Places: The Possessed

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Besy, 1871-1872 (English translation, 1913)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedProvincial capital

Provincial Possessed, Thecapital. Unnamed town that Dostoevski modeled on the city of Tver (located approximately one hundred miles northwest of Moscow), where he spent five months in 1859. The town is the site of much of the novel’s activity, which tends to cluster in one of the following locations: a drawing room in the house of Mrs. Stavrogin (the mother of the novel’s central figure, Nikolai Stavrogin); the rooms inhabited by Stepan Verkhovensky, Nikolai Stavrogin’s childhood tutor and a longtime friend of Mrs. Stavrogin’s; the residence of the provincial governor Von Lembke, an ineffectual bureaucrat who is easily manipulated by the novel’s villain, the radical activist Peter Verkhovensky; and a house on Bogoyavlenskaya Street (the Russian name means “epiphany”). This last location is the residence of several of the novel’s secondary characters: Shatov, Kirillov, and Captain Lebyadkin and his sister Marya. When Nikolai Stavrogin pays a visit to each of these individuals one night, he symbolically revisits his past, for they each reflect one aspect of Nikolai’s futile search for meaning in life. Across the river is a working-class district into which the Lebyadkins move shortly before they are murdered.


Skvoreshniki. Summer estate of Mrs. Stavrogin that is the scene of several dramatic incidents, including a tryst between the married Nikolai Stavrogin and Lisa Tushin, the headstrong woman who loves him desperately. Shatov is murdered in a remote part of the estate, and his body is flung into a pond. Nikolai Stavrogin hangs himself in the attic of the house.


Ustyevo. Small village where Stepan Verkhovensky spends time with a woman who distributes the New Testament. There he renounces atheism and accepts religion before his death.

*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Russia’s capital city, where Nikolai Stavrogin spends several years of dissipation and where he apparently seduces a young girl, committing a crime that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Yefimyev Mother of God Monastery

Yefimyev Mother of God Monastery. Site of the cell of Bishop Tikhon, a monk who is visited by Nikolai with a confession of his crimes in St. Petersburg.

BibliographyFrank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955. A comprehensive critical biography. Frank outlines the sociocultural context in which The Possessed was written and evaluates the novel’s response to the corrosive doctrines of Russian nihilism.Holquist, Michael. Dostoevsky and the Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. An examination of Dostoevsky’s works as studies in the problem of self-identification. Holquist’s discussion of The Possessed highlights Stavrogin’s struggle to resist group pressures and to assert himself.Ivanov, Viacheslav. Freedom and the Tragic Life: A Study in Dostoevsky. New York: Noonday Press, 1971. An investigation into the religious and mythical foundations of Dostoevsky’s artistic work. Ivanov argues that The Possessed depicts in symbolic forms the relationship between the powers of evil and the daring human spirit.Mochul’skii, Konstantin. Dostoevsky: His Life and Work. Translated by Michael A. Minihan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. A detailed analytical discussion of the evolution of Dostoevsky’s art. Examines the ways in which The Possessed emerged from two different preliminary projects and describes the central ideological and spiritual themes of the work.Peace, Richard. Dostoyevsky: An Examination of the Major Novels. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971. Includes two chapters on The Possessed, in which Peace discusses the historical background for the novel and analyzes the significant interrelationships among the main characters. Concludes that the secondary figures serve to highlight the tragic situation of the central protagonist.
Categories: Places