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


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. Consider the complications suggested by the Introduction. What struck your fancy in either one of the stories?

19 Responses to “Pushkin “The Shot” and “The Snowstorm” Amateur or Master Stylist?”

  1. Russell Jacobs says:

    One of the central aspects of each of these satires, in terms of their structurally functionality at least, is the fact that there aren’t really any heroes in either of them. The narrator of “The Shot” comes at the whole situation with a kind of amused, look-at-this-quirky-stuff attitude and we don’t really relate to anyone. There’s no emotional appeal. We get to casually munch on cherries from our hats while we’re reading. I found the snowstorm entertaining, or maybe ‘silly’ is a better word, but there’s something about the characters that allows the satire to function so easily. The two male characters, Bourmin and Vladimir, get mixed up in the white out and Maria marries all-wrong. But we don’t really know the two characters at all. We’ve got this poor sap whose central quality is that he’s desperate to marry Maria, and this war-hero whose casually interested, but the most interesting thing about either of them is that they got mixed up with one another in the middle of the snowstorm. They’re distinctive for their lack of distinction, in other words. I think this is the nature of the satire in both of these stories. Without having read enough of the literature being parodied I can’t speak 100% authoritatively on the matter, but that’s just my gut.

  2. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    The most striking feature of both short stories for me was not even the surprising conclusion to what seemed to be the banal plotline, yet the active voice given to the forces of chance and circumstance. The absence of the description of characters’ presence and mind seemed to sketch the general portrait of the typical “hero” of the time, rather than to present a specific, peculiar character. By doing so, Pushkin redirected the focus of each of the short stories from the fate of the protagonist to the unpredictable forces of circumstance. Such shift from a logical series of events, dictated by the protagonist and his/her actions to an absolutely unexpected resolution, determined by the situation itself, enhances sense of irony and produces an effective impression on the reader. While in The Snowstorm, A.S. Pushkin employed the force of coincidence to achieve an unforeseen finale, The Shot demonstrates how the matter of favorable conditions allowed the character to develop. All that and the almost comical introduction prove to me that Pushkin masterfully manipulated the language to create an attractive scenario.

  3. Laura Howard says:

    I have to admit, I didn’t quite understand the introduction. Maybe I missed something along the way, but I read the stories first and then introduction — luckily, after having read the comments of my peers, i see that this “Late P.Belkin” character is supposed to have been the narrator/author of the stories. This is just a side note; I found it confusing, as the “introduction” is a made-up story in itself.

    My reaction to the two stories is nothing in particular — I find them to be exactly what I expect in a short story: entertaining, and a glimpse into the lives of people we may not ordinarily associate with. Brandt and Emily both said that they found the stories funny, or hilarious, which I do not agree with. The author writes in such a casual way, that yes, it’s easy to laugh at a part of the story if one wishes. The criss/crossing of people’s lives and the improbable events, however, are completely normal and it is those instances that make a story interesting and worthwhile. Life is all about random encounters and unfortunate events. These stories are simply entertaining — and their characters, however clicheed (“romantic heroine” or the like), actually do exist in the real world and provide for interesting social commentary.

  4. Margaret Fulford says:

    What struck me most poignantly about both of these stories was their succinct nature. Obviously short stories are so-called for a reason, but the pacing of Pushkin’s prose here is masterful. It is not the romantic caricatures of characters in whom we are most interested; we care more about the sequence of actions that they go through or recount. The Snowstorm, for example, has a scant paragraph of introductory background information about Maria and her family, and then dives right into action and the conspiracy borne of youthful ardor. While The Shot contains more of what could be called background information, the story is told, as Kevin mentioned, more through exposition than anything.
    Reading previous comments was enlightening for me and encourages me to go through these stories once more to see what else there is to find. They are simple at first glance, but it is deceptive. I also was struck by the doughnut hole nature of the plot and, while it is not my favorite method of experiencing a story, seems more realistic than a linear plot in that much of the information revealed “after the fact” is info that the narrator did not discover for some time. Indeed, in The Snowstorm, had Pushkin tried to describe the accidental marriage concurrently with Vladimir’s plight, it would not only reduce suspense but also set us up later to possibly assume Bourmin, upon introduction of the character to the story, to be the prankster suitor.

  5. Mary Robinson says:

    What I liked most about these stories was their structure. Romany did a good job of describing how Pushkin creates and sustains suspense throughout both of the stories, namely, by describing events only before and after they happen. That way the only way the reader has any idea of what happened is either by gauging the characters’ reactions to what happened or seeing who is still alive after the action takes place. In “The Shot,”
    the reader knows that Silvo’s fate will be described in chapter 2. Therefore when the narrator goes to visit his new neighbor, it is obvious early on that this is the man Silvo wanted to kill and that his is very much alive. Some of the suspense is taken out of the last scene by the very fact that the Count is alive to tell his story.

    My favorite part of this kind of doughnut hole structure is that it makes the reader want to read the story a second time so that he can put the characters’ reactions in context. For example, in “The Snowstorm,” it is clear the second time around that Maria Gavrilovna takes ill not only because Vladimir never showed up, but because now that she’s married to someone else she can never be with him. It also makes the scenes between Maria and Bourmin clearer. Now we know that when Maria says, “I could never be your wife” (64) she means that legally, she couldn’t.

  6. Bryanna Kleber says:

    These stories have layers. “The Shot” and “The Snowstorm” are like onions. With each layer that is revealed, you realize that the everything and every character is connected to this one central plot, or bulb, and only when you are finished peeling, or reading, do you realize the full impact. By the end of the stories, you realize that Pushkin has created sub-stories that provide information that becomes relevant only at the end of the story when Pushkin lets a first-party character fill in the missing pieces. Finishing, Pushkin has established every connection the reader was missing to make the story complete and you understand the irony only when you are done reading. When you finish peeling an onion, you realize that each layer has made your eyes water more and more, and by the end of peeling, you are fully crying.
    What intrigued me most about the introduction was the particular detail Pushkin invented for Belkin’s life. Pushkin is clearly a story teller and makes it obvious to note that above all, Belkin valued stories. Belkin released a “reliable and efficient” officer to manage his estate and instead, hired an old housekeeper who had “won over his confidence by her art of telling stories.” This obviously speaks miles as to what both Belkin and Pushkin valued and in the introduction, we are told what the consequences were of the decisions the fictional Belkin made based on the value he placed on the good storyteller. Because Belkin treasured the housekeeper’s stories, he hired her. She had no skill and allowed Belkin’s estate to fall into complete disarray. I question why Pushkin didn’t allow himself to be the character these stories were relayed to and why he had to invent such a character. I loved how we are told that there were many other manuscripts that had been used for random domestic purposes, like sealing windows. For me that set the tone of the stories that would follow.

  7. Melody Wang says:

    I found the Introduction to be very perplexing and compelling, for example: the creation and the elaboration of Ivan Petrovich Belkin’s “perfectly adequate biographical sketch” by another narrator strike me as a very confusing literary technique. For another instance, based on the note of the Publisher, it insists “We print it without any change or annotations”, yet later, annotations and changes are made to the “precious document”. On the whole, I get the sense that the Introduction serves to dramatize the artificiality and untruthful aspects of many of the concepts it put forth: “legitimate curiosity of lovers of our native literature”, “precious document testifying to a noble frame of mind and touching bon of friendships”, and etc.
    In “The Shot”, what struck my fancy is the tone and manner in which narrator, supposed to have been told by the late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, exposes some of the problematic corruptions in the portrayal of the life of an officer in the army. The first paragraph of the story highlights the daily routines of an officer in the army, which strike me as surprisingly relaxing and undisciplined. Yet the narrator seems to admire Silvio’s enigmatic aura, even though Silvio is an intimidating, self-centered, and temperamental figure who gets caught up with gambling, drinking, and dueling. And I also think that the narrator’s non-judgmental portrayal of Silvio has to with Emily’s discussion of the satire of the romantic and enigmatic ideals.

  8. Alexandra Siega says:

    Ben’s mention of neither of these stories being a fairy tale is indeed correct, but I can’t help reading these stories in the similar, whimsical and fantastic manner in which I would read a fairy tale. In each of the stories the character reaches some form of inner peace despite the ridiculousness of the situation, which I read as analogous to the “happy ending” of a fairy tale, for often through some sort of magical intervention the main character achieves their main goal. Pushkin uses irony as his magic. In “The Snowstorm,” Maria finds Bourmin and both are happy in their love for one another, even though Bourmin plays the prank on her and does not even care about it afterwards. In the case of “The Shot,” Silvio’s character is depicted with such mystery that he becomes legendary, his mission a quest, and his ultimate decision to turn away noble and ironic. Sarah pointed out the theme of patience within the two stories, which gives each of the stories an air of fate and destiny, for the characters wait so long to fulfill their desires, and do so in an unlikely manner.
    The complete contrast of the intentions of Karamzin and Pushkin in their portrayals of romance perhaps made reading “The Snowstorm” even more humorous and whimsical. Pushkin employs many of the same elements that Karamzin does, such as the setting in the countryside, the social disparity between the two lovers, the innocent appearance of the girls, and to nature as an acting force in the game of romance. We determined last class that Karamzin was wholly serious in his depiction of Liza, yet obviously Pushkin’s depiction of the hoplessly romantic Maria, who grows up on French novels and therefore is “consequently in love,” satirizes the romantic ideal set by Liza. (55) We are supposed to feel pity for the despondent Liza, perhaps largely because we can point directly and relate to her source of sadness, but we can only feel amused by Maria’s over-the-top approach to love for Vladimir and later Bourmin.

  9. Kelsey Calhoun says:

    I enjoyed both of these stories, but especially the story “The Shot.” I can’t agree that this follows a predictable plot line as “The Snowstorm” obviously does; I would agree with Juan that in “The Snowstorm” Pushkin was parodying the romantic novel tradition of the age, as well as appealing to a particular Russian sense of fatalism that we discussed in our last class- being stuck in the dative case. But “The Shot” is intriguing for how it abandons this perspective, instead centering the story on someone who, as two different crucial and emotionally intense moments, made an un-obvious choice that affected the fate of another dramatically. The fate of the count was not in the hands of a mad and mysterious gunman, but instead of a three-dimensional character who is given a voice, motives, and personality. Contrasted with Karmzin’s “Poor Liza” this is a different sense of fate and free will.

    Additionally, there is a different sense of inner voice and reflection in the characters of “The Shot” than in “Poor Liza” or “The Snowstorm,” stories populated by characters experiencing common, stereotypical, melodramatic emotions. Even though both stories are in the third person told by a distanced narrator, the presence of the explanation of the internal thoughts of Silvio and the emotional upheaval of the Count at their second meeting is remarkable.

  10. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    I too read these tales as satire of the romantic genre and found them incredibly funny. Like Rouan, the entire second paragraph at the beginning of “The Snowstorm”, where Pushkin writes about how the aristocratic Maria “was brought up on French novels and was consequently in love” and that this love was focused on an impoverished man, who “it need be scarcely mentioned” loved her with equal passion but was not allowed to see or marry her on account of Maria’s parents, was hilarious (51).

    Like Emily and Flora I was struck by the long amount of time Silvio and Maria spent waiting for their respective goal. However, I felt this detail was just another way for Pushkin to poke fun at the romance genre. Sure, it increased the stakes of the story through “romantic persistence” and “made it more interesting”, but I do not believe making the story more interesting was Pushkin’s foremost intent. To me it was merely a further exaggeration of the archetypal gestures that Ben mentioned, so that readers would be all the more confused by the endings.

    The emphasis on the typical romance story was what made the endings so abrupt and unexpected. While it draws from Western European literature (as Kevin mentioned), the satire leads us to believe there is something more, and the added twists in the end confirms this. Western romance stories do not have such abrupt endings. Pushkin seems to be introducing a twist for the mere purpose of saying, “here’s something different”. Something I saw as the “different” that really struck my “fancy” is that Silvio and Vladmir both die without really achieving what they set out to do. Their deaths are recalled with indifference and yet the first half of each of their respective stories connects the reader to them in such a way that the indifference is frankly, quite disturbing and un-romantic.

    Silvio remarks at the end of “The Shot”: “I have seen your confusion, your alarm…That is sufficient. You will remember me. I leave you to your conscience” (53). I like to think this is Pushkin himself talking with regards to these tales.

  11. Anna Mackey says:

    Like Juan first pointed out, Pushkin’s parody of romantic fiction is what I believe adds the most depth to his writing and really creates those stories within stories. However, I do not believe that he writes entirely in jest. The ending of “The Snowstorm” could be interpreted simply as a clever jab at traditional stories by not reuniting the two initial lovers, or it could be viewed as the ultimate perfect ending: two people fated to be together actually fulfilling their romantic destiny.

    The story of Maria and Vladimir is set up to fail in the traditional sense that makes the reader know or hope that it will not. However, the fact that it actually does fail, and the real TRUE love (supported by society, parents, those ever-present looks and glances, and even the elements of nature) is achieved, utilizes the even larger more dramatic literary concept of true destiny – and they don’t even have to go through that pesky marriage ceremony again! This of course could just be, the ultimate parody.

  12. Kevin Carpenter says:

    The most striking aspect of these two stories was Pushkin’s use of exposition rather than action. In “The Shot”, the suspense and thrills of Silvio’s and the Count’s encounters are never experienced by the reader or the narrator; instead the duels are described retroactively. In “The Snowstorm”, Maria and Bourman’s first meeting is only conveyed to the reader, and the characters themselves, via recollection. I initially saw this absence of action as sloppiness and judged Pushkin for his inability to effectively describe action. But in reality, I was very engaged with each story. Some of this might be from Pushkin’s plot misdirection. Like Rouan mentioned, the stories shift perspectives half way through as Silvio, the initial person of interest in “The Shot”, and Vladimir, the male protagonist at the start of “The Snowstorm” are both absent from the latter halves. Instead of using exposition due to his lack of talent, it seems like a device that puts the narrator and reader on similar footing and creates a shroud of mystery and surprise surrounding the plot.

    Like others, I feel that Pushkin is somewhat influenced by — or at least draws from — foreign literature. Like Ben said, I find it ironic that Pushkin was the Father of Russian Literature and in these stories, especially in The Snowstorm, he draws on archetypal themes from Western European literature. But it ultimately seems that Pushkin is playing with the established genre, giving it a different tone, rather than recycling this romantic construct. He does this through some humor, such as when he states, “Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love” (55). But he also plays with the story arc, in which French and English romantic novels seem unlikely to discard the main protagonist in favor for a random stranger. I’m not sure I find new forms or brilliant catharsis in these stories, but nonetheless they exhibit suspenseful storytelling and a sharp wit.

  13. Flora Weeks says:

    I think what intrigued and surprised me most about this stories was not the ending twists, but rather the abruptness of the endings. With both stories I was surprised to turn the page and find that I had already completed the story. I’m sure it is in large part because of the irony in these stories and the surprises that come so near the end that I felt this affect. However, I also believe it has something to do with the romantic persistence of these characters that Sarah pointed out in her post. Because they have each spent years waiting for this moment, it comes as even more of a shock when circumstances change, and then that the author does not bother to follow up with these changes.

    In “The Snowstorm,” this is particularly pronounced, as the reader hardly even learns how Bourmin and Maria each react to this discovery. In “The Shot,” we do hear of Silvio’s death, and thus how his story ends. Compared to the details of his emotions and need for revenge conveyed in the first chapter, the lack of personal connection to Silvio in chapter two, as well as abrupt news of his death come as quite a shock.

  14. Emily de Koning says:

    First of all, I have to say that I found both stories hilarious. Having read a few romantic 19th century French novels (such as “Le Rouge et le Noir” de Stendhal) I think that Pushkin’s caricatures of romantic heroes are spot on. First Silvio, the enigmatic dark hero with a mysterious past and a burning desire for revenge and then Gavrilovna the seventeen year old maiden who has a forbidden love with a soldier of much lower rank than herself.

    Like Juan I believe that Pushkin wished to emphasize the lack of imagination of these romantic plots. The poor quality of the stories is highlighted in the introduction when the so called neighbor admits that the stories where so bad that the housekeeper used a number of Berkin’s manuscripts “for various domestic purposes.”

    I also found Pushkin’s emphasis and satyr of romantic imagination interesting. In “the Shot” the narrator openly admits that he was “Endowed with a romantic imagination by nature” and that it affected his initial perception of Silvio. Gavrilovna’s initial perception of Vladimir is also affected by her “romantic imagination”.

    Pushkin then further exposes the absurdity of these romantic heroes by reveling the stupidity of both heroes’ motivations (Silvio’s petty jealousy and Gavrilovna’s love for French novels) combined with absurd (and yet wonderful) plot twists.

  15. Benjamin Kingstone says:

    I found each of the three previous comments interesting and enlightening. It seems that, primarily, the structure of Pushkin’s stories contributes to their effect. As Juan suggested, Pushkin’s stylistic gestures neatly, and ironically, place his work in the conventional, romantic genre. For me, both “The Shot” and “The Snowstorm” are interesting works of contradiction.
    Considering the author’s place as the “Father of Russian literature,” the element of foreignness—itself paradoxical—is an intriguing aspect of each story. In “The Shot,” Silvio “had the appearance of a Russian, although his name was a foreign one” (43). Maria Gavrilovna, in “The Snowstorm,” is “brought up on French novels” as the French, lead by Napoleon, invade Russia. Silvio is killed in a Greek uprising in Turkey. Moreover, Pushkin quotes foreign authors—like Petrarch and Rousseau—more than Russian ones.
    Foreign literature, of course, inspired much of Russian literature. Pushkin borrowed many formulaic elements of the contemporary genre. For example, Maria’s parents “forbade their daughter to think of him,” the “object” of her affection. Archetypal literary gestures like these enhance the suspense of the story and create a hero. As Juan illustrated, Pushkin demonstrates his literary legacy not by simple love stories but by subversion. His conclusions come abruptly and unexpectedly. “The Shot” is by no means a fairy tale.
    The smoothness and consistency of Pushkin’s prose (in translation) reminded me primarily of two other lover stories—Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. It isn’t clear how much Alexander Sergeyevich influenced Flaubert (though Flaubert did translate the Tales of Belkin—from French to French); Tolstoy would have read all of Puskin. Pushkin’s legacy in the literary world, and in Russia in particular, illustrates that he is not an amateur. And the advantage of Pushkin over Tolstoy, of course, is that Pushkin was the first.

  16. Sarah Bellingham says:

    In the introduction, A.P. tells us in his comical letter that Ivan Petrovich’s tales are “mostly true stories that he had heard from different people” (64). In the letter, this adds to the claim that the author suffered from a “lack of imagination” (64). For the readers, however, I feel like it adds intrigue to the following stories. An outrageous tale told by someone who claims to have invented it themselves may show the listeners that the inventor has an active imagination, but the same story told by someone who has hinted at its base in reality is all the more remarkable. By putting this into the introduction, Pushkin has planted a question in our minds: is this true? No, it couldn’t be, we tell ourselves. But what if it was? Wouldn’t that be something?

    In both of these stories, what struck me was the patience of the characters that we followed. In The Shot, Silvio waits for six years before executing his revenge against the Count. He quietly trains, shooting “three times a day even before dinner” (51), his comrades explaining away his behavior as a love of pistol shooting. In The Snowstorm, Maria Gavrilovna refuses countless suitors, unable to find anyone who could fill the hole that Vladimir Nicholaievitch left in her heart.

    In a story, six years of waiting is nothing. But if someone were to demonstrate the patience shown by these characters—either out of passion for revenge or love—wouldn’t that be something? While I am certainly not saying that it is, I have to admit that it is a fun to entertain that notion while reading the stories. I appreciate that Pushkin slipped that in there. At least for me, it raised the stakes in the stories and made it an even more captivating read.

  17. Romany Redman says:

    Both of these stories share parallel structures, which I found essential to the build up of suspense and resulting irony. The structure follows the general pattern of a narrator telling the story of a primary character [Maria Gavrilovna and Silvio] in two parts. The first portion is the retelling of the past and the context of the event or issue, which leads to suspense. In addition, sentiments such as “back in 1811” and “back when I was in the army” also establish the narrator as intimately interested if not involved with the events about to be retold, even in The Snowstorm, where the narrative mode seems more third-person. The second characteristic portion of both The Shot and The Snowstorm represents the more current time period. In this this portion, the event, built up with suspense in the first section, has already occurred and in a slow savory way, the reader finds out the details of that event, whether it be the wedding night or the duel between old rivals. Suspense is sustained even after the event has occurred with the help of the introduction of a new character: Burmin in The Snowstorm and the Count in The Shot, who’s story retold firsthand finally reveals the final untold details of the events, resulting in irony for both stories. This doughnut literary device of recounting an important event (important enough to warrant suspense) by telling only the before and after. This doughnut is rounded out with the help of some additional characters: Vladimir and the officer who pissed off Silvio in the “before” and Burmin and the Count in the “after”. In the end, we get the doughnut hole. And doughnutholes are funny (or at least ironic).

  18. Rouan Yao says:

    At first reading of “The Snowstorm,” I was not at all impressed by the stereotypical route which the plot stuck to, and was rather turned off by the shallowly developed characters. However, after reading Juan’s response, I went back and read it in the light of a romantic satire and found it to be brilliant. The occasional twists which Pushkin put in his work, such as a quote cited above and the ending of the story outline the caricature of a typical romance novel. One point I particularly appreciated was the introduction of Marya Gavrilovna and her situation: “The object of her choice was a poor army subaltern, who was on leave of absence of his estate. It goes without saying that the young man returned her love with equal passion, and that the parents of his beloved, observing their mutual inclination, forbade their daughter to even think of him…” (51). In a few short sentences, Pushkin describes the essence of most romance stories. Particularly salient is the fact that the young man, Vladimir, is a soldier (we see later that Marya’s later wooer is also a soldier), which may allude to the strong presence of young women’s liaisons with soldiers in great romances (although it comes later, Anna Karenina is the example that immediately comes to mind). This short story is intriguing in this sense, because Pushkin is always hailed as one of the Great Romantic writers of his time.

    Pushkin’s telling of The Shot was interesting to me because of the dramatic shift in perspective between the first and second chapters. Even though the story is narrated by the same character throughout, the use of a frame narrative allowed the ‘protagonist’ of the first half, Silvio, to fade into only a frightening chapter of the lives of the Count and Countess, who have become the chief characters of the story. Through this tinking with perspective, Pushkin establishes another ironic situation in which the expected course of action is substituted for something else. In this case, it is Silvio, whom we are set up to believe will finally get his revenge, but instead dies without much significance.

  19. Juan Machado says:

    In the introduction, Belkin’s friend writes that the author suffered from “a lack of imagination” (64). I found this comment amusing, particularly after reading “The Snowstorm.” Here the author may indeed seem unimaginative, since he seems to borrow heavily from the conventions of novels. Maria Gavrilovna, who “had been brought up on French novels,” is a character defined by that genre (55). Her “invincible strength of passion” and her plan to runaway from home read like a plot summary of a novel.

    Pushkin here, however, parodies the genre. He points out how boring those novels can be: “But let us return to the worthy proprietors of Nenaradova, and see what is happening there. Nothing” (60). Furthermore, Maria Gavrilovna is not a believable character, but an amusing literary caricature. Bourmin finds her “under a willow-tree, with a book in her hands, and in a white dress: a veritable heroine of romance” (63). Pushkin’s greatest trick, however, is to subvert the ending of the story. Novels often include an unlikely plot twist, which results in a happy ending for the hero and the heroine. Here, Maria Gavrilovna is not reunited with her original love, but with a random man who once had played a prank on her.

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