Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This work derives much of its impact from the way in which it is told, and notably from the author’s ability to fuse several points of view and to join tales from periods years apart into a single narrative with its own internal logic. The style, while often richly descriptive and evocative, is terse, and the mannerisms of the two duelists who tell their own tales blend imperceptibly with the narrator’s anecdotal approach. Each episode arouses the narrator’s, and the reader’s, attention and points the way for the unfolding story of Silvio’s duel in two parts with the count. The incident of the duel that was never fought, with Lieutenant R——, prods Silvio into revealing details of the unsettled confrontation from his past. A chance conversation about marksmanship, commenced just as the narrator realizes Count B——’s identity, then leads to the story about the second half of Silvio’s duel.

Characterization heightens the reader’s interest, for the tale hangs above all on the qualities of reckless valor often displayed in dueling. Silvio is depicted as taciturn and moody; at one juncture the narrator describes him as conjuring up images of the diabolical. Similar imagery is used when the count discusses Silvio’ challenge to him; whether the satisfaction he has ultimately obtained has tempered Silvio is left unstated. His dark and brooding qualities are offset by the more outgoing traits of the narrator, and by the count’s balanced maturity, which during the years since his first duel has come as a result of ripening experience. Eventually for him dueling stories become merely examples of youthful ardor carried to extremes.