by Fyodor Dostoevsky
General Ivan Fyodorovich Epanchin
Father to the Epanchin girls, General Epanchin is a loving father who mostly just goes along to get along in his otherwise rather histrionic family.
Granted, this novel isn't a fine-fingered dissection of who is up and who is down in society (we have to get on this side of the pond and check out Edith Wharton for some of that action), but still, there is a pretty heavy sense of the way the social ladder is structured, and who sits on the top rungs. One of these people is apparently General Epanchin, whose fortune and connections put him at the top of heap. But what is interesting is how he got there.
Early in the novel, we discover that the general is one of the novel's self-made characters—along with Ptitsyn, and to some extent Varya. He starts in the middle class, but because he is a generally pretty easy-going and shrewd guy, he slowly climbs higher and higher. What does this mean? Well, for one thing, think about what he has to do in order to get where he is. When we meet him, he's all buddy-buddy with Totsky, the depraved aristocrat. Not only are they friends, but they clearly share some interests.
Check out how Epanchin actually goes and buys jewels for Nastasya's birthday. Later, he starts listening more to his wife and stops palling around with borderline criminals. And yet, despite the fact that he clearly just falls under the sway of the most influential person in the room, we tend to get a relatively positive feeling about this character. Is this warranted? Why or why not?