(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The first five sections of “The Duel” explore the emotional and mental states of two lovers, Ivan Andreitch Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, who have fled to the Caucasus in search of happiness and now are living together without benefit of matrimony, to the scandal of local society. Now realizing how different daily life is from romantic dreams, how different life as a farmer would be from visions of love in a vineyard, Laevsky is convinced that he no longer loves Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. Only the lack of money prevents him from deserting her. As he tells his friend Alexandr Daviditch Samoylenko, the fact that Nadyezhda’s husband has died, leaving her free to marry, makes Laevsky’s plight more pressing. He does not want to marry a woman he does not love, and Samoylenko’s attempts to shame Laevsky for irresponsibility have no effect on him. To the zoologist Von Koren, Laevsky’s attitude is shocking, typical of the hedonists of the 1880’s.

Nadyezhda’s dreams of love in a seaside cottage have been as much unrealized as those of her lover. Rather than breaking her heart, his recent cold behavior has relieved her sense of guilt, for she has not only grown unenthusiastic about life on a farm; she has also run up debts without Laevsky’s knowledge and has taken Ilya Mihalitch Kirilin, the police captain, as a lover. Although she is now bored with Kirilin, Nadyezhda has some difficulty in justifying her infidelity.

At a picnic, while Laevsky contemplates flight from his situation, Nadyezhda considers accepting as a lover the son of the shopkeeper to whom she owes money, hoping in some way to escape from her...

(The entire section is 670 words.)