Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The District Doctor,” Turgenev experimented with a narrative technique that was still new in Russian literature at that time and that later (notably in the hands of Nikolai Leskov) became known as skaz. In skaz, a humble, semi-educated (or even illiterate) narrator relates an incident from his own life, in his own words, with much unconscious irony as well as unconscious self-portraiture.

Though the doctor appears to ramble, Turgenev crafts every word of the doctor’s self-revelations carefully. Apart from contributing to the plot, every phrase that the doctor uses gives another clue as to his own background, virtues, blind spots, and lifestyle.

The advantages of the skaz technique are its naturalness and the feeling that it gives of real life as lived by real, ordinary people. It thus helps to forestall any tendency toward disbelief on the part of the reader, especially in a tale dealing with inherently sensational subject matter. It provides a particularly fine foil to romantic themes, infusing them with new realism.