Here, as in all the stories in Zapiski okhotnika (1852; A Sportsman’s Sketches, 1855), Ivan Turgenev (or his transparently disguised alter ego, the gentleman sportsman on a hunting trip) encounters the protagonist, the “district doctor,” in a natural, casual fashion. The weather is bad, the sportsman falls ill, and his only choice of a doctor turns out to be a modest local man, Trifon Ivanych. Grateful for any distraction, the patient listens to the doctor unburden himself of a haunting incident. Turgenev subtly persuades the reader to identify with the fretfully ailing sportsman and to await the unfolding of the doctor’s tale with impatience.
However, the doctor, who tells the story in his own words, has difficulty in sticking to his subject. His apologies, self-deprecations, and fussy details not only increase the suspense but also draw the portrait of an earnest but limited fellow, very uncomfortable with the subject matter that he is trying to convey.
One night, in his younger days, the doctor was summoned to an emergency: A young woman is critically ill with fever. The horses and carriage sent for him are pitiful, the roads are impassable, and the house is a long way off. The doctor feels wretched, both at these conditions and at the meager remuneration that undoubtedly awaits him.
At last, in the middle of this terrible night, the doctor arrives. He finds himself deeply moved. The dying girl, Alexandra Andreyevna, is very beautiful; the widowed mother is in despair; the two other sisters are touchingly concerned. They are cultivated people but very poor: This doctor is their only hope for saving her.
The doctor’s life thus veers from its course: He is...
(The entire section is 710 words.)