Last Updated November 17, 2023.
"The Blizzard," also known as the "Snowstorm,” is an 1830 novella by Alexander Pushkin and is the first to appear in his collection of short stories, The Belkin Tales. The novella is richly rendered, smoothly shifting between drama and comedy to parody traditional gothic Russian ballads.
The story begins by introducing a pair of star-crossed lovers. First, readers meet the Gavrilnova family, who lives "at the end of 1811—an epoch memorable to us." It is a "memorable epoch" because it marks when Napoleon and the French invaded Russia. While war is not discussed in great detail in this novella, it is a critical element of Pushkin’s scene building and passive plot progression.
The protagonist of this story is seventeen-year-old Marya Gavrilovna. She is beautiful and, as heiress of the town of Nenaradovo, can have her pick of potential suitors. Marya is a deeply romantic young woman whose affinity for French romance novels has left her fixated on the idea of love. In her pursuit of the perfect suitor, Marya fell for Vladimir Nicolaevitch, a poor army lieutenant whom her parents forbade her from seeing.
Despite her parents’ disapproval, Marya carries on seeing Vladimir, meeting him for secret correspondences in the forest. With winter coming, their clandestine meetings must come to an end, so they make plans to elope, and then beg for Marya’s family’s forgiveness. Pushkin creates a heightened sense of drama in their dialogue, as they confess to each other: “If we cannot breathe without each other, and the cruel parents' will prevents our happiness, couldn't we do without their consent?”
Though Marya initially refuses Vladimir’s suggestion to elope, she eventually agrees; the lovers make plans to meet in the neighboring village of Zhadrino and marry in the middle of the night. Marya tells no one of their plans but her maid. Then, on the night of the elopement, she writes letters to her friends and her family detailing her plan and promising to "fall at the feet of her of her parents..." when she returns with Vladimir.
Despite their careful planning, nightmares consume Marya on the eve of the wedding, and she sees her betrothed lying dying in a field in most of the dreams, a classic example of foreshadowing. Sick with anxiety, Marya excuses herself from dinner with her family, and then boards a sled bound for the church. As she sets off into the snowstorm outside, the story switches to Vladimir’s perspective.
Vladimir describes how he spends the day of his wedding collecting the priest and witnesses, which is a more complex process than he had anticipated. However, he gets caught in the raging blizzard and becomes lost, not arriving at the church—now empty and locked—until the next morning.
Back in Nenaradovo, Marya burns the goodbye letters she wrote, effectively hiding her elopement plans. The priest and everyone else involved keep the secret. However, she soon falls ill and exposes her relationship with Vladimir. Knowing her secret, her parents blame themselves for her illness, imagining that their refusal to accept their “fated” love is the cause of Marya’s illness. Hopeful that their approval will cure her, they find Vladimir, tell him they consent to their marriage, then beg him to come home to Marya.
To their surprise, Vladimir refuses, saying that only death might make him happy. His statement is soon vindicated, as he dies a soldier’s death in Moscow, fighting against Napoleon’s forces. Around the time of Vladimir’s death, Marya’s father dies as well, leaving her all his wealth. In the wake of her father’s passing, Marya and her mother move...
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away, leaving behind this "place of sad memories."
Four years pass, and the war ends. Dozens of suitors try unsuccessfully for Marya’s hand, but she is uninterested in all but a Hussar colonel named Burmin. The two share romantic tension, but neither will make the first move. Eventually, Burmin admits his feelings for Marya, explaining that although he loves her, he cannot be with her because he has a wife whom he married four years prior. Worse, he does not even know who the woman he married was.
Burmin proceeds to tell the story of his accidental marriage four years ago. After becoming lost in a blizzard, he found himself outside of a church. Upon entering, the priest inside mistook him for another man—whom readers know was Vladimir—and Burmin jokingly went along with it. Only after the priest had officially married the couple did the bride—Marya—realize that Burmin was not Vladimir, causing her to faint dramatically.
When Marya collapsed, Burmin saw his chance and fled, leaving his unknown wife behind. Because of the snowstorm, he never knew the name of the village he was in, so he could never reconnect with her or make amends for his cruel prank. After relaying this story to Marya, she reveals she is his wife. In the very last line in the story, Burmin falls to her feet in what readers can assume is relief.