The superfluous man (Russian: лишний человек, líshniy chelovék) is an 1840s and 1850s Russian literary concept derived from the Byronic hero. It refers to an individual, perhaps talented and capable, who does not fit into social norms. In most cases, this person is born into wealth and privilege. Typical characteristics are disregard for social values, cynicism, and existential boredom; typical behaviors are gambling, drinking, romantic intrigues, and duels. He is often unmindful, indifferent or unempathetic with society's issues and can carelessly distress others with his actions, despite his position of power. He will often use his power for his own comfort and security and will have very little interest in being charitable or using it for the greater good.
The superfluous man will often attempt to manipulate, control or enslave other individuals. Because he has no integrity or ambitions, he is often self-serving and sees little point to being a benefactor or helping others. He will often carelessly try to manipulate, degrade or pacify individuals within the society; in order to gain more comfort and security.
The character type originates in Alexander Pushkin's verse-novel Eugene Onegin (1825–32). This term was popularized by Ivan Turgenev's novella The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850) and was thereafter applied to characters from earlier novels. Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time (1840) depicts another Superfluous Man – Pechorin – as its protagonist. He can be seen as a nihilist and fatalist. Later examples include Alexander Herzen's Beltov in Who is to Blame? (1845–46), Ivan Turgenev's Rudin (1856), and the title character of Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (1859).
Russian critics such as Vissarion Belinsky viewed the superfluous man as a byproduct of Nicholas I's reign, when the best educated men would not enter the discredited government service and, lacking other options for self-realization, doomed themselves to live out their life in passivity. Scholar David Patterson describes the superfluous man as "not just...another literary type but...a paradigm of a person who has lost a point, a place, a presence in life" before concluding that "the superfluous man is a homeless man".
The superfluous man is often in contrast politically with the great man.
- Chances, Ellen (2001). "The Superfluous Man in Russian Literature". In Cornwell, Neil (ed.). The Routledge Companion to Russian Literature. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-23366-8.
- Patterson, David (1995). Exile: The Sense of Alienation in Modern Russian Letters. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1888-3.