(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

N.N., a lonely bachelor in his forties, tells the story of the lost love of his youth, twenty years ago. This is his story. A Russian gentleman in his twenties with ample private means, he has been vacationing in a picturesque small town on the Rhine, where he meets by chance two fellow Russians, a young artist named Gagin and a girl of seventeen called Asya (a diminutive of Anna), whom Gagin introduces as his sister. N.N., recovering from an unsuccessful flirtation with a young widow, feels ready for a new relationship. Apparently the only Russians in town, the three soon become close friends.

N.N.’s curiosity is aroused by Asya. She has a mysterious, untamed, elfin quality, now skittish and shy, now embarrassingly forward. Her manners and class markings seem quite different from Gagin’s. The narrator imagines himself to be falling in love with her, but at the same time he is frequently irritated by her unconventional behavior. He suspects that she is not really Gagin’s sister at all, and the belief that he is being deceived irritates him all the more.

This early mystery is soon resolved, however, when Gagin, in a reminiscence, tells his and Asya’s story. Asya is his illegitimate half sister, the result of a liaison between his father and a serf woman some years after the early death of Gagin’s mother. When his father died, Gagin, a young man in his twenties, found himself responsible for this wild creature, to whom he was bound both by ties of blood and by the dying words of his father, who had “bequeathed” her to him, revealing her true identity for the first time. She had been brought up entirely in the country, first by her mother as a peasant, and then, after her mother’s...

(The entire section is 702 words.)