Boris Akunin’s “The Death of Achilles”

“Erast Petrovich turned away in embarrassment, thinking that women were incomparably better than men—more loyal, more sincere, with greater integrity. Naturally, that is, if they truly loved” (156). What is it about women, particularly Ekaterina Alexandrovna Golovina and Wanda, that leads Erast to this conclusion? According to traditional societal values (ignoring the literary trope of the prostitute with the heart of gold), neither woman is the ideal wife or homemaker. One is the extramarital lover, and the other is essentially a glorified prostitute. So why does Erast see them as exemplifying the best qualities of their sex?

Although neither woman is exceedingly virtuous in the traditional 19th century paradigm, they do possess the three traits that Erast lists as important: loyalty, sincerity, and integrity. Despite their unorthodox lifestyles, both admit to them quite readily. They appear to expect a negative response to their admissions, but nonetheless do nothing to deceive Erast about the nature of their relationships with Sobolev. They are also loyal to Sobolev, sometimes to a fault. For example, in her first interview with Erast, Ekaterina says nothing about Sobolev’s passion for Russia as the new Constantinople. Her lack of information leads to Grushin’s death and the near-deaths of Masa and Erast. But her deception stems from her loyalty to Sobolev, not a lack of honesty.

So while neither woman fits the traditional mold of the virtuous woman, the reader may still view them as highly positive characters because they do align with the virtues set forward by Erast. The importance of these three particular virtues, loyalty, sincerity, and integrity—is highlighted by the women’s lack of a traditional virtue. That is, despite their unorthodox relationships, both Wanda and Ekaterina Alexandrovna are still positive characters because they posses these other virtues, showing the importance of those virtues to Erast and the reader.

Cori Mobley is a student in Dr. Sutcliffe’s RUS 436Havighurst Colloquium: Russian Literature Under Putin


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