Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District Analysis

Nikolai Leskov

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” Leskov eschews his much-used skaz narrator—the chatty, distracted, half-educated storyteller who reveals more about himself than about his tale—in favor of a more detached voice. Although the narrator here is an insider, referring to the Mtsensk District as “our part of the country,” he no longer seems a part of the life there. Far from making the story of Katerina Izmaylova a dry, judicial account of crime and punishment, this detachment gives it a straightforward, inexorable movement. Like any good storyteller, the narrator wants his listeners to pay attention, to wait for what happens next; in his very first paragraph, he promises a story and a character that none can remember “without an inward shudder.” Thereafter, he ends each short chapter—there are fourteen—with either an obviously temporary resolution or a tantalizing hint at events to come: “This was what the old man decided to do; but he was not given the chance to carry out his decision”; “But time was passing not only for them: after his long absence, Zinovy, the wronged husband, was hurrying home.”

The narrator’s deliberate hints are not the only device that lends this tale its concentrated forward motion. Although Leskov’s narrator avoids dialect and folksy locution, he still creates an air of folklore and myth. The young, beautiful wife kept under lock and key by an old, miserly husband and his tyrannical...

(The entire section is 407 words.)