19th Century Russian Literature

Feb18th

The Station Master and The Amateur Maid

Are we seeing a repeat of Poor Liza in poor Dunya? Is she poor or pure? Who is innocent or guilty in this story? How do the pictures of the Prodigal Son inform us? Why are the inscriptions in German?

As for the final story of Belkin’s Tales, what is Pushkin trying to accomplish? And does he?

Comments

  1. Patrick O'Neill
    February 18th, 2009 | 11:34 am

    The pictures depicting the story of the Prodigal Son play a role of vital importance in the story, as the uneducated station master cannot understand the German inscriptions, and thus they has no value to him. Like the Prodigal Son, Dunya leaves her home much to the dismay of her father and he begins the slide towards his ultimate demise. Had he been aware of the inscription and thus the story, he would have known or at least been more inspired to wait. Instead, he makes a disastrous journey to Saint Petersburg to track down Dunya and ultimately loses control of himself and breaks down completely so that when his daughter finally does make her return, she does not see her father alive and in the flesh, but rather his final resting place in the miserable and desolate graveyard.

    While at first thought, the reader may place the blame on Minskii for kidnapping Dunya or on her, for not coming back earlier, the blame really lies heavily on Samson himself. The narrator makes it quite clear that travelers passing through this posting station are always initially rather disgruntled, that is until they catch a glimpse of Dunya. Samson is in effect using his daughter to keep the station running strong and to keep its clientele happy. Samson himself even remarks that “the whole household rested on her…” After her departure, the station falls into a state of disrepair along with its master, who undoubtedly cannot run the station without the help of his beautiful and dutiful daughter and is thus to blame.

    Overall, I believe that Pushkin’s Belkin’s Tales offer a lot more than they initially appear to due to the complexity and depth of each story, despite their seemingly shallow appearance on the surface. Whether Pushkin wrote them out of boredom or out of the need for money or both, as one of Russia’s greatest and most beloved writers, he could not afford to write a collection of meaningless and third-rate stories, lest it severely harm his reputation for generations to come.

  2. Ashley Quisol
    February 18th, 2009 | 2:23 pm

    The most comparable characteristic of Liza and Dunya is that they are both Russian women of the 19th century. After this assertion, the comparisons become a bit fuzzier. Dunya is, as Liza was, also poor due to her family and financial situation but, unlike Liza, she leaves her home in search of a new life. She may not be as pure as Liza in her actions (her father, as Patrick referenced, essentially exploiting her beauty and charm for business) but she is as pure in the end as the proverbial prodigal son depicted in the stationmaster’s painting; she left her father to find a better life and, after having experienced the “world” returns home.
    The fact that Samson pursues his daughter after following her kidnapping (escape?) suggests to the reader that he has not understood the real meaning of the picture hanging in his station. Another clue that he as not understood is the fact that the inscription is in German, a language that the station master does not understand as is evident by the doctor’s later lies and dealings in German.
    A large theme of this story is faith. If the father had had the faith of the prodigal son’s father, he would have waited at home for his daughter, rather than succumbing to his depression over his loss. (Another probable clue of the father’s weak faith is the fact that he does not go to church with Dunya.) Therefore, it is not so much the actions of the characters that are judged to be innocent or guilty, but rather their faith. In this sense, the father is guilty for not understanding the proverb of the prodigal son so prominently hung in his station, though this mistake is most likely due to ignorance (of German and scripture) rather than foolishness.

  3. Jennifer Ridder`
    February 18th, 2009 | 4:19 pm

    In both the “Station Master,” and “Poor Liza” the central woman character, Dunya and Liza, respectively, are portrayed as countryside mistresses on the margins of society. Both girls search for a love that ultimately leads them to the foreign social scene of men with higher status. Pushkin and Karamizin both make socially marginal women central to the plot and narrative but provide differing endings. Dunya, the daughter of a stationmaster, is more successful in climbing to the social center. Pushkin uses place to personify this move by only naming the place of St. Petersburg as her final destination. He does not name her home village or the places of her provincial simple life, but marks St. Petersburg as a luxurious, high-class, and name-worthy city. More importantly, Pushkin uses her actions to motivate the story, but the plot does not center on her social mobility. In fact, the story centers on the marginality of her father and we only see Dunya through the eyes of others. Dunya, though her actions move the plot, her own perceptions are void, Pushkin never gives her the opportunity to speak of her own fate, and therefore she is unable to influence the reader. However, Poor Liza, though never gaining the social status that Dunya is assumed to have advanced, is herself a character. Karamizin places Liza as both a part of the narrative and a character that moves the plot. In fact, the tale is frequently told from the point of view of Liza. She has an agency and mental processes in the story, and though it maybe of a docile lovelorn peasant at least she is not marginalized by the author himself. Karamizin unlike Pushkin explores her world, allows her to have love, “even peasant women know how to love”. While Pushkin makes Dunya’s emotions obsolete, one never knows if she is in love or just a mistress.

  4. Casey Mahoney
    February 18th, 2009 | 5:45 pm

    As we’ve suspected a strand of parody in the other two stories of Pushkin’s, I feel that it’s appropriate to evaluate these as such, too.

    I don’t feel that we can really view this story as being very parallel to the parable of the Prodigal Son, at all, really. Granted, Dunya leaves and comes back after going to a glitzy city, but that’s not the same archetype for the leaving-and-returning-to-home pattern we see here. The Prodigal Son is a story of a son’s dissatisfaction with the love of his father, his discovery that this love cannot be replaced with worldly things, and his joyful return home to find that his father is willing to forgive. For the postmaster, as much as his reading of the parable (albeit misinformed) might have guided his search for his daughter, his expedition into the city does not totally point to an unconditional love for his “lost lamb.” Sure, he worries about her, falls ill over it, sheds a few tears, blah blah blah; but, without his Dunya as a business asset, he’s also put right back in the place of a stationmaster, which the narrator tells us first thing is fourteenth out of fourteen civil service rankings–making us think he’s got some ulterior motive in trying to reclaim her. My suspicion is compounded by what he tells Minsky: “You’ve had your pleasure with her; do not ruin her for nothing,” which for me translates: “You’ve had your go at it–if you’re going to take advantage of her, at least get a profit from it like I did.” Not exactly the unconditionally loving father image I’d expect with the “allegory” of the Prodigal Son. As far as Dunya goes, she didn’t leave because of the lure of Petersburg, but simply trying to fulfill her Sunday obligation. She might have come back to her rightful father on her own, but she found a better life with Minsky (better–maybe not perfect), and we can’t call her guilty for that. She makes her return, pities either her father or possibly her loss of Minsky–we can’t know–, leaves some money, and moves on. I don’t see the Prodigal Son reenacted–just the results of the father’s creating a misunderstood version. A Russian parody on the non-understandability of the German language? Sure.

    To mention “An Amateur Peasant Girl,” if Pushkin really did have motives of parody, I think he packs a brilliant punch at the end of this story to end his “Tales.” The leaving of the denouement for the reader to invent not only pokes fun at the too-often predictability of romanticism/prose (something he managed to avoid in the other tales), but also at the idea of love/intrigue. I say that because we can only really say that Alexei did find out Betsy’s identity, yet we can’t definitively infer whether the marriage happened or not, which, we had thought, was the point of the story. Since we know only that Liza was found out, throwing the whole love plot out the window with his last line of the story, I like to think that the ever playful Pushkin does this to devalue love as a subject of prose and to show his preference for the fast-paced duels and twisted plots we’ve seen as these stories’ strongest aspects.

  5. Kara Shurmantine
    February 18th, 2009 | 6:52 pm

    After reading the troubling, dark tales that begin Ivan Petrovich Belkin’s collection, the lightness and frivolity of the series’ final, “Amateur Maid,” came to me as a surprise and a pleasure. Lizaveta’s antics are charming and funny, her rationality and force of will refreshing, her father’s affection endearing. Unlike Karamzin’s Poor Liza or Dunya, she is not cruelly misled or abducted; rather, she cleverly deceives a wealthy young man whom she ultimately happily marries—or, one can assume she does, given Pushkin’s interesting choice to leave the “denouement” to the reader’s imagination.

    Pushkin’s decision to end Belkin’s compendium on this lighthearted note seems deliberate. If we are, as Casey wrote, to treat these stories as parodies, then the amusing, frivolous, Shakespearian love story of Lizaveta and Alexei, with its classic mistaken identities, disguises, misunderstandings, and reconciliations, seems the perfect parody of romantic comedy. He carries the parody’s obviousness further when he refuses to even finish it, and leaves the story quite in the middle of the action. What need is there to go on? he asks us. This story is plainly a classic love story, and like all love stories, will have a happy ending—Pushkin has so little concern for his characters’ fates that he leaves them right where they are, as if he became suddenly distracted with more important matters and was forced to abandon the writing-desk.

    This ending causes a shift in how the reader of Belkin’s tales perceives their overall tone. If this story is so clearly a parody of the romantic comedy and the “happy ending,” and the writer and compiler of these stories himself is perhaps, as a complete invention, a parody of authorship, what else do the stories—even “The Station Master”—remark upon so whimsically? The conceit becomes starker. What, exactly, is Pushkin’s ultimate purpose?

  6. February 18th, 2009 | 8:03 pm

    In general, I think readers are prone to side with the narrator. This expectation was particularly evident in “The Snowstorm,” when the narrator used the words “our, lets, and we” when speaking directly to the reader. I was particularly struck however, by how the narrator in “The Stationmaster” took advantage of this relationship to manipulate her readers. She begins by talking about the injustices postmasters face, and how the readers should be just and “judge them with more indulgence.” However, the postmaster that the narrator presents us to judge, Samson, deserves none of our sympathy. Samson pimps his daughter out to please his customers! Yet, we enter the tale ready, as the narrator advises, to let our hearts, for the postmaster, be “filled with sincere compassion.”

    Like in “Poor Liza,” when the narrator over-embellishes the sappy, sentimental story, in “The Stationmaster,” the narrator, like a puppet master, seems to be attempting to again pull one over on his readers. He makes us feel sorry for stationmaster, throws in some prodigal-son references, and then embellishes the sorrow of the “abandoned” father. The sluttyness of Dunya and the advantage Samson takes of her is almost skimmed over. The narrator seems only satisfied when the devilish Dunya weeps and repents on her father’s grave.

    It appears that in writing Belkin’s tales, Pushkin is almost testing himself. He constructs layers of characters, manipulative narrators, and realistic editors and footnotes to see how far he can manipulate the reader and distance himself from the work. I think he succeeded. Pushkin distanced himself so far from these terrible stories that there is almost no evidence at all that they were written by the “greatest Russian author of all time.”

    The only story that I really liked was “The Amateur Peasant Girl.” It was also the only one without an active, designing, narrator. Coincidence? I think not. To the question of what Pushkin is trying to accomplish? Maybe a good end to a sorry collection of stories.

  7. February 18th, 2009 | 8:47 pm

    A good end, I agree. But a “sorry” collection of stories? Does Pushkin deserve better? Did they not entertain, surprise, delight? Are we too harsh on him? Or perhaps someone need come to his defense?

  8. Alexandra Boillot
    February 18th, 2009 | 8:51 pm

    Liza (of “Poor Liza”) and Dunya were both women whose lives were controlled by the men around them instead of the women controlling their own fates. Liza’s life revolved around her love for Erast and she did what he told her to without fail. She kept their relationship a secret for him, she lost her innocence to him, and she eventually died because of him. Each of these actions was dictated, at least in some part, by Erast and only in killing herself was Liza finally acting of her own accord but it was still in response to him. Similarly, Dunya is controlled by men whether it be her father or the Hussar. However, Dunya is a little less ignorant than Liza in that she questions going to church with the Hussar while Liza never questioned any of Erast’s actions or requests. Unfortunately, Dunya ultimately leaves with the Hussar because her father told her to. Her instinct was that this could be dangerous but she let her father’s instructions override her own feeling. I believe that Dunya did not want to stay with the Hussar but was forced to in a similar manner to the Hussar’s use of force over her father to keep him from seeing his daughter. Therefore, Dunya was controlled by the will of the Hussar and was only able get away from his control when it was too late and her father was already dead. Dunya is, however, portrayed as a stronger character than Liza because not only does she have the right judgement but she also has a power over the men coming through the station and eventually returns to her father even though it is too late. Although we do not know the means by which she escaped the Hussar, Pushkin is assigning power to her especially in the way he portrays her at the station as a gracious, put together mother.

  9. Susanna Merrill
    February 18th, 2009 | 9:14 pm

    “The Stationmaster” makes complex and brilliantly effective reference to both Poor Liza (or stories of the same type) and to the story of the Prodigal Son; it plays upon assumptions created by those stories, while ultimately twisting their driving sentiments.

    The pictures on the wall of the stationmaster’s house set an expectation of wronged, virtuous old age, impetuously sinful youth, and subsequent repentance, all arranged in neat, touching scenes. The style of narration, in which the primary narrator speaks with wistful nostalgia of a familiar spot in the country, evokes the feeling of Poor Liza, and we expect touching sadness; when the postmaster takes over the tale, his drunken sentimentalism further manipulates our expectations, and his tragic tone leads us to expect tragedy. When these expectations combine, we look for a story in which the young, innocent heroine is tempted by the world and wronged by men, and we anticipate repentance by a disillusioned Dunya at the end.

    The irony of the story is how the actual plot is contrary to these expectations, held to some degree through the last sentence, of the reader. The facts with which we are presented tell us that Dunya has been used, to some minor degree even prostituted, in the service of her father’s provincial post station since at least the age of 14. She leads the life of a servant, fetching things for guests and arranging everything, as her father admits, and on top of this she is expected to use her charms to placate angry strangers every day, and to endure their kisses, including that of the narrator. And yet, we are invited to believe the words of her father: “Did I not indulge my child? Was not her life a happy one?” Pushkin may simply be playing with the ease with which we transfer our associations of the Prodigal Son’s and Poor Liza’s ideal, loving parents with Dunya’s, or he may be making some statement about the perfections of those parents, as well (recall how Liza’s mother sat around stricken by grief, leaving all the work to her daughter). Confronted with the life, assuredly lonely for a young girl, of the passing and shallow affections of traveling strangers, Liza decides to run away with a handsome and charming young man who shows great affection for her, has probably promised her love; we are invited to view this as a wicked deception, youthful folly, or even kidnapping. Our opinion is almost unchanged when we are told that Dunya appeared to go with the young man willingly (though, understandably, with some regret at leaving her familiar home), or when we find that the young man seems to be caring for Dunya well, and still loves her. There is still, at the end, some expectation of repentance of her flee from home. In actuality, though Dunya is obviously sad that her father has died, her reappearance in the village serves to prove that she has escaped her poor, provincial life and has three well-cared-for children, liberal manners, and a fine carriage.

  10. Harry Morgenthau
    February 18th, 2009 | 9:18 pm

    Most of the comments so far have focused on blaming Samson for his daughter’s flight, and I think that that is in some ways legitimate. He uses her to his advantage in business and he does not seem overly concerned with her desires. But at the same time, isn’t he legitimate in these actions? It was common for children to help with the family business, and it is not as if he is treating her unfairly. Dunya is only fifteen years old when Minsky arrives – she has not yet reached the age where it is unseemly for her father to want to keep her around. She does not show to her father any desire for a bigger life, nor does she seem particularly upset with the role that she has in her father’s business. And while her beauty may be extremely helpful in calming down angry travelers, to say Samson is pimping her out is a great overstatement.
    I think that the greatest failure is instead Dunya’s inability to speak to her father when he travels all the way to Petersburg to find her. While it is understandable that Minsky would be angry to see Samson, Dunya’s reaction to her father is inexcusable; she does not go to him, and she does not stop Minsky as he pushes Samson out the door. Instead, she crumbles to the ground in a pathetic heap, unable to stand and face the man who has loved her so enduringly. He has come all this way and she cannot even speak to him for a moment. Up to this point in the story she seems strong and assured, but here she is weak and poor. It is this moment that I think is the most painful for Samson, and the one that makes him lose the most hope. While he still would have been disappointed, the opportunity to at least speak to his daughter for a little while would have at least given him the opportunity to listen to her story and to hopefully reach some closure on his own. Instead, he is left unfulfilled and abandoned, and certain that he will never see her again.

  11. Kaylen Baker
    February 18th, 2009 | 9:45 pm

    I’m astounded that in every story we’ve read so far, Pushkin and Karamzin give the rich people happy endings (Mayra, The count and countess, and Liza and Alexei), while the poor folk get wretched endings (poor Liza and the postmaster). What gives – is this a coincidence, or was this some sort of buried revolutionary message that made sense at the time written? In the postmaster, Pushkin digresses, saying, “Indeed, what would become of us, if, instead of the generally observed rule: ‘let rank honor rank,’ another were to be brought into use, for example, ‘Let mind honor mind!’” Pushkin’s sarcasm here is extremely thick and bitter, verging on ironic frustration; I wonder at its response during his day. I see this as evidence that Pushkin, in his genius, was writing to a future audience, if his own readers couldn’t pick up or act on his plea.

    Rich and poor contrast the 2 tales in the postmaster: the Prodigal Son leaves and becomes poor, while Dunya leaves and becomes rich. Guess who comes back and who doesn’t? In both endings, the child chooses luxury. (I didn’t see Dunya’s return at the end as the same return made in the bible – she arrives in a carriage with her children and horses simply to visit her father and make amends, but not to reverse her decision.) In fact, Dunya is a lot more like the older son. She works hard at the post station for her father, yet harbors a desire for material needs and celebration. (“’Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you… you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.30”) If the older son had left, he would have known how to make his fortune, and would not have returned to his father, which is what Dunya did. Since the narrator focuses on the postmaster, I deeply felt the confusion and grief he harbored to his death. Dunya did what poor Liza did not do; she raised her caste and married her lover. The story remains a tragedy, through the pain Pushkin invokes, telling us that filial love is just as considerable as romantic love. He gives credit to all the women out there who chose to stay at home instead of eloping.

  12. Lisa Eppich
    February 18th, 2009 | 9:49 pm

    Dunya definitely isn’t a repeat of Poor Liza. As Ashley and Patrick have already said, Dunya’s father certainly isn’t innocent for more or less using his daughter for her beauty and her charm, though I agree that “pimping” might be a little too strong. Dunya also isn’t all that innocent for presumably running away with the Hussar when she could have at least said goodbye to papa somehow. I think it’s also really nice to see a woman of this era going and getting a better life for herself. She’s still attached to a man, but she doesn’t really seem the typical helpless woman that’s portrayed in a lot of the literature of this time period, and in the end she does come back for her father.

    As for the inscriptions being in German, I think it relates back to something professor pointed out about the title of the story, that the station master is someone who “watches” rather than “sees” (smotret vs. videt). So, while he has the paintings of the parable of the Prodigal Son, probably doesn’t fully understand them if he doesn’t read German, it’s just there for show, just like he doesn’t really see what’s happened to Dunya until it’s too late. After all, it isn’t that uncommon for a woman to be “kidnapped” like this at this time, so even if we can’t too strongly accuse him of using Dunya’s charms, he at least should have been less naive about sending his daughter out with a man like that.

    I also wonder if things would have been different if Belkin had taken his chances with Dunya when he had the chance. The hussar comes off as the bad guy, but can we guarantee that Belkin wouldn’t have done the same thing and just run off with Dunya?

    In some respects I think we do sympathize with the station master because of the loss of his daughter, and in that respect it’s interesting to think of him as a representation of the Prodigal Son. As Casey mentions, Dunya seems like she should be the representation of this, but she isn’t completely because while she’s sad her father died, she doesn’t really seem to be “repentant.” If anything, the station master is the prodigal son: he went back to Dunya for some kind of repentance after he realizes somewhat what’s happened, but it wasn’t reciprocated like the story should play out, at least not until he’s dead and gone, which is pretty sad.

  13. Elise Hanks
    February 18th, 2009 | 9:58 pm

    I do not see poor Liza in Dunya. From the outset she was described as a fourteen year old coquette who was skilled in the ways of interacting with men. In this sense, I wonder if it is entirely proper for a young lady of fourteen to be mixing with persons at a post center at any and all hours of the day. That she allowed the narrator to kiss her before he left without any hesitation, modesty, or shyness is a distinct statement of her character. She is not at all the chaste, innocent, and virtuous Liza who was beautiful for her ignorance and simplicity. Dunya “knows how to calm men” and is aware of her sexuality and power over men at just fourteen years of age. This wielding of sexual power is also significant as it is atypical for a heroine whose life or story ends well to be oversexed or to be assertive or aggressive. Typically in this time period, women who used their bodies and sexuality to get what they wanted did not end up well or were from lower castes. It is entirely possible that it is not her fault. Her father had praised her for most of her life; as the primary female in his life (and undoubtedly one of the few he saw due to his line of work) he associated her with femininity, beauty, and sexuality at an earlier age. His joy in her company and their living arrangement exposed her to business interactions that a proper girl of her age would undoubtedly not be so regularly exposed to. In this sense, she is undoubtedly not completely to blame for her actions; by being exposed to strange men and by being praised for her beauty and identified as a sexual object for most of her life, it is not abnormal that she desires to be desired. The father is definitely guilty for bringing her up in this way, as well as for sexualizing a child, and it was his lapse in judgment that lead to her abduction when he trusted his most valued possession to a strange.

    If we focus on the parable of the Prodigal Son, it symbolizes God’s statement that sinners can always return to him and reestablish the father-son relationship. It is through the acknowledgement of the sinful life the son has led that the father figure declares forgiveness and heals the son. An important distinction between Dunya’s abandonment of her father and later return for forgiveness and the parable of the Prodigal Son is that Dunya does not leave her father and attempt to claim her inheritance upon her departure. The Prodigal Son does this, essentially expressing that he wishes his father dead. The return of Dunya is the return of a successful woman whereas the Prodigal Son returns because he has spent all his money and has no where to go. Although both returns are admissions of wrongdoing, Dunya’s return is not forced but urged by her own conscious.

    This final story of “Belkin’s” is perhaps my favorite. That he ends with “The reader will spare me the unnecessary obligation of describing the dénouement” is the most astonishing plot twist of all! He writes as if the outcome is obvious while to me it seems that it is just as likely to go either way. I read this abrupt ending and laughed inwardly. If I had read this before this past Jterm I would have been very frustrated and annoyed and possibly renounced Pushkin. However, after reading a work by Italo Calvino (If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler) that focused on the act of writing and the text and the author’s and the narrator’s relationships with the reader, I find that I am able to read the story for its intentions and be content with that. The plot and the fate of the characters, usually what I think most important, have ceased to matter to me with this simple line. Brilliant.

  14. Zachary Harris
    February 18th, 2009 | 10:01 pm

    First I would like to say in response to Professor Beyer’s remarks that I did really enjoy reading all of the Belkin’s Tales stories and I think that Pushkin’s great writing skills are evident even in the english translations of his works. If Pushkin’s intention was simply to delight the reader he did a good job.

    I think that while Dunya and Poor Liza are different characters, mainly in that Dunya is far less innocent than Liza and is more used to having the affections of men, they are in fact very similar. Both are very naive young girls who make rash decisions that in the end were poor ones. Liza became too attached to the man she loved, and then immediately killed herself when she realized that he was off limits, which was clearly a naive and not well thought out decision. Dunya was clearly bored living with her father in the remote Russian countryside and saw excitement in going off with a man who could show her an exciting life. This came back to haunt as when she next returned home to her father he had died.

    Dunya was guilty of destroying her father to some extent, but this can be forgiven for her ignorance of how her actions were truly effecting her father. Minski is clearly the true evil doer in this story as he kidnaped an innocent (albeit probably for the most part willing) young girl from her loving father and then forbade him from visiting his daughter.

    The station master is guilty only of not reacting to the situation properly. He was unable to learn the lesson of the Prodigal Son, which is that your children will often run off and disobey you in search of adventure but they will return to you, and the metaphor for his misunderstanding is the fact that the captions for the pictures depicting this story at his station were written in german, a language he didn’t understand. I believe that Pushkin or the narrator implies that he should have waited calmly for his daughter.

    I do not see Samson as being guilty of prostituting his daughter or wrongfully using her. His daughter clearly had a captivating nature which affected all who saw her, including himself. He was not using her wrongfully by having her calm down visitors, and was sad about her departure because he truly loved her not because this would effect the running of his station. Personally, if I were Samson I would have gone to Saint Petersburg and beaten Minski for kidnapping my daughter. The least he could have done is ask permission to marry her and allow Samson to visit her.

    As for the ending of the Belkin Tales, “the amateur maid”, I’m not positive what Pushkin was trying to accomplish, but I am guessing that it was simply to please the reader. It was entertaining and filled with plot twists just like the other Belkin Tales. The story was different from the other ones in that it had a happy ending as Alexei and Liza, who were once unable to marry because of their fathers’ mutual enmity, are able to marry and be happy together at the end. This small bit of happiness after so much sadness may show Pushkin is attempting to inspire some optimism in his readers

  15. Hannah Wilson
    February 18th, 2009 | 10:35 pm

    Many of the blog posting reflect what Pushkin writes at the beginning of The Stationmaster, that the Stationmaster is always to blame for the things that happen to those around him. I would agree with Pushkin that “our hearts [should] be filled with sincere compassion instead of resentment” toward the Stationmaster. The story of the Prodigal Son demonstrates the ignorance of the Stationmaster. He is manipulated by the German doctor, obviously cannot understand the German inscriptions and is very trusting of the world around him. This may be a commentary on the typical Russian peasant. The stationmaster remains nameless throughout the entire story and is never described. His face could be that of any Russian peasant.

    People rightly claim that he relied on his daughter for business, but we are never told that she resented him for it. When Samson came, he represented the promise of a better life, one she had only dreamed about. Since the story is not told from her perspective, we do not know if she went willingly or if she was kidnapped. There is no way we can judge her innocence or guilt in the matter because we are not given her account of the story; we only hear it told by her sad and lonely father. The significance of her return is also difficult to determine since we are not told why. Maybe she is returning with her bastard children to live with her father, or maybe she is simply coming to ask for his forgiveness before returning to her new life.

    What struck me throughout all of the stories was Pushkins ability to take, what seem to be, normal peasant and create stories that illustrate the complexity of their lives through humor and wit. All of the stories seemed to have layers within themselves and, seemed to add layers to the book as a whole. Both the Snowstorm and The Amateur Peasant Girl allow the reader to imagine the endings, creating personalized experiences. By creating individualized experiences throughout all of his stories, Pushkin allows his readers to connect with the rural folk in a way not otherwise possible. At the same time, Pushkin produces a very clever, as Casey points out, parody of many typical stories. I do not think that we would be able to appreciate these stories as much individually and together they make up a very nice, clever and interesting book.

  16. Brett Basarab
    February 18th, 2009 | 10:45 pm

    My view of Dunya changed dramatically as the story progressed, and especially after reading some of the previous blog posts. At first, I sided with the station master and saw Dunya’s actions as foolish and irresponsible. It seemed obvious that leaving home would only result in a multitude of problems that Dunya would be unable to handle. I understood Samson’s unease as he searched in vain for his daughter, and I even thought it was a good decision for him to leave home in search of her. I simply assumed that Dunya was still a child, unable to handle things on her own.
    My stance changed dramatically right at the end of the story, when we hear about Dunya coming back and visiting her father’s grave. Based on her current circumstances, it is not exactly clear how she spent her last several years, but it is clear she achieved some level of success. Dunya has three kids, a nurse, and a lap dog, all of which suggest some level of wealth. I began to realize that Dunya was actually a capable woman, and that her father was at fault for incessantly pursuing her. As many people said above, he used her while she still lived with him in order to charm travelers; one wonders if he would have ever let her leave the station had she not gone off with Minsky. When Samson finally tracks down Dunya in St. Petersburg, her collapse to the floor was not a sign of weakness but rather one of frustration. She was fed up with her father, who tried to get in the way of her leading an independent life. Samson is unlike the father in the “Prodigal Son;” like others of have suggested, he probably did not understand the story portrayed by the paintings. Rather than ruin his life by traveling to St. Petersburg, he should have returned home, accepting that his daughter was growing up. Eventually, Dunya would have returned, and Samson, presumably alive, would have been overjoyed. Overall, Samson was justified in worrying about his daughter’s well being at first. However, he should haver realized that as she got older, she would learn how to fend for herself. Unlike the Poor Liza, Dunya learns to live on her own and makes the best out of her circumstances.
    As for the “Amateur Peasant Girl,” it does make a great ending to the Belkin Tales. One could see it as a parody of dramatic love stories, but it seems to be more just a funny story by itself. The actions that take place in the story are absurd. Liza constantly changes outfits to hide her true idendity from Alexei. The make-up scene when Alexei and his father come over for dinner is meant to be completely hilarious. The story is lighthearted as it portrays the reconciliation of two adversaries and the long correspondence between Alexei and Liza that presumably results in their marriage, though Pushkin leaves it up to the reader.

  17. Brett Basarab
    February 18th, 2009 | 10:46 pm

    My view of Dunya changed dramatically as the story progressed, and especially after reading some of the previous blog posts. At first, I sided with the station master and saw Dunya’s actions as foolish and irresponsible. It seemed obvious that leaving home would only result in a multitude of problems that Dunya would be unable to handle. I understood Samson’s unease as he searched in vain for his daughter, and I even thought it was a good decision for him to leave home in search of her. I simply assumed that Dunya was still a child, unable to handle things on her own.
    My stance changed dramatically right at the end of the story, when we hear about Dunya coming back and visiting her father’s grave. Based on her current circumstances, it is not exactly clear how she spent her last several years, but it is clear she achieved some level of success. Dunya has three kids, a nurse, and a lap dog, all of which suggest some level of wealth. I began to realize that Dunya was actually a capable woman, and that her father was at fault for incessantly pursuing her. As many people said above, he used her while she still lived with him in order to charm travelers; one wonders if he would have ever let her leave the station had she not gone off with Minsky. When Samson finally tracks down Dunya in St. Petersburg, her collapse to the floor was not a sign of weakness but rather one of frustration. She was fed up with her father, who tried to get in the way of her leading an independent life. Samson is unlike the father in the “Prodigal Son;” like others of have suggested, he probably did not understand the story portrayed by the paintings. Rather than ruin his life by traveling to St. Petersburg, he should have returned home, accepting that his daughter was growing up. Eventually, Dunya would have returned, and Samson, presumably alive, would have been overjoyed. Overall, Samson was justified in worrying about his daughter’s well being at first. However, he should haver realized that as she got older, she would learn how to fend for herself. Unlike Poor Liza, Dunya learns to live on her own and makes the best out of her circumstances.
    As for the “Amateur Peasant Girl,” it does make a great ending to the Belkin Tales. One could see it as a parody of dramatic love stories, but it seems to be more just a funny story by itself. The actions that take place in the story are absurd. Liza constantly changes outfits to hide her true idendity from Alexei. The make-up scene when Alexei and his father come over for dinner is meant to be completely hilarious. The story is lighthearted as it portrays the reconciliation of two adversaries and the long correspondence between Alexei and Liza that presumably results in their marriage, though Pushkin leaves it up to the reader.

  18. Stewart Moore
    February 18th, 2009 | 11:01 pm

    Before I get to what I actually want to talk about, I just need to say that during the time period of these stories, Russia was a man’s country. Feminism didn’t exist in Russia. Most of us have done chores around the house. When I lived at home I took out the trash and recycle, fed the dog, and had to tidy around the house some too, dusting, sweeping etc. To say that Samson is using his daughter in an unjust manner is absurd regarding the setting of this story and the fact that Dunya is a young girl. If you were a stationmaster’s daughter what on earth do you think you would be doing except for the things Dunya did? She helps out with the family business, using her organizational skills as well as her female beauty.

    So far I have enjoyed ever reading we have had. They are stories, the kind of stories I would read to children at night (well the ones with happy endings at least). Do we really need to dissect tales like these with our horrid ‘intellectual’ brains, and strip them of the enjoyment, laughter, or frowns they might cause? What exactly are we trying to GET from literature anyways? We always want to take something “meaningful” , or we want to cut it up by today’s standards and discredit the author and the characters. Just let it be.

    These stories give life to the readers who are lucky enough to find the life within them. They make me smile, and they make me sad. If they do these things, who’s to say these stories have no purpose? Whose to say they are bad tales? The tales we have read so far provide us with a medium of analyzing our own values and standards. Perhaps if you look closely at these stories, you can learn more about the way in which you view the world around you. By writing my reflections about the stories, I have given you a small insight into my own views and my own life. And by reading your comments I have also gained this from you. Perhaps the value of these tales is that they show us ourselves, when we previously would have put on masks.

  19. Gabriel G Suarez
    February 18th, 2009 | 11:41 pm

    The depth and layers of Pushkin’s short stories are miracles. Within each scene, one can see various emotions, arches, and conflicts emerging and being resolved. The imagery of the stories, the clarity of the characters, and the poetry of the narration are all welcomed changes from Poor Liza.

    Dunya is a far more developed, independent, and real character. She evolves throughout the story, and we don’t need to approach her with a mix of pity and disdain. At the end of “The Postmaster,” we look back on the story and realize that perhaps Dunya was not guilty after all. Keeping with Pushkin’s habit of layering his tales, we hear the story of Dunya and her Hussar through her abandoned and pathetic father. Instead of calling Dunya “innocent” and her father “guilty,” however, I must say that I found this a story of perpectives expertly evolved, with no guilty party. It is a sad, truly heart wrenching story, which ends with a sad and fulfilling moment, as Dunya returns to her father, in the style of the Prodigal Son, to pay her respects. The narrator feels much the same as we do in the end, horribly downcast, but somehow at peace.

    As for “Amateur Peasant Girl,” I think that what Pushkin was trying to accomplish was reversing the traditional roles of hopeless love in Russian tales. Instead of having the young girl be hopelessly and tragically in love, we have Alexei ready to abandon everything, only to be disappointed in the end. Pushkin was able to do this without making the story sound absurd. Their roles in the arch of the story may have been reversed, but their dialogue, habits, reactions, and the like are appropriate for the gender roles of the day. What makes this story refreshing and believable is the reversal of fates at the end. Let us not wonder what Pushkin (or Ivan Belkin,) meant when he said “the reader will relieve me of the unnecessary task of describing the dénouement. Alexei was dejected, and for all we know, he drowned himself in a pond.

    Another aspect that fascinated me about this story was the sharp and consistent division Pushkin made between Akulina and Betsy. We read about Akulina’s reading and writing lessons, but we listen to Lisaveta speak French. I don’t know if this had ever been done before, but the narrator was simultaneously omniscient and trustworthy, yet related events as the protagonists perceived them, even when that deviated from “the way things are.”

    Finally, I’ll say a few words about the variety and depth of character that Pushkin is able to sit into a (very) short story. The fathers of the two lovers are fully fleshed-out and believable characters, with their hilarious quirks, such as Grigory Ivanovitch’s love of English gardens, English governesses, English Tutoring Academies, and English nicknames for his Russian daughters; and Alexi’s death-ring and long considerations about which air to adopt when speaking to certain ladies, juxtaposed with his good-hearted and ardent nature.

  20. Catherine Ahearn
    February 19th, 2009 | 12:07 am

    Poor Liza was in everyway a helpless woman, reliant on the crutches of societal restraints. At the beginning of “An Amateur Peasant Girl,” Dunya’s character more effectively mirrors Poor Liza’s in that she appears to have less power over her situation. Pushkin foreshadows her knowledge of her sexual, feminine power when he includes, “The little minx was quick to observe the impression she had made on me , and coyly lowered her big blue eyes.” Unlike Poor Liza, Dunya recognizes her only possible outlet for asserting herself and this becomes more and more evident as the story progresses. I find it interesting, however, that her assertion of control over her life is made to appear as a negaive thing, mainly through the stimulation of sympathy in the reader toward Dunya’s suffering father. It is impossible to decide who is innocent and who is guilty because it is a situation in which a strong case could be made for both parties involved (Dunya and her father). The text does not support one definite answer. As Jeniffer already mentioned, the difference between Liza and Dunya is the degree of agency the assert upon their own lives.
    The pictures of the Prodigal Son work as a foreshadowing device and also as an indicator of the Postmasters intelligence, as many have already stated.
    As for Pushkin;s tales in general, I agree for the most part with Elise’s opinion that by keeping in mind the relationship between the author, narrator and reader we are better able to understand the stories as a whole. The last line of the last story best exemplifies this in that it expresses the narator’s own assumption fo who the reader is and what they understand. In reality, we, as modern- day readers, cannot go on to comfortably assume the ending of the play but can, in our best efforts, try to assume how the ideal reader filled in the last bit of the story. This assumption of another type of readership is one that has been demanded of us throughout this collection of stories.

  21. Ben Tabb
    February 19th, 2009 | 1:18 am

    First I would like to say, that I did thoroughly enjoy the tales of Belkin with the exception of “The Blizzard,” which I found not only too far-fetched, but also seemed to me to be coincidental just for the sake of being coincidental (Then again, I am far from the literary genius that Pushkin is, so perhaps it just went over my head).

    As a late arrival to the conversation, I have noticed that the responses before mine seem to have a wide variety of views about Dunya; not just regarding whether she is to blame or not, but also simply regarding her intentions. Did she use her sexuality because she enjoyed the power or because her father forced her? Did she go along with Minsky knowing that she would be kidnapped? Why did she not speak when her father came for her? There is little agreement regarding her intentions throughout. Perhaps she is hard to figure out because she is not so simple; as Gabriel remarked, she “is a far more developed, independent, and real character.” I agree that she is more independent and real than Liza, but developed? I think it’s hard to come to a conclusion regarding her feelings, because she really isn’t developed at all. She has no lines throughout the story, and her actions can all be viewed ambiguously as the prior commenters have shown. To me, she barely qualifies as a character, and seems to be more of a plot device. It’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking because we have virtually no insight into her feelings. Is she strong and wants to move onto a better life and knows how to do so, or is she weak and can’t resist Minsky’s kidnapping and simply gives in? As in the questions above, and many others, both views could just as easily be supported by the text.

    In reading the posts before mine, I’m beginning to think that one’s response to this story is more a reflection of themselves than of the story. We do not know what Dunya was thinking, so we are forced to make assumptions based on what we little we know, much of which comes from outside the story. We are influenced in our view of her by our experiences reading about other women in Russian literature, our knowledge of Russian society at the time, our feeling towards father-daughter relationships, what each of us would feel in her situation, and more. To me, it almost doesn’t seem worth debating the merits of a character with so little to go on.

  22. Matthew Rothman
    February 19th, 2009 | 4:09 am

    My reading of the completion of the Belkin stories leads me to conclude that the entire work was an experiment for Pushkin in which he attempted to erase the boundaries of narration and perspective. Each story contains complexities that compound at every stage, largely as a result of a confusing series of narrations. Pushkin himself, as Sophie observes in post 6, remains at a great distance from his own work, but I would argue that this distance is precisely the touchstone that generates the interest in these stories.

    The author has no place in Pushkin’s work: one might use the Belkin stories as a window for examining post-structuralist ideas about the meaning of authorial intent relative to reader interpretation. To what extent can one even ascribe the work to Pushkin, and can the Belkin stories even provide a basis for discussing the intentions or ideas of the real author? More relevant to the stories at hand, is it valid for the reader to examine the perspective of each narrator, then discuss authorial intent with regard to the segments of stories presented within each individual story? In “The Postmaster,” one can examine the title character’s tale of his search for his daughter from a variety of perspectives: the intention of the postmaster in telling the story, the understanding gleaned by the narrator in listening to the tale, and the interpretation with which the reader comes away from the story. As we discussed in class on Tuesday, Pushkin again almost seems to anticipate a sort of deconstructive reader who does not yet exist in his world.

    The interpretation of what we as readers glean from the innermost layers of the Belkin stories interests me most. Specifically, Pushkin’s use of intermediate narrators and framework story forces the reader to consider, for example, Dunya’s relocation to St. Petersburg as filtered through a series of characters. There can be no objective truth or correct understanding of any narrator’s tale, because the reader does not hear any segment of the story that has not already been presented and interpreted by a series of characters, all within a fictional background. While it would ultimately be pointless to argue whether Pushkin intended the reader to question such obscurities as the objectivity of truth, he certainly seems to challenge the reader to attempt to interpret the events of each story individually, without placing them within each framework provided in turn at each different level of narration.

  23. Matthew Lazarus
    February 19th, 2009 | 8:51 am

    I thought it was unfortunate that on more than one occasion, Samson found himself, bewildered and frustrated, thrown out onto the street by Minsky. I feel this is an example of the innocent lapses in reality Pushkin relies on to support his sometimes cartoonish plotlines – that if a father traveled so far to see his daughter, he would not turn and go home after being thrown out on the street by some “young man.” He’s the “old man,” after all; shouldn’t he have commanded a little more respect? But we let this hiccup go because we know we are not destined to see Samson and his daughter reunited, and we know this is Pushkin’s intent. I agree with Ben in post 21 that Dunya is not sufficiently developed for us as readers to really judge her. You could say she is a “mysterious” character, with the way she doesn’t really say anything yet meanwhile she continues to do her thing unaided and seemingly unmotivated; we are left guessing at her motivations. I didn’t really buy into her mysterious appeal though, I have to say. Although I think we could all, without much difficulty, get a ballpark figure on the reason she came back to her father’s grave and more importantly why she cried, I did not feel any investment in her character as she left home. If anything she functioned as a kind of silent, vaguely unintelligible member of a new generation, and Samson’s genuine concerns, which I felt sympathetic to, represent an outdated mindset. I think Dunya is guilty of not being quote unquote a good daughter, and yeah she cried at her father’s grave we could sense some remorse, but maybe she just cried for a day and then got over it, got back to her bustling city life.

    I was enchanted by some of the descriptions of the scenery in “An Amateur Peasant Girl,” and I was amused by the story itself. I genuinely wanted the two kids to get together because that would have been the happy ending. And I guess they… do? Regardless, I thought Pushkin undercut himself and perhaps the message he was hoping to convey, several times. He has a paragraph on page 34 beginning with “Were I to listen…” in which we first get the impression that he’s not totally invested as an author in telling us all the things we may have been expecting from this kind of story. But why do that, if you’re planning at the end to leave us with that last line? The author almost comes across as bitter, or even lazy. I could not perceive exactly his tone in the last line, either. It seemed dry, with legal undertones, and it didn’t leave a very pleasant aftertaste. OK Pushkin you win, you’re the man, you don’t comply to ANYone’s literary standards, you do your own thing. But does he? Is he trying to escape this form? Satirize it? I feel that by complying with it for the entire story, he can’t exactly be absolved of the limitations of the form simply because he pulled the rug out from under us at the very end.

  24. Natalie Komrovsky
    February 19th, 2009 | 9:35 am

    I think it’s very interesting that so many people are drawing parallels between “The Postmaster” and “Poor Liza”. I suppose I can see some of them. For example, both Liza and Dunya feel they have to support their parents (Liza’s mother, Dunya’s father). Both Liza and Dunya are caught in, we’ll say regretful circumstances, and feel guilty about it. Other than that though, I’m not sure we should be too quick to see them as very similar stories. “Poor Liza” was somewhat overembellished, and you feel bad for Liza because her innocence and naivete led her into a bad situation. Dunya was different though. We don’t know whether or not she resented her father for making her work with him. It’s not unreasonable, I don’t think, especially at that time. I didn’t see this as an unhappy situation. She initially didn’t want to go with the Hussar (though, thinking back, if he wasn’t really sick like the doctor said, perhaps it was all part of a plot, and she was in on it?), but her father encouraged her to do so. It’s an unfortunate situation, that causes both Dunya and her father a lot of pain, as is evident when she sees him years later. It’s hard for us to see Dunya’s true character, because in the end, this story is told from her father’s perspective, and regardless of what happened, he still loves and admires her very much. In this sense, she’s a bit of a flat, 1-dimensional character.

    “Amateur Peasant Girl” was incredibly lighthearted and amusing. It did seem as if this could be recreated as some comedy skit with absurd situations. Though I am always a fan of a completed story, Pushkin’s ending was just another joke of his, which I found amusing. It’s as if he was saying “Here, I’ve created this hilarious story with this sickeningly happy ending, don’t make me go through the trouble of actually spoon-feeding it to you.” Well done, Pushkin, well done.

  25. Jacquelyn Wright
    February 19th, 2009 | 10:40 am

    I think that Liza and Dunya are two different girls with totally different agendas. The only similarity is in their social standing, and that a wealthy upper class man swoops in. There is, in both stories, the lens of peasant simplicity of mind, habits, the inability to predict the actions of the noblemen…but because Dunya ends up not being ditched, after all, and happily married, the fatalistic label of short-sighted peasant falls on her father. Fateful decisions are at every turn. The father expects the Prodigal Son, and (fortunately?) it doesn’t turn out that way at all.

    On a “storytelling” level I was satisfied with “Amateur Peasant Girl”. Yay, he doesn’t care she deceived him, ooh, maybe she taught him a lesson? I think it is this basic satisfaction that a predictable story gives a reader that Pushkin is pointing to. As readers, it seems we have a choice. We can be satisfied with what is given, or we can learn not to trust that intrinsic sense of fulfillment through actually looking at the cogs within the story, not simply feeling the momentum as we are driven along. By what are we propelled?

  26. Adam Levine
    February 19th, 2009 | 10:41 am

    I agree with Zachary, Ben, and Gabriel, who defend Pushkin’s stories (sorry for ganging up against you, Sophie). Although he writes simply and clearly focuses more on plot and suspense rather than rhetoric, they ultimately provide entertainment, insight into issues he deemed important (such as class, gender, and honor), and techniques revealing how to disrupt the reader’s expectations.
    In “The Station Master,” Pushkin uses the narrator’s trips to the station in order to progress the story of Samson, Dunya, and Minsky. By allowing the narrator to repeat his visits, Pushkin sets up the reader to expect new information with each arrival. In this way, the author has us under his control. Thus, when the narrator makes his final trip, discovering that the station master is dead and that his daughter guiltily repents leaving him, Pushkin supplies the reader with what he or she wants. This is different from the other stories, where he tries to slide a quick one past the reader. Combined with the fact that he includes the Prodigal Son story early in his own, it is clear that Pushkin is avoiding the abrupt twist in “The Station Master.”
    In “An Amateur Peasant Girl,” Pushkin even calls attention to the twists he has pulled in the past. When Liza and Alexei first meet, the narrator describes the son as “a young hunter emerg[ing] from behind a clump of bushes” (31). However, lines later, the narrator says, “Alexei – for the reader has already recognized him – gazed fixedly at the young peasant-girl” (31). Giving his readers credit, and exposing his intent throughout the book of stories, Pushkin then concludes the final story with an ending that one would regularly assume, but which we do not because we think that Pushkin will trick us yet again! Our expectation is to be surprised, and then he unexpectedly remains within our initial expectations. Pushkin clearly enjoys focusing on these aspects of stories, and they make for interesting and attractive tales.

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