Superfluous Man

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Superfluous Man


(Lishnii chelovek), a sociopsychologi-cal character type recurrent in Russian literature of the first half of the 19th century. The term denotes a hero who is alienated from official Russia and from his own (usually aristocratic) milieu, to which he feels intellectually and morally superior, but is at the same time spiritually weary, profoundly skeptical, and unable to correlate his words and actions.

The term “superfluous man” came into common usage after the publication of Turgenev’s The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850), but the type evolved earlier. Onegin (Eugene Onegin by Pushkin) was the first complete embodiment; later such heroes included Pechorin (A Hero of Our Time by Lermontov), Bel’tov (Who Is To Blame? by Herzen), and the Turgenev characters Rudin (Rudin) and Lavretskii (A Nest of Gentlefolk).

Heroes with some of the spiritual qualities of the superfluous man (at times in a complex and altered form) continued to appear through the early 20th century—for example, in the works of Saltykov-Shchedrin, Tolstoy, and Chekhov—and even of Kuprin, Veresaev, and Gorky. The type also appeared in the lyric poetry of Lermontov and Ogarev.

In Western European literature the closest type to the superfluous man is the hero created by the “long hangover” after the bourgeois revolution of the 18th century (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Sock., vol. 8, p. 122) and by disillusionment with social progress (Adolphe by B. Constant and Confession of a Child of the Century by A. de Musset). However, the contradictions of Russian reality, the contrast between “civilization and slavery” (A. I. Herzen, Sobr. soch., vol. 7, 1956, p. 205), and the backwardness of Russian social life made the superfluous man more conspicuous than his Western counterpart and made his emotional experiences more dramatic and intense.

In the late 1850’s and early 1860’s the revolutionary democrats N. G. Chernyshevskii and N. A. Dobroliubov sharply criticized the superfluous man’s indecisiveness and passivity but unfairly reduced the core of his problems to the theme of liberalism. Dostoevsky also reappraised the superfluous man, condemning his individualism and alienation from the common people.

As a literary type, the superfluous man arose as a reaction to the romantic hero of Byron and Pushkin and evolved into a realistic portrayal of the dichotomy between persona and author. Renunciation of didactic aims in the name of an impartial analysis of “the history of the soul” (Lermontov) was an essential element in the creation of the superfluous man, whose emergence paved the way for profound psychological portrayal and the subsequent entry of realism into literature.


Chernyshevskii, N. G. “Russkii chelovek na rendezvous.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1950.
Goncharov, I. A. “Mil’on terzanii.” Sobr. soch., vol. 8. Moscow, 1952.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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