19th Century Russian Literature

Feb14th

Pushkin’s “The Shot” and “The Snowstorm.”

“But let us return to the worthy proprietors of Nenaradova, and see what is happening there.

Nothing.”

More than once our assumptions and expectations are proven incorrect as the narratives unfold. The narratives themselves are also collections, like little Russian nested dolls, matryoshkas, where one story is embedded in side of another. Pushkin also treats us to superbly balanced stories.

There is much more to these seemingly simple stories. What struck your fancy?

Comments

  1. Kaylen Baker
    February 15th, 2009 | 4:26 pm

    In both stories Pushkin gives us satisfying endings that seem to throw us off guard, because we aren’t expecting all the characters to get what they deserve. Fate plays a role in both, but manifests more vividly in The Snowstorm: Nature doesn’t mirror the story here; it shapes three characters’ lives by physically deterring Marya and Vladimir and propelling Bourmin forward. The storm also forebodes us and the characters that something (seemingly) wrong is afoot. Thus, it’s perfect that Pushkin also takes us through a strange route in The Snowstorm to arrive at the end (we know something has happened, but figure it out afterward through an interchange of people, time, and place).

    Mayra’s character “caught my fancy”, because she seems more three-dimensional than Liza and develops throughout, but is comprehensible only through small, subtle descriptions and interplay. In the beginning, she is the innocent, naïve young woman we expect. She “had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love.” (How ironic of Pushkin – he sarcastically warns that love in novels doesn’t parallel reality, yet he feeds us a love story anyway, and we can’t resist). She charms us because she loves a poor soldier, even though “many desired her.”

    As Mayra leaves her house, she is dubbed, “the young criminal,” a title that clashes with her docile image, yet it also tells us she will disobey for love, which we approve of (not of Vladimir, but of passion), and relieves us of a sickeningly angelic image. When Mayra returns, the line, “The letters, written by her the evening before, had been burnt,” really affected me more than any other. Mayra has given up hope, it’s devastatingly tragic. She is staunch enough to conceal everything, even though she is broken and betrayed.

    A few years later we reunite with Mayra, and find she has changed. She’s in the same position again with many suitors, ignoring them all, when Bourmin arrives. She thinks she will never love again, but her attraction tells her otherwise. The line “It cannot be said that she coquetted with him,” is interesting, because if she isn’t flirting, but “bestowing special attention upon him…” then what is she doing? Come, on – she’s flirting! (“Se amor non è, che dunque?” – If it’s not love, what is it?”) I believe Mayra has become bolder in her broken, hardened state, and being around men that want her has taught her how to use her own female persuasion to her advantage. She’s not so innocent anymore.

    Mayra is surprised that Bourmin isn’t falling all over her feet, and unlike before when Vladimir did the planning, she takes matters into her own hands, “by an exhibition of tenderness.” Not to worry, our final image of Mayra isn’t completely transposed, however. Mayra is sitting under a willow tree dressed in white, and reading a romance novel – much as we find her in the beginning. She may be bruised and skeptical inside, yet she is still modest (“Maria Gavrilovna blushed and lowered her head still more,”) and is still a dreamer. She is more capable of fighting for what she wants now, which makes her, in my opinion, the hero of the story.

  2. Harry Morgenthau
    February 15th, 2009 | 10:07 pm

    In both stories I was struck by the high sense of honor amongst the characters. “The Shot” is completely driven by Silvio’s feeling that his honor has been tarnished, and that it must be restored. His failure in confronting a rival consumes him so thoroughly that he cannot focus on anything else. Every moment of his life, it seems, is spent in training for his next encounter with the man who has wronged him.
    In a strange way, though, it seems that Silvio actually tarnishes his honor more by becoming so obsessed with the count. It causes him to throw away his high position in the army and move to a small town, far from the man who has wronged him and the people who once respected him.
    But is this really necessary? Silvio seems to be taking the entire situation much more seriously than either the count or the narrator. While they both understand the reasoning behind Silvio’s drive, they also seem to be a little frightened by his deep anger. Are they frightened because they know that a man’s honor must be avenged at all costs, or because they see something wild in Silvio’s actions? It is easy from a modern point of view to see Silvio as almost crazy, but do the narrator and the count feel the same way in their early nineteenth century setting?
    I think that Pushkin is commenting that the overblown view of honor that Silvio possesses is at least slightly ridiculous, and, at most, detrimental to Russia. Silvio was a model citizen, a wonderful soldier, but he threw it all away when he let his desire for honor take control of him. His life ended inauspiciously in battle, nothing more than a footnote. The count leads a successful life with a beautiful wife. Who wins?
    Pushkin also, though, shows us hope. This extreme sense of honor appears in an older man, already on his way out. The count and the narrator are of a younger era, the generation that is preparing to lead the country. Hopefully they can show the right balance of honor: enough to keep a fair, controlled society, but not so much as to drag Russia down with trivial disagreements.

  3. Stewart Moore
    February 16th, 2009 | 10:44 am

    I felt that in “The Snowstorm” Pushkin might have been making fun of romance stories. I’m not sure of what the world’s view of France was at the time, but many today place France on a high pedestal of art, fashion, and love. I legitimately started laughing when I read the line that Mayra, “had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love.” This began my idea that Pushkin is simply showing that he too can write a rather unrealistic love story.
    “The Snowstorm” follows a fairly ‘normal’ plot line of a love story. It seemed to be going in the perfect direction for a tragedy. Mayra had lost her lover and became depressed; now, oh, why was she continuing to live? Then Pushkin threw in the second love and a whole new aspect that maybe this man could revive poor Mayra from her grief. Then at the end we learn the two had already been married, during the snowstorm!
    I could be wrong, but I thought Pushkin was showing that writing an over-romanticized love story isn’t as hard as many might think. He threw in some dramatic characters and elements of destiny to play with our minds, then shocked us at the end, and in my view said, “yeah, I just did that.” Pushkin degrades ‘typical’ romance stories with his sly little comments and bold ending.
    He continues so show us his dominance over other genres in “The Shot”.He takes us on a wild path, always changing what we think will happen and always adding one more point to be considered. Is Silvio mercifu and friendly l at first, but wait is he a coward, oh no, he’s a maniac who wants to wait to kill a man who now has a desire to live. While this is confusing at times and constantly changes our ideas of who Silvio is, Pushkin also finishes with a rather strange ending. Silvio is merciful, but since Silvio spent his whole life plotting out the death of the Count, Pushkin punishes him with a meaningless death in some distant battle. Perhaps I am misguided, but really all I could do was smile and laugh a little as Pushkin showed off his skill over conventional literature.

  4. Susanna Merrill
    February 16th, 2009 | 10:47 am

    I am puzzled by Silvio’s declaration to the count, at the end of “The Shot,” that “I will leave you to your conscience.” What, in this situation, should trouble the conscience of the count? He seems to have obeyed the requirements of honor to a most courageous and painful degree: he shot and allowed himself to be shot upon as if the laws of dueling were unquestionable laws of nature, and the only qualms he ever showed were over the fear or pain of his young wife. His first reaction, upon understanding who Silvio was and the nature of his visit, was to stand against a wall and ask to be shot; later, his efforts were directed towards getting Masha out of the way so that the affair could proceed in the way honor demanded.
    Silvio’s statement, “I have seen your confusion, your alarm. I forced you to fire at me,” suggests that his version of honor would have required the count to stand as proud and careless before death as he once did with the cherries, and to refuse any means, such as firing at Silvio, that might prevent his death. Silvio’s notion of honor, then, is not a mere system of required actions but an attitude of total disregard for one’s life, even so far as one’s life affects other people’s welfare and happiness. It is not enough to agree to the necessity giving up one’s life: one must never had held that life to have been worth living. In this, it seems to me, Silvio’s attitude and actions are simply pathological, and this is no romantic tale of honor, but a twisted account of almost sociopathically misplaced ideals. Our sympathetic attitude towards the count and his wife, created by the narrator’s pleasant experience with them, indicates that Pushkin shares this preference for the humanity of the count over the pathology of Silvio.

  5. Jennifer Ridder
    February 16th, 2009 | 12:19 pm

    I agree with Harry that honor plays a huge role in these stories. The characters are constantly tying to remain honorable despite the desires of their hearts. The need to keep honor and prestige is inevitably destructive; eventually the characters have to fall. However, Pushkin prevents this from happening. Rather he moves you to believe that the stories will have endings of defeat. In the Snowstorm, by using the setting of a blinding blizzard one has the feeling of a white hole to which the characters will fall. During the snowstorm, Valdimir does plunge irrevocably, but Maria stays stuck until guided out by fate. The snowstorm, thus is an ending, an obstacle, and the guiding hand of a lover, it moves the entire story. Therefore, a snowstorm, not the objections from Maria’s mother, the possible tattle of the servants, or the fears of Maria, prevented her from marrying Valdmir. It was not a conscious decision, therefore allowing fate to guide the story. The snowstorm, being uncontrollable is thus the “hero” while the perceived heroism in trying to maintain honor goes unsung, for in the end it is all arbitrary. As the snowstorm prevents the fall from honor, so does marriage in The Shot. Marriage allows the count to act with cowardice as he begins to value his life with a wife. His prior indifference to the possibility of death and desire to preserve his honor forced him to a deadly duo. When Silvio does not fire the shot, the narrator deceives reader’s expectations but also allows Silvio to become a hero. Silvio uses humiliation of the Count in the presence of his wife as his final revenge; this verbal disgrace tarnishes the Count’s honor. Furthermore, in not firing at the Count, Silvio has in effect conquered his own daemons and become more honorable.

    Perhaps because I am a geography major, I thought it was interesting to note the difference in Pushkins use of place in each story. In the Snowstorm, the topographic and geographic details are almost characters in the story. The localities of the estates, the little church in which the marriage took place, the town where Valdimir leaves and ends up in, add to the confusion of the story. All characters are put in a particular position and with each move they come closer to their fates. The precise detail of place allows for a concrete nature to the story but allows for disorientation and mistakes. Place is a crucial element to the missed encounters of the story. While in The Shot, Pushkin does not even bother to name the places; he only adds a dash to the first letter. This indicates, that the setting could be anywhere; it allows the reader to imagine Russia as a whole and not as a particular town.

  6. February 16th, 2009 | 1:43 pm

    Reading the comments before me, I notice that there’s a substantial difference in the opinions of Susanna, who’s arguing that the reader’s ideal of “honor” is not in fact embodied in the pathological Silvio, and of Jennifer, who says that Silvio is more honorable for not having killed the count when he very easily could have.

    For me, Silvio is never shown to be very honorable. In the first place, it was Silvio who “began to seek a quarrel” with the young count, who was doing nothing but acting, in his opinion, too cool for school. His thirst for putting the up-and-coming Count in his place, he realized, would not be satisfied with a pistol shot, but only with the Count’s hurt pride. Ultimately, Silvio does get his way in his specious feud by establishing the machismo-driven dominance over the supposedly uppity, young count. He leaves the doubled bullet in the painting and the “I leave you to your conscience” line as reminders of his dominance. That is not honor in my opinion (sorry Jennifer!). On the other hand, I think that the Count’s carelessness so as to not offend the famously gun-happy Silvio and the Count’s eating cherries as he was about to die fails to exhibit a very “honorable” character either. So I do agree with Susanna that the Count’s character is preferable to Silvio’s, though it is not perfect.

    However, I think that Pushkin/”Belkin,” as people well versed in the proceedings of war and duels, mean to illustrate two “facts-of-war” (facts-of-life?) through each character: Silvio represents the victor who shows some strand of contorted mercy but does not allow the defeated to forget him, and the Count represents the dutiful soldier (to whatever code or doctrine), blindly resigned to his fate in the battlefield. Neither of these “facts” are necessarily appealing to my personal sense of morality, honor, and so forth. That said, I’ll hand it to Pushkin for being successful his framing such characters, not unlike his own friends, as mostly good people who became tangled in the standard codes of dueling for honor and pride and who consequently committed “necessary” evils, as opposed to completely blameworthy errors.

  7. Elise Hanks
    February 16th, 2009 | 3:22 pm

    The snowstorm itself has caught my fancy. It seems to exist as a character in itself; the narrator describes the storm with more originality and care than the storm-tossed lovers who are nearly romantic stock characters. As a metaphor for the love between Maria Gavrilovna and Vladmir, the snowstorm exists as a passionate force of nature. The storm is furious when Maria plans to leave the house of her parents as the shutters are rattling in their frames. Vladmir can’t even discern the ground from the sky as the “thick yellow fog, through which fell the white flakes of snow” shrouded everything. The two young lovers fail to be rational. They each set out into the storm despite misgivings that the narration makes obvious: “everything seemed to her to portend misfortune” and “the wind blew in their faces, as if trying to stop the young criminal”. The sensibility of the two lovers is manifest within the storm. As Nature conspires against Maria and Vladmir it is a sign that their love was not the love of a lifetime. They were not ready for one another; in their failure to recognize this, as is typical of first love and infatuation, the storm essentially takes away their agency and makes a choice for them. It is not until years later that Maria is able to see that her love for Vladmir, while very real, was not a love of the ages or what would be the truest in her life. That their love could not withstand the snowstorm, symbolic of purity and innocence, was a sign that it was not meant to be. It is very clever that through the snowstorm, also symbolic of renewal and rebirth, Maria was able to find love.

    I enjoy that despite the absurdity of the plot and its extreme improbability, the happiness and love that the story promises in the beginning is created in the final lines of the work. I don’t see too much to concern myself with in regard to the plot as I find this short work something to be read for amusement and appreciation of the writing. It is clever (no matter that it is improbable) that the narrator delivers a twist and the story’s end, as it is clever that the narrator sprinkles the text with witty remarks (Maria’s predisposition for romance due to her love of French novels). The aesthetics of this work are simple which coincides perfectly with the short length of the piece. Although this is my first exposure to Pushkin, I am finding that he is an excellent writer in that he appears to have mastered linking form with content to craft a work that is cohesive.

  8. Matthew Lazarus
    February 16th, 2009 | 3:33 pm

    I’d like to touch on what Stewart called Pushkin “showing off his skill over conventional literature.” I was pleased to find out that both of these tales I’ll call them tales were written in the same year (1831), and that although they both seem to revolve around different themes, notions of society, and the like, there are nevertheless in both stories elements that I thought cleverly and sneakily both sidestepped literary conventions and also promoted well-placed doses of un-/off-reality, placing the characters in a disarmingly fluorescent light of satire. I feel as though Pushkin must be comfortable working in the epic/romantic short-story form to such an extent that it becomes all about (or at least it did for me) those brief but meaningful instances in which he lets his literary guard down and offers something that makes the reader do a neck-snapping double-take, be it a humorous societal quip, a seemingly chronologically unsound transition, or structurally a jarring break in form that totally blows your mind and changes, like, your expectations of the author and “where he’s _really_ going with all this.”

    I would speculate that the order in which one read these two stories would have an impact on the level of preparation or on the expectations one might have for the tone in the second story. I read “The Shot” first, and in retrospect I’m happy I did. I thought it much more the serious story of the two, the second functioning much more as a satire rather than the kind of tale I enjoyed from “The Shot,” – with its folklorish/journalistic “It is said that Silvio…” to conclude. I felt as though this story had a very clear agenda from the start in the mind of the author; that there were certain aspects of the story that would either deliberately not be elaborated on or existed and that was that no arguing. For example, why did everyone whenever something had gone down just return to his “various quarters” – isn’t that really ambiguous why don’t we have some detail about that? No? Must not be important. In terms of un-/off-reality – the descriptions of the pleasant sending-off party for Silvio like a fantasy to me; did they really do nothing but pop champagne and wish him “a pleasant journey and every happiness?” There had to have been more to it. Maybe when it’s time to make merry these men made merry and that’s all they did. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Also great call Pushkin – a classic moment, feeling awkward in the presence of a hot countess. We’ve all been there.

    On “The Snowstorm” briefly – Stew already mentioned his LOL moment at the French novel reference. My favorite moment had to be the interaction between Vlad and the old man who offered his son (how rustic) to be his guide, and how the old man made a point of explaining that his son was putting on his boots. That had almost a Monty Python vibe for me. As did the moment repeated in the prompt – “Nothing.” What must people have thought in 1831 when Pushkin wrote that?

  9. Brett Basarab
    February 16th, 2009 | 5:04 pm

    What struck me most about these two stories were the improbable twists of fate that really drove each story’s plot. The twists seem quite improbable, almost to the point of being humorous and absurd. However, they also make for entertaining, well written and largely unpredictable plot lines. While the characters’ actions and intentions obviously play a role in both stories, it seems that their intents are often interrupted or reshaped by outside events. Just over halfway through both stories, I got a sense of suspense and tension; It was clear that some huge event had to happen in order for the story to reach its climax, but it was hard to tell exactly what this event would be. Pushkin leaves the reader guessing a bit until he finally wraps up the stories with witty but clever endings.

    In “The Shot,” the characters lead fairly complacent lives, dining with Silvio every night; their revelry is only interrupted once by Silvio’s spat with the young Count. When their duel ends inconclusively, the reader is left with uneasy sense that someday things will have to be resolved, as Silvio states that “since then not a day has passed that I have not thought of revenge.” As life returns to normal and the narrator describes his monotonous country life, I almost let down my guard as to the seriousness of the unresolved duel. At this point, seemingly random events connect with each other to drive the plot to is close. Silvio has previously received the letter and has gone off to finish his business. The narrator visits the count, having no idea that it is the same person previously involved with Silvio. In the end, the plot wraps up cleanly, but not in the way we would expect. Random events play a role and add to the unpredictability. Characters reconnect and reappear in unexpected ways. Silvio’s actions largely drive the plot, but the connections among the characters also play a major role.

    In “The Snowstorm,” events outside of the characters’ own actions seem to drive the plot. The snowstorm itself, of course, puts an end to the chance of marriage between Maria and Vladimir. The thought that went into Maria and Vladimir’s plan was so meticulous that one got the sense that something was going to get in the way. As Elise noted above, the snowstorm really is its own character. It effects the characters’ actions and brings about unforeseen consequences. Later on, in Colonel Bourmin’s interactions with Maria, it becomes clear that there has to be some connection between them, although the reader doesn’t know what it may be. Ultimately, we find out that Bourmin’s prank, which he assumed would have no future repercussions, ends up bringing the two lovers together. Bourmin, too, is lost in the snowstorm and eventually ends up at the church where he marries the woman who turns out to be Maria. Again, random twists of fate and a freak snowstorm are what drive the plot. Despite the characters’ detailed plans and passionate desires, the storm controls the outcome. The storm manages to break off one love affair and begin another, without the characters really having much say. Such plot devices make these stories witty, unpredictable and ultimately fun to read.

  10. February 16th, 2009 | 5:13 pm

    I reread “The Snowstorm” after I read the first (Kaylen’s) blog entry. Again, however, I could not see the character depth that she saw. Kaylen describes Mayra as “three-dimensional,” yet also claims that fate “manifests vividly” in The Snowstorm. But, if there is no free will is it possible for a character to be three-dimensional?

    What truly struck me in the reading, however, was one comment by the narrator in “The Snowstorm:”

    “The women, the Russian women, were then incomparable. Their usual coldness disappeared.”

    This is such a stark departure from the usual image of the Russian woman in literature. In the stories I have read, the female characters are usually meek, poor, attractive, and righteous despite their predicament, like Liza, Natasha in War and Peace, the prostitute (?) in the Brothers Karamozov, and Sonya in Crime and Punishment. Even the count’s wife fit this description briefly in The Shot.
    Furthermore, the narrator’s description of Russian women as “cold” defies everything my Midd Russian professors have told me:

    “Russian men, zeey are algogolics, Russian women, zeey are vonderful”

    In The Snowstorm, the impression of women seems to change depending on the “layer” of the story. In the first layer, the women (Maria and the maid) are meek, as if only in the purest fiction are women so gentile. In the second layer—the narrator—the women are viewed (typically unappreciatively) through the eyes of (alcoholic) Russian men. This is the layer in which women are described as cold. In the third layer (the “note form the publisher,”) women are hardly considered. The nearest of kin of Belkin, Maria Alekseevna Trafilina, had never even met Belkin. Perhaps this is the truest representation of women: insignificant. The fourth layer, of course, would be me writing this far-fetched feminist blog response.

    If you really want to know about Russian women, however, Russian literature might not be the place. Here is the first result for “Russian woman” on youtube:

  11. February 16th, 2009 | 5:14 pm

    I tried to put the movie in the blog but it didnt work. heres the link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkNoGi6DZ-0

  12. Matthew Rothman
    February 16th, 2009 | 9:41 pm

    Of the two stories for Tuesday’s class, I found “The Shot” more interesting, particularly with regard to the story contained within the story and Pushkin’s treatment of his narrator. Pushkin takes extensive pains to provide the reader with an elaborate and detailed setting, establishing an entire fictional background on which he will lay a work of fiction, which itself contains another work of fiction. At each of these levels, however, he presents the narrative as though it were reality, tying all three together and challenging the reader either to accept or to deny all three. Pushkin’s prefatory background on Ivan Belkin lends an entirely fabricated air of credibility and mystery: “The Shot,” along with the other works in the collection, fascinated a man as eccentric as Ivan Belkin, so certainly they must be equally or more engaging for the average story reader.

    Within the text of the story itself, the narrator steps aside and allows the two participants in the duel to relate their own narration, one in each part of the story. Pushkin seems to enjoy telling multiple parts of a single story from different perspectives, allowing one narrator to complete the story begun by a previous narrator, and implicitly challenging the reader to rectify two halves that do not seem entirely consistent (he does essentially the same thing in “The Snowstorm”). I agree with Susanna’s assessment that Pushkin provides a more favorable impression of the count, and I believe that the count provides the conclusion to Silvio’s opening reinforces this disposition. Furthermore, I would argue that Pushkin’s manipulative storytelling through his various characters and narrations is designed to force the reader to consider his fiction as though it were reality. His conclusions on the nature of honor and revenge become more present and credible as his layered narration blurs the line between fiction and truth.

  13. Catherine Ahearn
    February 16th, 2009 | 9:42 pm

    It seems to me that both of Pushkin’s stories lay somewhere between parody and melodrama but in very distinct ways. It could have just been the less than mediocre translations, but both stories appeared to be lacking in density, or solidity. The tales, although ridiculous in their own regard and reliance on chance, could have been better realized for their artistic possibilities as I found they lacked the pace and fluidity of most good writing. I am, however, giving Pushkin the benefit of the doubt and blaming the translator.

    In “Poor Liza” the main characteristic of the story that struck me while reading was the narrative voice. In “The Shot” it was the characterization. I found Silvio’s actions throughout the story inconsistent. In the beginning he is said to be an honorable man and this statement is taken at fact although I never found any reason or proof that this was indeed the case. It sounds to me like Silvio was an obnoxious big shot that was not used to being matched in any way. For this reason the gun also took on a phallic significance for me.

    Instead of being honorably gracious toward the new Count and accepting his attempts at friendship, he immediately focuses on “beating him” and fails to do so. Silvio ignites the feud between him and the count and then does not follow through with the duel. To me, this had more to do with his ego than with honor. Silvio clearly did not have the power over the Count that he had over most others he encountered. His reason for backing out of the duel was not because he “wanted to teach him a lesson,” but rather because he did not feel as though his usually intimidating influence was being acknowledged. I found myself looking for why he needed this recognition as an individual within the text and could not find an answer.

    Silvio moves to a place where he is honored, feared, and even admired, further fueling his needy desire to be the “alpha- male” figure. When he is contested he fails to uphold his “honor” once again. Later, when he faces the Count again he simply comes off as a bully. He does not follow through on his threat but shoots a picture. I personally would have considered him more honorable had he followed through with his “lesson.” Instead he leaves with an “intimidating” gesture and a satisfied ego. I did question, however, whether or not Silvio would have shot the Count had it not been for Masha’s pleas. I, again, could not decide upon an answer.

    But let us return to “The Snowstorm” and see what is happening there.

    Nothing.

  14. Kara Shurmantine
    February 16th, 2009 | 9:55 pm

    I’m interested in what Brett earlier called “random twists of fate.” The unexpected, improbable, yet wholly convenient conclusions for both stories warrant questioning. However, while the unpredictability of “The Shot” seems entirely coincidental, in “The Snowstorm” Pushkin literally leaves his characters “to the care of fate.”

    In “The Shot,” the narrator improbably makes the acquaintance, five years later, of his former friend Silvio’s arch enemy. The explanation? “Circumstances,” a word employed throughout the story to account for otherwise inexplicably random occurrences. In “The Snowstorm,” on the other hand, the active role of a guiding hand is so pronounced that “fate,” “Heaven,” “God,” and “the sign of the cross” are mentioned and invoked nearly fifteen times throughout the story. Maria experiences ominous and foreboding dreams the night before her impending elopement (whose predictions regarding Vladimir’s demise turn out to be true). A powerfully symbolic snowstorm, so significant to the story’s contrived plot that it forms the title, conveniently (for the storyline) deters Vladimir yet expedites Bourmin’s journey to Maria’s heart. Finally, as Bourmin relates to Maria the story of his anonymous marriage, he describes himself as possessed by an “unaccountable uneasiness…it seemed as if someone were pushing me forward”—an external force, the guiding hand of fate or God. By the end of both stories, their unpredictable and convoluted plots neatly wrapped up, the dual forces of random coincidence and intentioned fate seem to have avenged Silvio and rewarded Maria. Or have they?

    Perhaps the plots, with all their fated or unfated complexities, are a purposeful distraction to Pushkin’s real intent: questioning life’s continual triviality. Why would a man waste his entire life constantly contemplating murder over a silly misunderstanding with a dandy? What makes a young girl waste her life mourning over a naïve, lost passion, only to fall in love with a man to whom she’s already married? Pushkin’s tone seems to me very tongue-in-cheek. His plots, so intricately woven and neatly resolved, seem to invite the question: why all the melodrama? Why the obsession with honor, why the sentimental preoccupation over love? The stories aren’t overtly funny, and their storylines seem gravely deliberate. But I think I sense a mocking critique in the background.

  15. Lisa Eppich
    February 16th, 2009 | 10:02 pm

    I think one of the most interesting things about these stories is how Pushkin creates almost his own world within our own to create these stories. Like a few people have said here already, “The Shot” and “The Snowstorm” are so interesting because Pushkin takes us where he wants to take us, and that’s not necessarily where we expect to go. The important thing in creating that effect is the “From the Editor” piece that prefaces the Tales of Belkin, and this is where Pushkin establishes his “world”, in this case creating not just the character of Ivan Petrovich Belkin, but an entire life story to him, and even an editor. I think this creates very folktale/fairtale-like stories, and what I like about the way Pushkin has gone about it is with his seemingly personal asides about the characters and situations, giving it a very word-of-mouth feel. For some reason I really liked the random “Ivan Petrovich was of medium height…” at the end of the Editor’s note.

    So, the ultimate effect is, to jump off what Brett says, there are a lot of improbable twists to these stories, like Belkin meeting up with the count, and Marya marrying Burmin. Pushkin even seems to take the liberty to lie about his characters, like bringing Silvio up to be such a great an honorable man when he was really just a hot head. While this makes these stories in and of themselves interesting, I think the most interesting things about the way these stories are written is that when we make a claim like “these stories have improbable twists in them,” Pushkin (I think comically) can reply “What? Don’t shoot the messenger.” Poor Liza has a similar style with its narrator, but the narrator isn’t as artfully distanced as Pushkin’s is, so the effect isn’t the same. And, if we accused Poor Liza of being trite or improbable, the narrator would probably cry on us or something.

  16. Zachary Harris
    February 16th, 2009 | 10:20 pm

    I, like Brett, was most struck by the fact that these stories were ridiculously unrealistic or at least highly improbable, and that this in fact is what made them so entertaining. My expectations about how both stories would progress constantly were proven to be wrong, which really peaked my interest and made me want to keep reading.

    In “the Shot” I found Silvio’s character to be very strange and probably unlike any real person. His shooting holes into the walls of his house immediately gave me the impression that this was a crazy person. When he later divulges to the narrator that he has spent the last few years of his life in preparation to ruin a man’s life whom he wronged in the first place makes him even more interesting. And finally, the fact that he allows the count to shoot at him first and then not kill him just to prove he is better than this man, makes Silvio a complete maniac only obsessed with the idea that he is the most powerful and respected person wherever he goes. I was completely unable to guess this character’s intentions, until the end of the story as his character is so strange.

    In the “Snowstorm”, I was not so much struck by any unrealistic character as by the series of coincidences that allowed for the plot to conclude with the revelation of Bourmin and Maria’s marriage. Maria’s and Vladimir’s love is nothing strange in a story nor would it be in real life, but it is completely ruined by this almost magical snowstorm that manages to ruin their attempt to marry. The snowstorm convinces Vladimir that Maria abandoned him, after which he joins the army and dies. It also allows for Bourmin to accidentally appear at the church where they were to be married and act in the place of Vladimir. The snowstorm is a third party that almost has a desire to replace Vladimir with Bourmin. The army continues this theme, as both men join the army, with Vladimir dying and Bourmin returning to Maria’s village in his place where they meet for the second time.

    I am not sure if the unrealistic characters and situations of these two stories have any other significance. I found that Pushkin’s great skill at weaving characters’ paths together in unrealistic ways simply made the stories very entertaining.

  17. Gabriel G Suarez
    February 16th, 2009 | 10:39 pm

    Several posts have discussed the role of honor and revenge in “The Shot,” and I find it hard to disagree with anything that has been written. What caught my fancy specifically, however, was the part that courage played in story. Granted, this is a subtle difference, but the reason I bring it up nonetheless is a passage early on in “The Shot”:

    “Want of courage is the last thing to be pardoned by young men, who usually look upon bravery as the chief of all human virtues, and the excuse for every possible fault.”

    In much the same way that Pushkin surprised us several times during “The Snowstorm,” he also kept us guessing throughout this story. Surely, we think, Silvio could not be such a coward, as was indicated by his mild response to the candlestick-hurling officer. The story will progress, and we will find out that this man is in fact a model of manly courage and bravery, right?

    Unlike “Poor Liza,” however, we were not able to predict the end of this story from its very beginning. In Chapter Two, as we find out that the Count was, in fact, the insufferable CERTAIN PERSON with whom Silvio dueled, we also see that this man was what the young officers would have considered a coward, after all. In his second encounter with the Count, he again refuses to shoot. The Count lets him walk away, unharmed, despite the fact that Silvio had not only provoked him years before, had not only refused to shoot first in their first duel, nor in their second duel, nor had he shot after the Count in either duel. Every time he ran away, only to appear again, when he had the upper hand, and then run away again. This man is a coward.

    But perhaps the lesson of this story is that bravery is not the most noble attribute after all. We leave our narrator with a deep admiration for the Count, one of the more patient men ever depicted in literature. This turns out to be a story about the pathetic character of Silvio, a man once admired by the regiment. It is, by extension, a story about how deceptive initial impressions can be; and about how cowardly men will often pose as models of bravery. If there is an impression that Pushkin wants us to gather from this story, it is that seemingly great, brave men are often pathetic and cowardly; and that well-cultivated kindness and patience should be considered nobler values. An unsurprising sermon from a regular of court society, and an ironic lesson from a man who would later die in a duel.

  18. Alexandra Boillot
    February 16th, 2009 | 10:42 pm

    What struck me about these stories is the latent power that women have in each, especially in contrast to Liza of “Poor Liza.” In these stories the women act of their own accord in bold ways. In “The Shot,” the Countess is outwardly portrayed as weak when she “[throws] herself at [Silvio’s] feet” to beg for her husband’s life and when she tries to stop her husband’s recalling of the story because it would be “too terrible” to listen to. However, while the act of placing yourself at someone’s feet implies vulnerability, in this case it shows great courage from the Countess. She places herself in front of a man with a loaded gun and begs for her husband’s life. In the end she is the one to save her husband because this courageous act agitates her husband which is all Silvio wants to see. As soon as Silvio sees vulnerability on the part of the Count, he feels “satisfied” and can leave the scene feeling avenged finally. All Silvio wants is to have the upper hand over this seemingly perfect man for just a few seconds. The Countess is responsible for the outburst of emotion from her husband and, therefore, saved his life through a daring act for a woman at that time.

    In “The Snowstorm, Marya appears like Liza at first in that she is in love with a man but cannot act on this love because of societal restrictions. However, unlike Liza who can find no way to secure her love, due in part to the reservations of her lover himself, Marya agrees to leave home to marry the love of her life. Marya’s flight from home is very risky and courageous as she is giving up her family and financial security to be with the one she loves. When this does not work out due to bad luck and possibly fate, Marya is able to gain the trust of those who helped her so that her parents never find out about her quest for marriage behind their backs. Marya has a sort of influence over these people that they never tell a soul of the ruined journey.

  19. Hannah Wilson
    February 16th, 2009 | 11:14 pm

    While reading both The Snowstorm and The Shot I found myself laughing and enjoying the stories on a very superficial level. After noticing a common trend commenting on the lightness and humor in both stories on the blog, I began to wonder: Why do we find these tragic stories funny? It brought to mind Schadenfreude, the German term for feeling pleasure in another’s pain (and from the infamous avenue Q play http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9B-ZoS0wvU) Yes, Pushkin is both a seasoned and a gifted story teller who uses careful wit, but as readers we are struck by the tragic nature of his stories and find pleasure in believing that our lives are not as tragic as the characters.
    In The Snowstorm Marya is enraptured by a secret love (a seemingly typical Russian plot device); however, as the day when she and Vladimir are supposed to elope approaches, she is described as “more dead than alive,” not something you should be on the night before you marry your true love. After her years mourning the death of her love, she, according to Stewart, finally “finds” love again. I find this an overexaggeration of the final scene. While Maria does find that his silence “excited her curiosity and imagination” and “made a distinction between him and the others,” she does not claim to have found love. Yes, she does force him to declare his love for her, however the story does not with “and then they were happily married for the rest of their lives.” Pushkin writes “Bourmin turned pale — and threw himself at her feet.” Perhaps I am being pessimistic, however I see it more as a mutual acceptance of their history and what the proper thing to do is.
    I see the same acceptance of the tragedies and acceptance of life in The Shot. The first time Silvio encounters the Count, his “indifference annoyed me beyond measure.” I agree with Casey that this is not about honor. If anything, Silvio wants his act of revenge to be genuinely felt by the count. He has the opportunity to do this later, when he receives word of the Count’s marriage, however he stops himself, it may be because of honor as Harry and Jennifer believe, or, as I believe, be because he does not want to ruin a happy life. His life was so preoccupied with revenge that he was never able to move forward and create a happy life for himself. The twinge of happiness I feel at the end of the story is fueled by a feeling that my life may be better than his. The beauty is Pushkin’s work stems from his ability to create a witty, entertaining story that evokes different emotions for every reader (as emphasized by the variety of blog postings).

  20. Ashley Quisol
    February 16th, 2009 | 11:48 pm

    If the Golden Age has taught me anything in the last week, I suppose it would be that I need to write on the blog earlier since much of what “struck my fancy” about the stories has already been explored.
    I agree with Zach’s comment about the stories being entertaining because of their unexpected twists while, at the same time, I also agree with Cathy and Stewart’s belief that these stories are parodies making fun of traditional love stories. But, it is for both of these reasons that I found the tales entertaining despite their simplicity and lack of “good writing.” I appreciated Pushkin’s concise sentences with minimal detail or imagery; he wrote just as much as he would say if he had been personally sharing these stories in a pub.
    For me, the anecdotal nature of the stories causes the reader to consider the narrator in each situation. In “The Snowstorm,” the narrator’s personal opinions (his perception of Russian women as being cold or the purpose of moral proverbs as being “useful in those cases where we can invent little in our own justification”) are intriguing in themselves, though they have little relation or consequence in the scheme of the story. The position of the narrator in “The Shot” however, was more interesting to me. I found the description of the final duel between Silvio and the Count peculiar from a reader’s point of view since it seemed as if we should have been following the Count all along rather than Silvio; we had been exposed to the world of the dark and mysterious character rather than the one who finally retells the account in its entirety to the reader.
    Though I admit that neither story was a life-shaking piece of literature that I will cherish until my final days, they were both entertaining and therefore struck my fancy.

    Oh, and here is a clip about Pushkin involving a duel, a sappy love story, and evidently a snowstorm…..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8eTE2nA4Iw

  21. Ben Tabb
    February 17th, 2009 | 12:14 am

    What I found most interesting about “The Shot,” and what I”m surprised no one has mentioned yet is Pushkin’s view of (for lack of a better word) redemption. As soon as I heard Silvio’s back-story, the point of interest for me became whether he would succeed in getting his revenge, fail in getting his revenge, or notice his foolishness and somehow leave the count be. When I initially read the ending, I felt that Pushkin’s message was rather clear: it’s never too late to fix a mistake, or change one’s path. Silvio’s entire life path lead him to the point where he had the count right where he wanted him. He finally had a chance to seal his fate, and was positioned to make what I think we can all agree would have been quite a mistake. Of course, as we know from the count still being alive, Silvio spares the count’s life, and as I initially read into it, his own. By ridding himself of this obsession, he is able to go on with his life, even returning to the army as a commander. It may have taken him a while to realize his previous mistake, but it was not in vain.

    As I continued to think and read through these entries, though, my view began to shift. Does Silvio really save himself my not killing the count? As multiple people have already said, he is the one who left the army to live modestly by himself. He is the one whose obsession over his task cost him pride, honor, and even sanity. And ultimately, even after choosing the right path, he is killed in battle in an unnoteworthy manner. So in what ways was the damage already done, and his final deed meaningless? For Silvio, it appears that his decision comes too late to afford him any benefit, but for the count and countess, it means everything. From this perspective, it seems that Silvio making the right decision at the wrong time leaves himself subject to misfortune, while still allowing his redemption in the form of allowing the count to live. Is it fair then that Silvio reaps no reward from his ultimately correct actions? Silvio apparently decides that it is, since he decides to leave the count be, when killing him would do no harm to Silvio. By the end of the story, it appears, that he has gone from a man who was willing to dedicate his life to killing another merely out of jealousy to a selfless man who spares one he hates for no benefit of his own. If this is not redemption, I do not know what is.

    One last thought, which I am not ready to answer in full, but I have been pondering: what if Silvio, instead of making the right decision at the wrong time, made the wrong decision at the right time: that is what if he killed the count at the very beginning and went on with his life? Would he not have lived a more meaningful life? Perhaps to the selfish, it is not the decision, but the timing of the decision that matters most.

  22. Patrick O'Neill
    February 17th, 2009 | 1:03 am

    The character of Silvio attracted my interest, although I found him to be rather distasteful. I wholeheartedly agree with Susanna that Silvio’s concept of honor and his actions as a result thereof are severely misguided and that he in fact is some form of sociopath. However, I must concede that Pushkin did in fact create a rather enthralling character in the sense that although I severely disagreed with his views and course of action, I was always eager to see his next move, perhaps simply because it would evoke my disgust and disbelief that he would in fact act in such a fashion.

    I was also rather struck by the archetypal dandy characters featured in both stories and I wonder if they represent in some ways a reflection of the author himself. Pushkin was always at odds with the authorities and lived a rather romantic, somewhat impudent, and sometimes reckless life of gaiety, much like the Count in “The Shot” and Burmin in “The Snowstorm.” Pushkin makes characters sober up by the end of each story, though, and rather abruptly too, whether by staring down the barrel of pistol held by a crazed man with the wife in hysterics or by the realization that a passionate love may not be allowed to continue because of a highly irreverent prank in the past. Personally I wonder if Pushkin may have been conducting a self-examination of his own lifestyle through these writings. However, we do know from history that he never in fact abandoned this lifestyle after all, and he himself died in a duel at the still relatively young age of thrity-seven.

    Finally, I really enjoyed Pushkin’s superb ability to weave the subplots of the two respective stories together in a way that the reader was kept guessing until the end. In this sense, I particularly enjoyed “The Snowstorm.” While Stewart does convey a good point that Pushkin may have in fact intended to parody love stories, I must admit that I had a rather superficial and simple reading of it and merely enjoyed the ride, especially when the twist came at the end. Maybe tomorrow after more thought I may see things in a different and perhaps more cynical light.

  23. Natalie Komrovsky
    February 17th, 2009 | 2:29 am

    I agree with what Lisa said about Pushkin’s stories-they are most interesting because of their “improbable twists”. Not only that, but there are multiple layers to every story, and mini story lines coming off of the main story line. Poor Liza was almost devastatingly predictable and pathetic. I think perhaps what is most interesting to me is that these are neither happy nor sad endings. They’re just endings. Enigmatic endings.

    “The Shot” was definitely interesting, but I found it hard to come out on one side or the other concerning Silvio. It seemed from reading the other blog posts that most people didn’t like Silvio. I found him to be a complex character, and not simply an arrogant jerk who waited until the peak of the Count’s life to come back for revenge. Silvio was clearly disturbed by the Count’s lack of appreciation for his life during their first duel. He decided that taking this man’s life would mean nothing, since his life apparently means nothing to begin with. And so he waits. When he comes back six years later, (is it six years? I’m pretty sure it’s six years), he prepares to take his shot. But he can’t do it. He even lets the Count take a shot at him when they begin another duel. The way I see it, Silvio was teaching the Count a lesson. He easily could have killed him both times. I believe he came back the second time not necessarily to kill the Count, but to give him a new appreciation for his life. This time, the Count had something to lose. He was about to get married. Silvio decides a second time not to kill him. When Silvio shoots the second bullet through the painting, I see that as a message. I see that as Silvio showing the Count that had he wanted to, he easily could have killed him. And hopefully, the Count with have more appreciation for his life now.

    “The Snowstorm” was also a fun read. I’m not really sure what else to say about it. It took a number of very interesting twists and turns. I never really knew what was coming next. Both of these stories were very interesting to read because of the different layers of storytelling that Pushkin incorporated into his work.

  24. Adam Levine
    February 17th, 2009 | 10:21 am

    Matthew Rothman states how the author “implicitly challeng[es] the reader to rectify two halves that do not seem entirely consistent (he does essentially the same thing in ‘The Snowstorm’).” I believe that this “inconsistency” is vital to the “improbable twists” – Pushkin desperately wants the reader to feel a division within these two stories. This is apparent from his decision to split “The Shot” into two chapters, and in “The Snowstorm,” he creates a symbolic partition when the narrator temporarily resolves the events of the first half, saying, “A few days afterwards they heard that Vladimir had joined the army again. This was in the year 1812” (7). The subsequent paragraph traces the passing of time, during which Masha falls ill, her father dies, and the family moves. In between these two sections, the reader feels a second wave of the story building, almost like a second chapter.
    At the beginning of both “second halves,” the narrator intentionally leaves behind any traces or connections to the conflicts of the “first halves.” This forces the reader – who continues to sense a lack of resolution – to question how this completely and seemingly unrelated series of events will prove to rationalize or explain the original conflict. The reader places faith in Pushkin that he will return to his initial issues, but Pushkin – who wishes to startle the reader at the end – desires to conceal as much illuminating information as possible. Thus, the reader constantly wonders how the latter portion of the stories will fit until the moment of truth. In “The Shot,” one wonders if the Count will truly be Silvio’s opponent, and even after the narrator reveals this, the result of the duel is not recounted until the final pages. In “The Snowstorm,” the reader speculates about Colonel Bourmin’s identity (I thought he might turn out to be Vladimir), until his story gradually discloses the missing facts that were conveniently skipped earlier. Each reader has a moment where the mystery and confusion between the two parts transitions into understanding, which pieces together the puzzle, and this is Pushkin’s strategy to build suspense and create a surprising ending.

  25. Elise Hanks
    February 17th, 2009 | 10:28 am

    Catherine- your ending made me laugh. Good get.

  26. Jacquelyn Wright
    February 17th, 2009 | 10:39 am

    I’m wondering about the expectations of Pushkin’s audience. Who were they, where were they, and how did they receive his work? These stories are pretty much about generating awareness in a reader, working on two different levels. There is the obvious childlike simplicity of unfolding plot, and then what clues we are left with, as readers, to make of it. They leave me with questions not about societal functions but what was truly meant in writing them. Simplicity is complexity, especially here, and I’m not I’ll understand Pushkin completely until I understand his context.

    In The Shot, I think the line between cowardice and appreciation for life is purposefully blurred in the telling of the story, and that in both of these, the remarkable coincidences seem to be contrived by Pushkin with a certain ill-will parody. I think we all see that fairly clearly.

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