(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title, “A Living Relic,” refers to a paralyzed serf girl, Lukerya, whom the narrator, Pyotr Petrovich, unexpectedly encounters lying alone and abandoned in a small shed on one of his mother’s farms. Pyotr is stunned by the sight of the immobile, mummylike body that lies before him and cannot believe that the half-dead creature is the same lively, beautiful, robust young girl who loved to sing and dance a mere six years ago, when she lived in his mother’s manor house as one of her household serfs.

Pyotr’s compassion for the girl grows as he questions her about her misfortunes and learns that she fell, injured herself internally, and gradually lost the use of her legs. Because the doctors were unable to diagnose her illness and the gentry considered it inconvenient to keep invalids in the manor house, she was sent to the village of Alekseyevka. Her affliction caused her great grief because it separated her from the young peasant lad, Vasily Polyakov, whom she loved and to whom she had been betrothed. Vasily also grieved but eventually married another girl, named Agrafena. As Lukerya relates her misfortune, the narrator is astonished to learn that she harbors no resentment. She is grateful knowing that Vasily has found a good wife who has provided him with children. She weeps only after Vasily’s visits, when she recalls the happy times that they shared together. For the most part she endures her suffering quietly and patiently, without...

(The entire section is 473 words.)