Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dark Avenues” (which has also been published as “Dark Paths”) is not only the name of Ivan Alexeyevich Bunin’s sketch but also the title of a collection of stories that he published in 1943. He did not make his decision casually. The sketch explores several themes that were especially important to Bunin toward the end of his career. His late writings tend to concentrate on depicting the intensity of romantic passion and its brevity as a lived experience, while simultaneously revealing how powerfully passion can affect the human soul. “Dark Avenues” exemplifies how a passionate encounter, even a brief one, can leave an indelible imprint on the human heart.

This sketch depicts a brief but moving encounter between two people from vastly different social classes who meet after many years of separation. Bunin’s reserved and understated approach to this encounter offers an effective counterpoint to the intense feelings that the meeting itself releases. The dialogue between the former lovers, Nikolai and Nadezhda, forms the heart of his story. Although the words that they exchange are simple, they contain a powerful reservoir of emotion.

The sketch also touches on other themes that play prominent roles in Bunin’s writings. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Bunin began relentlessly exposing how the inexorable passage of time affects human affairs, both on a personal level and on the level of human civilization itself. Later, as an émigré writer living in France after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Bunin himself acutely felt the irreparable loss of things that he had cherished. Faced with the inevitable dissolution and decay of human achievements, he looked to memory and to art as ways to preserve the best moments of human existence. The importance of memory in “Dark Avenues” is underscored by the story’s repetitions of such phrases as “Do you recall . . . ” and “I remember . . . ” As the story unfolds, Nadezhda’s undying remembrance of youthful love eventually penetrates her former lover’s attempted detachment, briefly bringing the characters together in a silent homage to the power and intensity of their shared passion. Life may go on, but the experience of profound love can never truly be erased from human memory.