N. N., a middle-aged Russian country landowner who narrates the story of his unhappy love affair many years earlier. In his story, he is twenty-five years old, financially secure, and without responsibility. He travels throughout Europe anxious to experience life. He finds himself more fascinated by faces than by places. Although he possesses all the skills to move gracefully through society, he nevertheless is awkward around women; he has difficulty asserting his affection for them and is easily hurt by coquetry or rejection. A sensitive, self-conscious man, he seeks out natural landscapes that mirror his moods. When he meets two fellow Russians, a man his age and a younger woman, he is intrigued by their personalities and their relationship. He notes how different they are in looks and temperament, and he cannot believe that they are brother and sister, as they profess to be. His friendship with the man ripens quickly, and his awkwardness around the young woman becomes infatuation. His increasing social intimacy with the brother soon collides with his increasing emotional intimacy with the sister. The moment at which he must choose between etiquette and passion is the climax of the story.
Gagin (GAH-gihn), a former Guardsman, now a gentleman of leisure after inheriting the estate of his father, who passed away four years earlier. Twenty-four years old, tall, slim, and well-groomed, Gagin neither looks nor acts like (according to N. N.) the typical Russian on the Grand Tour in Europe. He spends his...
(The entire section is 649 words.)