OF THE BABY NAME NIKOLAI
Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov is a character in Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 novel, Fathers and Sons. He is a good and gentle man, a widower who adores his son, Arkady, and strives to understand the young man’s recent adoption of the philosophy of nihilism. Nikolai, remembering his own youth and rebellion against an older generation, does not wish to repeat the mistakes of the elders. Poor Nikolai is so intent on understanding and pleasing others, he neglects his own right to happiness. He caters to his son and his friend and to his more powerful brother, Pavel. Having lost his wife, he is wracked with guilt over the pleasure he takes in his house-servant mistress and their son. Trying to adjust to the growing wave of liberalism in the country, he is ineffective at disciplining his servants, and the estate suffers from his mismanagement. With all these strikes against him, and being the creation of a Russian novelist, it is amazing that our Nikolai enjoys a happy ending, but he does – and so do we!
Kolya Krasotkin is a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1880 novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Nikolai is a young schoolboy and a natural leader of others. Nikolai is charming; he is very intelligent, and likes to spout off his childish opinions on life and philosophy. He is at first a sort of “big brother” to Ilyusha, but casts him off after witnessing what he considers the latter’s over-sentimental reaction to the death of a dog. Not so fast – Ilyusha later stabs Nikolai in the leg, thus, however, increasing Nikolai’s stock-in-trade with the other boys. When Ilyusha falls mortally ill, the monk, Alyosha Karamazov, steps in and reconciles the other boys to him. Eventually, Nikolai, too, visits Ilyusha. In so doing, he comes in contact with the almost saintly Alyosha, and is won over to his gentle ways and beliefs, himself embracing the healthy strain of sentimentality that had lain dormant beneath his brash schoolboy demeanor.
Kolya Vdovushkin is a character in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1962 novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a novel that takes us through one day in a Soviet labor camp. Alas, our Nikolai is perhaps not the most sympathetic of characters, being used as he is by Solzhenitsyn as a representation of the uselessness of literary poseurs in the face of brutish reality. Nikolai has an easy job in the labor camp; he is a medical orderly. The only problem is that he hasn’t any medical experience. What Nikolai wants is to be a poet, and the patronage of the camp’s medical doctor encourages him in this endeavor. It is the likes of Ivan Denisovich who suffer from the natural outcome of such favoritism. On the outside, Nikolai would probably be an acceptable person; in the camps, he’s a disaster.
Nikolai Rostov is the eldest Rostov son in Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 masterpiece, War and Peace, about the French invasion of Russia and its aftermath, as experienced by five upper-class families. The Rostov family is property rich and cash poor, a close-knit and affectionately loyal unit. Young Nikolai is a happy natured person, a young student whose spare time is spent hunting, dallying with his penniless cousin, Sonya and avoiding his mother’s exhortations to find a rich wife. In a burst of patriotic zeal, Nikolai leaves university to join the military and fight against Napoleon. After being wounded in battle, when Nikolai returns home, it is to a changed environment. It is now that the latent virtues he possesses come into play. With his father’s death and the family’s declining fortune, Nikolai becomes a “grown-up”. He takes over the management of the estate and struggles to pay off the accumulated debt. He accedes to his mother’s wishes and marries the handy heiress. He takes the bereft Sonya into his home and provides for her, as well as for his mother. Indeed, the consequences of assuming his responsibilities include a long and happy marriage, blessed with children, so we are not to feel sorry for Nikolai at all.