Style and Technique
The plot of Tolstaya’s story is scant. Dialogue is just as scarce, used on only three occasions. The action is carried on through the narrator’s random memories. Thus, the author appears primarily interested in forwarding her views on the matters involved, as seen through the eyes and felt through the emotions of the narrator—life and death, beauty and the lack of it, and the luxurious variety of human behavior personified through Veronika, Pasha, and Margarita. Tolstaya frequently uses citations from poems and other poetic statements to bolster her arguments at particular junctions. For example, she uses an extract from Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem “La Chanson du mal-aimé” (“The Song of the Poorly Loved”), in which the poet refers to the Milky Way to which bodies of lovers fly. The extract is used to emphasize the love between Margarita and Pasha, which is forbidden and doomed to end. Thus, two of the main themes of the story, love and death, are illuminated in a surprising manner.
The style is a mixture of realistic descriptions and lyrical prose. Tolstaya creates several highly lyrical prolonged descriptions, resembling the lyrical descriptions of the masterful Russian stylist from the first quarter of the twentieth century, Ivan Bunin. The story opens and ends with such long descriptions. In the opening paragraph, for example, Tolstaya describes the garden as without end, borders, or fences, full of noises and rustling, golden in the sun but pale green in the shade, with the well full of toads, with white roses and mushrooms, with raspberry and huckleberry patches, and with bridges. Such abundance of color and texture makes Tolstaya’s prose vibrant and sensuous.
Tolstaya employs symbolism in several instances. Veronika’s large stature reflects her tendency and need to dominate people. Other images, borrowed from folklore, magnify the symbolism, such as her yellow guard dog and the magical egg. Pasha’s affair with Veronika’s sister Margarita symbolizes his youthful rebirth, after having spent most of his life under Veronika’s yoke. The nuptial glass-legged bed bespeaks the fragility of Veronika’s and Pasha’s marriage, yet it is on this bed that Margarita kisses Pasha, as if awakening a sleeping prince (in a reversal of the folklore). The abundance of the color red, derived mostly from blood, symbolizes the inseparability of life and death.