Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Turgenev emphasizes the spiritual significance of Lukerya’s suffering through a series of Christian symbols. Symbolically, Lukerya is given the name “Living Relic” by the peasants, who recognize her patience, meekness, and gentleness. The term “relic” has obvious religious overtones, associating her with sainthood or martyrdom. This religious symbolism is reinforced when Pyotr first encounters Lukerya and describes her face as “all of one color, bronze, for all the world like an icon painted in the old style; the nose narrow like the blade of a knife.” The religious symbolism of her suffering is repeated in three of Lukerya’s dreams. In the first dream, her parents appear to her and thank her for making it easier for them in the other world by suffering for their sins, asserting that she has already atoned for her own sins by her prolonged suffering and that she has now started to atone for the sins of others.

In the second dream, Lukerya sees herself standing in a field of golden rye and placing a moon on her head like a festive headdress. The circular shape of the moon suggests a halo. She begins to shine and light up the field around her as a beardless, tall, young man in white, whom she identifies as Christ, approaches her and soars with her to Heaven, leaving behind a vicious dog that keeps biting at her legs and that symbolizes her illness. The dream reveals to Lukerya that her suffering will cease only at her death, for the dog that is her illness will have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Her third and final dream both foreshadows her death and suggests her sainthood by associating her death with a religious holy day. Lukerya encounters a tall woman with large, yellow, falconlike eyes who announces to her that she represents death, which will come for Lukerya after the fast for Saint Peter’s day. Lukerya dies as predicted, after Saint Peter’s day, and on the day of her death, she reports hearing the sound of church bells “from above”—which the narrator, Pyotr, interprets as “from Heaven,” thus acknowledging her saintliness and affirming her spiritual beauty, which is the major theme of the story.