Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bunin’s sketch displays all the stylistic features that characterize the last part of his career. Deceptively simple in form, “Dark Avenues” reveals his penchant for paring away all that is superfluous in narrative exposition. A worthy successor to the art of Anton Chekhov, Bunin relies on carefully crafted descriptions to convey palpable moods or emotional conditions. For example, the sketch opens with a description of a cold autumn day in which elements of dirt and darkness prevail. This chilling external world through which the careworn Nikolai Alexeyevich travels contrasts sharply with the clean, tidy, and warm interior world of Nadezhda’s lodgings. For a brief moment, Nikolai Alexeyevich comes in from the cold and is warmed by the ardor that Nadezhda carries within her. The sketch ends with Nikolai resuming his seemingly directionless travels. The narrator notes that the sun is setting as Nikolai departs. The image of a bleak autumn day drawing to a close provides a marvelous evocation of the condition of Nikolai’s very existence.

Bunin’s sensitivity to nuances of language is evident in other ways as well. The fundamental disparity in the social status of Nikolai and Nadezhda is conveyed through the forms of the personal pronouns with which they address each other. Nikolai addresses Nadezhda with the singular form of the pronoun “you” (ty), although she uses the pronoun’s more formal plural form (vy). Her use of the more formal form indicates that she acknowledges Nikolai as socially superior to her, but the reader understands that in matters of the heart, it is she who is morally superior to him. “Dark Avenues” provides eloquent testimony of Bunin’s own appreciation of the power of language to communicate on several levels, and the sketch stands out as a gem of his final years.