Study Guide

The Minor Characters in The Diary of a Madman

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The Minor Characters

Poprishchin mentions quite a few other characters in his diary, real or imagined, but we decided to call them "minor" because Poprishchin rarely lets them take the stage. We don't get to know that much about them other than how much Poprishchin hates them or is obsessed with them. We only hear a few words from them when Poprishchin decides to quote their conversation in his diary.

"Okay, okay, we get it, but just tell us who they are anyway," you say? Well, if you insist.

The Section Chief

He pretty much couldn't hate Poprishchin more. The man makes "a sour face" when Poprishchin shows up late to work (1.1) and just "assume[s] an air as if he [doesn't] notice" Poprishchin's arrival when he shows up on time. He also has no problem pulling Poprishchin aside and saying to him, "Well, look at yourself, only think, what are you? You're a zero, nothing more. You haven't got a kopeck to your name. Just look at yourself in the mirror" (3.1). He sure isn't gonna get one of those "World's Best Boss" mugs.

The Director

Poprishchin thinks his director must be really smart because "his whole study is filled with bookcases," and his books are "all in French or in German" (2.1). But we're not so sure, because according to his daughter's dog Medji, the guy is "a very strange man. He's silent most of the time. Speaks very rarely" (8.12). So who knows?

We do know several things, though: the man "likes very much having more pens" (6.1), as in, like, 23 of them sharpened and lined up at once. We also know that Poprishchin would do anything to find out what the director's life is really like, with its "equivocations and courtly tricks" (6.1), and so stalks the man. And finally, according to the dogs' letters (8.12), he gets a ribbon and probably something like the Order of St. Vladimir as a recognition of his achievements. So we agree with Poprishchin; the director is "ambitious" (8.13).

Sophie, the Director's Daughter

We already know that Poprishchin is beyond obsessed with Sophie and stalks her. But what about the young woman herself, what is she like? She looks "magnificent" (2.1), according to Poprishchin, has a "great passion" for pretty clothes (1.2) and shows up in her father's office in a "white gown" (2.1). She drops her handkerchief in front of Poprishchin just to make him pick it up (2.1), probably because she knows how crazy he is about her and finds it really funny. She doesn't seem to pay any attention to Poprishchin until he rushes into her dressing room at home. Then she gets really scared of him.

According to Medji (if we are to believe the letters), Sophie loves going to balls, but "she's almost always angry as she's being dressed" (8.16) for them. Then she comes back at six in the morning looking famished. Sounds like everyone we've ever read about in People.

She meets the dashing kammerjunker Teplov at a ball. When he starts to call at her apartment, both Sophie and her father are delighted at this fortunate potential match. Three weeks later, Sophie's wedding is announced (9.1). We think things like this moved a bit too fast back then. What do you think? Superficial much? This character gives us some idea of what Gogol's opinion might have been of the young, unmarried, privileged women of the city. More on that later.

Teplov, Sophie's Fiancé

Teplov, the kammerjunker, is a good catch. He is working in the emperor's court (okay, he is the lowest ranking official in the court, but who cares, he has prospects.) He is also exotic-looking for Russia: he has dark hair and dark eyes, and grows his facial hair into broad, masculine side-whiskers. That's pretty much all we know about him.

Oh wait, one more thing, before we forget: he doesn't "have a third eye on his forehead because he's a kammerjunker. His nose isn't made of gold […], he doesn't eat with it, he smells; he doesn't cough, he sneezes" (9.1). Right, right, Poprishchin, he's just a man.

Medji, Sophie's Dog

This dog can talk, and she can write with all the correct "punctuation and even tricky spellings in order" (8.3). She can even borrow ideas "from some work translated from the German" (8.5). If we believe everything Poprishchin claims to have read in Medji's letters to the dog Fidele, then Medji actually comes out looking more educated, more intelligent and way more refined than Poprishchin himself or anyone else in the diary. Seriously gossipy, though.

Mavra, Poprishchin's Housekeeper

She's Finnish. And she's "always cleaning at the wrong moment" (7.1). Oh, and when Poprishchin tells her he is the king of Spain, she gets frightened (12.1) and when he puts on the crazy royal mantle he patches together from his uniform, she cries out in fear (15.1). She might barely be on the sidelines of this story but she is actually quite useful as a character. The poor woman's reactions to Poprishchin give us a pretty good idea as to how crazy he really appears to others.

The Grand Inquisitor, a.k.a. the Asylum Guard

All we know about this character is that he mistreats the mentally ill and likes to beat them. But that's useful to know, in case we mistakenly thought the asylum was a place Poprishchin might actually get treatment for his mental illness.

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