Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Olyenin, a young Russian aristocrat, decides to leave the society of Moscow and enter the army as a junior officer for service in the Caucasus. There are a number of reasons for his decision. He squandered a large part of his estate, he is bored with what he considers an empty life, and he is in some embarrassment because of a love affair in which he could not reciprocate the woman’s love.
Olyenin leaves the city after a farewell party one cold, wintry night. He and his servant, Vanyusha, travel steadily southward toward the Caucasus, land of the Cossacks. The farther Olyenin goes on his journey the better he feels about the new life he is about to begin. In a year’s service, he sees the opportunity to save money, to rearrange his philosophy, and to escape from a mental state that does not permit him to love. He is sure that in a new environment he can become less egocentric and can learn to love others as he loves himself.
Shortly after he joins his unit, he is one of a force sent out along the Terek River to guard against depredations by the tribes who live in the mountains and on the steppes south of the river. The troops are to reinforce the Cossacks who live in the narrow strip of verdant land that borders the river. Olyenin’s unit is stationed in the village of Novomlin, a small settlement of houses and farms with a population of less than two thousand people, mainly Cossacks.
The Cossack men spend their time in hunting...
(The entire section is 1025 words.)
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