby, reached from a station (Obiralovka), a few minutes from Moscow on the Nizhegorodski line.

Aleksey Vronski’s servants: a German valet and an orderly; old Countess Vronski’s maid and her butler Lavrenti, both traveling with her back to Moscow from Petersburg; and an old footman of the Countess who comes to meet her at the Moscow station.

Ignatov, a Moscow pal of Vronski.

Lieutenant “Pierre” Petritski, one of Vronski’s best friends, staying in Vr6n-ski’s Petersburg flat.

Baroness Shflton, a married lady, Pierre’s mistress.

Captain Kamerovski, a comrade of Petn’tski’s.

Various acquaintances mentioned by Petritski: fellow officers Berkoshev and Buzulukov; a woman, Lora; Fertingof and

Mileev, her lovers; and a Grand Duchess. (Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses were Romanovs, i.e., relatives of the Tsar.)

The Lyavin Group

Lydvin, Konstantin Dmitrich (“son of Dmitri”), scion of a noble Moscow family older than the Count Vronski’s; Tolstoy’s representative in the world of the book; aged 32; has an estate, Pokrovskoe, in the “Karazinski” District and another in the Seleznyovski District, both in Central Russia. (“Province of Kashin”—presumably the Province of Tula.)

Nikolay, his elder brother, a consumptive crank.

Maria Nikolaevna, first name and patronymic, no surname given; diminutive: Masha; she is Nikolay’s mistress, a reformed prostitute.

Nikolay’s and Konstantin’s sister, unnamed; living abroad.

Their elder half brother, Sergey Ivanovich Koznyshev, a writer on philosophic and social questions; has a house in Moscow and an estate in the Province of Kashin.

A professor from the University of Kharkov, South Russia.

Trubin, a cardsharp.

Kritski, an acquaintance of Nikolay Lydvin, embittered and leftist.

Vanyushka, a boy, adopted at one time by Nikolay Lyovin, now a clerk in the office of Pokrovskoe, the Lyovins’ estate.

Prokofi, Koznyshev’s man servant.

Menials on Konstantin Lyovin’s estate: Vasili Fyodorovich (first name and patronymic), the steward; Agafia Mihaylovna (first name and patronymic), formerly nurse of Lyovin’s sister, now his housekeeper; Filip, a gardener; Kuzma, a house servant; Ignat, a coachman; Semyon, a contractor; Prohor, a peasant.