Superfluous man

A superfluous man (Eugene Onegin) idly polishing his fingernails. Illustration by Elena Samokysh-Sudkovskaya, 1908.

The superfluous man (Russian: лишний человек, lishniy chelovek) is an 1840s and 1850s Russian literary concept derived from the Byronic hero.[1] It refers to an individual, perhaps talented and capable, who does not fit into social norms. In most cases, this person is born into wealth and privilege. Typical characteristics are disregard for social values, cynicism, and existential boredom; typical behaviors are gambling, drinking, romantic intrigues, and duels. He is often unempathetic and carelessly distresses others with his actions.

This term was popularized by Ivan Turgenev's novella The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850) and was thereafter applied to characters from earlier novels.[1] The character type originates in Alexander Pushkin's verse-novel Eugene Onegin (182532). Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time (1840) depicts another Superfluous Man – Pechorin – as its protagonist. He can be seen as a nihilist and fatalist. Later examples include Alexander Herzen's Beltov in Who is to Blame? (184546), Ivan Turgenev's Rudin (1856), and the title character of Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (1859).[1]

Russian critics such as Vissarion Belinsky viewed the superfluous man as a by-product of Nicholas I's reactionary reign, when the best educated men would not enter the discredited government service and, lacking other options for self-realization, doomed themselves to live out their life in passivity. Scholar David Patterson describes the superfluous man as "not just...another literary type but...a paradigm of a person who has lost a point, a place, a presence in life" before concluding that "the superfluous man is a homeless man".[2]



  • Chances, Ellen (2001). "The Superfluous Man in Russian Literature". In Cornwell, Neil. The Routledge Companion to Russian Literature. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-23366-8. 
  • Patterson, David (1995). Exile: The Sense of Alienation in Modern Russian Letters. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1888-3. 

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