Eugene Current-Garcia (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: Current-Garcia, Eugene. “Shifting Trends toward Realism in Fiction.” In The American Short Story before 1850: A Critical History, pp. 119-24. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

[In the following essay, Current-Garcia discusses the emergence of a realist aesthetic in American short fiction of the mid-nineteenth century.]

By the 1850s many other American writers beside the Southwest yarn spinners were producing short fiction for the magazines and newspapers; but the short story itself, as a distinct literary form, still lacked independent status and respectability. Few besides Poe, Hawthorne, and Simms had tried to define its aesthetic significance or grappled with its formal requirements. Even such terms as tale, sketch, story, and short story were being used interchangeably with little conscious concern for the principles of unity and brevity laid down by Poe. Nevertheless, as the magazines proliferated and their circulations expanded, they depended more and more on short fiction to keep their readers happy. Scarcely a popular weekly or monthly periodical failed to include four or five tales in each issue—a steady stream of short fiction, most of it written by women, which could be casually dismissed as “the sentimental Godey type.”1 Typical titles, selected at random from hundreds like them by a recent scholar, suggest the accuracy of Hawthorne's scornful reference to “a damned mob of scribbling women”: “‘A Gift From Heaven,’ ‘An Old Maid's First Love,’ … ‘Kissing With a Moustache,’ ‘Two Scenes in the Life of a City Belle.’”2 But critical reaction to this type of fiction, expressed with growing concern throughout the decade of the “feminine fifties,” presaged an important change in the development of the short-story form. A new genre, foreshadowing the realistic short story of the twentieth century, was slowly evolving from the decaying remnants of the type of tales and sketches perfected by Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe.3

The central weakness noted in most of this popular fiction was its sacrifice of aesthetic honesty for the sake of a spurious “message” of either oversimplified wish-fulfillment or chastening retribution. For the sake of extracting the reader's precious tear of feeling, characters and situations were exaggerated and diluted, and the resolutions of their problems were miraculously achieved. Thus, however seemingly realistic the setting of the conventional story, there was a serious flaw in its contradiction between real dilemmas and false solutions, a contradiction that sacrificed unity to doctrine and destroyed its effectiveness. Hawthorne's scorn was directed toward precisely this sort of empty commercialism, and Melville's reaction to it while he was struggling to complete Moby-Dick was even more graphically recorded in one of his famous letters to his friend: “Dollars damn me,” he cried. “… What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,—it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way, I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.”4

Despite a continuing market demand for the conventional melodramatic, sentimental, or sensational type of story—a demand that would survive long years into the twentieth century in sleazy pulps such as True Romances—its popularity did not go unchallenged. Throughout the 1850s critics repeatedly deplored the excesses of romanticized tales and called for a species of fiction that would deal more convincingly with issues of contemporary life. They wished to see stories that would not only truthfully mirror the surface features of the actual world but would also probe beneath the surface and explore the mysteries and ambiguities of human behavior. They were demanding a type of fiction that would convey an undercurrent of genuine significance, a basic theme or meaning reflecting what Hawthorne had called “truths of the human heart.” Stories that derived their effects simply from cleverly contrived plots, implausible situations, and pasteboard characters would no longer suffice, though authors might still have to soften or conceal their harshest meanings within an acceptably genteel style.

Melville had touched upon one aspect of this problem when, in his somewhat overenthusiastic review of Mosses from an Old Manse, he drew a striking analogy between Shakespeare's and Hawthorne's alleged techniques of concealment. Readers who regarded Shakespeare “as a mere man of Richard-the-Third humps and Macbeth daggers,” he wrote, were very much mistaken; for “it is those deep far-away things in him; short, quick probings at the very axis of reality;—those are the things that make Shakspeare, Shakespeare. Through the mouths of the dark characters of Hamlet, Timon, Lear, and Iago, he craftily says, or sometimes insinuates the things which we feel to be so terrifically true, that it were all but madness for any good man, in his own proper character, to utter, or even hint of them.”5 Hawthorne shared this ability to deceive “the superficial skimmer of pages,” Melville declared, as was evident in his skillful method of masking a dark concern with original sin beneath such innocent titles as “Young Goodman Brown” and “A Select Party,” which careless readers simply found quaint. Yet, for all their subtlety, even Hawthorne's best tales and sketches, Melville wrote on another occasion, lacked a sufficient roundness and solidity—“a plump sphericity.”6

Melville's dissatisfaction with the thinness of characterization in Hawthorne's tales is another sign of shifting values in the creation of fiction at midcentury. By that time Hawthorne himself, as we have seen, disparaged the pallid tameness and lack of solid substance in his early tales. They reminded him of pale-tinted flowers “that blossomed in too retired a shade”; even those in which he had intended to draw pictures of actual life, he said, turned out to be allegories bereft of flesh and blood, passion, pathos, and humor. His harsh self-criticism was evidently not altogether ironic, for only the year before while composing a reminiscence of his Salem Custom-House experiences as an introduction to The Scarlet Letter, he spoke wistfully of his inability to exploit the rich “materiality of this daily life pressing so intrusively upon me,” instead of trying feebly to evoke “the semblance of a world out of airy matter.” It would have been wiser, he felt, to attempt to transform the living present into viable fiction, but his “brain wanted the insight and [his] hand the cunning to transcribe it.”7 And not many years later, after three more moderately successful longer works, Hawthorne underscored this shifting of taste by confessing that the kind of fiction he admired most, though unable to write it himself, could be seen in Anthony Trollope's novels: “solid and substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business.”8

This earthiness and solidity had been gradually gaining respectability during the preceding decade, partly as a result of the spreading popularity of the humorous tall tales featured at first in Porter's Spirit of the Times and later reissued in separate collections published by Carey & Hart, and partly as a result of changing literary fashions from abroad. Stories such as Thorpe's “Big Bear of Arkansas” and the escapades of Hooper's Simon Suggs marked a trend toward realism because, notwithstanding the obvious exaggeration of characters and action, they did suggest the actual locus of a specific culture. The contrast between the colloquial speech of a Jim Doggett or a Suggs and the drier, more urbane expression of the frame narrator sounded authentic and true to life. As opposed to the self-assurance of the omniscient author in the typical sentimental tale, allowing for the most implausible reversals of fortune, the denouement in a well-told Southwest humor tale oftener seemed to be a model of consistency, the logical culmination of developments within the structure of the narrative. Thus, in a short notice of Hooper's second volume, The Widow Rugby's Husband: A Sight of the Ugly Man & Other Tales of Alabama, one critic could praise it as being among the best of “a singularly numerous collection of volumes of humorous literature of the South, … a series of very lively stories, roughly and adroitly told, and certainly compelling the broad grin of the reader.”9 No matter how ludicrous or outrageous the speech and actions of primitive folk in these yarns, the narratives themselves appealed strongly to many readers and critics alike because they seemed “natural,” a term now showing up with increasing frequency in critical parlance.

On a more serious level, the naturalness this critic praised in Hooper's tales and sketches was also found noteworthy in the fiction of the British novelist Thackeray. The writer of an essay published a few months earlier in the same journal gratefully observed in Thackeray's novels a sign “that really preposterous works of fiction are rapidly going out of date.” Stressing the point that characters and action in Vanity Fair and Pendennis, for example, are “natural,” recognizable, not forced, he asked rhetorically: “What can be more natural … than that we should joy in meeting upon paper, men, women and children like those we know, and are familiar with, in everyday life.”10 Such approval of Thackeray's literary skill calls to mind Hawthorne's fondness for Trollope's fiction, though Hawthorne's simile of the giant potter's lump of earth under a glass case also suggests Melville's subtler requirement that in works of fiction one should “look not only for more entertainment, but, at bottom, even for more reality, than real life itself can show.”11

Uttered in 1857, Melville's plea merely echoes what other critics of the decade had been demanding: fiction that would embody both the recognizable surface features of everyday life and basic themes faithfully depicting human motives and action. Implicitly or explicitly, these critics had been urging repeatedly two of Poe's critical principles: his concept of the “single effect”—not just as an artificial device for achieving a tightly unified, conventional plot, but rather as a means toward evoking from the reader a dominant impression based on the tale's undercurrent of significance; and the element that Poe had often designated as “vraisemblance”—that is, verisimilitude, the ability to make extraordinary events seem convincing by depicting them within a recognizable context of actual life. Consciously or not, accordingly, the critics were gradually establishing norms for the new variety of short fiction: “while simultaneously retaining the single-effect concept and the necessity of implied significance, [they] were encouraging the modification of the conventional tale. If they also advocated a realistic world of fiction, then they had, more or less unintentionally, established basic conditions suitable for the development of the new genre.”12

That Melville could accommodate his fiction to this new set of conditions in the 1850s should not surprise anyone familiar with his frustrating career as a writer of long philosophical romances of the sea in the 1840s. Beginning with Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847), his first commercial successes, Melville had tried in vain to win the endorsement of a wide range of readers, but his risqué passages involving sexual encounters, as well as his blatant criticism of such cherished institutions as the Protestant missionary societies, flouted prevailing canons of taste and drew fire from some prominent critics. Horace Greeley, for example, asserted that Melville's tone was bad, if not morally diseased; and eventually this hostile attitude became a “majority opinion about Melville” as he strove futilely in successive books to impose his views of the creative process upon an apathetic public. The harder he tried to elevate a simple episodic narrative of adventure into a vehicle for digressive reflection and commentary, the more he alienated his readers. As he openly and repeatedly challenged their capacity to apprehend imaginative truth or to accept other than conventional, platitudinous beliefs, hostility toward his writings intensified.13 Thus, to counteract such hostility, well before 1850 Melville began experimenting with a technique of concealment similar to Poe's and Hawthorne's—disguising the real inner meanings in his fiction beneath a surface layer of exciting adventure.

Melville's most remarkable achievement in the welding together of factual and fictitious material would be unveiled in his great masterpiece, Moby-Dick, which has inspired more intensive critical study during this century than any other single American narrative. And among its many brilliant foreshadowings of future literary developments, one in particular that points directly to the realistic short story of the next generation is a seventeen-page narrative entitled “The Town-Ho's Story” (chapter 54). In substance a tale of hatred and vengeance between two strong-willed characters, Steelkit and Radney, “The Town-Ho's Story” fits neatly into the overall structure of Moby-Dick as one of the many terrifying adventures brought to a climax by the violent might of the great white whale. But in the manner of its telling, the narrative is clearly a modification, perhaps even a parody, of the tall-tale form seen in “The Big Bear of Arkansas,” a form called “the told story,” which achieves a subtly heightened second climax through the narrator's recapitulation of events surrounding his original telling of the tale in a different setting many years before. Melville's craftsmanship in “The Town-Ho's Story” is thus all the more remarkable in that “submitting his talent for the first time to the conventions of as well-established and technically advanced a literary genre as then existed for his use, [he] for the first time produced a technically finished and self-contained work of narrative invention. In structure it conforms to the popular ‘frame’ technique of story-telling, the occasion of the telling being used at the beginning and end to set off the main line of action.”14

The artistry that Melville displayed in “The Town-Ho's Story” and in numerous scenes in White-Jacket at the outset of the 1850s was a portent of the still more impressive techniques he would apply to the writing of the short fiction later in the decade. His mimetic characterizations and uncanny manipulation of factual details as a means of probing beneath the surface of everyday reality marked a further shifting toward modern realism in the art of fiction, just as Hawthorne's effort to explore a “neutral territory … where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet” represented an advance over Poe's more exotic concept of verisimilitude. But toward the end of the 1840s and even more noticeably by the middle 1850s the same shifting of values can be seen accelerating in the writings of less prominent writers, particularly in New England and New York. Writers like Fitz-James O'Brien and Fitz-Hugh Ludlow were beginning to exploit the hazards and pitfalls of urban life by relying on recognizably specific events and localities while others like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Rose Terry Cooke were launching into the realm of local-color regionalism, a movement that would flourish briskly throughout the nation during the next three decades. By the 1850s the modern realistic short story as an independent genre in the United States had clearly begun to emerge.


  1. Mott, A History of American Magazines, 2:173. Mott notes that although Melville, Simms, Curtis, and Fitz-James O'Brien were among the short-fiction writers of the period, “most of the best as well as the worst work was done by women.”

  2. Robert F. Marler, “From Tale to Short Story: The Emergence of a New Genre in the 1850s,” American Literature 46, no. 2 (May 1974):155.

  3. Ibid. Marler notes that the legacies of Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe can be seen in the mass of this undistinguished fiction, “where the comparatively balanced effects of Irving's sentimentalism, Poe's sensationalism, and Hawthorne's moralism were so heavily emphasized, distorted, and unconsciously parodied that the decay of the tale is unmistakable.”

  4. The Letters of Herman Melville, ed. Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), p. 128. In the same letter Melville assured Hawthorne that if any writer tried to earn a living by writing the truth, he would have to join a bread line; indeed, “Though I wrote the Gospels in this century, I should die in the gutter” (ibid., p. 129).

  5. “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” quoted in Herman Melville, Representative Selections, ed. with introduction by Willard Thorpe, (New York: American Book Company, 1938), p. 334.

  6. See letter to Evert Duyckinck, 12 February 1851, ibid., p. 386.

  7. “The Custom House,” in The Scarlet Letter, Norton Critical Edition, p. 32.

  8. Quoted in the “Historical Commentary” to centenary Mosses from an Old Manse, p. 536.

  9. Southern Quarterly Review 20 (July 1851):272. The same section of critical notices carried a very favorable review of Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables (pp. 265-66) and a shorter one of another humorous volume, Polly Peablossom's Wedding and Other Tales, which the critic also judged favorably: “A collection of broad grin Southern & Western exaggeration—comicalities of the woods & wayside; such as will compel laughter if not reflection. Just the volume to snatch up in railway & steamboat, & put out of sight in all other places” (ibid., p. 272).

  10. Ibid., 19 (January 1851):79-80.

  11. The Confidence Man, Norton Critical Edition (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 158. Melville was, of course, defending himself here against the bitter censures his earlier books Moby-Dick and Pierre had suffered at the critics' hands.

  12. Marler, “Tale to Short Story,” p. 162.

  13. See Charvat, Profession of Authorship in America pp. 217-231.

  14. Warner Berthoff, The Example of Melville (New York: Norton, 1972), p. 135. Berthoff makes a detailed and thoroughly convincing case for Melville's mastery of short-fiction technique in his analysis of “The Town-Ho's Story” (ibid., pp. 133-38).

Donald D. Stone (essay date June 1976)

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SOURCE: Stone, Donald D. “Trollope as a Short Story Writer.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31, no. 1 (June 1976): 26-47.

[In the following essay, Stone provides an overview of the short fiction of Anthony Trollope.]

Anthony Trollope's stories constitute a substantial and substantially ignored portion of his prodigious output. He began writing them after having established, in his mid-forties, a reputation as author of the first three Barsetshire novels; and with the great success of Framley Parsonage in 1860, editors of Victorian middlebrow magazines began to importune him for short works bearing his name. To his young American friend, Kate Field, who had sent him one of her short stories for criticism, Trollope offered a formula for storytelling which demonstrates how modestly he may have regarded his own practice, at least in the beginning stages: “Tell some simple plot or story of more or less involved, but still common life, adventure, and try first to tell that in such form that idle minds may find some gentle sentiment and recreation in your work.”1 Such a goal indicates why so many of his stories, virtually all of them pleasant enough to read through, are not comparable to the more ambitious, more painstakingly constructed, efforts of James and Kipling, Lawrence and Joyce. Like Mrs. Gaskell and Dickens, Trollope was perfectly willing to produce slight works of an anecdotal or inspirational nature. Like them, however, he was also capable of works of great power or delicacy. “Malachi's Cove” and “The Spotted Dog” are masterpieces of the Victorian short story form; and even when Trollope is not at his best, he does provide us with aspects of his art and personality—in the forms of a humorous self-portrait, or a somber display of his view of human nature, or a rare glimpse of his creative process at work—that are usually missing from the novels themselves.

Examination of Trollope's business papers and letters2 might lead one to conclude that Trollope regarded his short stories, even more so than his novels, only as so many marketable wares: he recorded their rise in price—from twenty pounds for the earliest to around a hundred for many of the later ones—and he showed a willingness to produce them to order whenever the publisher, any publisher, met his terms. He had hoped to place his first tales in the new Cornhill, but when the editor, Thackeray, balked at the idea, requesting a novel instead and rejecting at least one story that the publisher George Smith had already accepted, Trollope settled for slightly lesser, if still respectable, “family” publications like Good Words, Argosy, and Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper. He was courted by new magazines, like Public Opinion and the London Review, and was a welcome contributor to various miscellanies, including feminist anthologies. He was especially sought after to contribute to the Christmas annuals of magazines ranging from Routledge's to the Masonic Magazine. At the advent of his popularity, Harper's New Monthly Magazine proudly promised its American readers that the author, whom the magazine would call “the most brilliant Novelist of the day” in the following year (announcing the American serialization of Orley Farm), would write stories “expressly” for them. Nevertheless, the stories once printed were deemed a lesser part of his literary achievement; despite its advance publicity, Harper's published only a few of the works Trollope offered them (in one case, “La Mère Bauche,” Harper's apparently paid for the story without publishing it at all); and reviewers of the tales he chose to preserve in five collections were sometimes wont to wonder “whether Mr. Trollope does well to collect more than a very few indeed of his short works in a permanent form.”3 Accounting for the critical and public indifference toward perhaps his best collection, An Editor's Tales (1870), Trollope acknowledged “that when the things were good they came out too quick one upon another to gain much attention;—and so also, luckily, when they were bad.”4

Trollope's writings include forty-five short works of fiction,5 ranging in size and seriousness from the brief Thackerayan burlesque of chivalric romance, “The Gentle Euphemia; or ‘Love Shall Still Be Lord of All’” (1866), to the longest of the Christmas stories, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1873). However, Trollope, in turning down Edmund Routledge's request for longer tales, judged the average length for a short story to be between ten and twenty printed pages.6 For a writer who spoke of the “burden of length” required for the development of a novel, Trollope's unwillingness to write beyond that limit on most occasions explains why some of the most suggestive of his stories are so disappointing. “No writer requires more the freedom and continuity of an extended narrative, in order to produce his best effects,” a Spectator reviewer complained of one of Trollope's collections. “He is not great, except when he can make a real friend of his characters, when he can indulge himself in putting them through their paces gradually, when all effort at concentration is out of the question.”7 Many of the stories written after 1870 are considerably longer than twenty pages: “The Spotted Dog,” of which he was deservedly proud, and Harry Heathcote, which drew its colorful subject matter from his recent trip to Australia, are of novella length. But for the most part, even though there is often enough plot in one of his short stories to fill out one of his longer novels, Trollope employed a manner of composition for the stories different from what he used for the novels: the characterization is laid in more sketchily; very often anecdotes take the place of plot development; and the humor and the pathos are of a more boisterous and more intense nature respectively than Trollope would probably have permitted himself in one of his novels. There is no point in bemoaning the lack of “intensity of effect” or “unity of impression” which Baudelaire found so commendable in Poe's stories. Trollope chose to write realistic vignettes in a shorthand style, most of which succeed very well in terms of what he had intended. In time his reviewers came to accept and admire the stories for what they were and what they contained, and ceased to deplore what the author, or another writer, might have made of them. “Mr. Trollope is always amusing,” begins the Spectator review of his last collection, “but he is never more amusing than in his shorter tales, when he makes them turn, as he so often does, on his curiously microscopic knowledge of those little social tactics and manoeuvres by which so many important positions are gained or lost, though no one but social microscopists like Mr. Trollope appreciate their significance. In this new volume of tales, Mr. Trollope is at his best.”8

The least successful of his stories are probably the burlesques and some of the Christmas stories, types of fiction for which Thackeray and Dickens had provided models. The comedy of “The Gentle Euphemia” is inordinately heavy-handed and is directed at readers for whom such lines as “Get thee gone to thy Grange” are irresistible. The sentimentality of the Christmas stories is innocuous at best and at worst unfelt on the author's part. Trollope could not resist inserting a tin-plated parody of the silver-fork novel, “Crinoline and Macassar,” into The Three Clerks (1858); and he later provided a parody of his own Small House at Allington in the silly but rather endearing “Never, Never—Never, Never” (1875).9 The satire is directed against the youthful Anthony Trollope as well as the obstinately romantic heroine of Small House, Lily Dale: the hero of the story is a postal clerk who keeps both a novel and a brandy bottle in his desk. Trollope had warned Kate Field to avoid the opposing temptations toward self-glorification and overt didacticism in her attempts at fiction; in his own case, whenever Trollope drew a figure like himself, it was always to show himself in a comic light. The Christmas stories, by contrast, allowed him the chance to counteract the notoriety he was receiving in some quarters as a writer of coarse materials—for novels like The Way We Live Now and stories like “Mrs. General Talboys.” Norman Macleod, the editor of Good News who had rejected Rachel Ray on the grounds of its unsuitability for a religious magazine, was pleased to publish stories like “The Widow's Mite,” with its plea for charity toward unemployed workers; at his death, his brother Donald Macleod accepted a number of Trollope's better stories in this avowedly didactic vein. It was undistinguished stories of this sort—“Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage,” “Catherine Carmichael,” and “Not if I Know It”—which Trollope either left uncollected or which editors chose to ignore after his death. Despite the lack of authorial commitment in most of these stories, the interest in the genre of the Christmas tale served Trollope in good stead when he inserted the three masterful variations on a Dickensian Christmas-day scene into Orley Farm.

Initially, the short story form allowed Trollope to take advantage of materials gleaned from his trips to foreign countries on official missions for the postal service. In time, however, he came to use the stories in a variety of other ways: as sketches for themes to be developed later into novels; as variations on themes and incidents he had resorted to before and would employ again; as experiments with more daring materials than he permitted himself in the novels of his middle period. In “Aaron Trow,” “Malachi's Cove,” and “The Spotted Dog,” for example, he created figures of a more explosive nature, of a more passionate temperament, than those he could fit conveniently into the novels of this period. The experience of creating the two sets of “Tales of All Countries” proved useful when he decided to write the series of novels set in foreign countries, most notably Nina Balatka (1866-67) and Linda Tressel (1867-68). Both were published anonymously, as if to prove afterward that his range was considerably wider, and his insight into human nature considerably less optimistic, than the Spectator and Saturday Review critics had allowed for. Contemporary with the two novels, and apparently a companion piece to them, is the story “Katchen's Caprices,” which also appeared anonymously from 1866 to 1867 in Harper's Weekly. Its heroine, an Austrian innkeeper's daughter, provided Trollope with an addition to his gallery of perverse young women; and the plot device of a theft of a jewel box from which the valuables have been removed undoubtedly gave Trollope a clue for The Eustace Diamonds.

Trollope's first collection, the Tales of All Countries (1861), was conceived in advance as a series of stories which he hoped would appear monthly over a period of two years. (A few months before his death Trollope was similarly, fruitlessly negotiating a contract for a series of ten stories, none of them as yet written, which John Dicks, owner of Bow Bells, hoped would copy the format of Sala's Terrible Tales.) Each work would take place in “some country which [he had] visited,” he explained to the editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, who proved unwilling, as it turned out, to accept more than a handful of the completed tales.10 It is unfair to consider Trollope's abilities as a short story writer on the basis of this collection: Victorian editors and readers who assumed from his title that they would be reading highly colored accounts of foreign places and adventures in the manner of Byron or Disraeli were bound to be disappointed, for Trollope's use of foreign settings only reinforces his view that human behavior is the same everywhere.11 Descriptions of nature are generally terse, generalized, and confined to the first few paragraphs. Where a Romantic writer would have rhapsodized over the mountain settings in “La Mère Bauche,” for example, Trollope sketches in the Pyrenees only so that his heroine can have something high enough to fling herself from. The castle in “The Château of Prince Polignac” exists solely as a spot where a French tailor may propose to an English widow of means. Trollope emphasized the universality of his themes when he reworked elements from the two stories into later novels: Mrs. Thompson's decision to marry the tailor contains the germ of Lady Anna (1871), and the tragic tale of a young woman thwarted in love by a well-intentioned elder woman became Linda Tressel. He also reworked the plot of the young lovers in “La Mère Bauche,” one of whom is the child of an innkeeper, to a romantically satisfying conclusion in “Katchen's Caprices” and The Golden Lion of Granpère. Examination of the short stories demonstrates in more compact form than a study of the novels how Trollope could work countless variations on a given theme—not necessarily a sign that he lacked inventive power, as is sometimes claimed, but that he saw innumerable possibilities for each given set of imagined facts. In one of the better-known tales from his first collection, “The Courtship of Susan Bell,” Trollope examined the effect upon a timid American mother and her daughters, one as shy as herself, the other a bully of propriety, when a rising young man courts the gentler daughter. There is no real plot to speak of (“Mr. Trollope is alone in his power of telling a story about absolutely nothing,” grumbled the Saturday Review critic of the volume),12 and the characters are too faintly drawn to be memorable in any way, but the story provided the basis for one of the novelist's most graceful works, Rachel Ray.

The absence of romantic trappings in all the Tales of All Countries, aside from “La Mère Bauche” with its obvious debt to the forced marriage plot in The Bride of Lammermoor, underlines Trollope's antiromantic bias as a writer. In “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids” his insistence on showing up the unromantic aspect of the Egyptian wonders suggests, all the same, an element of wistfulness in his method. The violation of youthful illusions was the theme of a fine novel of this period, The Bertrams (1859), part of which is also set in the Middle East. “It is astonishing how such things [as the Pyramids] lose their great charm as men find themselves in their close neighbourhood,” he intones ruefully. “‘Ah! so those are the Pyramids, are they?’ says the traveller, when the first glimpse of them is shown to him from the window of a railway carriage. ‘Dear me; they don't look so very high, do they? For Heaven's sake put the blind down, or we shall be destroyed by the dust.’ And then the ecstacy and keen delight of the Pyramids has vanished, and for ever.”13 Hope shrivels when its object is attained, reality never approximating human expectations. One must settle, then, as does Mrs. Thompson, for “the tame dull realities of life,”14 or must abandon, as does the pleasure-loving heroine of “Miss Sarah Jack, of Spanish Town, Jamaica,” the delights of dancing for the duties of domestic life. (The latter motif reappears as late as Is He Popenjoy?) The three remaining anecdotes in the collection—“The O'Conors of Castle Conor, County Mayo,” “John Bull on the Guadalquivir,” and “Relics of General Chassé”—deal with the chastening of Britons blundering abroad, of Trollope himself in the first two cases.15

The second series of Tales of All Countries (1863) shows a considerable advance over the first volume. It contains two stories, “Mrs. General Talboys” and “A Ride Across Palestine,” which aroused complaints by readers against Trollope's “low moral tone.”16 (When Thackeray refused to print the former story, Trollope responded with an amusing letter attacking Victorian censorship.17 The Spectator reviewer, curiously enough, judged this one of the more successful stories in the collection, although he accused Trollope of having replaced “his own delicate faculty of social insight and social humour, by something like the broad farce of his mother's tales.”)18 The least successful inclusion, “The Mistletoe Bough,” was the first in a line of stories written originally for the Christmas annuals. Its protagonist is the kind of figure he described on several occasions: a puritanical young woman, in this case, who feels it her duty to resist whatever might bring her pleasure. In the end, she is converted by the Christmas season and agrees to marry the man she loves. The stories in this collection contain more allowance for passion (and even some flouting of convention) than was seen in the first set of Tales, and the natural settings are more sympathetically and vividly described as well.19 Four of the stories are humorous accounts of mistaken identity. In “George Walker at Suez,” the Trollopian narrator finds himself mistaken for a visiting dignitary; in “Mrs. General Talboys,” a married woman who repeatedly speaks out against the trammels of convention amid the foreign artist circles of Rome turns out to be the soul of propriety—to the astonishment of an enamored Irish artist who has taken her at her word; in “A Ride Across Palestine,” the male narrator's traveling companion turns out to be a young woman, disguised as a man, fleeing the custody of her uncle. The best of the four, and perhaps the funniest of Trollope's shorter fictions, is “The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box,” in which the good-natured narrator is made to seem the thief of a box of valuables owned by a comical and outrageously vulgar English family.

The tone is more serious in the four remaining stories. “Returning Home” is a moving account of an expatriated English couple's frustrated attempt to return to England after having spent several years in Central America. Trollope generally restricted himself to one exercise in the tragic-poignant manner per collection, of which this tale is one of his simplest and saddest. The potential for pathos is played down in “The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne,” in which the heroine discovers that her worldly fiancé dislikes her honest admission of love and wants a wife with more money and social prominence. “She had given her whole heart to the man,” Trollope notes at the end, after Patience Woolsworthy releases Captain Broughton from their engagement; “and, though she so bore herself that no one was aware of the violence of the struggle, nevertheless the struggle within her bosom was very violent. … The romance of her life was played out in that summer.”20 A year later Trollope made Patience's dilemma Lily Dale's in The Small House at Allington; and the discreditable Captain Broughton reappeared as Captain Aylmer in The Belton Estate (1865). (The story was reworked further, this time with a happy ending, in “Alice Dugdale” in 1878). Another woman who conceals her passionate temperament under a seemingly placid exterior is the German heroine of “The House of Heine Brothers, in Munich.” While her English fiancé ostentatiously considers himself a romantic figure, writing poetry in proof of this, Isa Heine acts with the necessary resourcefulness to insure that she and Herbert are financially enabled to marry. Whether set in Germany or England, Trollope's stories are an essential part of his lifelong epic of the stiff upper lip.

The one truly astonishing story in the collection, however, is “Aaron Trow,” Trollope's sympathetic and harrowing account of an escaped convict who, transformed by society into a beast of prey, accordingly acts like “a wolf rather than a man.” Trollope's fascination with social, and sometimes moral, outcasts is evident from his earliest Irish novels to some of the late books, most notably Cousin Henry and Mr. Scarborough's Family. Without sentimentalizing their plight in the manner of a Romantic author, Trollope skillfully studies their behavior and the disturbing effects of such behavior on others. An escapee from the Bermuda prison colony where he has been sentenced, Aaron terrorizes a young woman who must release her own animal instincts in order to defend herself against him. (The implication seems to be that Aaron's murderous animal nature had been similarly aroused by the inhumane industrial community of his youth.) “Anastasia Bergen had hitherto been a sheer woman, all feminine in her nature,” writes Trollope in a rhetorically overdrawn but psychologically interesting manner. “But now the foam came to her mouth, and fire sprang from her eyes, and the muscles of her body worked as though she had been trained to deeds of violence.” Aaron is pursued by Anastasia's seemingly mild-mannered fiancé, a Presbyterian minister, whom the desire for revenge changes into a “beast thirsting for blood.”21 The two men fight an underwater duel in which the convict is forcibly drowned; but the minister afterwards is appalled by his actions and self-discovery. The potential for violence and irrational behavior in the most civilized and gentle of human frames is a theme Trollope was to use again to memorable effect in He Knew He Was Right; but the distant West Indies setting allowed him here, as had the Irish settings previously, to concentrate on those latent passions which he tended to gloss over in his novels of the 1860's.

The nine works in Trollope's next collection, Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories (1867), continue the “Tales of All Countries” format, but for the first time individuals and their surroundings are interrelated in ways that suggest that there are local forces which divide people and contend with the universal feelings that unite them. Trollope's trip to America in 1861-62 provided him with subject matter and background for a number of stories; and the Civil War may have strengthened his sense of the need for reconciliation between opposing countries, parties, and individuals, as well as heightened his sense of the difficulties opposing reconciliation. “The Two Generals” are American brothers, one fighting for the North and the other for the South; and it is the slave-owning Southern general whom the abolitionist heroine loves. “But when has Love stayed to be guided by any such consideration as that?” asks the narrator.22 In the end, human necessities prove stronger than political ties. The story is typical of Trollope's ability to be fair to both sides, despite his own stand on behalf of the Northern cause, and of his refusal to resolve human dilemmas in the melodramatic or tragic manner favored by other writers. The inevitable confrontation between the brothers on the battlefield leads to an understated reconciliation, with the Southern gentleman gaining his bride but losing his leg in battle and thereby his ability to fight on. Trollope repeated the situation of love triumphing over national interest in a less compelling manner in “The Last Austrian Who Left Venice,” in which a Venetian woman and a captain in the Austrian occupation forces are enabled to marry after Venice becomes free.

The most extreme case of natural enemies becoming lovers in Trollope occurs in the remarkable story, “Malachi's Cove.” The setting is the turbulent coast of northern Cornwall, and the heroine is the least “feminine” of Trollope's creations: “a wild-looking, almost unearthly creature, with wild-flowing, black, uncombed hair, small in stature, with small hands and bright black eyes.” Mally Trenglos supports herself and her father by collecting the seaweed which the waves dash against the rocks of a nearby cove and selling it to farmers for use as fertilizer. Trollope subtly links Mally to her wild setting and compares her unkempt but generous nature to the waves which simultaneously threaten and endow the Cornish landscape. When a neighboring farmer's son decides to come to the cove and secure the seaweed for himself, Mally resents the intrusion; but her hatred for Barty Gunliffe turns to love when she becomes the means of rescuing him from the treacherous rocks. Dragging him out of the waves into which he has fallen, Mally suddenly looks at him and discovers “that he was beautiful.”23 The intensity with which so many of Trollope's lovers respond to each other is unusual in Victorian fiction: the critic in the Saturday Review accused Trollope of borrowing his heroine from George Sand's La Petite Fadette,24 but modern readers are more likely to detect a Lawrentian quality in this tale of Mally's sexual awakening.

While avoiding the obvious contrivances of melodrama in these stories, Trollope also attempted variations on favorite themes. In “Lotta Schmidt,” for example, he describes a young woman choosing between a handsome young man and a devoted but balding older man. Unlike the majority of his heroines—Hetta Carbury in The Way We Live Now or Mary Lawrie in An Old Man's Love—Lotta chooses the older man, who reveals to her, when he plays on his zither, “the mysterious delights of romance, which no words can ever thoroughly supply.”25 Herr Crispel, the unexpectedly successful suitor, may have satisfied a wish fulfillment of sorts for his unabashedly susceptible creator, who had recently met and become fond of Kate Field. His American friend was probably the inspiration for “Miss Ophelia Gledd,” the first of a series of portraits of dazzling young American girls who marry English lords (Caroline Spalding in He Knew He Was Right and Isabel Boncassen in The Duke's Children are other examples). “She was intelligent,” Trollope's narrator declares, “—so intelligent that few women whom she would meet in her proposed new country could beat her there; she was pleasant, good-humoured, true, as I believed; but would she be accepted in London? There was a freedom and easiness about her, a readiness to say anything that came into her mind, an absence of all reticence, which would go very hard with her in London.”26 Ophelia Gledd and Caroline Spalding were created a decade in advance of Henry James's discovery of the literary potential of the American girl's conquest of England; but Trollope's complex heroines, self-reliant at home but unsure of their standing in the Old World, are more than pastel preparations for James's more finished portraits. Trollope's American girls are sisters to his headstrong English heroines (the Saturday Review critic labeled Ophelia “merely Lucy Robarts with a yankee twang and a dictatorial air”);27 but by bringing up the issue of whether such women are “ladies” in the English sense, Trollope utilized a controversy of the early 1860's—the question of who is a “gentleman,” which Dickens had tried to answer in Great Expectations and Meredith in Evan Harrington.28 By switching the argument from one sex to the other, Trollope unknowingly helped lay the ground for an Isabel Archer to step foot on. A story even more Jamesian in its subject matter is “The Journey to Panama,” in which a penniless young English-woman is befriended by a sympathetic though slightly aloof compatriot. Emily Viner's situation is identical to that of the heroine of James's “The Patagonia”: a woman crossing the Atlantic Ocean to marry a man she doesn't love because he will provide for her. However, Trollope avoids the melodramatic conclusion which James instinctively heads for.29 Rather than drown herself, as James's heroine does, Emily accepts the inevitability of her fate; and when, on her arrival in Panama, she learns that her fiancé has died, she rejects the well-intended offer of her fellow traveler and returns to England.

The three remaining stories in the volume take up the theme of the need for charity and understanding in varying ways. The English heroine of “The Widow's Mite,” for example, decides not to have a fancy wedding so that the money put aside for it can go to families suffering from unemployment as a result of the curtailment of cotton supplies from America during the Civil War. In “Father Giles of Ballymoy,” Trollope's insular Englishman-narrator mistakes the generous Irish priest who has shared his hotel room with him for a thief, and in his confusion throws Father Giles down a flight of stairs. (Trollope based the story on an adventure that actually befell him during his early years in Ireland.) In the end, the repentant Englishman is forgiven; and the story is related in a comic tone. By contrast, the charity in “The Adventures of Fred Pickering” is doled out in meager doses. This account of a young man whom his father intends for the law but who precipitously marries and moves to London in anticipation of a glorious literary career is a poignant Victorian version of the miseries of Grub Street. The would-be author, possessing neither means nor talent nor self-discipline, sinks into poverty and ultimately begs his hardhearted father to keep family and himself from starvation or the poorhouse. “It might be that this was worse than starvation,” Fred admits of the latter prospect, “but it lacked all that melodramatic grandeur to which he had looked forward almost with satisfaction.” Not even the consolation of the prodigal son awaits Pickering: “For him no fatted calf was killed at last”30—only a lowly job as attorney's clerk and a promise never to see his father again.

The perils of authorship give way to the anxieties of editorship in the best integrated of Trollope's collections, An Editor's Tales (1870). Writing for his own Saint Paul's Magazine, Trollope allowed himself more space than he had considered necessary before to develop these fictionalized descriptions of a good-natured editor's dealings with a variety of difficult colleagues and contributors.31 We accordingly see such figures as the would-be Charlotte Brontë, Mary Gresley, and the self-destructive Julius Mackenzie in greater detail; and the Editor himself, Trollope's kindly if often misguided narrator, becomes an engaging character in his own right as well as an amusing reflection of his creator. Trollope insisted upon having invented the basic materials for the book, but admitted that “there is not an incident in it the outline of which was not presented to my mind by the remembrance of some fact.”32 In “The Panjandrum” he even presents a vivid account of his creative process. The youthful editor of a proposed new journal, who has aspirations toward fiction writing, sees a girl with muddy stockings rushing through Regent's Park on a rainy morning; and the sight immediately fires his imagination. He wonders whom the young woman is hurrying to meet; he imagines himself to be that person; and ultimately he creates a romance between the two of them. As the fantasy develops it takes on the air of reality to its author: “The way in which my work went without a pause was delightful,” he recounts. “When the pen was not in my hand I was longing for it. While I was walking, eating, or reading, I was still thinking of my story. I dreamt of it. It came to me to be a matter that admitted of no doubt.”33 The elated author's achievement, however, is rejected unread by his colleagues, who scorn fiction; and with the inability of his gifted but often abrasive associates to develop a communal spirit, the plan for their ambitious publication—something “sparkling, clever, instructive, amusing, philosophical, remarkable, and new, all at the same time!”—inevitably collapses. The prospective editor has dreamed of a journal that would unite contending disciplines: “Philosophy and humour might … be combined. Social science might be taught with witty words, and abstract politics made as agreeable as a novel.”34 But opposing aims cannot be resolved, nor can disputatious colleagues be united; and where Trollope the fiction writer stresses the need for reconciliation, the bemused chronicler of life in an editorial office shows how tenaciously irreconcilable individuals in fact often are.

The frustrations of a benign editor occasion the “story” of each episode in the volume, but it is the dawning revelation of the true character of his contributors, or would-be contributors, as well as of himself, which provides the real substance of each tale. There is, for example, Michael Molloy, the ingratiating Irish charlatan in “The Turkish Bath,” who has a gift for speech but is unable to write a grammatical or coherent sentence. “‘He is mad,’” his wife finally admits to the chagrined editor by way of explanation for Molloy's writing. “‘I don't say nothing against it. But there is some of it so beautiful, I wonder they don't print it.’ This was the only word she spoke with which we could not agree. ‘Ah, sir,’ said she; ‘you haven't seen his poetry!’ We were obliged to tell her that seeing poetry was the bane of our existence.”35 The editor is less congenially victimized by “Mrs. Brumby,” an impudent woman who bullies his publisher into giving her money for an unwanted manuscript. She was “utterly unscrupulous, dishonest, a liar, cruel, hard as a nether millstone to all the world except Lieutenant Brumby … and as far as we could judge, absolutely without conscience,” recalls the editor, who then, with characteristic Trollopian irony, notes that had she been a man of such resourcefulness and unscrupulousness “she might have been a prime minister, or an archbishop, or a chief justice.”36 Trollope's susceptibility to the real or imagined charms of young women is made sport of in “Josephine de Montmorenci” where the editor is gulled into accepting a lurid romance on the basis of his unseen contributor's distinguished-sounding name and the romantic style of her correspondence. To his surprise, Josephine de Montmorenci turns out to be a crippled little woman whose real name is Maryanne Puffle. In “Mary Gresley” the editor befriends a young Yorkshire author who dreams of becoming a second Currer Bell and who writes out of a similar fund of autobiography and wish fulfillment. At the request of her dying fiancé, she abandons her literary gifts and produces instead moralistic dialogues between “Tom the Saint and Bob the Sinner.” Trollope's animus against didactic fiction is wryly put to use in this sensitive study of a young writer who really does resemble the self-abasing creator of Jane Eyre. She ultimately marries a missionary on his way to Africa—the fate Jane Eyre is miraculously saved from.

By far the best of the tales is “The Spotted Dog,” Trollope's account of an editor's unavailing efforts to reclaim a brilliantly endowed but self-loathing writer from his march toward self-destruction. Julius Mackenzie is a figure one would expect to find in Gissing's novels; but Gissing is incapable of Trollope's mood of tolerance. The pathetic account of Aaron Trow contains a hint of such a character, and in Louis Trevelyan, in He Knew He Was Right, Trollope created a definitive study in perverse humanity, self-knowingly courting his own downfall. “There was an intensity and a thorough hopelessness of suffering in his case,” the editor admits, “an openness of acknowledged degradation, which robbed us for the time, of all that power which the respectable ones of the earth have over the disreputable.” “The Spotted Dog” may be read as a Victorian fable of the Romantic will-to-freedom turning inevitably into a suicidal urge. Mackenzie breaks off his ties with parents, tutors, religious advisers, convention itself, in the elusive hope of breaking out of “the ordinary trammels of the world,”37 but such freedom has only negative value. It is one's human nature, not social forces or customs, which makes one a victim: the editor is constantly victimized by his generosity and vulnerable good nature, while his counterpart, Mackenzie, is the target and embodiment of the human death wish.

The tragic history of Julius Mackenzie may come as a surprise to the reader of Trollope who has based his assessment of the author on a casual reading of the early Barsetshire novels, unaware that even the terrain of Barsetshire, on close examination, is mined with ironies. In fact, there are several Anthony Trollopes, as examination of his short fiction clearly proves: few writers contradict themselves as often and as intentionally as he did in pursuit of the materials for fiction and in recognition of the relative nature of human experience. There is hardly a statement or an authorial point of view presented in one novel which is not reversed in another of his works; and just as Trollope could confound his critics by writing the amiable Doctor Thorne and the pessimistic The Bertrams side by side, in his late years he could write some of his sunniest—and unfortunately shallowest—stories at the same time that he produced his darkest satires. While considering the discords of human nature in novels like Mr. Scarborough's Family and The Fixed Period, he chose in the late stories to stress the old theme of the need for harmony among individuals and generations. Unfortunately, he may have reverted to a number of characters and situations he had treated better earlier because of tired creative spirits (he turned down a request for a short story in 1880 with the admission that “the work of the construction of a story is very heavy and compels me to refuse your offer”)38 or because of the sporadic hopes of recapturing the popularity of the Barsetshire series. A republication of these novels in 1878 as a set and the requests of correspondents that he return to the beloved country may have been responsible for his decision to add a postscript to the series in “The Two Heroines of Plumplington” (1882).39 This latter-day Barsetshire chronicle sadly reveals an attenuated sense of characterization and plotting: here, the old story of parents futilely opposing their children's choice of spouses takes place on two class levels: the richer daughter responds to her father's refusal by wasting away; the lower-class daughter fights back until her pert behavior and words gain her the victory.

In what was perhaps Trollope's last story, “Not if I Know It” (1882), the Christmas spirit is invoked for the sake of uniting brothers-in-law; in the cumbersomely farcical “Christmas Day at Thompson Hall” (1876), the spirit does the same for future in-laws. The title figure of “Catherine Carmichael” (1878), married to a despicable New Zealand sheep farmer and in love with his cousin, resists the temptation to rebel because of a fortuitously remembered Victorian sentiment at Christmastime: “Then the word wife crept into her ears,” Trollope declares at the climax of her struggle, “and she remembered words that she had read as to woman's virtue.”40 Having thus proved her virtue, Trollope then kills off the husband and unites her to the cousin in perhaps the most perfunctory—and embarrassed?—ending in all his fictional works. Another story written expressly for the Christmas annuals, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874), has at least the novelty of Australian local color to sustain a reader's interest. Here, the theme is the need for rival settlers to unite in friendship in the face of the menace posed by villainous natives and hostile nature. Harry Heathcote, an English-born squatter in the bush country, learns that he cannot trust to his self-reliance, nor expect the civilized behavior of his homeland. “You can't alter things,” an old native warns him;41 and the ritual Christmas dinner which concludes the story does not hide the fact that rituals of harmony can do little more than gloss over less reassuring everyday difficulties.

The last of Trollope's collections to appear in his lifetime, Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories (1882), echoes the theme of many of the late novels, most notably The Duke's Children: one must accept the inevitability of change, give way to the demands of youth and to changed situations, and forgive acts of unwitting cruelty. Only in the title story and sections of two other tales, “The Lady of Launay” and “Alice Dugdale,” does Trollope seem particularly interested in what he is doing. In “The Telegraph Girl” he turned his attention to a class he had ignored earlier, working-class women; but even his poor telegraph girls, working in the post office building where Trollope himself had served, are determined to maintain a veneer of respectability by living on “a street which might be described as genteel because it contained no shops,”42 and they willingly give up their independence when a hairdresser and a widower come their way. The point of “Alice Dugdale” seems to be whether or not the heroine will become another Lily Dale—whether or not Lady Wanless will snatch away Alice's prospective suitor so that he may marry her daughter. That the story comes off, in part, is due to Trollope's revived skill in creating strong-willed, brown-complexioned heroines and to his subtlety in dealing with the pitiable machinations of Lady Wanless.

In “The Lady of Launay” he reverted to his stock account of an old aristocratic-minded woman resisting, for a time, the desire of her son and her poor ward to be married. Added to Mrs. Miles's notions of the duties of her class is her obsessive desire to deny in herself and others whatever might cause them pleasure. “She would not leave the parish church to hear a good sermon elsewhere,” Trollope archly observes, “because even a sermon might be a snare.” “To sacrifice herself is the special heroism which a woman can achieve,” Mrs. Miles writes her ward, who agrees with the sentiment Trollope attaches to so many of his heroines. “Men who are called upon to work may gratify their passions and still be heroes. A woman can soar only by suffering.”43 But if the novelist is as fond as ever of his autocratic older characters, he knows all along that they must give way in the end for the sake of his lovers. Still, it is often the older figures in the novels who engage his strongest attention. The romantic interest disappears almost altogether in the best of Trollope's late stories, “Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices.” Who other than Trollope would have chosen for his protagonist a staunchly conservative Austrian innkeeper, trying to resist the present by single-handedly fighting the tide of rising prices? Of course she loses the struggle; but a long witty story on the theme of inflation becomes a tour de force in Trollope's hands. “Swim with the stream,” a friend advises her. “If you turn your head the other way, the chances are you will go backwards. At any rate you will make no progress.”44 The advice is of artistic significance, too, Trollope's reminder to himself that the altered circumstances of the late Victorian period required the change of focus and slight relaxation of moral tone so notable in late novels like Dr. Wortle's School and Mr. Scarborough's Family.

Without making outrageous claims for Trollope's short stories, I hope I have made it clear that they constitute a body of work which provides considerable appeal for anyone interested in nineteenth-century fiction and which enriches our appreciation of this most prolific of Victorian geniuses. In the lamentable absence of a collected edition of Trollope's writings, at least a quarter of the stories deserve to be reprinted—even at a time when the current inflation, more serious than anything imagined by Frau Frohmann, threatens to drive many Victorian classics into publishing limbo. As it is, few libraries own copies of his best collections, the Editor's Tales and Lotta Schmidt, with the result that his two finest stories, “The Spotted Dog” and “Malachi's Cove,” are virtually unknown even to Trollope's many modern admirers. Trollope's greatest works may well be the very long novels which permitted amplest scope to his skills as a psychosociological realist, but the stories are not to be ignored on that account: they represent a significant and endearing aspect of an author for whom human nature was an irresistible and unfailing source of creative inspiration.



1. “La Mère Bauche” (sold in 1859 to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, but never printed by them).

2. “Relics of General Chassé.” Harper's, February 1860.

3. “The O'Conors of Castle Conor, County Mayo.” Harper's, May 1860.

4. “The Courtship of Susan Bell.” Harper's, August 1860.

5. “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids.” Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper, 6 and 13 October 1860.

6. “The Château of Prince Polignac.” Cassell's, 20 and 27 October 1860.

7. “Miss Sarah Jack, of Spanish Town, Jamaica.” Cassell's, 3 and 10 November 1860.

8. “John Bull on the Guadalquivir.” Cassell's, 17 and 24 November 1860.

9. “A Ride Across Palestine.” London Review, 5, 12, and 19 January 1861, under the title “The Banks of the Jordan.”

10. “Mrs. General Talboys.” London Review, 2 February 1861.

11. “The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne.” London Review, 2 March 1861.

12. “The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box.” Public Opinion, 2 and 9 November 1861 (supplements to issues).

13. “The House of Heine Brothers, in Munich.” Public Opinion, 16 and 23 November 1861 (supplements).

14. “Returning Home.” Public Opinion, 30 November 1861 (supplement); reprinted 7 December 1861.

15. “Aaron Trow.” Public Opinion, 14 and 21 December 1861.

16. “The Mistletoe Bough.” Illustrated London News, Christmas edition, 21 December 1861.

17. “George Walker at Suez.” Public Opinion, 28 December 1861.

18. “The Journey to Panama.” The Victoria Regia, 1861 (a feminist undertaking, published and edited by women, with contributions by Tennyson, Arnold, Thackeray, Harriet Martineau, Coventry Patmore, and others).

19. “The Widow's Mite.” Good Words, January 1863.

20. “The Two Generals.” Good Words, December 1863.

21. “Miss Ophelia Gledd.” A Welcome, 1863 (an anthology with contributions by Harriet Martineau, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Charles Kingsley, and others).

22. “Malachi's Cove.” Good Words, December 1864.

23. “Father Giles of Ballymoy.” Argosy, May 1866.

24. “The Gentle Euphemia; or ‘Love Shall Still Be Lord of All.’” Fortnightly Review, 1 May 1866.

25. “Lotta Schmidt.” Argosy, July 1866.

26. “The Adventures of Fred Pickering.” Argosy, September 1866 (under the title “The Misfortunes of Frederick Pickering”).

27. “Katchen's Caprices.” Harper's Weekly, 22 December 1866 to 12 January 1867 (printed anonymously).

28. “The Last Austrian Who Left Venice.” Good Words, January 1867.

29. “The Turkish Bath.” Saint Paul's Magazine, October 1869.

30. “Mary Gresley.” Saint Paul's, November 1869.

31. “Josephine de Montmorenci.” Saint Paul's, December 1869.

32. “The Panjandrum.” Saint Paul's, January 1870 and February 1870.

33. “The Spotted Dog.” Saint Paul's, March 1870 and April 1870.

34. “Mrs. Brumby.” Saint Paul's, May 1870.

35. “Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage.” Routledge's Christmas Annual, 1870.

36. “Harry Heathcote of Gangoil.” Graphic, Christmas issue, 1873.

37. “Never, Never—Never, Never.” Sheets for the Cradle (a short-lived Boston magazine), 6 December 1875 to 11 December 1875.

38. “Christmas at Thompson Hall,” Graphic, Christmas issue, 1876.

39. “The Telegraph Girl.” Good Cheer, 1877 (the Christmas issue of Good Words).

40. “Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices.” Good Words, December 1877.

41. “The Lady of Launay.” Light, weekly from 6 April 1878 to 11 May 1878.

42. “Alice Dugdale.” Good Cheer, 1878.

43. “Catherine Carmichael; or, Three Years Running.” Masonic Magazine, Christmas issue, 1878.

44. “The Two Heroines of Plumplington.” Good Cheer, 1882.

45. “Not if I Know It.” Life Christmas Annual, 1882.

Items 1 through 8 were reprinted in Tales of All Countries, first series, 1861. Items 9 through 17 were reprinted in Tales of All Countries, second series, 1863. Items 18 through 23, 25, 26, and 28 were reprinted in Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, 1867. Items 29 through 34 were reprinted in An Editor's Tales, 1870. Items 38 through 42 were reprinted in Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories, 1882.


  1. “Afterwards,” he adds, “when you have learned the knack of story telling, go on to greater objects” (The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. Bradford Allen Booth [London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1951], p. 218).

  2. These papers are kept in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

  3. Review of Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, by Anthony Trollope, The Spectator, 21 Sept. 1867, p. 1062.

  4. An Autobiography, introd. Bradford Allen Booth (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1947), p. 280.

  5. Trollope's stories are listed in the appendix. I am indebted to the British Museum and Princeton University Library for having enabled me to find the extremely rare Trollope stories, like “Catherine Carmichael,” which were never reprinted or collected, and to Michael Sadleir's Trollope: A Bibliography (London: Constable, 1928; rpt. London: Dawson, 1964) for having directed me toward most of them.

  6. Letters, p. 265.

  7. Review of Tales of All Countries, 2nd series, by Anthony Trollope, The Spectator, 7 May 1863 (supplement), pp. 20-21.

  8. Review of Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories, by Anthony Trollope, The Spectator, 1 April 1882 (supplement), p. 443.

  9. Privately reprinted by Lance O. Tingay (London: Valley Press, 1971).

  10. Letters, p. 49. The few commentators on Trollope who have paid even scant attention to his stories have generally found interest in the Tales of All Countries only for the author's self-portraits or as evidence of his “compulsion to communicate to his readers about people and places with which they were not familiar” (David Skilton, Anthony Trollope and His Contemporaries [London: Longman Group, 1972], p. xiv). “As short stories,” Lucy Poate and Richard Poate Stebbins maintain, “they were not even second-rate, since they were neither cleverly plotted nor sufficiently rapid in character development, but as indication of the author's psychology they were delightfully rewarding” (The Trollopes: The Chronicle of a Writing Family [New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1945], p. 187). Only this weak first set of Tales was reprinted, appearing for a time among the Oxford World's Classics Trollope volumes.

  11. For a series of travel letters to be made during his trip to the Orient and Australia in 1874, Trollope warned his publisher that his major emphasis would be on the “social condition of the people among whom I found myself … their doings, their aspirations, their successes, and their failures” (rather than on his own travel experiences or on elaborate descriptions of scenery). See Letters, pp. 328-29.

  12. Saturday Review, 7 Dec. 1861, p. 587.

  13. “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids,” Tales of All Countries, 1st series, The World's Classics (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1931), p. 216.

  14. “The Château of Prince Polignac,” Tales, 1st series, p. 252.

  15. The first two stories and “Father Giles of Ballymoy” (in the Lotta Schmidt collection), all based on true experience, reflect Trollope's curious penchant for showing himself in a humiliating position.

  16. See Booth's footnote in Letters, n. 3, p. 77.

  17. Letters, pp. 77-78.

  18. The Spectator, 7 March 1863, p. 21.

  19. When moved by the beauty of a particular spot—the Italian lakes or Rome, for example—Trollope sometimes seeks refuge in a revealing literary allusion: the picturesque tomb of Cecilia Metella suggests “the ideas engendered within our minds by Mrs. Radcliffe and the Mysteries of Udolpho” (“Mrs. General Talboys,” Tales of All Countries, 2nd series [London: Chapman and Hall, 1863], p. 67). Northern Italian valleys are places where “Italian Rasselases might have lived in perfect bliss” (“The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box,” Tales, 2nd series, p. 330).

  20. “The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne,” Tales, 2nd series, p. 126.

  21. “Aaron Trow,” Tales, 2nd series, pp. 18, 22, 40.

  22. “The Two Generals,” Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories (London: Strahan, 1867), p. 102.

  23. “Malachi's Cove,” Lotta Schmidt, pp. 180, 200.

  24. Saturday Review, 21 Sept. 1867, p. 381.

  25. “Lotta Schmidt,” Lotta Schmidt, pp. 22-23.

  26. “Miss Ophelia Gledd,” Lotta Schmidt, p. 339.

  27. Saturday Review, 21 Sept. 1867, p. 382.

  28. “Who can say what is a lady?” Trollope suggestively commences his story. “What is it, and whence does it come?” “Miss Ophelia Gledd,” Lotta Schmidt, p. 319.

  29. There are many echoes of Trollope in James, but James uses characters, situations, and even names for his own, very different, ends. Jamesian names first appear in Trollope in unexpected places: the heroine of “Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage,” for example, becomes Mrs. Isabel Archer on her wedding day. (James's Isabel's situation, moreover, parallels that of Clara Amedroz in The Belton Estate, which James reviewed as a young man.)

  30. “The Adventures of Fred Pickering,” Lotta Schmidt, pp. 85, 87.

  31. He also paid himself less than he might have received from another publisher.

  32. An Autobiography, p. 279.

  33. “The Panjandrum,” An Editor's Tales (London: Strahan, 1870), pp. 212-13. In “Mary Gresley,” the editor's advice to the aspiring author Mary Gresley (echoing advice given by Trollope to Kate Field?) reveals clues to Trollope's own work habits: after fabricating a plot (the least important part of a fiction as far as Trollope was concerned, yet a task which grew increasingly hard as he grew older) the author makes “skeletons of the men and women who [are] afterwards to be clothed with flesh and made alive with blood”; then he sets up the “proportions” of his work, assigning relevant materials to each chapter in advance. See “Mary Gresley,” An Editor's Tales, p. 80.

  34. “The Panjandrum,” An Editor's Tales, p. 178. Although the story was apparently based on an episode in Trollope's youth, it is tempting to speculate that he had his colleagues of the Fortnightly Review in mind too when he drew the squabbling intellectuals who make up the Panjandrum staff.

  35. “The Turkish Bath,” An Editor's Tales, p. 46.

  36. “Mrs. Brumby,” An Editor's Tales, p. 332.

  37. “The Spotted Dog,” An Editor's Tales, pp. 288-89.

  38. Letters, p. 445.

  39. See Letters, p. 461. This uninspired addition to the Barsetshire novels was reprinted by Oxford in 1954.

  40. “Catherine Carmichael; or, Three Years Running,” Masonic Magazine, December 1878, Christmas issue, p. 9.

  41. Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1963), p. 67. I have included this work among Trollope's stories, despite its length, because the rudimentary characterization, lack of subplot, and reliance upon a few incidents are more typical of his shorter fictions than his novels.

  42. “The Telegraph Girl,” Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories (London: Isbister, 1882), p. 270.

  43. “The Lady of Launay,” Why Frau Frohmann, pp. 106, 160.

  44. “Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices,” pp. 77-78.


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The following entry presents criticism on the representation of realism in world short fiction literature.

Viewed as a reaction to romanticism, literary realism is written from an objective perspective that simply and clearly represents the subject matter of the story, even at the expense of a well-made plot. Nineteenth-century realist writers addressed social, economic, and political concerns through their depictions of various aspects of life during that time, and they strove to accurately represent contemporary culture and people from every echelon of society. Realist fiction often had a documentary quality in that these authors accurately reported the details of a specific historical era. In their portrayals of love, marriage, and family, realists explored social and psychological factors contributing to conflicts in nineteenth-century domestic life. In fact, many are noted for their attention to the complexities of human psychology and the numerous factors contributing to individual motivation. Several realist authors have been praised for their ability to capture regional dialects as well as differences in the speech patterns of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Realist writers also addressed themes of religion, philosophy, and morality in their works.

Literary realism is most often associated with the mid-nineteenth-century movement that developed in France. Most scholars consider Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Guy de Maupassant to be the major French realist writers of this time period. While Balzac is recognized as the originator of realism, Flaubert is celebrated as one of the world's great masters of the genre. Maupassant, who composed some three hundred short stories characterized by complex, tightly structured plots and an economical narrative style, is considered as one of the best short story writers of all time.

The realist movement later spread to other countries, most notably, Russia, England, and the United States. In Russia, the major realist writers are regarded to be Ivan Turgenev, Fedor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov. Turgenev's short stories depict tales of rural peasant life in Russia, many exposing the institution of serfdom. His works also address psychological themes of love and passion that result in tragedy. Dostoevsky's novellas are celebrated as masterworks of psychological realism in their portrayal of individuals haunted by their own dark impulses. The main thematic concern of Tolstoy's stories are the struggles of the Russian peasantry, the place of women in Russian family and society, military life and combat, and psychological, philosophical, and religious reflections on life and death. Chekhov's stories portray characters from many sectors of Russian society, including the peasantry, the intelligentsia, and the world of industrial commerce. Often described as character-sketches, his short stories are characterized by simple plotlines, a precise, almost clinical, narrative voice, and lyrical language.

Realist short fiction written in English developed out of the influence of French and Russian literary realism. In England, the foremost author was Charles Dickens, while scholars later came to admire the writings of Anthony Trollope. In the United States, where realism appeared late in the 1800s, the best-known realist writers included William Dean Howells, Henry James, and Mark Twain. William Dean Howells is considered the most influential American literary realist of this time period. As editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, Howells established himself as a prominent literary critic, championing the realist writing of American authors as well as introducing European realist fiction to American readers. In his short stories and novellas, James utilized a number of original themes, the most notable of which is the American abroad, or the “international” story. While some critics have taken exception to including Twain's short story works within the opus of American literary realism, others contend that his use of vernacular speech and focus on standard nineteenth-century social and ethical issues–but with Twain's trademark caustic humor and acerbic wit–places him well within the boundaries of realist literature.

Edward D. Sullivan (essay date 1962)

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SOURCE: Sullivan, Edward D. Maupassant: The Short Stories, pp. 7-35. London: Edward Arnold, 1962.

[In the following excerpt, Sullivan categorizes Guy de Maupassant's short fiction.]


The world created by a short-story writer has its own coherence, its own identifying characteristics, its own structure, but when we try to examine it closely we are faced with a set of problems that are quite different from those involved in the analysis of an individual play, a short novel, or even a volume of poetry. Guy de Maupassant wrote over 300 short stories in a period of about ten years, roughly between 1880 and 1890; and, while it would be convenient if we could take one story and show that it embodies the characteristics of all the others, to do so would produce something either highly artificial or hopelessly misleading. Maupassant wrote many different kinds of stories—different in subject, in length, in technique, and in their impact on the reader; his interest changed with the passage of time, as he encountered new experiences, and he rewrote and re-used just about everything that he ever produced. To deal with this large and varied body of work we shall need to examine carefully a number of representative stories and make reference to a good many others if we are to discover the full meaning and value for ourselves of Maupassant's singularly sharp-eyed exploration of the world as he knew it.

Before plunging into the stories, however, we should take the very elementary precaution of being sure that we are all talking about the same subject. The opinion that one has of Maupassant as a writer of short stories depends, naturally enough, on one's reaction to particular tales. But since he was such a prolific writer and since very few readers are familiar with all of his works, differences of opinion arise frequently because the two readers or critics have in mind two quite different groups of stories. Some have read—or remember—only the stories with surprise endings; others believe Maupassant uniquely concerned with Normandy, and still others assume he must have spent all his time on trains. His work has been approached from widely divergent directions and with very varied purposes in mind: a rather large group remembers him only as the author of stories read in school—stories that were either outrageously censored or very carefully selected—and found themselves so thoroughly involved with the vocabulary of “La Ficelle” that they never quite noticed what a remarkably well-told story it is; another, and possibly larger, group sought out, usually in translation, Maupassant's more piquant tales. Here are two quite mutually exclusive sets and between them no meaningful discussion is possible.

It is, in fact, this sensual aspect of Maupassant, his overriding emphasis on the sexual impulse, which has disconcerted and dismayed a number of readers. It bothered both Henry James and Tolstoy, who admired the artist in Maupassant but were shocked by his total unconcern for moral questions. Henry James called him ‘a lion in the path’ in the sense of a ‘case’ that was ‘embarrassing and mystifying for the moralist’, a figure that one cannot dispose of or get around easily, ‘at once so licentious and so impeccable’. The phrase ‘a lion in the path’ applied to Maupassant was given an added meaning by his American biographer, Francis Steegmuller, who called his book, which is easily the best biographical study of this writer, Maupassant, A Lion in the Path.1 What he emphasizes is the fact that Maupassant, together with Chekov, gave to the short story a stature and a prestige that it had not attained before, gave it great currency as a genre, and from the point of view of art and form developed the short story to such a degree that it made it difficult for writers to go further. Unlike in their methods, Maupassant and Chekov established the standards by which their contemporaries and successors must be judged. If Maupassant provided the model for the spare and well-conducted narrative, Chekov was the master of the creation of mood and atmosphere, and no writer since has escaped being measured in respect to both of these artists. Maupassant is not the only lion in the literary path, but he does make a particularly illuminating ‘case’, not only in the moral and psychological senses, but above all in the literary sense: his passion for conciseness lays bare the skeleton of his stories and allows us to see their structure so directly that we sometimes assume that it must be rather trivial.

Maupassant has been undervalued for some time now, as writers and readers have preferred the Chekov-type story with its greater margin of mystery, its delicate, but enigmatic insights. It is not surprising that an age like ours, which cherishes its own bewilderment and prefers puzzles to solutions, would be rather scornful of a man who felt he could express some clear perception of a truth—however limited. He cultivated a very small garden indeed, but he assumed somewhat arrogantly, and somewhat inconsistently perhaps, that he could speak with authority in his own domain; and although he believed in neither God nor Man—and still less in women—without faith and without illusions, he sought endlessly to expose a truth that his own philosophy told him was not there.

If, in his stories, Maupassant strikes some of us as old-fashioned, it is not only because we have lived for some time nearer to the Chekov end of the spectrum, but because of his old-fashioned arrogance in believing that he could express his own intuition directly. The closer we examine his stories the more we realize that he did not seek to express in his fictions his puzzlement and his problems, but concentrated on communicating to us his insights. Whatever his problems—and they were many, if you look into his biography—he preferred to keep them to himself or to express them only indirectly as if they did not concern him. His effort was to communicate matters that he knew something about, provide a brief look behind the mask of pretence that people commonly wear. When one reads a large number of his stories one can guess that certain subjects must have obsessed him since they recur so frequently; the question of paternity is one such theme treated with innumerable variations in dozens of stories, yet we learn nothing from the stories and very little from his biography about his own specific relationship to this subject. Similarly, many of his stories are concerned with hallucinations and madness, but they are written in a singularly lucid prose, and if we would learn of his own intimate madness we must rely on his biographers and doctors for our information.

In laying claim to an ability to penetrate the mask of convention and to report on his findings, Maupassant is at the opposite pole from Kafka whose literary effort—and a significant one it remains—was to give expression only to problems and suggest no solutions, or to allow such a multiplicity of solutions that they lead to chaos. Maupassant did not, of course, propose solutions to human and social problems in the manner of a didactic writer, as his friend Paul Bourget sometimes did; rather, his sole aim was to tell stories that reveal some insight into the human condition—or that corner of it which he claimed to know.

Maupassant's greatest virtue lies in the fact that his narratives sustain the readers' interest and that he develops them with economy and concision, selecting ‘unerringly, unscrupulously, almost impudently’, as Henry James put it, the precisely pertinent details and excluding all verbal flourishes or elaborate enumeration. But these are exactly the kind of qualities that make him seem all too clear, quite uncomplicated, and possessing none of those particular asperities which offer a hand-hold to critics and which abound in writers like Flaubert or James. Maupassant was limited, as we all are, but more than most writers he deliberately refused to acknowledge the existence of a moral dimension and denied anyone's capacity to penetrate deeply into the psychological domain. In Henry James's judgment, ‘He tells us all he knows, all he suspects, and if these things take no account of the moral nature of man, it is because he has no window looking in that direction, and not because artistic scruples have compelled him to close it up. The very compact mansion in which he dwells presents on that side a perfectly dead wall.’2 Yet one is sometimes convinced that his limitations result not from a lack of a window but from an overwhelming fear of looking through it into what he guessed must be an unspeakable abyss.

In any case, he gives the appearance of being clear and uncomplicated, yet for all the apparent simplicity—perhaps because of it—he is an exceedingly difficult writer to deal with. We shall need to look clearly and unobstructedly at his work and re-examine the clichés that cling to him as well as the complexities which may be observed, surprisingly, in so simple a writer.

Maupassant's short stories are indeed short: the vast majority of them run in length between 2,500 and 3,000 words, a size largely determined by the requirements of the Gaulois and the Gil-Blas where most of them first appeared. Only ten of his stories run over 8,000 words and these we shall consider as a group, as nouvelles, examining the literary consequences of length. But our first effort must be to discover the exacting requirements of the conte as practised by Maupassant.


The severe domain of the conte, with its strict limitations of length, seems to put intolerable burdens on a writer: a slightly misplaced detail, a single false note can damage the story beyond repair. Here there was no room for the development which enriched his nouvelles, yet Maupassant worked easily and gladly within the restrictions of the form. By temperament he was inclined to strip off details rather than to accumulate them, to concentrate on the significant line rather than on the diverting image, to drive directly, relentlessly towards a single effect. Comparing the possibilities and privileges of the shorter forms of fiction as contrasted with the novel, Baudelaire once observed that the short story enjoys ‘les bénéfices éternels de la contrainte’. Maupassant's stories suggest that he welcomed the challenge and addressed himself specifically to the problem of saying more by writing less.

To try to get at these stories, to see their modes of operation and to judge of their success or failure, we can only adopt a process of sampling. Instead of grouping them by subject or setting or theme, we may get closer to the heart of the matter if we explore along technical lines, seeking to discover just what limitations the short form imposes and how Maupassant met and extended those limitations. Given a few thousand words what can an author do with a particular subject? Can he do much more than tell what happened as cleanly and as economically as possible? How far can he move beyond plot, and in what directions? The short form was not an unbearable constraint for Maupassant; it was probably congenial to his vision of the world, which he tended to see in any case as fragmented, disjointed, partial, and lacking in fundamental connections.


Many of Maupassant's stories begin with a preliminary discussion or scene which serves to introduce the main action he wishes to relate. This technical device, called a framework or cadre, has been frequently used by tellers of tales in all periods as a way of establishing with some authenticity at the beginning of a story the circumstances under which it is being told. The author may introduce a narrator, either himself (or someone speaking in the first person) or another person, and usually he specifies the kind of audience which hears the tale. This is, of course, an ancient device, reminding us of the oral traditions of story-telling and pretending to simulate them. The Decameron provided an elaborate framework for the stories told, and writers of fiction up to recent times have sought by this means to give some kind of authority or authenticity to their creations. It was used very effectively by Mérimée and was a commonly accepted convention through the nineteenth century. Maupassant took it over quite naturally and used it for a variety of purposes, although many of his stories get along without any such introduction of a specific narrator. The framework involves also, in most cases, a concluding statement, some kind of conclusion drawn by the narrator or one of his listeners, which brings us out of the world of the tale and back into the society which has been listening to it.

According to one count3 more than 160 of Maupassant's stories begin by establishing the circumstances of the narration, usually an oral situation, although he had a fondness also for the device of finding a document which reveals its own story. That is to say, more than half his stories have some kind of clearly designated narrator, but it should be borne in mind that there are almost as many which get along without such a scheme. The story-teller is usually a person of particular experience, specially fitted by his position in life or his own encounters for telling the story with some authority: he is frequently a doctor, lawyer, magistrate, government official, a man-about-town or viveur, and most frequently he is an old man. Maupassant himself becomes the narrator in a good many stories, playing one of the many roles for which he was celebrated: Maupassant the Norman, the hunter, the Parisian, the joker, the oarsman, the traveller, the amused observer, or the man subject to hallucinations.

One can easily attribute altogether too much importance to this question of the framework and its function. As a fictional technique it has now a somewhat old-fashioned air and strikes the modern reader as an outworn convention; when used now it is most frequently handled as a piece of deliberate irony or to evoke a particular atmosphere. It was accepted by Maupassant as a congenial and workable convention which he felt no compulsion to use in every instance. Sometimes the framework is exceedingly brief—a single sentence—and sometimes it is so elaborate it smothers the story; it is used for deliberate artistic effect, and it can also serve to pad out a thin and trivial tale. Maupassant's narrators (including himself) are frequently functional; that is, they contribute something by their authority or position or character, but for the most part they are merely a device for getting the story launched. One may suspect that, since practically all of his stories first appeared in daily newspapers, usually on the first page competing for attention with news and gossip, the framework served to catch the eye of the reader and identify the piece as fiction.

Oddly enough, in spite of the extensive use of the narrator-device, Maupassant never built up a narrator who could be repeatedly used, and apparently had no desire to create someone like Conrad's Marlow who has a special authority with the reader by virtue of our familiarity with him and his ways. He is satisfied to give a brief sketch: ‘M. Boniface, grand tueur de bêtes et grand buveur de vin …’ (“Le Garde”); and even when he introduces himself as a first person narrator he limits himself to a brief stipulation of but one aspect of his experience.

The critic who has waxed most philosophic about the meaning of the framework is, not unexpectedly, Jean-Paul Sartre. A few years ago, using Maupassant as a whipping boy for a splendidly sweeping attack on all of nineteenth-century literature, he particularly singled out the device of the narrator as dangerously symptomatic of decay:

Nulle part le procédé n'est plus manifeste que chez Maupassant. La structure de ses nouvelles est presque immuable: on nous y présente l'auditoire, en général société brillante et mondaine qui s'est réunie dans un salon, à l'issue d'un dîner. C'est la nuit qui abolit tout, fatigues et passions. Les opprimés dorment, les révoltés aussi; le monde est enseveli, l'histoire reprend haleine.4

We are presented, according to Sartre, with a stable, conservative bourgeois world in which all trouble had ended, all events have already taken place and nothing will affect the future. The narrator is an old man who looks back.

Ainsi l'aventure est un bref désordre qui s'est annulé. Elle est racontée du point de vue de l'expérience et de la sagesse, elle est écoutée du point de vue de l'ordre. L'ordre triomphe, l'ordre est partout, il contemple un très ancien désordre aboli comme si l'eau dormante d'un jour d'été conservait la mémoire des rides qui l'ont parcourue. D'ailleurs, y eût-il même jamais trouble? L'évocation d'un brusque changement effrayerait cette société bourgeoise.

Thus he insists that Maupassant's stories fail to give us any sense of their taking place in the present, and the story, along with the framework, is cast irrevocably in the past and cannot claim our attention. Even if there is no narrator present, says Sartre, broadening his attack, all the fiction written under the Third Republic gives the appearance of having been told by some elderly gentleman, witness of events long past, without bearing on the present, unable to affect the future or be affected by it.

Sartre has concentrated all his attention on the framework, and from this leapt swiftly to certain assumptions about what the stories ought to be like. But the most profound analysis can go astray if it takes too seriously something that is merely a convention; and, whatever the merits of Sartre's analysis of Maupassant's society, it is clearly a political and social analysis rather than a literary one. The frame can be meaningful or not, as a few examples will presently show, but it might be well to recall that a wholly different view from that of Sartre on the effect of the narrator on the presentness of the story was expressed a good many years ago by Percy Lubbock. Speaking of Maupassant's method of narration as ‘dramatic’ (compared with the ‘pictorial’ method of Thackeray) he wrote in 1921:

In Maupassant's drama we are close to the facts, against them and among them. He relates his story as though he had caught it in the act and were mentioning the details as they passed. There seems to be no particular process at work in his mind, so little that the figure of Maupassant, the showman, is overlooked and forgotten as we follow the direction of his eyes. The scene he evokes is contemporaneous, and there it is, we can see it as well as he can. Certainly he is ‘telling’ us things, but they are things so immediate, so perceptible, that the machinery of his telling, by which they reach us, is unnoticed; the story appears to tell itself. Critically, of course, we know how far that is from being the case, we know with what judicious thought the showman is selecting the points of the scene upon which he touches. But the effect is that he is not there at all, because he is doing nothing that ostensibly requires any judgment, nothing that reminds us of his presence. He is behind us, out of sight, out of mind; the story occupies us, the moving scene, and nothing else.5

This radical difference of opinion between the two critics arises from the fact that Sartre can see nothing but the framework and the figure of the narrator and does not consider the story as story, while Lubbock is willing to accept any convention by which the story is launched provided the effect of the story as it comes to us is dramatic. One may suppose that Sartre was thinking of certain stories, such as “Le Bonheur,” which has precisely the kind of cadre he describes and which operates to put the story doubly in the past, and thus fully justifies Sartre's strictures, for there is in fact no story narrated at all; it is, at best, only dimly referred to. But, for the most part, whenever Maupassant goes to some trouble in specifying the circumstances of narration, the framework reinforces the story, sometimes very powerfully.

In another story, “Un Soir,” the effect of the cadre is extraordinary because there is a substantial narrative to which the preliminary elaboration is keyed and there is an effective interplay of symbols and images between frame and story. The framework is so detailed, so leisurely in pace, that we are not really sure whether we are already involved in the main line of the story or are only moving towards it. Maupassant, who is justly noted for his swift, direct technique of narration, can be extremely deliberate when he chooses, as here, to create a particular effect. The first-person narrator is a traveller who is on his way back to Paris after a three-month trip to remote corners of Africa. His ship calls at Bougie (on the Mediterranean coast east of Algiers), he goes ashore, and meets an old school friend, Trémoulin, long established there as a colon, who invites him to his home. Maupassant's descriptions of the port, his evocation of Africa, his account of the landing are crisp and clear, but there is no evidence of haste in conducting the story, and there is even time for a page of directly reported dialogue between the two men. The narrator is invited to go fishing after dinner, ‘la pêche au flambeau’, and we very rapidly find ourselves on the sea in a small boat, the darkness pierced by a flaming brazier in the bow. Trémoulin is an avid fisherman, using a fouine, a long, sharp, three-pronged fork for spearing the fish attracted to the light. Even if we are not disturbed by this rather unsporting arrangement, we cannot fail to note with some alarm Trémoulin's all too savage joy which reaches a paroxysm when, catching on his spear a large octopus, he sadistically tortures the creature by holding it on the fork and dangling its tentacles over the fire of the brazier. Even the narrator feels the pain in his own finger-tips.

Nothing has prepared us for this event, and we are not certain at all where we are being taken in the story. Only when the two men return and talk away the rest of the night do we see that all this has been a preliminary cadre and the story itself is now to be told. The story is a not unusual tale of jealousy and deceit and goes back for its setting to France, to Marseille, where Trémoulin and his wife ran a bookstore. Suspecting his wife of having an affair with one of the many habitués of the shop, which was a kind of intellectual centre, and tortured by jealousy, he set a trap and surprised her, not with the handsome young man he suspected but with a 66-year-old general. He thereupon left abruptly to settle in North Africa. In his jealousy, when he suspected his wife but had no proof, he would like to have tortured her to learn the truth: ‘Je lui aurais serré la gorge doucement … Ou bien, je lui aurais brûlé les doigts sur le feu … Je les aurais tenus sur les charbons, ils auraient été grillés, par le bout … et elle aurait parlé …’ At this point, Trémoulin's curious behaviour with the octopus, which has lingered in our mind, now takes on its real meaning and links the framework to the story. When the narrator protested his grilling the tentacles of the octopus, the gender of la pieuvre provides the double meaning we now can recall when Trémoulin answered: ‘Bah! c'est assez bon pour elle.’

The elaborate cadre has been integrated into the story and used to enhance the effect of an otherwise banal account of suspicion and discovery; it is not a story of adultery, but centres rather on the violent emotions that lie just beneath the undistinguished surface of ordinary men. Maupassant's role was to reveal those aspects, however base or unpleasant, and he used here all the elements of his story to that end. His conclusion, or, more exactly, that of the first-person narrator, recalls discreetly the symbolic use of the pieuvre and sets forth the nature of his whole effort as a writer of fiction:

J'ai gardé de ce soir-là une impression inoubliable. Tout ce que j'avais vu, senti, entendu, deviné, la pêche, la pieuvre aussi peut-être, et ce récit poignant, au milieu des fantômes blancs, sur les toits voisins, tout semblait concourir à une émotion unique. Certaines rencontres, certaines inexplicables combinaisons de choses, contiennent assurément, sans que rien d'exceptionnel y apparaisse, une plus grande quantité de secrète quintessence de vie que celle dispersée dans l'ordinaire des jours.

Two other examples can suggest the various uses of the cadre and keep us from dealing with it as an abstract entity; we must judge, in each instance, the particular effectiveness of the introductory material on the story. That useful nineteenth-century invention, the railway train, provides a natural situation for the telling of tales much as the plague in Florence did for Boccaccio. Maupassant used the railway compartment as a setting to get many a story started, and even once, just for variety, produced a mild train wreck which caused the narrator to return to the nearest town and there learn the amusing but inconsequential story of “Le Rosier de Madame Husson.” This is a case where he has spun out the introduction and padded his story here and there in order to give some substance (and sufficient length) to a tale of the ‘rosier’, a young man awarded the local prize for virtue who turns rapidly into a drunkard with the powerful help of the prize money. The narration is interrupted by a wholly superfluous account of how the rue Dauphine got its name; this, along with the introduction and the flat and rather silly epilogue, supports and gives an illusion of complexity to a simple anecdote which does in fact need a good deal of support.

“Mademoiselle Perle,” to take a final example, is a very fine story which although not very long seems to move very slowly in establishing the circumstances under which the tale will be told. There is a first-person narrator who takes his time describing the Chantal family, and when it occurs to him that Madame Chantal's ideas are square, he is so interested in his own idea that he goes on to develop the thought that other people may have round or pointed ideas. This seems unnecessary in the economy of the short story, but it is quite clear that its function is to bring the narrator forward as an individual with a personality of his own because he has a role to play in precipitating the action of the story. The dynamics of the story involve the revelation of unacknowledged relationships—an unspoken love between M. Chantal and Mademoiselle Perle long ago—which are made clear by the narrator's singularly indiscreet questions. The narrator must be seen as a self-satisfied chap who is a fool and a blunderer but who fancies himself as a psychologist, because only through his brashness can we penetrate into the heart of the story and once again see the drama concealed by the surface of everyday life.

Maupassant saw the task of the literary artist as something more than putting words together to narrate an action; the artist's great gift—acquired by diligent practice—is immediate perception of the undercurrents of life which pass unnoticed by others. His glance is more penetrating, simple objects are more revealing to him; the single glimpse of his friend in “Le Rosier de Madame Husson” is enough for the narrator's imagination, ‘… et en une seconde toute la vie de province m'apparut’. An unexpected casual encounter, as in “Un Soir,” may lay bare an abyss of violent emotions. His fondness for using the framework in so many stories may be nothing more than the desire of a man about to explore the depths who wants to leave a marker on the surface which plots his point of entry and to which he may return. Maupassant, as we shall see when we look into a number of his stories, is fearful of what his explorations might produce and hesitates before the vast uncharted regions of the subconscious or of the irrational lest he be carried away completely. The cadre at least ensures that he can climb back out of his own story.


How far can one go with pure plot? Probably the most famous story of Maupassant is “La Parure,” which has been a favourite anthology piece and school text in many countries, but in spite of this it can very usefully be studied by the student of the short story as a pure example of hard narrative line.

The setting of “La Parure” is the milieu of petty civil servants where luxuries are rarely to be enjoyed. An invitation to an official reception causes a crisis about getting a proper dress for the wife, then an even greater crisis over the need of some jewellery to adorn the dress. A necklace of diamonds is borrowed from a wealthy convent-school friend of the wife, the necklace is lost, and after frantic efforts ending with the borrowing of an enormous sum, a replacement is bought and returned to the friend. Plunged into debt, the husband and wife spend their whole lives working their way out of it by exhaustive physical labour. Years later they learn that the original necklace was only paste and they might have been spared this life-time of disaster. The ending is, of course, a surprise ending, the sudden revelation of one fact which changes completely everything that has happened and our whole concept of the situation. It is probably because of the celebrity of this story, plus a few others, that Maupassant is identified with the ‘trick ending’, and it is assumed that most of his stories operate in this way; actually very few of them fall into this category, but legends die hard.6

Mme Loisel of “La Parure” is closely related to Mme Bovary, and the official reception which started all the trouble is her ‘bal de la Vaubyessard’; the situation is the same but the consequences are different—all because of that fatal loss of the necklace. The first section of the story presents with enviable succinctness a new Mme Bovary, a Parisian this time, but similarly dreaming of an elegant life while tied to an insignificant husband whose highest dream is of a good pot-au-feu. Maupassant lays the basis for his story, supplying enough details and observations to give the illusion of unhurried development but not enough to slow down the pace. We are told of the pretty girl marrying a clerk and there is even time for a brief discourse on how women—especially pretty women—can easily move out of the social class into which they were born. Like Emma she dreams of just such an eventuality, leaping from the humdrum present into some rosy future; the sight of her Breton bonne suggests to her a vision of innumerable servants and unheard-of luxury, and the pot-au-feu esteemed by her husband feeds her imagination with images of ‘dîners fins’. We know that she has no jewellery, and that, like Emma, she had been educated in a convent and, unlike her, had made there a friend. This is all we need, the brief background and the slightest of character sketches, for this is not, as Madame Bovary is, the novel of a whole life in all its circumstantial fullness, but a short story, the precise account of one incident which modified a whole life.

The story is not told in order to point a moral—it is just chance that rules these lives. The story does not direct us to think that if Mme Loisel had simply admitted the loss all would have been well and therefore honesty is the best policy. Such a conclusion is no concern of the author: there is no best policy, a chance event may plunge a man to disaster or lift him to sudden fortune. ‘Que serait-il arrivé si elle n'avait point perdu cette parure? Qui sait? qui sait? Comme la vie est singulière, changeante! Comme il faut peu de chose pour vous perdre ou vous sauver!’ The story, for all its brevity, treats of a period of many years, but retains its unity, its singleness of purpose by attaching everything that is recounted to the one controlling factor, the loss of the necklace. In a world where falsity masquerades as truth and blind chance rules, not even the clarity of the artist's eye is any guard against the deceptions and risks of life; all one can do is expose again and again the drama of deceit.

Maupassant wrote many stories which turn on a crucial event which modifies a whole life, usually disastrously. “A Cheval” tells of a clerk who uses a sum of money which came to him unexpectedly to hire a carriage for his family and a saddle-horse for himself to go on an outing. He boasts of his horsemanship, but in fact knocks down an old woman who prefers not to recover and who lives on happily as he ruins himself to pay her medical bills. In “La Parure” the falsity of the necklace is a neutral fact, no blame attaches to the woman who owned them. The error of the Loisels, given the structure of the world, was to assume that one could judge by appearances. “A Cheval” is more direct in its indictment, and Maupassant has little sympathy for the boasters, the fakes, the incompetents, the petty falsifiers. The sense of the story seems to be expressed by one of the bystanders, an indignant old gentleman: ‘Sacrebleu, quand on est maladroit comme ça, on reste chez soi. On ne vient pas tuer les gens dans la rue quand on ne sait pas conduire un cheval.’ But in Maupassant's hands this is not so much an exhortation to virtue as a penetration of appearances for no other purpose than to avoid being deceived.

Another story with an undeviating narrative line and a pseudo-moral conclusion is “Le Protecteur,” which concerns a newly-made conseiller d'état who is so pleased to find himself unexpectedly occupying this high position (‘Il n'aurait jamais rêvé une fortune si haute!’) that he offers his influence to all comers, writes letters of recommendation for people he meets by chance, even for a priest who happens to share his umbrella and who turns out to be scandalously unworthy of his interest. Unlike most of Maupassant's stories, this one is conducted mainly in dialogue; the fatuous official, so innocently delighted by his new office, is allowed to reveal himself quite splendidly as his own words convey to us his utter vacuity. We listen to him press his services on the reluctant priest, which enables us to appreciate the irony of his defence after the scandal has broken: ‘Trompé par les protestations de cet ecclésiastique, j'ai pu …’ The last lines of the story, which are his, not Maupassant's, draw the pseudo-moral of the story: ‘Voyez-vous, mon cher ami, que cela vous soit un enseignement, ne recommendez jamais personne.’ Maupassant, of course, did not set down this anecdote to serve as warning to officials who recommend people too freely; he is engaged in the task of telling a story and, to him, a story is something that peels off a layer of appearance to expose a very different reality beneath. He takes it for granted, or at least as not very surprising, that a man with no conceivable qualifications save friendship with an influential figure should occupy a high post. He notes also, and not in any specifically anti-clerical spirit, that priestly garments are not in every instance necessarily a guarantee of the virtue or charity of the wearer. He makes his story by confronting one imitation with another, by showing the comic and ironic consequences of the meeting of the inept official and the unworthy priest.

Like “La Parure,” “A Cheval” and a great many other stories, this story relies on plot almost entirely for its effect, the anecdote itself has an interest and a meaning independently of the way it is told; Maupassant's art in such stories consists in keeping out of the way of the narrative as it plunges forward. This is a line-drawing: he strips off everything that blurs the line, and of character gives us only what is needed to support the tale: of this man we know only that he is one who rose to high position on the coat-tails of others and whose only function is to write letters of recommendation.

Maupassant wrote many such anecdotes on all sorts of subjects, frequently supporting or justifying them by an introductory cadre: “Ma Femme” is nothing more than an after-dinner story and that is the setting he arranges for it; “En Voyage” with an elaborate setting on a train is a sentimental anecdote which is kept from disaster by the sense of reality imposed by the cadre. In all of them he achieved, usually very skilfully, the line that he sought; the question then arises whether there is more that can be accomplished. Can he also achieve in this limited scope a greater solidity, a greater complexity, some sense of characters who might conceivably exist outside of their function in the tale?


Certain stories of Maupassant take us beyond plot and beyond the process of revelation inherent in plot into a domain where the dimensions are broader, the characters less single-minded, and where curious resonances are audible. In many of these there is a lack of that scorn and irony which marks his attitude towards the conseiller d'état and the unhappy horseman or that monumental indifference which polishes the hardness of “La Parure.” The narrator, canons of objectivity to the contrary, allows his sympathetic understanding of his people to be felt, a firmly controlled but evident tenderness and pity for the tricks chance plays and the way they bear their burdens. The counterpart of his disclosure of fakery is his sympathy for unpretentious honesty. “Miss Harriet” could so easily have become a satire of the English spinster abroad, but it is a deeply moving portrait which, without seeming to do more than describe her actions for a brief period in a Norman inn, conveys the sense of her whole life and a sympathetic and pitying awareness of its meagreness. “Hautot Père et Fils,” which has been superbly analysed by Sean O'Faolain,7 is another where the humble people involved are treated with tenderness and dignity in a plot which could easily have been handled cynically or farcically: when the father dies, the son takes over his mistress.

“La Reine Hortense” is worth examining as a very successful story which compresses into a very short space a subject treated at greater length in “En Famille” and less successfully in “Le Vieux,”8 and which sets up a resonance that takes us beyond mere understanding of plot into the area of responsive feeling. The skill with which this is accomplished is impressive, because the feeling of pity is neither obtrusive nor visible; it forms a substructure, and the technical problem involved is to keep the subdued pity from becoming sentimentality. This is done by excluding all direct commentary and letting a succession of images and insistent references suggest more than is told. The subject is the familiar one of the old lady whose relatives gather at her death-bed waiting for her to die, but there is none of the crude, grasping avarice of “En Famille,” only a few almost random comments which take everything for granted with deliberate and chilling casualness.

La Reine Hortense, as she is called, is an old maid—and how curious it is that this tough-minded bachelor should have written with such delicacy about la vieille fille! She is an authoritative, unsentimental person, living alone and ruling over a large collection of cats, dogs, chickens, and birds on whom she lavished no visible affection: she replaced them when they died and buried them without tears. As Maupassant tells it, the story swarms with animals; they appear and re-appear so that hardly a paragraph is without mention of one of her pets. Nothing is said about them; they are simply noted. When she falls ill and her two married sisters are sent for, they arrive to find her maid in tears. Then follow these three paragraphs which call our attention to this menagerie but in purely objective terms without indicating in any way its relevance to the story:

Le chien dormait couché sur le paillasson de la porte d'entrée, sous une brûlante tombée de soleil; deux chats, qu'on eût crus morts, étaient allongés sur le rebord des deux fenêtres, les yeux fermés, les pattes et la queue tout au long étendues.

Une grosse poule gloussante promenait un bataillon de poussins, vêtu de duvet jaune léger comme de la ouate, à travers le petit jardin; et une grande cage accrochée au mur, couverte de mouron, contenait un peuple d'oiseaux qui s'égosillaient dans la lumière de cette chaude matinée de printemps.

Deux inséparables dans une autre cagette en forme de châlet restaient bien tranquilles, côte à côte sur leur bâton.

It would be an error, of course, to assume that he takes time to describe these animals simply because they are there and he is being a scrupulous observer. He had already said all he needed to say about them, one might think, in his introductory paragraphs. Actually he uses the passage to lay the groundwork for our eventual awareness of the loneliness of the old woman and her desire for a husband and children of her own. The passage on the animals suggests with the utmost discretion all that had been missing from her life; the theme of death, which she would meet, is sounded faintly in a phrase (‘deux chats qu'on eût crus morts’), succeeded by brief symbolic representations of what she had missed in her life: a family (‘un bataillon de poussins’), companionship (‘un peuple d'oiseaux’), and love (‘les deux inséparables’).

In her delirium she speaks as if she were a wife, mother of many children, clucking over them quite like a mother hen. She does not prolong her agony or inconvenience her heirs—that was a very different story—but she dies as her dog, romping with her little nephew, leaps on her bed as the frightened hen tried to protect her chicks. Her last cry is for her imaginary children: ‘Qui les soignera? Qui les aimera?’

The middle section of the conte is dominated by the presence of her two sisters and their husbands. They are neither scheming nor unscrupulous, they are perfectly decent folk, but they do not pretend that they will be sorry to see Hortense die. When the maid prepares lunch, one of them requests a better wine and, finding it suited to his delicate stomach, suggests amicably that the other brother-in-law let him have that lot in exchange for another. In recounting these unremarkable happenings Maupassant makes at least a dozen references in passing to the birds and animals, again merely noting their presence. As a result, the story takes a very different turn from “En Famille” or “Le Vieux;” instead of concentrating on the rapacity of heirs, it evokes the loneliness of an old woman, and it does so not by saying it in so many words, but by showing without comment how she had filled the emptiness of her life. “La Reine Hortense” goes well beyond plot and we are asked not only to consider what happens, but the people to whom things happen, and even to feel some bond of sympathy, a comprehension of them that involves something more than mere clarity.

“La Reine Hortense” was recounted directly by Maupassant without the use of any cadre. A story that is not unrelated to it in feeling, “Mon Oncle Jules” is a good example of the effective use of an introductory setting to enhance the accent of pity. The cadre is of the simplest: two men meet a beggar, one gives him something, is reminded of the following story: his legendary Uncle Jules, who had gone to America and was expected to make the family fortune, turns out to be the oyster-opener on the boat to Jersey. Maupassant, as usual, in the course of his story looks about him sharply and sees people pretending to be more than they are: the father of the family importantly showing himself to be a man of the world, insisting on demonstrating how to eat oysters, dribbling all over his coat and incidentally discovering Jules; the captain of the channel boat who strides his narrow bridge ‘d'un air important, comme s'il eût commandé le courrier des Indes’. The note of pity is struck when we swing back from the story to the framework, for the little boy feels a powerful sympathy for his poor uncle—which explains why he so readily gives something to any vagabond he meets.

There are a good many other stories by Maupassant which in spite of their brevity—or perhaps because of it—continue to produce echoes after one has finished them and set up that special resonance that is the mark of a masterpiece. “L'Abandonné,” which Henry James admired, is a sober story of a couple whose illegitimate child had been given to peasants to bring up; years later they visit their son for the first time and are shocked to find him a crude peasant. There is an interesting contrast here between the sentimental rhetorical exclamatory style indirect of the first part, which gives the woman's account of her loveless marriage, and the down-to-earth, briskly clear account of the visit to the farm where Maupassant takes charge of the style. The result is a deflation of sentimental rhetoric more devastating than any satirical or critical account of the lady's actions. “Le Petit Soldat” is a story marked by severe understatement and an immense understanding of simple souls; the plot is nothing: two Breton soldiers, homesick, meet a peasant girl each Sunday, eventually one gets the girl, the other lets himself fall into the river. The depth of feeling involved is what is important and it is conveyed with the utmost clarity and understanding.

All of these stories move beyond plot to an evocation of more than meets the eye and they do this by a variety of means, usually involving a sense of pity underlying the narrative which immeasurably increases the power of the story, provides it with a significant resonance.


To abandon plot for the creation of atmosphere or mood, to suggest through seemingly purposeless dialogue or random details a world of feeling—this is the domain of Chekov, the kind of story which stands at the opposite pole from Maupassant's brisk anecdote. Maupassant, too, could create atmosphere and evoke feeling from the simplest scenes, and he has done so frequently; but he rarely let the creation of atmosphere carry the whole burden of narration, and we sometimes fail to see it clearly because we are busily following plot. A few examples will suggest ways of exploring an aspect of Maupassant's art that serious students of his stories could pursue with profit.

“Amour” is probably the most extreme example, being almost devoid of any anecdotal interest. It is compounded of two elements: the joy of hunting and an awareness of what love can be, as glimpsed in the behaviour of birds: the attachment unto death of the male bird for the female just killed. It is a powerful hunting sketch, a brilliant evocation of the bitter cold, the frozen swamp, the desperate discomfort, and the wild unreasoning joy of the human animal as he plunges back into nature. His ferocity is aroused for he is there to kill—and kill he does even as he observes with sharply contained emotion the affecting behaviour of the birds. It is a story which creates the same kind of direct communication with nature as the huntsman knows it that we find in Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches or, more highly developed, in William Faulkner's The Bear.

Some stories, disguised as anecdotes, have their real value in the atmosphere created. “Sur l'eau,” an account of growing fear during a night on the river, would lose nothing by dropping the explanatory dénouement. A more brilliant example, even, is “L'Ane,” which purports to be about a practical joke played by a couple of poachers. Actually it is a marvel of economy, a very brief tale which sharply sketches two professional poachers and evokes the river in all its moods and periods. It was written by a man who felt the joys of rowing on the Seine, seeking out its by-ways, and knowing the habits of the fish, birds, and animals. This is not the Seine of La Grenouillère with its dancers and bathers; it is the secret world of the expert hunter, and it is revealed with loving care by Maupassant and combined with a comic anecdote lest the feeling become unbearably keen.

Still another story, again on the theme of nature, is “A Vendre,” in which the sight of a house for sale as he is tramping the Breton coast fills the narrator with a sense of the déjà-vu, and a photograph of the owner's mistress fills him with delight because this is the girl of his dreams. This is a very unpromising beginning, but there is no real story here at all; the maid's account of her master's affair is barren and brief. What matters is the freshness, the joy in natural things, the brilliance of this brief nature poem. He convinces himself even that he will meet some day the girl of the photo, but clearly he is only under the spell of the landscape. It is as if he had for a moment shaken the cynical weariness of the city out of his bones as he roamed the Breton countryside. ‘Un matin de printemps, un de ces matins qui vous rajeunissent de vingt ans, vous refont des espérances et vous redonnent des rêves d'adolescents.’

Upon occasion Maupassant chooses to leave plot far behind and depends on involving the reader in his own feeling for natural things. Such feeling is not far below the surface of many of his most sharply conducted narratives, and, in fact, gives them their real substance.


The conte was originally a fairy tale, an account of something marvellously non-realistic, but this is too narrow a definition to apply to the wide range of stories written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and neither useful nor generally accepted as a way of distinguishing conte from nouvelle. Yet the conte never entirely lost its ancient feeling for the fairy story and supernatural occurrences, and such stories now form a recognizable sub-division of the genre. In Maupassant's work the number of stories devoted to the supernatural and the inexplicable reminds us that the conte in its original sense survives and that it has great significance for the student of Maupassant's stories.

Maupassant's earliest efforts in the short story, before “Boule de Suif” was written and while he was still Flaubert's pupil, were more nearly romantic fairy tales than the crisp observation of ordinary life one would expect. “Le Donneur d'eau bénite,” written about 1877, is full of well-observed details, but tells a traditionally impossible story—a child stolen by gypsies, brought up by a wealthy childless lady, many years later finds his true parents who are old and poor, his father having become a ‘donneur d'eau bénite’. Here, too, very early in the game when Maupassant was only twenty-seven, the theme of paternity appears—the child discovering his parents—which was to be the subject of so many of his stories. “Le Papa de Simon,” another variation on the theme of paternity and written in 1879, has more substance as it tells of the fatherless child mocked by others, but the sentimental happy ending makes it more remotely romantic than we can accept. He continued to write occasional stories which resemble these, but they are of the kind that we tend to dismiss rapidly as unsuccessful. In fact, they are instructive because they result from Maupassant's method and talent being applied to an inadequate story line; he takes a plot that is really a fairy tale and treats it with visual realism but without convincing us that the people involved could have acted as they do. “L'Enfant”—again that obsession—written in 1883, is a badly disguised fairy tale: we simply do not know enough about these people to be able to accept their remarkable actions. On his wedding night the husband is called to the deathbed of a former mistress who is dying in childbirth—the child, of course, is his. He returns at 5 a.m. to his bride with the new-born baby, explains briefly and hears her generous response: ‘Eh bien, nous élèverons ce petit.’ Such a situation demands a more searching development of the characters before we can accept it. The story is a rank failure, and we will find that Maupassant's least successful stories are those which, like “L'Enfant,” contain a residue of unresolved romanticism where the improbabilities of plot, which were accepted as a convention in the old fairy tale or romance, are insufficiently dissolved by the realistic broth into which they have been put to simmer.

Only in fairy tales does the powerful dragon always get killed: in real life, as Maupassant well knew, the ordinary man who met a professional dragon was more likely to be the loser. Yet there were occasions when the improbable plot served as a compensation for feelings of intense bitterness. “Un Duel” tells how, just after the defeat of the Franco-Prussian War, an arrogant Prussian officer in a train exasperates M. Dubuis, a stout and unmilitary bourgeois. A duel—improbably enough—is arranged. M. Dubuis, who had never held a pistol before, kills the officer in the duel. Now this is an inconsequential story but it springs from a deeply felt sense of the bitterness of defeat and relates a fairy story by way of compensation, a story which does its best to hold in the barely contained emotions that are involved. These are expressed by M. Dubuis and unexpectedly involve Maupassant himself: ‘… il se sentait à l'âme une sorte de fièvre de patriotisme impuissant, en même temps que ce grand besoin, que cet instinct nouveau de prudence qui ne nous a plus quittés.’ The nous is revealing, but Maupassant prefers to write a comic fairy tale lest he betray himself further. “Mademoiselle Fifi” is a far more successful story which springs from the same sense of patriotisme impuissant. The atmosphere of defeat, the presence of drunken conquerors, the not incredible resistance of the prostitute—a variant of “Boule de Suif”—all these elements combine to make the feelings more important than the plot: only when one re-reads “Mademoiselle Fifi” is one aware how very rapidly the dénouement is related, much too rapidly to be effective were it not subordinated to the whole ambience of the story.

There is still another variety of Maupassant story which goes back to an earlier form of the conte, and which Maupassant handles with great brilliance. It is not the fairy tale so much as the tale involving folklore and farce, nearer in spirit to the fabliau than to Perrault. Many of the stories he wrote about peasants have this genial humour, an exhilarating sense of not being bound to the pretences of life and of dealing with unrestrained primitive folk whose activities are frequently situated on the edge of farce. “La Bête à Maît' Belhomme” is a very funny story of the peasant who had a flea in his ear (literally) and of the efforts of all hands to remove it. The story is made up of wonderful dialogue and keen observation, has the atmosphere of farce and folklore but with a grand ring of sharply observed truth. The most light-hearted of Maupassant's stories are these peasant farces, like “Le Cas de Madame Luneau,” which takes the subject of “L'Héritage” but completely alters mood and setting; they are conveniently grouped in A.-M. Schmidt's edition under the section ‘Drames et Propos Rustiques’….

More directly related to a continuous tradition are the stories which involve, or seem to involve, the supernatural. Critics have generally been inclined to connect Maupassant's stories of terror, hallucinations and the supernatural more with his biography and his eventual madness, than with the very rich tradition of such tales. Without attempting to solve the biographical problem and without trying to explore the vast literary tradition behind these stories, they can be examined as part of Maupassant's concern for the old problem of appearance and reality, of his persistent effort to remove the outer wrappings, to take off the mask. We depend on our senses, but what if there are phenomena that our senses cannot perceive? His stories are a series of elaborations of such a hypothesis. It is a little too easy to say that we can see in these stories ‘un témoignage semi-autobiographique, où sont transposées des alarmes encore confuses’.9 There is nothing whatever that proves that a particularly striking story necessarily recounts something that Maupassant experienced personally. They should be examined as a group, however, to see what they can reveal in literary terms, which may possibly dispose of a few misconceptions.

Most of Maupassant's stories in this area are not about the supernatural but about the unknown. He was profoundly impressed by the notion that we are strictly limited by the capacity of our senses, that many things must exist which escape our imperfect organs: ‘Tout est mystère. Nous ne communiquons avec les choses que par nos misérables sens, incomplets, infirmes, si faibles qu'ils ont à peine la puissance de constater ce qui nous entoure. Tout est mystère.’ This passage is from “Un Fou?”, but the basic idea is repeated and developed by him in other short stories, in his novels, and in his essays. It is a basic article of faith and leads him to an interest in all efforts to penetrate into the hidden mysteries of life, the whole area of parapsychology involving hypnotism, magnetism, mesmerism and the like. His narrators are usually sceptical men of the world, not inclined to be taken in by charlatans, and they seek a rational explanation for the phenomena they have observed. He himself stands at the beginning of his career even more removed from involvement, behind his narrator usually, but his interest in the subject leads him deeper into more involvement and less scepticism. In 1882 he coolly outlined the course he presumably followed. Writing of the celebrated doctor who was then experimenting with hypnotism, he made this prophetic remark: ‘Quant à M. Charcot, qu'on dit être un remarquable savant, il me fait l'effet de ces conteurs dans le genre d'Edgar Poe, qui finissent par devenir fous à force de réfléchir à d'étranges cas de folie.’ This is from a story called “Magnétisme” which is on the inexplicable, obsessive dreams of man about a woman hitherto unnoticed by him. It is not so much about the supernatural or even ‘magnetism’ as it is an excuse for a variant of the typical story of ‘bonnes fortunes’ told ‘à la fin d'un dîner d'hommes’, which is, in fact, the frame of the story. “Un Fou?”, on the other hand, written in 1884, supposes astonishing hypnotic powers that can be exercised on animals and even on inanimate objects. The range is extended to the limit by the final version of “Le Horla,” published in 1887, which not only restates the inadequacy of our senses but discusses recent experiments in mesmerism and hypnotism before plunging into an account of a wholly inexplicable phenomenon.

Various themes are joined as we follow in more detail and with specific illustrations the progress from the story with a rational explanation to the frankly supernatural, touching fear, futility, and hallucination on the way. In January 1883 “Auprès d'un mort” has the simplest explanation imaginable why, after Schopenhauer's death, the smile on his face changed to a grimace: his false teeth slipped out! In “Apparition,” a few months later, we are left not knowing whether we have seen a ghostly apparition or a sequestered female. In December 1883 “La Main,” which was a reworking of the much earlier “La Main d'Ecorché,” makes no commitment as to the supernatural aspect of the mummified hand; the narrator insists at the beginning that it is not ‘surnaturel’ but simply ‘inexplicable’, and this kind of hedging understandably irritates one of the ladies in the audience who exclaims at the end: ‘Mais ce n'est pas un dénouement cela, ni une explication!’

Included in this category of stories which Schmidt calls ‘Les Chemins de la Démence’ are a certain number which deal more exactly with a sense of the futility of life, of the slow or sudden revelation of the barrenness of an individual existence. These have nothing to do with the supernatural as such, but they do cast some light on the attitude behind all these stories: suicide can be caused by experience of overwhelming horror or by the slow erosion of life. “Promenade,” published in May 1884, is most suggestive, for in it are joined various Maupassant themes: pity for the humble, the bleakness of solitude, the revelation of the subsurface of life. It tells of a clerk—a bookkeeper without a story: nothing had ever happened to him, he had never had money, he lived in a cheap room, had an empty life, no wife or woman of any sort. One night, by exception, he dines near the Bois, takes a walk, is solicited, sees amorous couples all about and, overcome by a sudden sense of his own futility and hopelessness, he hangs himself in the Bois by his braces. The sense of futility carried to extreme lengths is conveyed in the following passage from the story:

Et tout d'un coup, comme si un voile épais se fût déchiré, il aperçut la misère, l'infinie, la monotone misère de son existence: la misère passée, la misère présente, la misère future: les derniers jours pareils aux premiers, sans rien devant lui, rien derrière lui, rien autour de lui, rien dans le cœur, rien nulle part.

Le défilé des voitures allait toujours, toujours il voyait paraître, et disparaître dans le rapide passage du fiacre découvert, les deux êtres silencieux et enlacés. Il lui semblait que l'humanité toute entière défilait devant lui, grise de joie, de plaisir, de bonheur. Et il était seul à la regarder, seul, tout à fait seul. Il serait encore seul demain, seul toujours, seul comme personne n'est seul.

For Maupassant, horror and despair could come from looking beyond the recognizable phenomena of life into the unknown; but they could also arise as in this story, as in “Suicides” and in others, not from any great catastrophe but from ‘la désorganisation fatale d'une existence solitaire, dont les rêves sont disparus’.

His interest in the realm beyond our senses is closely akin to his interest in these humble suicides, for his deeply rooted assumption seems to be that the unknown when revealed must be horrible, and this is the source of his diagnosis of fear. It is not the realm of the occult, uniquely, but the sense that reality is even worse than appearance if only we could see it; and even more disturbing is the knowledge that our senses are constantly deceiving us. “Lettre d'Un Fou” (1885) spells out clearly the source of his horror:

Vérité sur la terre, erreur plus loin, d'où je conclus que les mystères entrevus comme l'éléctricité, le sommeil hypnotique, la transmission de la volonté, la suggestion, tous les phénomènes magnétiques, ne nous demeurent cachés que parce que la nature ne nous a pas fourni l'organe, ou les organes nécessaires pour les comprendre …

Et cette terreur confuse du surnaturel qui hante l'homme depuis la naissance du monde est légitime puisque le surnaturel n'est pas autre chose que ce qui nous demeure voilé!

The very powerful story “Lui?”, based on the themes of fear and solitude, carries us one step further into the unknown. This time a man, suffering from a genuine hallucination, sees someone sitting in his room, and this drives him into marriage in order not to be alone. It is not the supernatural as such that bothers him but: ‘J'ai peur surtout du trouble horrible de ma pensée, de ma raison qui m'échappe brouillée, dispersée par une mystérieuse et invisible angoisse.’ The story is completely credible; it does not depend on any suspension of disbelief, it simply suggests that there may be something more than meets the eye—something disturbing—and furthermore one's eye is not reliable. To say that the man suffers from an optical illusion or an hallucination does not settle the question for him, because what troubles him is that one never knows how much one suffers from such illusions or how radical is the error of the senses. At the bottom of the anxiety and even the madness that Maupassant never ceased to explore is the abominable knowledge that our instruments of perception are hopelessly unreliable.

“La Peur” runs three variations on the theme of fear in one story, all of which fears have a rational explanation, and his own technique is that of Turgenev of whom he writes in this story: ‘Il n'entre point hardiment dans le surnaturel comme Edgar Poe ou Hoffmann: il raconte des histoires simples où se mêle seulement quelque chose d'un peu vague et d'un peu troublant.’ But he commits himself more completely to the unknown in some of the later stories. “La Nuit,” in June 1887, is a story of fear, an unreasoning fear for which no explanation is given. We are brought into contact with a mind obsessed or disordered. A man who loves to wander about Paris at night grows more and more terrified as the streets appear absolutely deserted, as street lights go out, and there is no one—not even at les Halles. He goes down to see if the Seine is still flowing and is overcome by the fear that he will not get up the bank again. This is pure unexplained horror. Frankly supernatural, finally, is “Qui Sait?” in April 1890 where furniture is seen dancing out of a house by its owner; it turns up in a shop in Rouen and is just as mysteriously restored. There is no explanation, only an invitation to accept this as a terrifying peek into the world beyond our ordinary reach. It is a story about a mind disordered, but who can insist that it was written by a man in such a state?


  1. New York, Random House, 1949. Published in England by Collins, 1950, as Maupassant, without the Jamesian phrase.

  2. Henry James, The House of Fiction, ed. by Leon Edel, London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1957, p. 149.

  3. André Vial, Guy de Maupassant et l'art du roman, Paris, Nizet, 1954, pp. 460 ff.

  4. Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Qu'est-ce que la littérature’, Les Temps Modernes, June 1947 (II, 21), reprinted in Situations.

  5. Percy Lubbock, The Craft of Fiction, New York, Scribners, 1921, p. 113.

  6. See F. Steegmuller, Maupassant, A Lion in the Path, pp. 205-6.

  7. The Short Story, pp. 117-21.

  8. See below, pp. 44-5.

  9. P. G. Castex, Le Conte Fantastique en France de Nodier à Maupassant, Paris, Librairie José Corti, 1951, p. 377.

Rimvydas Silbajoris (essay date summer 1984)

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SOURCE: Silbajoris, Rimvydas. “Images and Structures in Turgenev's Sportsman's Notebook.Slavic and East European Journal 28, no. 2 (summer 1984): 180-91.

[In the following essay, Silbajoris discusses the ways in which the aesthetic principals of Ivan Turgenev inform the realist social critique expressed in his short story collection Sportsman's Notebook.]

The most common traditional readings of Turgenev's Sportsman's Notebook pertain to its social and political aspects and hold that the stories collected there represent Turgenev's intense moral and artistic effort to speak out against the institution of serfdom, as if in fulfillment of his “Hannibalic Oath.”1 Some of the stories, however, do not in themselves suggest such a clear-cut purpose, much less any definite program of action. Victor Ripp, a modern reader, adds a qualifying note to the established view:

The constraints on the Russian political imagination is [sic!] the unstated theme of Turgenev's Notes of a Hunter. Though he once claimed for it the force of a political manifesto, which supposedly induced Alexander II to emancipate the serfs, in the end the work is an illustration of how political positions in Russia were rendered incoherent and ineffectual.2

If there is a lack of political coherence in Sportsman's Notebook, this may also mean that the importance of its politics needs to be judged against some other, possibly deeper, concerns of a different order. At the very least, it seems that even after a thorough political-ideological reading, a number of the individual stories still retain a certain haunting quality, as if there were something we have not yet completely understood, or not felt as deeply as the author himself felt it. Broadening the reader's perspective, M. Geršenzon proposed in 1919 that the Sportsman's Notebook dealt with a basic existential perception of the relationships between the human and the natural worlds, and that in this respect Turgenev's purposes were the same as Tolstoj's in The Cossacks.3 Both authors, thought Geršenzon, inevitably could see only themselves in the reality they depicted, and the difference between Tolstoj and Turgenev was that Tolstoj was not really sure he was right in supposing that the true meaning of life for an intellectual is to become like a child of nature, and therefore he preached his message with all the greater dramatic fervor. Turgenev, understanding as Tolstoj also did, the conflict between will and reason in his own soul, was nevertheless able to comprehend the harmoniousness and rightness of peasant life in its own natural setting, without needing to become a part of it. “It is a loving book,” says Geršenzon, because:

… in it Turgenev literally admires lovingly /ljubuetsja/: becalmed in his soul, he contemplates “nature” tenderly. Of course, his soul creates this nature for itself, according to his own condition, that is, selects from reality and composes into a harmonious whole the features which correspond to it—and this is how this idyllic peasant world came to be.4

Geršenzon's perception of harmony and peace on the level on which the Sportsman's Notebook communicates its artistic message, whatever political tensions may be perceived there by others, seems to be shared by readers from various time periods and ideological perspectives. In his day, even Dobroljubov already felt that “the characteristic features of (Turgenev's) talent are not a stormy, impetuous force but, on the contrary, a softness and a certain poetic equilibrium.”5 From quite another time and country, Edward Garnett also thought that “the sweet and tender depths of the author's spirit served, so to say, as a sensitive mirror which reflected impassively the struggle between the forces of worldly craft and the appeal of all humble, neglected and suffering creatures.”6 The Soviet critic P. G. Pustovojt even quotes Turgenev's remarks to Pauline Viardot, made at the time of writing the Notebook, on the presence in art of a “calm which derives from a strong conviction or from a deep feeling,” in order to elevate this idea to a cardinal principle of Turgenev's art.7 To do this means to enter a different mode of reading the Sportsman's Notebook—a mode which is oriented toward the poetics and not the politics of the stories—and is concerned with their esthetic structure and not the civic principles of their author. Pustovojt, we may be sure, feels more at home in the political-historical realm, but his perception does open for consideration the ideological or “human” values in the stories as a function of their esthetic. In his letter to Viardot, Turgenev goes on to say:

… a calm which, so to speak, surrounds from all sides the desperate struggles of passion and which imparts to them that purity of outline, that ideal and real beauty which is the true, the only beauty in art.

(Pustovojt, 8)

What Turgenev is talking about here, and what his critics have sensed, is in essence a poetic principle, indeed, one of the ideals of classical poetry. This principle is fully applicable to a number of the stories in the Sportsman's Notebook. Their poetic quality emerges from the relationship between the force of passion and that of harmoniously balanced artistic language which structures the passion into a literary text. This relationship is not, as in a standard prose narrative, translated into a series of events subject to the sequential logic of cause and effect. As in poetry, it is realized as a pattern of image associations of great potential complexity.

Sportsman's Notebook as a whole may be thought to resemble a picture gallery with a humane and sophisticated country squire, the narrator, guiding us around from one framed vignette to another. Most of these, in turn, seem to contain their own sequences of descriptive frames, presenting individuals, landscapes, stories within stories, and so on. In some, however, the relationships between one such module and another become significantly more complex than those of a simple sequence and seem to engender new, explicitly or implicitly, poetic associations. One may consider for discussion “Bežin Meadow” (Bežin lug), “Ermolaj and the Miller's Wife” (Ermolaj i mel'ničixa), “The Singers” (Pevcy), “The Lone Wolf” (Birjuk), to a certain extent “The District Doctor” (Uezdnyj lekar'), “My Neighbor Radilov” (Moj sosed Radilov), “Living Relics” (Živye mošči), as well as the two stories comprising the Čertopxanov group: “Čertopxanov and Nedopjuskin” and “The Death of Čertopxanov” (Smert' Čeropxanova). This is not to say, of course, that the other stories have no poetry in them. The final story, “Forest and Steppe” (Les i step'), while intensely poetic in its nature descriptions, has no “fable”—does not juxtapose narrative and imaging elements—and is therefore not as well suited to our purposes.8 Other stories, such as “The Office” (Kontora) seem ideologically oriented to the point where the poetic element plays a decidedly secondary role; they will not be considered in our discussion.

An image enclosed within a picture frame in some ways resembles the text of a poem subject to the constraints of its “bound language,” or form. Similarly, the stories we refer to seem to be bound by deliberate structural and stylistic devices which produce the effect of communication on the level of poetry more than of prose. One such device is the creation of unique spatial settings within the large context of the Orel Province through which the narrator wanders—settings which in themselves convey special messages about the stories and thus become the central, rather than background, elements of their communicative code. These enclosed inner spaces generally possess a negative, oppressive quality—what A. J. Greimas might have called an “espace dysphorique9; they represent an imprisonment of the human condition within discrete sets of relationships encompassing the beauty of nature, the misery of human life, and the ironic implications of a literary or cultural-historical subtext.10 Thus, in “Bežin Meadow” the hunter-narrator becomes lost for reasons having to do not with the necessary logic of the narrative, but with a symbolic plane of meaning. His hunt and his encounter with the boys mark the stages of an internal journey, in the course of which he discovers both the beauty and the tragedy of peasant Russia under serfdom. We see the hunter entering a kind of bewitched inner space, an enchanted place, bordered by a river and a ravine, circumscribed by the limits of light from the boys' campfire and ruled by sorrow and death enveloped in the veil of poetry and myth.11 In “The District Doctor,” the pitiful figure of a beautiful girl who must, like the heroine of some sentimental novel, “die at the age of twenty-five without having loved anyone,” is seen in a little provincial house enveloped in rain and surrounded on all sides by a sea of mud as if in mocking remembrance of enchanted castles from fairy tales. “My Neighbor Radilov” starts out with a rather detailed description of Radilov's estate. It is a place tucked away inconspicuously, isolated and comprising a special world corresponding to the strange, even somewhat grotesque, mode of life in the Radilov household. This in turn masks but cannot contain his obsessive passions. There are also stories in which the power of these “evil, enchanted places” communicates itself all the more cruelly because it is only implicit behind the stage while in the foreground the beauty of the human spirit seems to prevail. In “Living Relics” a peasant girl struck with the living death of total paralysis becomes nobly beautiful as she creates around her mummified isolation a sort of “counterspace” made up of the little sounds of silence, a touch of gentle breeze, a quick movement of a bird or the smile of a sympathetic passer-by. Her humble and grateful patience surrounds her brown and dessicated face with an irridescence resembling the halo around the head of the Virgin in an old Russian icon. Yet we know that her helpless body is gradually becoming filled with death.12

Similar to the spatial device of enclosure is the structural principle of framing which operates in some of the stories. Here, the spaces in which central events occur are not necessarily special in themselves. However, they acquire a unique ability to carry associative semantic loads beyond the direct impact of what is happening because the narrator surrounds the action with tangential descriptions or commentaries which modify the meanings of events. We may take “Ermolaj and the Miller's Wife” as an example. Read as a simple narrative sequence, the story seems strangely incoherent. There is no particular need to start it with the description of the evening hunt for woodcocks; the information about Ermolaj and his dog could just as well have been placed in any other story in which Ermolaj and the hunter are seen together. Zverkov's comments about Arina, while they do fill in the background, are made accidentally, outside of any causal links with the story line. To perceive coherence, one must look for some inner relevance among the story's parts which would be independent of narrative causation. One Soviet scholar, E. M. Efimova, regarded the beautiful description of the evening hunt, coupled with a brief sketch of the landscape at the end of the story, as a frame, a device which emphasizes the bitter fate of Arina:

Thanks to the framing of the narration by the landscape, we perceive a contrast which brings out the tragic nature of Arina's fate, and the fate of a serf woman in general, still more deeply. The picture filled with beauty … stands in clear, deliberate contradiction, consciously presented by the artist, with the basic narrative episode of the story.13

Victor Ripp presents a similar interpretation, although he is more concerned with the general contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of human life presented by Turgenev seemingly as a matter of choice:

This natural realm stands distinctly apart from the social realm, which is marked by fractiousness and cruelty. It is as if the world had been carefully surveyed; two areas have been demarked which, though they border on each other, carry on no commerce. The picture is bracing in its clarity; but it also raises important moral issues, since it seems that to take advantage of the world's potential for harmony one must forget about prevailing injustice.14

Perhaps neither reading of the story goes quite far enough. We should note further that each of its segments is internally connected with others by the logic of images depicting some kind of relationship between victim and predator. At the end of the opening passage the beautiful bird rises to meet the hunter's shot. Ermolaj is described together with his unfed dog, an animal who frequently devours a captured hare instead of bringing it to his master. Ermolaj himself, who is used to treating his own wife with a casual predatory cruelty, is shown grimly biting through the neck of a wounded bird. The mindless destruction of a beautiful living thing thus reiterated in different ways, on different planes, ties the story together so as to focus our feelings of fear and pity upon the central figure of Arina. Arina is the main victim, and the bitter cruelty of her fate is reinforced for us by a kind of reverse twist: Zverkov perceives his own callousness as if he himself were the victim of Arina's “ingratitude.” An even greater emotional impact arises from the terrible calm with which all the victims accept their fate. Ermolaj, his dog and Arina are not only neglected but driven to the very edge of destruction, and yet they survive in the condition of a kind of living death horribly similar to the self-explanatory, inescapable physical death of the beautiful, innocent animals and birds in the story. Thus the fate of Arina unfolds between an image of great beauty destroyed by the hunter's gun and the self-pitying snivelings of the landowner who is Arina's destroyer, while the setting represents a world whose calm, blind beauty conveys all the fatal indifference of a marble statue. It is like looking at the face of destiny which is, in Turgenev, one of the most terrible masks of evil.15

“Bežin Meadow” is a story in which the chains of images holding together the frame enfolding the boys' tales are developed with great subtlety and care, so that the entire text begins to speak to us on many different levels. The narrator enters an unfamiliar world replete with omens of death and containing a picture gallery of tragic human misery, all the more painful because it is not even perceived as such by the innocent boys. The poetic dimension of the story exists in the minds of the boys as they tell their tales which seemingly emerge at the starting point of the mythmaking imagination where, as Turgenev once said a propos of the story “The Singers,” “the childhood of all nations is similar.” Its moral dimension measures the tragic distance between the innocence of that childhood and the cruelty of adult knowledge of what the children's stories really mean in the context of poverty, ignorance and serfdom. The level of poetic statement is achieved with the creation of ordered structural sequences blending the realms of myth and of moral insight.

We see this happening in the overall frame of the tale. The limpid glory of the summer day and of the deep starry night which we see at the beginning is so juxtaposed with the grim suffering manifest or implied in the tales the boys later tell by the campfire that the entire story becomes suffused with a poignant emotion, composed, as it were, of beauty and pain. It seems permeated by a soft glow which turns every object and every word into a poetic image combining the literal meanings that belong to a descriptive discourse in prose with the figurative levels of communication as these exist in poetry. Thus on the opening page, when gentle twilight comes with a flickering star “like a carefully carried candle,” the commonly known literary associations between a candle and a human life allow us to perceive that young Pavel's own life and death in the story have already been encoded in this delicate image of a candle. The world before us thus becomes symbolic, and the lost hunter's progress then resembles a quest, as in a fairy tale, where one must cross barriers and penetrate the unknown and learn to read the meaning of every encounter with dead and living things, because each of them is a voice and a sign. As the narrator walks into the thickening night, flying creatures materialize, as it were, from the substance of darkness itself. First, there are bats in a damp cellar-like ravine, and as the narrator notes that they were “mysteriously turning and quivering” in the twilight sky, the correspondence between them and the precariously flickering star at the beginning of the story adds to the progression of an ominous poetic image. Then there are several birds, vaguely associated with the notions of fear, predator, and victim: a hawk flies by, a partridge cries out in the distance, and a frightened night bird almost hits the hunter. The associative chain “bird” and “star” is then extended in two images related by intimations of death. Between Iljuša's story about the terrifying hobgoblin, “domovoj,” in the paper mill and Kostja's haunting magic tale of the sad Gavrila bewitched by a green-haired sprite, there is a brief interlude at the campfire during which a fish splashes in the distant river and a falling star crosses the sky. The notion of death, connected in popular superstition with a falling star, seems to extend in this juxtaposition also to the fish, and is confirmed in later associations with water, drowning, and the voices of the dead calling Pavel to them. The river itself also acquires a mythical quality, like the river Styx. We may add here that the entire setting, the Bežin meadow, with its deep valley and campfire at the bottom, has its own symbolic and implicitly mythological counterpart in the hollow the hunter comes to before he finds the boys. At the bottom of that hollow, there is a pile of white stones, suggestive of something ancient, magic, and doomed, of an old pagan altar, perhaps even of sacrificial victims, or perhaps a parody of all these things. In any case, the narrator tells us that his heart was gripped with a fearful feeling, and that the pitiful voice of some little night animal was heard among the stones.

The image of the bird comes back immediately after Iljuša's stories about a dead man looking for an opening in the grass to get out from under the weight of his grave, and about “the old woman Uljana,” who saw a ghost of herself walking down the road in a prophecy of her death within the year. A white dove suddenly flies into the circle of light above the boys' campfire, hovers over it for a moment, Turgenev says, “all bathed in a burning light” (ves' oblivajas' gorjačim bleskom), like a quivering star, and is gone. One is reminded of the Scandinavian tale about the brevity of human life, like the flight of a bird from darkness into darkness across a banquet hall.16 Thus, a governing structure of poetic images arises from under the flow of descriptive discourse, connecting sky and star, bird and water, darkness and death, to lead to the laconic mention at the end of the story that Pavel was killed before the year was out. He did not drown, but fell from a horse. The narrator tells us this just after describing how the boys dashed off on their horses into the glorious sunrise pouring all over the land and the sky.

The special ambiance established by the framing device sometimes turns our attention away from the literal to the literary reality, to create ironic references to specific literary movements, or to some universal myth, or even to the fairy tale. For example, the breath of corruption emanating not only from the demise of romanticism in Turgenev's time but also from the dead Arcadian dreams of the earlier, sentimental age, seems to have spread to the stories in Sportsman's Notebook and to have cast an evil spell over them, while at the same time acquiring there a structuring poetic function.

Romantic idealism, as manifested in an exalted sense of duty, turns bitterly tragic in the story “The Lone Wolf,” where Birjuk, the powerful forester, a slave and oppressor at once, tries at any cost to cling to some sense of value in a cruel world which hates and abandons him for his despairing honesty. Here again, the narrator enters the story as if it were a bewitched land in some evil fairy tale, containing barriers he must cross, which function both as narrative elements and as poetic constructs. The main structural device in this story consists of describing a series of dividing lines between different narrative spaces, and engendering in this process an underlying structure of subtexts and images. The first transition appears simple because both spaces belong to the same category of surface, though contrasting, reality. The hunter leaves a hot and dusty plain (space one) to enter a forest drenched by a rainstorm (space two). The second transition, however, is into the realm of ironic literary allusion, just at the moment of human encounter on the narrative plane. There is a flash of lightning, a peal of thunder, and the tall, mysterious figure of the forester suddenly appears as if from nowhere. Such theatrical entrances were familiar in gothic tales; readers might then expect the mysterious stranger to lead the hero to some fairy-tale castle or other such romantic abode. Instead of all this, Turgenev introduces the third, bitterly ironic transition, from the magic realm to a miserable peasant's hut. All the main elements of an enchanted world are there: a lonely house, torchlight, a young girl inside, and even the eternal symbol of the future, a rocking cradle. Only the house is decrepit and empty, the torch is a smoky splinter, the girl is in rags, and mankind's future in the cradle is a sick baby that may soon be dead.

At this point, another transfer takes place, into the inner spaces of Birjuk's life, where we find a desert of bitter solitude left by the departure of his wife with the proverbial travelling merchant. On the plane of the narrative sequence itself, a new stage comes with the distant sound of a poacher's axe, whereupon Birjuk immediately reverts to his previously established role of the fabled “lone wolf” doing his grim duty. We may note that each of the transitional stages takes us into a greater depth of suffering, the stuff upon which the poetic reality of Sportsman's Notebook is built. The deepest point of agony comes with the last breakthrough across one last barrier—that of the moral imperative which has sustained Birjuk in his impossible life. He lets the captured thief go and thus destroys everything he himself had tried to stand for, while at the same time, paradoxically, achieving the stature of tragic dignity.

In the story “The Singers,” thematically in some ways connected with “Bežin Meadow,” a literary subtext suggests itself in the landscape describing the ruins of an old wooden manor house, covered with weeds, with some goosefeathers caught in them, next to a black expanse of liquid mud that used to be a pond, with some mangy sheep on the sun-baked ground nearby. We have here all the ingredients of pastoral landscapes from the sentimental age with their ruined castles, ponds, swans and sheep in the meadow, presented as an ironic parody of themselves. Karamzin's Poor Liza (Bednaja Liza), an eighteenth-century tale of unhappy love, also comes to mind, not only because of the ruins and the pond in its setting, but also as a sentimental, idealized vision of the beautiful peasant soul, to which the soul of the singer Jaša Turok is both a direct and an ironic counterpart.

When this hidden literary parody is juxtaposed with the symbolic implications of the ravine, like a huge gaping wound in the village of Kolotovka (this name, real as it is, derives etymologically from the notion of beating) which used to be owned by a landowner nicknamed “Stryganixa,”17 the result is a complex poetic image suggesting a bitter commentary on what might be called the moral history of the Russian land. The names of persons and places in general, at least in “The Singers,” seem in themselves significant. We have Obalduj (Dimwit) and Morgač (Blinker), and Dikij Barin (Wild Master), a counterpart of sorts to the rather tame “Barin,” the landowner-narrator. At the end of the story, there is also Andropka—“Anthropos”—a peasant boy whose name signifies “humanity,” and who is being called home by his brother, so his father can beat him. Thus the implications of the name Kolotovka at the outset of the story are borne out in the completed circle of symbolic suggestion. This last drawn-out cry in the night almost seems like the third song, in addition to the two sung by the merchant and by Jaša the Turk in the competition; if it were, we would have here a sequence of decreasing artifice in the singing and increasing pain in what the songs mean. Another, perhaps even deeper layer of poetic imagery suggests itself when the lonely light in the tavern window, shining for travellers “like a guiding star,” also calls to mind a lighthouse with its attendant associations of the sea, seemingly out of place in the parched and barren landscape of the story. Yet, Jaša's singing is ultimately compared to the graceful movements of a gull on the seashore, and his song itself has a boundlessly flowing, deeply sorrowful quality. Thus a connection does establish itself, revealing a governing understructure of interrelated images on a profoundly poetic level of meaning, where the entire structure becomes a semiotic sign encoding all the multiple universes of the story.

In some of the stories, these implicit referential images become organized into sets of signifiers which make up their structural connecting tissues, as, for instance, in “Čertopxanov and Nedopjuskin,” together with “The Death of Čertopxanov,” where we see a sustained symbolic interplay of recurrence and juxtaposition among signifying entities we could label “woman” and “horse,” and “pride” and “love.” Their relationships then constitute a poetic inner structure which enriches and intensifies the messages encoded in the outer narrative frame. In the Čertopxanov stories, this inner structure suggests a possible ironic reference to a literary subtext, namely, Lermontov's Hero of Our Time, in which the same thematic signifiers are entwined in complex romantic and tragic relationships. We might then look at Čertopxanov and Maša as a kind of parody of Pečorin and Bela transplanted into Turgenev's literary world of decomposing romantic imagination. The proud, impetuous Pečorin is transmuted to the totally destitute, though equally proud, Čertopxanov, and the mountain beauty Bela becomes Maša, with a guitar and the face of a wasp. In a complete reverse, Maša abandons Čertopxanov for much the same reasons as Pečorin forsook Bela. Even the naive and good-hearted Nedopjuskin reminds one of the simple-minded goodness of Maksim Maksimyč, the helpless observer of Bela's fate.

Finally, there are clear allusions and references to myth and fairy tale in the Sportsman's Notebook. We have in mind not only the tales told by the boys in “Bežin Meadow,” but also, perhaps less obviously, fairy-tale subtexts suggested by some circumstance of a given story. The hero of “The District Doctor,” for instance, suggests a parody of Prince Charming as he sloshes through the foul “enchanted forest” of a Russian countryside to reach his “Sleeping Beauty” for whom he can do nothing except bestow one last kiss of death.18

Other literary refrences, stylistic in their nature and generally understood in terms of influence or perhaps inheritance from previous writers, point to various complex and subtle relationships between Turgenev and all of his great predecessors and contemporaries, such as Puškin, Gogol', Dostoevskij, and Tolstoj.19 It may be worthwhile to look briefly at one aspect of Turgenev's relationship to Gogol', namely, the tendency in The Sportsman's Notebook and elsewhere to depict the various characters as deformed to the point of grotesque, or even a monstrosity.20 The espace dysphorique of the tales we have referred to before is particularly disconcerting because, in the course of engendering poetic images, or the poetic logic of narration, it also tends to create misshapen human figures. These seem to be like metaphors of the horror implicit in the social reality portrayed in the stories, or even perhaps in all ultimate underlying reality. We have in mind such figures as, for instance, in “My Neighbor Radilov” the pitiful Fedor Mixeič, a former landowner and gentleman, now a kept clown with a toothless grin, a tall skeleton, dancing to the music of his tiny fiddle when Radilov tells him to. Many of the peasants are equally grotesque and pitiful, like the minimally human Stepuška from the story “Raspberry Spring” (Malinovaja voda), or Ermolaj and his unfed dog, or the abysmally stupid Obalduj from “The Singers,” or Akulina in “Bežin Meadow” with her face dark as coal, the teeth bared in an eternal grin, rocking from side to side in the middle of the road—a mindless living skeleton. All these could fit into any of Gogol''s tales, or his Dead Souls, one difference being, however, that in Turgenev they are less suggestive of laughter than of tears. Another way to put it is to say that Gogol''s characters are, in a sense, not really meant to be representations of actual life, but rather to help sustain the facetious tone of an entertaining narrative, somewhat akin in its supposed premises to an elaborate verbal anecdote, while Turgenev, on the other hand, creates all the appearances of a true story, some have even said, of a physiological sketch. Therefore the monsters are also real; they walk among us, and whatever our life means, it means them as well. In the Sportsman's Notebook we see a world of breathtaking natural as well as human beauty which is turning monstrous at the extreme points of misery pressing down upon the living, and sometimes even upon the dead. Poetic imagery often arises at this very borderline, from the tragic encounter between beauty and pain.

The narrator of Sportsman's Notebook is shown to be aware of the implications of his stories in the moral dimension, but not of the figurative, poetic associations of his mode of narration. This distinguishes him from the author, Turgenev, who knows that he has been trying to coordinate his stylistic and structural devices to create a complex, highly evocative blend of unflinching observation upon “things as they are” and a deep feeling of what things could become if transfigured by the power of the poetic principle inherent in the stories as structured by his creative imagination.


  1. This oft-quoted statement by Turgenev: “In my eyes the foe had a definite visage, and a known name: serfdom. Under that name I gathered and concentrated all that I had decided to contend against to the bitter end, that with which I had resolved never to make peace; that was my Hannibalic Oath” (I. S. Turgenev, Polnoe sobranie sočinenij i pisem, Vol. 14, 9, translated here by Victor Ripp) is taken with some scepticism by Victor Ripp, who points out, first, that the very first sketch, “Xor' and Kalinyč,” was written “almost off-handedly,” when Turgenev may have been ready to drop his literary career altogether, and second, that there “certainly was no solemn moment when he took a Hannibalic Oath.” See Victor Ripp, Turgenev's Russia From Notes of a Hunter to Fathers and Sons (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1980), 23, 24.

  2. Ripp, 42.

  3. See M. Geršenzon, Mečta i mysl' I. S. Turgeneva (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1970). Nachdruck der Ausgabe Moskau 1919 mit neuen Registern, 66: “Sportsman's Notebook can be read with pleasure even today. Their theme, or ‘idea’ is the same as in Tolstoj's The Cossacks; but what a difference in form!”

  4. Geršenzon, 68.

  5. N. A. Dobroljubov, Polnoe sobranie sočinenij vol. 2, 1935, as quoted in: S. M. Petrov and I. T. Trofimov, ed., Tvorčestvo. S. Turgeneva (M.: 1959), 13.

  6. Edward Garnett, Turgenev. A Study (New York: Haskell House, 1975; reprint of the ed. published by W. Collins, London), 39-40.

  7. P. G. Pustovojt, I. S. Turgenev—xudožnik slova (M.: Izdatel'stvo Moskovskogo Universiteta, 1980), 8, quoted from Polnoe sobranie …, I, 298.

  8. Considering Sportsman's Notebook just from the ideological point of view, as a statement against serfdom, the Soviet scholar V. V. Golubkov classifies the stories as belonging to three basic groups: (1) stories where landowners confront the peasants directly, (2) stories in which center stage belongs to the peasants, while the landowners seem marginal, and finally, (3) stories (like “Čertopxanov and Nedopjuskin”) in which the peasant-landowner conflict seems to recede into the background. The evils of serfdom, however, remain the main direct or implicit topic in all of them. Golubkov also classifies the stories according to the manner in which the narrator is present in them as someone who merely overhears things, or asks questions himself, or, as in “The Lone Wolf,” even tries to take part in the action. See V. V. Golubkov, “Idejno-xudožestvennoe edinstvo ‘Zapisok oxotnika’” in Tvorčestvo I. S. Turgeneva, 22-23. An interesting discussion of the unifying role of the narrator is presented in: Sister Consolata Delaney, BVM, “Turgenev's Sportsman; Experiment in Unity,” Slavic and East European Journal, No. 1, 1964, 17-26. We are not attempting any classification here, remaining content with the recognition of some particular features in a number of the stories.

  9. This concept is presented by Greimas in his Maupassant. La semiotique du texte: exercises pratiques (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1976), 21, where Paris, surrounded by the Prussians in Maupassant's story “Deux Amis” is described in terms of spatial structures as an englobed textual space, in contrast to the surrounding presence of the Prussian-occupied territory.

  10. V. V. Golubkov in Tvorčestvo I. S. Turgeneva, 20, considers the entire collection to be a “special world, enclosed within itself.”

  11. P. G. Pustovojt, in I. C. Turgenev. Xudožnik slova, 74, considers this significant structural device a mere “interesting realistic detail.”

  12. Incidentally, the idea of creating an enclosed space under the sway of some fatal or evil power, may have found one of its earlier expressions in Turgenev's poem “Paraša,” where the entire landscape of Russia is depicted as being subject to the evil smile of a demon:


    Druzsy! Я vizu bisa … na zabоr
    On оpirsy—i smоtrit; za citоy
    Nasmislivо slidit ugrymyj vzоr.
    I slysnо: vdaliкi, likоj grоzоy
    Rastirzannyj, picalsnо vоit pоr …
    Mоy dusa tripisit pоnivоli;
    Mni кazitsy, оn smоtrit ni na nik—
    Rоssiy vsy rasкinulash, кaк pоli,
    Pirid igо glazami v etоt mig …
    I кaк blistyt nad tucami zarnicy;
    I strasnay ulybкa prоpоlzla
    Midlitilsnо vdоls gub vladyкi zla …

    Precisely this terrible slow smile of the evil power seems to rule over the enclosed spaces in Sportsman's Notebook as well. See I. S. Turgenev. Sočinenija, Vol. 1 (M.: 1960), 99.

  13. E. M. Efimova, “Pejzaž v ‘Zapiskax oxotnika’ I. S. Turgeneva,” “Zapiski oxotnika” I. S. Turgeneva. Stat'i i materialy, Orel: izd. Orlovskaja Pravda, 1955, 270.

  14. Victor Ripp, Turgenev's Russia, 58.

  15. A similar point is made in an article pertaining to the late stories of Turgenev by Eva Kagan-Kans: “Unable to deny the materialistic conception of the world but at the same time attracted by the concept of fate, by those mysterious forces which can perhaps be identified with nature, Turgenev developed a fatalistic view of the individual and of human life as a whole.” See Eva Kagan-Kans, “Fate and Fantasy: A Study of Turgenev's Fantastic Stories,” Slavic Review 28, No. 4, December 1969, 560.

  16. Turgenev makes explicit use of this tale in Rudin, where it constitutes a part of Rudin's philosophizing rhetoric.

  17. M. O. Gabel', in “Ezopovskaja manera v ‘Zapiskax oxotnika’ I. S. Turgeneva,” Tvorčestvo I. S. Turgeneva, 188, explains the meaning of “Stryganixa” as follows: “The landlady was called Stryganixa from the word “strič'” [to shave]; the writer wanted to say with this nickname that the landlady shaved her serfs in order literally to send them away to be soldiers, and, in a figurative sense, to squeeze all the life juices out of them, forcing them to work for her and subjecting them to corporal punishment for the slightest offence.”

  18. M. P. Starenkov in “Jazyk i stil' ‘Zapisok oxotnika I. S. Turgeneva,” Tvorčestvo Turgeneva, 48, adduces another folktale subtext pertaining to the theme “horse,” in “The Death of Čertopxanov”: “… in describing the hero's horse in the story ‘The Death of Čertopxanov’, the author uses a developed comparison, apparently from a Russian folktale.”

  19. Such influences and interconnections have been rather extensively discussed by various authors, particularly among the Soviet scholars. One might point out such articles as “‘Zapiski oxotnika” i russkaja literatura” by G. A. Bjalyj and “O Gogolevskix tradicijax v ‘Zapiskax oxotnika’” by V. A. Kovalev in “Zapiski oxotnika” I. S. Turgeneva, or “Jazyk i stil' ‘Zapisok oxotnika’ I. S. Turgeneva” by M. P. Starenkov in Tvorčestvo I. S. Turgeneva, and there are many others.

  20. Two excellent discussions of grotesque in Turgenev's late writings are: Eva Kagan-Kans, “Fate and Fantasy: A Study of Turgenev's Fantastic Stories,” Slavic Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, December 1969, and James B. Woodward, “Typical Images in the Later Tales of Turgenev,” Slavic and East European Journal 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1973), 18-32.

Rachel Killick (essay date October 1988)

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SOURCE: Killick, Rachel. “Family Likeness in Flaubert and Maupassant: ‘La Legende de Saint Julien L'Hospitalier’ and ‘Le Donneur d'Eau Benite.’” Forum for Modern Language Studies 24, no. 4 (October 1988): 346-58.

[In the following essay, Killick considers the influence of Gustave Flaubert on Guy de Maupassant through a comparison of two stories that share similar elements of plot and theme.]

Flaubert's role as the young Maupassant's literary mentor is a well-established fact, attested by the 1870s correspondence and Flaubert's annotations of Maupassant's early work, particularly his verse. After 1880 Maupassant's articles on Flaubert and the Flaubertian tonality of his remarks on art and the novel demonstrate the permanence of that influence. In contrast, however, to the thorough critical documenting of these links, relatively little attention has been paid to any direct formative effect of Flaubert's fiction on that of Maupassant. No account has thus been taken of the striking relationship of resemblance and difference between “La Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier” (first published in Le Bien Public of 19, 20, 21, 22 April 1877) and Maupassant's third published tale, “Le Donner d'eau bénite” (La Mosaïque, 10 November 1877).1

Interestingly, in the perspective of the literary father-son relationship, the two stories treat a common theme of family ties and likeness through parallel stories of a much loved child who disappears from a comfortable home and whose parents give up everything to search for him. Basic narrative structure is also the same: first, movement out of a secure but restrictive family situation; secondly, a period of prolonged and difficult quest; and, thirdly, a series of recognitions of family likeness leading to a renewed experience of wholeness. Intermittent textual similarities further pinpoint the parallelism between the two works. However, these overall similarities of theme and structure, together with the local textual resemblances, run in counterpoint with important differences of narrative focus and of thematic and stylistic emphasis. First, in a paradoxical reversal of the relationship of their authors, the stories are told from opposite points of view, Flaubert concentrating on the situation of the son, Maupassant picking up the untold tale of “Saint Julien” and recounting a similar situation from the angle of the parents.2 Secondly, the conceptual level at which the common theme of family relationships and family resemblance is handled is quite different in the two stories. Flaubert's tale is thematically complex, posing fundamental psychological, social and metaphysical questions on the nature of man. Narrative structure is correspondingly complex. Julien's “leaving home” is a convoluted and inconclusive process, and his search for himself, in which the parental search is apparently subsumed as a secondary element, turns out itself to be inextricably subsumed within the framework of family resemblance. Maupassant's story, in contrast, is conducted at the anecdotal and sentimental level. Thematic development follows a simple linear pattern of loss, search and reunion, while emotional effect is maximized by concentration on two highly charged dramatic scenes, symmetrically placed in the first and third parts of the story. Thirdly, there are substantial differences of length and stylistic approach. Flaubert needs space (9000 words plus to Maupassant's 1400) for a close analysis of Julien's temperament and behaviour, which also incorporates the erudite detail of a medieval pastiche and the physical detail of macabre scenes of gothic horror to produce an effect of disorientating ambiguousness where the reader is left in considerable doubt as to the standards by which the protagonist is to be judged. Maupassant achieves immediate impact by telescoping the chronology around two climactic scenes and by preferring the economy of an unspecific but probably vaguely contemporary protagonist and setting and the banal simplicity of popular topoi derived from fairy-tale and traditional Bible story.3 The two stories thus display a fascinating mixture of resemblance and dissimilarity which argues strongly for a productive interaction between the master's fictional work and that of his young protégé.

The length of the first section of each story immediately provides a good indication of the differences in thematic approach and narrative focus. Flaubert takes eleven pages to examine the reasons determining Julien's departure from his home. Maupassant, concerned to reach the anguish of parental loss as soon as possible, covers the ground in three short paragraphs. Nevertheless, the parents are centre-stage in the initial section of both stories and the narrative in both cases is hung around two key events, the arrival of the longed-for child and his precipitate departure from the family milieu. These parallels are further thrown into relief by a number of textual resemblances, starting with the very first sentence which in both stories establishes the double theme of family security and restriction within a similar ternary arrangement of the syntax. However, differences of focus and tone are already evident. Flaubert's ostensibly informational sentence (“Le père et la mère de Julien habitaient un château, au milieu des bois, sur la pente d'une colline”), in fact stresses secure and privileged family relationships, while, at a subtler level, the construction of the sentence on a pattern of encirclement, with the eponymous protagonist in a position of grammatical dependence and syntactic enclosure, suggests incipient claustrophobia.4 Maupassant's retrospectively angled sentence, on the other hand, (“Il habitait autrefois une petite maison, près d'une grande route, à l'entrée d'un village”) both accelerates the story-line and through its suggestion of marginalisation and disintegration creates an effect of immediate pathos. The protagonist apparently no longer possesses a clearly formulated personal, familial or social identity. An unnamed “il” of no fixed abode, he is defined for the moment only by the retrospectively recorded loss of his cosy, though possibly limiting, “petite maison”, significantly placed on the borderline between the security and restrictiveness of the village and the exciting if dangerous possibilities of “la grande route”.

Similarity of narrative structure, the first event in both stories being the arrival of the longed-for child, is likewise foregrounded by textual similarity: “A force de prier Dieu, il lui vint un fils” (F) / “Seulement ils n'avaient pas d'enfants, ce qui les chagrinait énormément. Enfin un fils leur vint” (M). However, once again, thematic divergence, relating to larger differences of pacing and scope in the overall development of the first phase of the narrative, is clearly apparent. Flaubert's sentence (“A force de prier Dieu …”) stands as a paradoxical climax to two detailed opening pages evoking the material life of the medieval chateau and the domestic economic virtues of Julien's mother. The irony this generates is crucial in initiating the major theme of the reality or otherwise of God and of divine intervention in the life of Julien. In contrast, the initial stage of Maupassant's tale is completed by the third and fourth sentences of his opening nine-line paragraph and these, simultaneously more economic and more banal than Flaubert, put the emphasis not on the workings of Divine Providence but on that topos of fairy-tale and folk-lore, the emotional deprivation of childless parents.

The account of the child's upbringing brings further structural and stylistic parallels with an emphasis in both stories, focused on the verb “chérir”, on the stifling or overwhelming love of the parents for their child. Thematic and stylistic divergence continue, however, in counterpoint. The concern of Julien's parents for their God-given offspring ironically takes the form of an oppressive, reifying preoccupation, minutely detailed by Flaubert, for his physical comfort. Maupassant, in contrast, continuing the emotional emphasis of “ce qui les chagrinait énormément”, stresses the direct affective nature of the parents' response to their child, setting “chérir” in the latter half of his fourth sentence as the culmination of a three-fold repetition of verbs of intimate physical and emotional contact:

ils l'appelèrent Jean, et ils le caressaient l'un après l'autre, l'enveloppant de leur amour, le chérissant tellement qu'ils ne pouvaient rester une heure sans le reqarder.

(My italics.)5

Similarity of narrative structure continues with the entry of the outside world into the enclosed circle of parents and child and is again underlined stylistically, this time by common reference to a benchmark in time: “Quand il eut sept ans” (F) / “Comme il avait cinq ans” (M). However, subsequent handling of the motif takes two very different forms. For Flaubert the visits of merchants, pilgrims and former companions-at-arms of Julien's father and the possibilities of physical risk and challenge they represent are but one element in the complex and gradual elaboration of Julien's psychology. Real escape is for the moment postponed, as the narrative encloses outside visitation within a detailed account of Julien's education, thus reinforcing the sense of the tight restrictiveness of family bonds and blocking off vistas to the outside world as soon as they occur. In contrast, the age reference heading the single sentence of the brief second paragraph of Maupassant's tale leads directly into the message from outside offered to the small child by the advent of the circus (“Comme il avait cinq ans, des saltimbanques passèrent dans le pays et établirent une baraque sur la place de la Mairie”). His enticing away, based on a topos of child-stealing long established in folk-tale and folksong, operates moreover only as a functional element in Maupassant's tale of parental loss. The factual details are relegated to a paragraph at the end of the story for brief retrospective recounting (a similar treatment to that given to the tale of the parents in “Saint Julien”), and the child's carefree enjoyment is only evoked to strengthen by contrast the anxiety of the parents. Emotional resonance is additionally achieved by depiction of the boy's reaction to the circus in terms which constitute a secular version of the Boy Jesus in the Temple and thus point forward to the parents' desperate searching for their lost son:

Jean (…) s'échappa de la maison, et son père, après l'avoir cherché bien longtemps, le retrouva au milieu des chèvres savantes et des chiens faiseurs de tours, qui poussait de grands éclats de rire sur les genoux d'un vieux paillasse.

The first major climax of Flaubert's story occurs before the end of the initial section, and concerns, not the actual departure from home of Julien, but an abortive attempt at self-liberation while still within the family sphere of influence. Moving away from previous consideration of Julien solely in relation to his parents, the narrative presents the protagonist in his deliberately chosen and symbolic isolation in an eerie no-man's-land beyond the immediate shelter of the castle walls and of the organised ritual of the group hunt. Multiplication of sadistic and gory detail underlines Julien's efforts to free himself from familial and social constraint by losing himself in pure sensation, while a climactic reproach to this violence is provided by the archetypal family group of the three deer (the huge, virile father, the pretty docile mother, the cherished dependent infant).

In contrast Maupassant's spare opening scenario concludes directly with the first of two major scenes, a substantial half-page section describing the panic-stricken searching of the parents for their lost son:

Trois jours après, à l'heure du dîner, au moment de se mettre à table, le charron et sa femme s'aperçurent que leur fils n'était plus dans la maison. Ils le cherchèrent dans leur jardin,6 et comme ils ne le trouvaient pas, le père, sur le bord de la route, cria de toute sa force: “Jean?”—La nuit venait; l'horizon s'emplissait d'une vapeur brune qui reculait les objects dans un lointain sombre et effrayant. Trois grands sapins, tout près de la, semblaient pleurer. Aucune voix ne répondit; mais il y avait dans l'air comme des gémissements indistincts. Le père écouta longtemps, croyant toujours entendre quelque chose, tantôt à droite, tantôt a gauche, et, la tête perdue, il s'enfonçait dans la nuit en appelant sans cesse: “Jean? Jean?”

Il courut ainsi jusqu'au jour, emplissant les ténèbres de ses cris, épouvantant les bêtes rôdeuses, ravagé par une angoisse terrible et se croyant fou par moments.

The two “hunts” obviously differ markedly in their choice of protagonist (son/father), level of thematic presentation (symbolic/realistic) and general tone (sadistic/pathetic). The chief effect of Maupassant's text is to maximize emotion by careful orchestration of the search in four stages, starting from the previously secure point of the house and the family meal, then moving into the family garden, then out onto the road, the frontier with the unknown, before culminating in a frenzied plunge into the uncharted misty darkness of the landscape beyond. Nevertheless, despite the dissimilarities, the two episodes are thematically and structurally linked by their common status as disorientating, hallucinatory experiences, bringing to a climax the first phase of their respective stories by decisively calling into question the existence and strength of family ties. Stylistically, too, certain Maupassant details seem directly reminiscent of “Saint Julien”: the evening setting; the anthropomorphic interpretation of natural phenomena, in particular the symbolic allusion to the family offered by three fir trees in an echo of Flaubert's three deer, and the references to their “weeping” and to “des gémissements indistincts”; the cries of the father which recall those of Flaubert's doe; the reference “épouvantant les bêtes rôdeuses”, which immediately brings to mind, at least in the context of an associated reading of the two stories, the general pattern of Julien's exploits.

In the second phase of the two stories the divergence of narrative focus between son and parents is definitively established. Though the fundamental theme of unsatisfied quest is common to both, Maupassant's attention is now firmly fixed on the parents and, facilitated by the anonymity of character and setting, on the universal emotional interest of their suffering. Flaubert, on the other hand, focuses on the son, re-enacting the drama of the search for the self and attempted liberation from familial control through the fabulous detail of hagiographic legend (Julien's amazing travels and campaigns, his marriage with the Emperor's daughter) before moving in conclusion to a replay of the dream-like hunt, which culminates at last not in the slaughter of animals but in the real murder of Julien's parents. However, despite these major differences, certain close parallels persist between the two stories, most notably, as might have been expected, in the textually often very similar accounts of the wanderings of the two sets of parents. Flaubert, reserving direct speech for events and decisions of fateful significance (the prophecies, the curse of the stag, the parents' introduction of themselves to the wife, the demands of the leper) gives the tale of Julien's parents in the form of reported conversation with Julien's wife. This sets the parents' search at a secondary level, but the personal perspective still inhering in the free indirect mode permits a degree of pathos which links their account closely with the Maupassant version:

Ne voyant pas revenir [Julien], ils étaient partis de leur château; et ils marchaient depuis plusieurs années, sur de vagues indications sans perdre l'espoir. Il avait fallu tant d'argent au péage des fleuves et dans les hôtelleries, pour les droits des princes et les exigences des voleurs, que le fond de leur bourse était vide maintenant. Qu'importe, puisque bientôt ils embrasseraient leur fils?

(F, p. 122)

Maupassant's account is narratively presented but contains similar details of long searching and financial exploitation and exhaustion:

Ils questionnèrent les bergers sur les côtes, les marchands qui passaient, les paysans dans les villages et les autorités des villes. Mais il y avait longtemps que leur fils était perdu; personne ne savait rien; lui-même avait sans doute oublié son nom maintenant et celui de son pays; et ils pleuraient, n'espérant plus.

Bientôt ils n'eurent plus d'argent; alors ils se louèrent à la journée dans les fermes et dans les hôtelleries, accomplissant les besognes les plus humbles, vivant des restes des autres, couchant sur la dure et souffrant du froid.

(M, p. 61)

Furthermore, his introduction of a snatch of free indirect speech (“lui-même avait sans doute oublié son nom maintenant et celui de son pays”) provides a stylistic parallel with Flaubert, the effect here being to infuse the narrative with emotion, while at the same time, as in “Saint Julien,” direct speech is reserved for climactic events in the narrative.

Similarities of experience and presentation are not, however, confined to the tale of the two sets of parents. The wanderings of Maupassant's protagonists also have points of resemblance with different moments in the life of Julien himself. Thus the second phase of the narrative begins in both texts on a note of syntactic resemblance, with an accelerated account of the next stages in the lives of the protagonists, stylistically accentuated by a quick succession of past historic verbs. In the case of Julien, these relay experiences of physical challenge readily endured; in the case of the parents of Maupassant's tale, a process of rapid physical decline and an accelerating movement of loss, recounted, however, with none of the physical detail which, throughout “Saint Julien,” so radically undermines the notion of spiritual quest as a viable human aspiration:

On ne retrouva pas leur fils.

Alors ils vieillirent rapidement dans une tristesse inconsolable. Enfin ils vendirent leur maison et ils partirent pour chercher eux-mêmes.7

The account of Julien's wanderings after the murder, in the last part of Flaubert's tale, also shows a convergence with the experience of Maupassant's protagonists together with a high degree of textual similarity:

Il s'en alla mendiant sa vie par le monde.

Il tendait sa main aux cavaliers sur les routes, avec des génuflexions s'approchait des moissonneurs, ou restait immobile devant la barrière des cours; et son visage était si triste que jamais on ne lui refusait l'aumône.

(F, p. 128)

Bientôt ils n'eurent plus d'argent (…) Mais comme ils devenaient très faibles à force de fatigues, on n'en voulut plus pour travailler, et ils furent obligés de mendier sur les routes. Ils accostaient les voyageurs avec des figures tristes et des voix suppliantes; imploraient un morceau de pain aux moissonneurs qui dînent autour d'un arbre à midi dans la plaine; et ils mangeaient silencieusement, assis sur le bord des fossés.

(M, p. 61)

Souvent ils marchaient à l'aventure devant eux, l'un contre l'autre, ayant l'air si tristes et si pauvres qu'on leur faisait l'aumône sans qu'ils l'eussent demandée.

(M, p. 62)8

A final example of similarity between the experience of the different protagonists is provided by the emphasis in both texts on the theme of loneliness, though here the close stylistic parallel is absent. Flaubert, his medieval setting in mind, once again provides a mass of medieval local colour around his key notation of a now inacessible family harmony (“les longues tables de famille où des aïeux tenaient des petits enfants sur les genoux”) glimpsed by Julien through the separating window. Maupassant, on the other hand, stresses isolation, exclusion and helpless exposure to chance through characteristic summary, generalisation and repetition: “Ils visitèrent toutes les places, toutes les rues, s'arrêtèrent à tous les attroupements qu'ils voyaient, espérant une rencontre providentielle, quelque prodigieux hasard, une pitié de la destinée.”

In the final section of both stories similarities of theme and narrative structure continue to interact with substantive differences of basic thematic conception, tone and detail. The last stage of both stories is centred on scenes of likeness and final recognition which are the climactic moments in a gradual process of release from lonely isolation and reintegration into the bonds of the family and of humanity at large. The second part of “Saint Julien” had already included the crucial episode of the failed recognition, the apparent success of the parents' mission extending only as far as their acceptance by a surrogate, Julien's wife. Julien's elimination of his father, viewed (mistakenly) as a sexual competitor, brings to a climax the refusal to accept family, and specifically paternal, authority. In contrast to this Oedipal suppression of the ageing father (mimicked narratively by the subsuming of the parental search as a minor element in Julien's search for himself), the recognition of the father within the self, symbolized in the episode of the reflection in the pool in the third section, is a revelation to Julien of family relationship as an integral part of individual identity and physical frailty as the shared inheritance of every member of the human family.9 As a result a sense of interdependence (“l'idée (…) d'employer son existence au service des autres”) replaces self-centred independence, commitment isolation, as Julien abandons his life of solitary quest on his own account for a settled existence facilitating the travels and quests of others. However, Julien's recognition of his human limitations and potential is not yet fully achieved. Despite his choice of habitation in the most inhospitable of physical environments on the very margin of social and human life,10 the depths of physical degeneration and human dereliction remain unplumbed, while, on the other hand, despite Julien's toil on behalf of his fellow men, perfect forgetfulness of self is still unattained.

Two further scenes of “family resemblance”, one with the leper, one with “Notre Seigneur Jésus”, provide the ultimate realisation of the two aspects. The leper, who in the legend is Christ in the most destitute of human guises, can also be viewed, in a reversed reading, as a likeness of Julien himself, confronting the old man Julien now is with the physical decay and final solitude to which he and all the family of man must succumb. In a concluding amplification of the pool episode the scene provides a gruesomely detailed description of the hideous decay of the flesh towards death; at the same time, the terse direct speech of the leper's successive demands for food, drink, shelter and rest foregrounds the limiting physical pattern of all human existence. The leper's final demand for full human contact is, however, the bridge to the more optimistic idea of a final transcending of physical and individual limits in a universal bond of the spirit.11 A last, alternative scene of “family resemblance” is thus proposed in the penultimate paragraph as the leper, transformed into radiant deity, bears heavenwards “face à face”, in a moment of glorious recognition and reunion, Julien, the “petit Jésus” of the early part of the story.

The narrative in “Le Donneur d'eau bénite” follows a parallel line of gradual reintegration triumphantly concluded in a scene of recognition and reunion. Initially there is the reconstitution of a “family” threesome with “un vieux donneur d'eau bénite” who has his own “histoire fort triste”. The pathos of this compromise is however highlighted by a sentence, reproducing “en noir” the phraseology of the story's opening sentence and replacing motifs of a established, secure existence with those of topsy-turvy, poverty-stricken marginalisation: “Ils finirent par habiter ensemble tous les trois dans un pauvre taudis, tout en haut d'une grande maison, située très loin, auprès des champs.” This marginality is, however, to some extent offset within the very same sentence by reference to the help given to the friend and the participation in wider community life to which this leads when, on his death, the wheelwright takes over his job.

In the same reversal of pattern as “Saint Julien,” stasis replaces movement, and assistance to others exclusive preoccupation with self, as the old man, having searched vainly through countryside and city, provides, like Julien, a supporting viaticum to others, as he waits for the world to bring to him at last the resolution of his quest. However, though the basic pattern is identical to that of “Saint Julien,” the quiet uneventfulness of the old man's “existence rétrécie” as “donneur d'eau bénite” once again differs radically from Flaubert's detailed description of the tortured physicality of Julien's life as ferryman. The parallel, as Maupassant sums up his protagonist's experience (“Il devint très vieux, s'affaiblissant encore sous l'humidité des voûtes; et son espoir s'émiettait tous les jours”), is rather with the general tenor of life of the ageing Félicité in the decaying house in Pont l'Evêque. However, the three-fold structure of Maupassant's sentence, which combines physical disintegration of the protagonist, physical disintegration of the environment, and disintegration of morale expressed in terms of an image linking the physical and the emotional, creates an effect of explicit pathos. In contrast, in “Un Cœur simple” the technique is binary; only the first two elements come into play and the hopelessness of the situation, unperceived by Félicité, is transmitted to the reader free of overt emotional charge and solely via the detailed objective description of physical decay both in her person and in her environment.

The single recognition scene of Maupassant's story occupies a substantial space, one whole page out of the total of four and a half, a much larger proportion of the text relatively than the three related episodes of “Saint Julien.” However it has none of the complex connotations of self-disgust, self-acceptance and self-transcendence of Flaubert's tale. Instead, Maupassant plays the scene with a variety of delaying tactics for maximum pathetic effect. The situation of the pool episode in “Saint Julien” is reversed, the pattern of the son seeing in his older self the face of his father being replaced by that of the father who dimly glimpses in the son the traces of his own youth:

(…) il chercha jusqu'au soir dans ses souvenirs où il avait pu voir autrefois un homme qui ressemblait à celui-là. Mais celui qu'il se rappelait devait être à présent un vieillard, car il lui semblait l'avoir connu là-bas, dans sa jeunesse.12

This first, narratively recorded encounter is subsequently repeated in the iterative mode (“Ce même homme revint souvent”), still without the old man being able to place “cette ressemblance vague, éloignée et familière.” The initial recognition is then replayed in expanded form and with the additional dramatic emphasis of direct speech as the wife is brought in to assist. The actual making of contact is similarly prolonged with three-fold repetition of the child's name echoing the three-fold calling of him in the initial scene of loss.13 Increasing typographic foregrounding of the direct speech highlights the effect:

(…) le vieux, dont la main tremblait tellement qu'elle faisait par terre une pluie d'eau bénite, s'écria “Jean?”

L'homme s'arrêta, le regardant.

Il reprit plus bas:


Les deux femmes l'examinaient sans comprendre.

Alors il dit pour la troisième fois en sanglotant:


The recognition by the son is similarly given prominence by a series of repetitions: repetition of the idea of physical proximity (“L'homme se pencha tout près, tout près de sa figure”);14 repetition of the parents' names (“Papa Pierre, Maman Jeanne”), the first time in the story that they are given any personal designation, though their parental titles and role still remain paramount; repetition in the account of the reaction of the young man's two female companions, watching first “sans comprendre”, then “comprenant qu'un grand bonheur etait arrivé”, extending through their tears the emotional impact of the family reunion.

The level of reconciliation reached in the two stories (emotional family reunion of the type promoted by the popular press (M) / acknowledgement of the essential aspects of one's humanity (F)) might seem to render them in the last analysis barely comparable. However, to their common thematic element of resemblance and recognition and to the broad outline of similarity in their respective narrative structures there must also be added the shared element of irony, especially the irony of the two conclusions. Flaubert's irony in “Saint Julien” is all-pervasive. The saint is a sado-masochist. The theme of the workings of Divine Providence is subverted either by the horror of events themselves or, as in the case of Julien's birth, by a presentation which stresses material values at the expense of spiritual ones. The climax is reached in the highly ambiguous ending of the story which leaves the reader with the choice of seeing the human individual in terms of the physical decay represented by the leper or as a son of God with a “majesté de roi”. Furthermore, the choice itself is hardly innocent. The “apotheosis” seems scarcely to compensate for the tale of horror and excess to which it supplies so rapid and pat a conclusion, while both the repulsive detail of leprosy and the sensuality of the closing vision also discourage a positive, spiritual, interpretation.15 Overarching all, the title “La Légende” … (together with the collection title Trois Contes) and the postface (“Et voilà l'histoire de Saint Julien, telle à peu près qu'on la trouve, sur un vitrail d'église de mon pays”) stress the fictional nature of the text and hence perhaps the fictitiousness of the protagonist or the inauthentic nature of his values, or at the very least the possible interferences of personal or religious bias in the recounting even of his “true” story.

In contrast to this complexity the ending of Maupassant's tale may seem a straightforward and optimistic one. The parents have found their lost son; the young man has acquired wealth and is about to marry a “nice young girl”. All's well that ends well. But this interpretation disregards the many years of suffering undergone by the parents, the recounting of which occupies half the story. It also discounts the suffering of the son and, above all, the arbitrary way the reunion of the parents with their child is brought about. In parallel to the reference in “Saint Julien” to the “vagues indications” orienting the parents' search, Maupassant motivates the arrival of the wheelwright and his wife in Paris on a snatch of chance conversation:

Un hôtelier, auquel ils racontaient leur malheur, leur dit un jour: “J'ai connu aussi quelqu'un qui avait perdu sa fille; c'est à Paris qu'il l'a retrouvée.”16

Maupassant's use here is of direct speech (the only piece in the text apart from those involved in the father's initial search and the recognition scene) parallels the economy of Flaubert's use of direct speech in “Saint Julien” and is also, in a thematic intertextual echo of Flaubert's irony, the means of a brief but significant double allusion to the lack of individual control over destiny with which “Saint Julien” is centrally concerned. By foregrounding the snippet of random dialogue Maupassant sets the story of the lost son within the perspective of the arbitrariness of the forces governing human life, thus allowing a glimpse of an underlying pessimism which the “happy ending” will gloss over but not completely conceal. Simultaneously he also suggests a “rewrite” for the narrative which again subverts the optimistic outcome, for if the discovery safe and sound in Paris of a lost son already strains belief, that of a lost daughter in similar condition seems even more of an impossible fairy tale.

The ironic subtext culminates in the intertextual phraseology of the last two paragraphs of Maupassant's tale which seems inescapably to situate the “happy ending” in ironic counterpoint to the account of the fate of the parents in Flaubert's tale:

Quand les deux vieux eurent dit à leur tour leurs chagrins et leurs fatigues, ils embrassèrent [leur fils] encore une fois; et ils veillèrent fort tard ce soir-la, n'osant pas se coucher, de crainte que le bonheur qui les fuyait depuis si longtemps ne les abandonnât pendant leur sommeil.

Mais ils avaient usé la ténacité du malheur, car ils furent heureux jusqu' à la mort.

(My italics.)

The reference to the murder of Julien's parents in their sleep so shortly after the renewal of their happiness could scarcely be more pointed, nor the fragility of the happiness of the parents of Maupassant's tale and its dependence on the vagaries of chance more strikingly underlined.

Maupassant's story is clearly in many ways a much simpler text than Flaubert's tale. It does not concern itself with psychological motivations, symbolic possibilities of the narrative17 or complex metaphysical speculation. Nevertheless, it possesses in counterpoint to the qualities in Flaubert's text its own individual strengths and subtleties. Even at this early stage Maupassant, in contrast to Flaubert's erudite aestheticism,18 demonstrates a strong awareness of elements likely to appeal to a wide public—an unassuming “straightforward” style of writing and a broadly familiar setting, a tight narrative line with parental emotion as the single focus, suspense (how did the “charron” become a “donneur d'eau bénite”? / will he find his son?), pathos (with the narrative structured around two contrasting emotional peaks), a fairy-tale conclusion.19 But Maupassant has also understood the lesson of Flaubert's irony: beneath the comforting familiarity and behind the superficial reassurance of the “happy ending”, he is already developing the complementary ability to create an original alternative subtext giving subtle, indirect expression to his own fundamentally sombre view of human life. “La Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier”, Flaubert's tale of a search for self-definition and self-realisation against and within family likeness, has thus borne fruit not merely as a convenient source of shared material for the writing apprentice but, more importantly, as a subject encouraging Maupassant to reflect on the “family relationship” between himself and his literary “father” and to define in counterpoint and parallel to his mentor's example the area of his own gifts and preferences. Beyond the “family likeness” of the two stories, the similarities of basic situation and of much of the development and detail, Flaubert's essential role has been the initiation of Maupassant into his own personal identity as a writer.


  1. “Saint Julien” has been consulted in the excellent edition of Trois Contes by Colin Duckworth (London, Harrap, 1959). For Le “Donneur d'eau bénite,” see the Pléiade edition of Maupassant, Contes et nouvelles, 2 vols., ed. Louis Forestier (Paris, Gallimard, 1974 and 1979), vol. 1, 60-64. Where necessary authorship of the quotations will be indicated by (F) and (M) respectively with page references, if appropriate, to these editions. Andre Vial, Guy de Maupassant et l'art du roman (Paris, Nizet, 1954) is still the most detailed source for information on the links between the ideas of Flaubert and Maupassant. However, his references to precise links between the fictional works of the two authors are much more limited. Forestier in his notes to the Pléiade edition makes passing reference from time to time to parallels in Flaubert's work. The notes to “Le Donneur d'eau bénite,” however, stress only the elements in the story pointing forward to Maupassant's later writing. There is no look backward to possible sources.

  2. This difference of focus no doubt has its origins in the familial situation of the two writers. Flaubert, the protected son, who never left home, emphasizes the restrictiveness of parental control, however loving. Maupassant, the child of a broken home, idealizes parental, and particularly paternal, concern.

  3. Edward Sullivan, Maupassant: The Short Stories (London, Edward Arnold, 1962), p. 28, in a brief mention of “Le Donneur d'eau bénite,” stresses the traditional aspects of the plot.

  4. Flaubert's concern to reduce the sentence to its essential points is demonstrated by two earlier variants: (1) “Jamais il n'y eut d'enfant plus joli ni de meilleurs parents que le père et la mère du petit Julien. Ils habitaient un château dans les bois sur la pente d'une colline, au fond d'une large vallée.” (2) “Jamais il n'y eut de meilleurs parents que la mère et le père du petit Julien. Ils habitaient un château au milieu des bois sur la pente d'une colline.” Quoted and commented by Duckworth, ed. cit., pp. 191-2.

  5. The choice of the name Jean, in conjunction especially with the baptismal connotation of “eau bénite”, could perhaps be seen as a Biblical allusion to John the Baptist, the son born in old age. On the other hand, it could also be related to the emphasis on the anonymity/universality (Jean/“gens”) of the protagonists.

  6. The choice of “leur”, not “le jardin” stresses the family environment.

  7. Cf. “Saint Julien,” p. 118: “Il s'engagea dans une troupe d'aventuriers qui passaient. Il connut la faim, la soif, les fièvres et la vermine. Il s'accoutuma au fracas des mêlées, à l'aspect des moribonds. Le vent tanna sa peau. Ses membres se durcirent par le contact des armures (…)”

  8. Vial, op. cit., p. 495, looking forwards to Maupassant's subsequent writing, suggests a parallel between the bewilderment of the parents in Paris (“Lorsqu'ils entrèrent dans la grande ville, ils furent épouvantés par son immensité et par les multitudes qui passaient”) and “la course effarée de Jeanne vieillie, que la même recherche égare dans les mêmes lieux” in “Une Vie.” Another parallel, looking backwards, might be with the scene in “Un Cœur simple” where Félicité hurries desperately and inefficiently through Honfleur in a vain attempt to bid farewell to her nephew Victor. Once again, though, where Maupassant speaks in large general terms, Flaubert's description is precisely situated (around the Honfleur dock-basin) and fleshed out with factual details of the loading of the ship.

  9. It is noticeable in both Flaubert's and Maupassant's tale that attention is primarily concentrated on the relationship between son and father. In Flaubert's text the motif of the beard, connoting both virility and patriarchal majesty, is an important link across a number of scenes: the confrontation with the stag “noir et monstrueux de taille, port [ant] seize andouillers avec une barbe blanche”; the scene of welcome by Julien's wife with its closing reference to “le père, avec sa taille haute et sa grande barbe [qui] ressemblait à une statue d'eglise”; the murder scene where Julien, touching the beard of his father in the darkness, mistakenly assumes the presence in his marriage-bed of a sexual rival; the pool reflection scene where the beard loses its connotations of virility to become in its whiteness a sign of the levelling process of physical ageing in which all rivalry between sons and their fathers must ultimately collapse. Significantly, in the murder scene, whiteness of hair is mentioned only after the killing and then only in connection with the mother, just as in the welcome scene only the whiteness of the mother's hair is mentioned.

  10. The river can be seen both literally and metaphorically as a (the) river of Death.

  11. In contrast to the abrupt monosyllables of the preceding demands (“J'ai faim!”, “J'ai soif!”, “J'ai froid”, “Ton lit!”), this final demand is thrice repeated and in each case amplified.

  12. The tone too is different, tormented and guilt-ridden in “Saint Julien,” and here full of nostalgia.

  13. In the closing section of Flaubert's tale Julien is similarly summoned to his final scene of self-recognition by a three-fold calling of his name which parallels and replaces the three-fold curse, “Maudit! maudit! maudit!” of the stag.

  14. Similarly Julien's wife, receiving the old couple, “se pencha pour les entendre”.

  15. Diana Knight, Flaubert's Characters (Cambridge U.P., 1985) pp. 72-3, in a discussion of techniques of “mise en abyme” in “Saint Julien,” points out the similarities between the leper and Julien on the one hand, Christ and Julien on the other. Pierre-Marc de Biasi, “Le palimpseste hagiographique—l'appropriation ludique des sources édifiantes dans la rédaction de ‘La Légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier’”, Revue des Lettres Modernes (1986), pp. 69-124, shows Flaubert mischievously exaggerating the identification of leper and Death into a satanic version of the legend where the leper figures not Christ, but the Devil.

  16. Together with the story of the parents and that of the original “donneur d'eau bénite”, this makes four tales of suffering in four pages, a sombre backdrop for the “happy ending”.

  17. For example, there is no attempt to expand the story of parental loss into an exploration of the desire on the part of the old to recapture their lost youth.

  18. This may be the reason why Maupassant did not publish his early (second) story “Le Docteur Héraclius Gloss,” considering its satire of the misguided intellectual, inspired by Flaubert's gestating “Bouvard et Pécuchet,” too close to Flaubert's style and too arcane for the ordinary reader. See Maupassant's much later comment in the article “Gustave Flaubert”, L'Écho de Paris, 24 Nov. 1890. “Son érudition (…) fut peut-être un peu une gêne pour sa production.” Maupassant, Chroniques III, ed. Hubert Juin (Paris, 10/18, 1980), p. 405.

  19. The same ingredients characterize Maupassant's next story, “Le Mariage du lieutenant Laré” (1878). However, the “happy endings” of these early stories (cf. also “le Papa de Simon” (1879)) are soon dispensed with, a development that can be seen clearly in “Souvenir” (1882) and “Les Idées dul colonel” (1884), the two subsequent versions of “Le Mariage du Lieutenant Laré.” For a discussion of this text and its variants, see my article, “Mock Heroics? Narrative Strategy in a Maupassant War Story”, Modern Language Review 82 (1987), 313-326.

Eva Kagan-Kans (essay date 1986)

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SOURCE: Kagan-Kans, Eva. “The Russian Short Story, 1850-1880.” In The Russian Short Story: A Critical History, edited by Charles A. Moser, pp. 50-102. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

[In the following essay, Kagan-Kans provides an overview of the development of Russian realism during the period from 1850 to 1880, focusing on the short fiction of Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Fedor Dostoevsky, among others.]


The critic and man of letters Pavel Annenkov, who spoke of the 1840s as the “remarkable decade,” regarded the 1850s as a time of intellectual torpor. The first half of the decade corresponded with the last years of Nicholas I's reign, a time of extreme reaction and literary censorship. Nevertheless, for the history of Russian literature the decade is important because at that time certain artistic methods, with links to changes in the country's social and political life, came to the fore.

The literature of the 1850s may be regarded either as an epilogue to the natural school of the 1840s or as prologue to the new realism of the 1860s. In the 1850s there arose a new esthetic interest in the problem of reality, its functional links with man, and the nature of men itself. Literature began to deal with the confrontation between social norms and human nature, with the notion of the all-encompassing power of the times forming a major motif. The physiological literature of the 1840s had taken up the sensitive subject of the interrelationship between man and milieu: here, however, the protagonist existed in his milieu like a snail in its shell; he lived and breathed in harmony with his environment, represented it by his life, his behavior, his predilections and habits. But in the next decade reality and the individual were gradually polarized into diametrically opposed aesthetic categories, and the process of life was interpreted as the interaction between history and human nature.

Man was no longer conceived of as given, as a finished product. If an author wished to depict negative characters, he had to show how the seeds of goodness within them had been stifled by social conditions. He could no longer offer a daguerrotype of reality but had to reveal the roots of social evil and diagnose the disease itself. It was widely believed that any injury to human nature or denial of natural human needs would inevitably lead to suffering and thence to psychological and social anomalies.

During the romantic period the writer or poet was thought of as a superior being, a prophet or seer; but by the 1850s he was redefined as a “conscientious toiler of thought,” as Nikolay Nekrasov put it; even the conservative critic Aleksandr Druzhinin spoke of him as a “noble toiler for the common weal.” And now the writer as “intellectual laborer” also had to serve as a teacher or purveyor of information, for intellectuals stressed the idea of art as cognition.

The gradual disintegration of the natural school and the evolution of its principles generated new artistic forms that required a new objectivity and the establishment of a difference between author and hero, between author and the object he depicted. Even the direct heirs of the romantic tradition in Russian literature to a degree deromanticized their work even as they retained elements of romanticism. For example, the romantic idea of the hero as his creator's alter ego was undermined by the new rift between author and personage.

Among the prominent writers of the 1850s Ivan Turgenev was undoubtedly best at transforming the poetics of the physiological sketch, at synthesizing the romantic tradition and the physiological sketch to produce a unique blend of lyricism and idealism clothed in the sober garb of everyday life. The critic Apollon Grigorev rebuked Turgenev for “false idealization” in “Bezhin Meadow,” not realizing that the Byronic elements he complained about were quite in harmony with the poetic mood of the Hunting Sketches. Time and again Turgenev's comments invoke universal associations to penetrate the circle of specifically peasant and even purely Russian associations in his stories.

This refraction of genre, to use the Soviet scholar Yuri Tynyanov's expression, became the guiding principle of Russian literature from 1850 to 1880. The conventional genres were replaced by hybrid ones; sketches expanded into unified cycles that defy classification; and the genre barriers were broken down even in larger works such as novels.

In the 1850s the image of the teacher became as central to literature as that of the artist in the 1830s or the government clerk in the 1840s. As author, editor, and journalist Ivan Panaev phrased it in 1855, “Russian fiction of the last few years has decided to choose as its hero … the teacher … the teacher has become the favorite and inevitable personage of the Russian story in our time.” The teacher, who represented the “heroic toil” of educated people, met the test of reality. Even if unrequited love deprived him of the happiness of which he had dreamed, the result was not suicide but moral regeneration and a spiritual explosion for the common good. Werthers were transformed into Don Quixotes.

Many stories of this time are marked by very little plot, concentrating on character analysis instead. A number of them may be termed psychological sketches with an antiromantic thrust: their underlying assumption is that it is not the will of men that guides life, or an accumulation of fatal conditions that destroys life, but rather that men are crippled by false morality and the injustice of social circumstance.

The quest for a new hero was linked to the problem of individual and national self-definition that so occupied Russian minds at that time. That problem incorporated the question of man's responsibility to society, usually framed in terms of a conflict between personal desires and a hostile social force, whether class prejudice or religious and ethical prohibitions.

The authorial presence in the new prose frequently took the form of fictional diaries, memoirs, or autobiographies, of which many examples could be cited. An insistence on authenticity and almost journalistic accuracy contributed to the flowering of the fictional memoir, as in Nikolay Pomyalovsky's Seminary Sketches and a number of other works. At times this autobiographical trend led to a narrowing of the gap between narrator and hero, but just as frequently there was a marked difference in point of view between narrator and hero. This division could have semantic significance, since it permitted the author to define the specific moral concepts of the milieu he was describing. That approach was, unsurprisingly, important for satirists such as Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin.

The artistic life continued to interest writers in the 1850s. At the center of these depictions is an internal polemic between romantics and realists on the proper relationship of art to life. In some of Turgenev's works a sympathetic appreciation of music may be a defining sign of a positive hero. Dmitry Grigorovich and Aleksandr Druzhinin wrote about painters; Leo Tolstoy and others dealt with musicians.

Another important thread in the newly democratized literature of the period 1850-80 was the depiction of the Russian serf or peasant. Although the muzhik had entered literature in the 1840s, in subsequent years he became rather the intellectual and cultural fashion. Scarcely any number of a serious journal appeared without a story, sketch, scene, or tale of peasant life, and there was hardly a writer who in one way or another did not treat the topic of nationalism as embodied in the peasantry. But where the natural school has been content for the most part with the external depiction of the peasant, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Pisemsky turned their attention to his psychology, creating strong, original, and authentic peasant heroes. In some of his stories of the early 1850s Turgenev examines universal problems of ethics as exemplified in the experiences of the common people. In “A Landowner's Morning” of 1856, Tolstoy provides detailed descriptions of peasant huts and the half-decayed house and tiny yard of Ivan Churisenko, who nevertheless possesses intelligence and a certain dignity. Through psychological analysis and extended dialogue Tolstoy enables the reader to glimpse the inner life of a muzhik mistrustful of the master, his eternal enemy. Other specialists in the peasant theme, such as Dmitry Grigorovich, now emphasize the Russian peasant's intelligence, energy, and will as a promise of future liberation and development.

In the 1820s and 1830s the word narodnyi (national, of the people) was perceived as exotic. By the 1850s it was applied to the average representative of the Russian nation, not just of the peasantry, but also of the merchant class and even the gentry. But the centrality of nationality in the new literature also posed problems for writers. Such authors as Grigorovich and Turgenev even in the 1860s continued to depict the common people in a lyrically poetic manner, but a growing sense of the necessity to approach this theme in a new way engendered a powerful literary movement that left its imprint on the course of Russian literary history in ensuing years.

The 1860s were in general an exciting period in Russian cultural life. The rise of the natural sciences and the appearance of internationally prominent Russian scientists were characteristic of the decade. In music the group of composers known as the Mighty Five, including Modest Musorgsky, Aleksandr Borodin, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, came to prominence, and in 1863 a group of artists led by Ivan Kramskoy broke away from the artistic establishment and eventually founded an artistic collective called the Wanderers. So too in literature: a whole constellation of young writers appeared who in their own manner reflected the social currents, the ideals, and the disillusionments of that time. They adopted an explicitly utilitarian and didactic view of literature, which led their ideological opponents to denounce them as destroyers of aesthetics, proponents of cynicism, naturalism, or the “theory of ugliness.” Nikolay Uspensky laid the groundwork for this school, to be followed by such writers as Nikolay Pomyalovsky, Vasily Sleptsov, Gleb Uspensky, and Fedor Reshetnikov.

Most of these writers were raznochintsy, or members of social classes other than the gentry, and in their writings they mirrored their often tragic personal fates: many suffered from alcoholism or insanity and many died young, sometimes by suicide or violence.

In the hands of the generation of the 1860s the sentimental maxim of the 1840s “you are my brother” was transformed into a cynical “dog eat dog” approach. The humor of the 1840s became satire, the comic, tragic. Moreover, the new writers were acutely aware of the gap between their literary views and their predecessors', and frequently had biting remarks to make on the subject.

Although the “democratic” writers of the 1860s and 1870s could not match such giants as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev, they made many artistic contributions to critical realism. Despite their individual differences, these writers saw themselves not only as artists but also as combatants in the struggle for enlightenment. They believed that in itself the creation of artistic images was insufficient: they had to go on to interpret the significance of those images and comment on what they were showing the reader. Consequently their descriptive prose slipped readily into pure journalism. Today's reader must remember that these writers consciously rejected traditional aesthetics in order to follow a program of describing the new man—frequently drawn from peasants and workers—and his relationship to the old world, and to pioneer innovative prose forms for the presentation of unusual material.

Nikolay Uspensky, for instance, radically challenged the idealization of the peasantry that had been so prevalent in the 1850s: he mocked their intellectual passivity and their superstitions. The artistic means by which he depicted this monotonous world were also scanty: there is a predominant grayness in his work. And this was a tradition followed by the other democratic writers who came after him.

The most widespread form among the new writers consisted of brief sketches made up of minute and disparate scenes and descriptions. Plot recedes into the background, for the pronouncing of judgment is the author's chief purpose even though that judgment may remain implicit. Still, the presentation of the material is dramatic, and the reader has little difficulty in discerning the author's views.

Saltykov-Shchedrin considered the struggle for existence to be the paramount topic of contemporary literature, and this was indeed the basis for the plot in many works of the time. Pomyalovsky examined the social and psychological effects of this struggle upon gifted plebeians: he was the first to observe that the natural yearning of the lower classes for security was transformed into a fanatical rejection of anything that disturbed the status quo once they had attained their goal.

The social disintegration of the period after the Emancipation of the serfs by Tsar Alexander II in 1861 was also reflected in contemporary fiction. A hero may frequently be forced to break with his environment or voluntarily reject the traditions of his class and family. A member of the gentry may wish to live by his own labor and in effect become a peasant; peasants may leave their villages to become workers in the cities, on railroads and rivers, or in the gold mines.

The 1870s witnessed new social unrest in the form of a powerful movement among the intelligentsia called “going to the people.” However, idealistic students and teachers who streamed into the villages for the purpose of bringing enlightenment to the masses met with ignominious defeat: the peasants themselves turned many of them over to the authorities. Still, this “populist” movement had its impact on literature: indeed in 1876 Dostoevsky termed it “the most important problem” of the day. While the populist writers continued to investigate the peasantry as a class, the real problem was that of land ownership, which in turn led to the question of the uniqueness of Russia's historical path and the Russian national character. The debate was not limited to peasant collectives but spread to encompass the national sources of Russian social organization generally in contrast with the developed societies of Western Europe.

As we have seen, the new genre of the 1860s was something between sketch and short story, a collage of pictures, fragments, with no real plot line, and often with subtitles reflecting their character (“Types and Scenes of a Village Fair” or “Scenes at a Police Precinct”). Having become entrenched in prose literature, the new genre could evolve into cycles under the umbrella of thematic unity. Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin and Gleb Uspensky justified their writing of sketch cycles by arguing that the classical genres of the short story and the novel had become obsolete or, at least, could not depict the numerous nuances of a social order in violent flux. Saltykov claimed that his search for more flexible forms untied his hands and brought him into more direct contact with his reader. His formulation was important for the writers of the 1870s, when democratic fiction acquired programmatic significance for the masses and the progressive intellectuals. Documentary sketches picturing various phenomena of daily life and different types and characteristics developed into broad epic canvases of contemporary reality. Thus the sketch contributed to the rejuvenation of the traditional fictional genres: the short story and the novel. This process is seen especially clearly in the fiction of writers who began their careers in the 1870s, for example, Vsevolod Garshin or Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak.

The flexibility of the sketch, moreover, allowed it to incorporate extraliterary components, such as the greater role of the subtext, which places greater demands on the reader. The structural principle of cycles is the authorial point of view, sufficiently defined to form an inner axis on which episodes may be threaded. The authorial conception thus determined the stability of the narrative structure and could lead to the contraction of disparate sketches and episodes into a single story.

On the other hand, while such a cycle could easily grow, it could just as painlessly contract by losing episodes. Saltykov perceived this weakness in the novel-cycles of Fedor Reshetnikov and Pavel Melnikov (Andrey Pechersky). Indeed, in editing Reshetnikov's works he omitted episodes and even whole sections in the conviction that this would strengthen the structure.

To an extent these innovations that broke down the conventional structure of the short story served as a fruitful point of departure for Chekhov and Gorky: they enriched the form with new possibilities. Moreover, their open tendentiousness altered the traditional role of the narrator. The author could now emerge from behind the mask of a persona to assert his position at the structural center of the narrative.

Such is the legacy of the short story of this period to the further development of the Russian short story.


Dmitry Grigorovich (1822-99), who began his career in the 1840s, continued to publish in the 1850s. The blueprint he developed for his stories provides the reader sentimental enjoyment without bothersome questions. Images of neat poverty are juxtaposed to pictures of heartless wealth. The nobility, moral purity, patience, and meekness of the impoverished are generally rewarded. In “Svetloe Khristovo voskresenie” (“On Easter Day,” 1851) a plowman named Andrey unexpectedly acquires money, and his idyllic love for a peasant girl ends well. “Zimnii vecher” (“A Winter Evening,” 1854) follows the traditions of the Christmas story: a desperately poor family of street musicians obtains sudden prosperity by taking in an abandoned child. A beggar in “Prokhozhii” (“The Passerby”) is lost in a snowstorm. When the unfeeling rich turn him away, Aleksey and his old mother give him refuge in their poor but clean hut, and in gratitude the dying beggar gives them a thousand rubles.

The predictability of Grigorovich's plots is made more bearable by the rich folklore material he inserts into them, including descriptions of various folk rites and church holidays. Colorful ethnographic material and vivid lyric landscapes also enhance the narrative. Grigorovich's landscape depictions are surprisingly factual and yet majestic. At the center of these pictures is the peasant, sculpted out of bronze and illuminated with the special light of authorial love.

“Pakhar'” (“The Plowman,” 1856) ends an especially idyllic stage in Grigorovich's literary career. The gigantic image of the young plowman Savely and the iconlike description of his old father, whose saintly death is at the story's center, are imbued with lyricism and a sense of man's organic link with nature.

Although Grigorovich's stories of subsequent years—for example, “Koshka i myshka” (“Cat and Mouse,” 1857) and “Pakhatnik i barkhatnik” (“The Plowman and the Man in Velvet,” 1859)—use similar themes but discuss the inhumanity of serfdom more explicitly. Now Grigorovich contrasts not only specific images of the poor and the rich but classes as such: workers and idlers, or peasants and predators (the mice and the cats). Belinsky had commented that in “Anton Goremyka” Grigorovich had not really described the landowner as a type or a specific character, but simply as the author of events that befall the peasant. As if in response to this criticism, in “The Plowman and the Man in Velvet” Grigorovich describes, not just one peasant protagonist, but an entire village of peasants who express their views in open debate. Unlike Anton, they will not suffer and perish in silence.

Beginning in the early 1850s, Aleksey Pisemsky (1821-81) wrote stories about the lower classes. His Ocherki iz krest'ianskogo byta (Sketches from Peasant Life, 1856) shows a different side of their life. Pisemsky demonstrates that evil comes not only from landowners but also from the injustices wrought by the village collective council and the passions of the peasants themselves. Unlike Turgenev's narrator in The Hunting Sketches, who only observes without interfering actively, Pisemsky's narrator “interviews” his characters to discover what is really occurring. Since almost all the stories culminate with a crime and a catastrophe and Pisemsky's narrator is a district police officer, his duties hinge upon his investigations in a very natural way.

The Sketches are made up of three stories published earlier: “Pitershchik” (“The Petersburger,” 1852), “Leshii” (“The Wood Demon,” 1853), and “Plotnich'ia artel'” (“The Carpenters' Guild,” 1855). In “The Petersburger” a rich married serf who represents himself to be a merchant “buys” a young gentry lady from her aunt. He lives with her, loses all his money, and is forced to return to the village. He is subject to the same passions that rule other peasants and indeed all other classes. “The Wood Demon” describes the kidnapping of a peasant girl by an estate manager who exploits her superstitions by pretending to be a wood demon and thereby forcing her into cohabitation. His crimes are exposed by the police officer. “The Carpenters' Guild” reads like a Russian Phèdre. Petr describes his stepmother's passion for him and her attempts to take vengeance on him and his wife for his moral integrity. For such behavior the stepmother is punished by a whipping and exiled. The second part of the story recounts Petr's involuntary murder of another peasant, ending with his arrest.

“Starcheskii grekh” (“An Old Man's Sin,” 1861) describes a poor clerk who rises in the bureaucracy by his impeccable conduct. However, his infatuation for an adventuress drives him to embezzlement, and in the end he commits suicide. In “Bat'ka” (“Dad,” 1861) a rich peasant tries to seduce his daughter-in-law and harasses his own son by setting fire to his own house, denouncing his son, and then having both him and his wife arrested, abused, and imprisoned. The father's machinations, however, are exposed in the end.

There is a great deal of ethnographic material in the short stories of Aleksey Potekhin (1839-1908): the genuineness of his familiarity with the milieu he describes comes through very clearly. His language is vivid and conversational. He certainly idealizes peasant life in his depictions (there are no contradictions in his rural paradise, where total harmony reigns), and thus it is not difficult to regard his stories as apologia for the peasant commune as a social institution. His well-known story “Tit Sofronovich Kozanok” (1852) depicts the descendants of a pious and industrious beekeeper, who prove to be morally much inferior to their ancestor. In “Burmistr” (“The Burgermaster,” 1859), the excesses of the landowner's evil valet and housekeeper bring an honest and hardworking peasant family to the verge of ruin. On the other hand, the burgermaster is not only rich but generous, and persuaded that man is given money in order to share it with the poor. Thus he gives a drunkard blacksmith a new smithy to replace his old one, which has burned down, and is even prepared to send his own son into the army instead of replacing him with someone else's son. Social contradictions are smoothed over in Potekhin's idyllic works: one literary historian called his writing a “mixed salad of contemporary morality.”


Although known primarily in world literature for his novels, Ivan Turgenev (1818-83) made immense contributions to the short-story genre, developing a remarkable range of themes and characters in his shorter works. In an era dominated by militantly progressive literature, Turgenev's stories convey a complex sense of fatalism, faith in an ideal, and his unceasing quest for a positive hero or heroine. His lyrical prose includes magnificent landscape descriptions of the sort ordinarily found in poetry. Turgenev is a master of intense psychological analysis, blending the psychological realities of human nature with a poetic mood. For all the realistic trimmings of his stories, Turgenev was very much the heir of the romantic tradition in his day.

The 1850s saw the publication of many of Turgenev's finest short stories, including a number dealing with the peasant theme. In “Mumu” (1852) a giant deaf-mute serf named Gerasim finds an abandoned puppy named Mumu who becomes his only friend. One night Mumu's barking awakens Gerasim's owner, a capricious old lady, and she orders the dog destroyed. Gerasim obediently drowns the dog, but then returns to his village to live out his lonely life, the possessor of enormous strength and incomprehensible meekness. In “Postoialyi dvor” (“The Inn,” 1852) an inn owner named Akim is betrayed by his wife and her lover and ultimately loses all his possessions as well. Although tormented by dreams of vengeance, Akim finally accepts his fate and departs to become a traditional Russian holy wanderer.

Turgenev's peasant heroes no longer resemble the wretched serfs of the past: they have the strength of will to determine their own fate. The poetry of self-abnegation is best seen in Akim, whose acceptance of his lot manifests his tremendous spiritual strength. In some ways the Akim who conquers his anger is more fearsome than Akim the arsonist: he is no less a giant than the deaf-mute Gerasim.

One of Turgenev's favorite themes—that of fatal passion in conflict with reason or duty—emerges in such works as “Faust” (1856). Turgenev expresses his tragic view of the world with special force in this work, which describes the way in which the narrator arouses the emotions of a young married woman by introducing her to literature. Stimulated by their reading of Faust, the heroine sets out for a tryst with the narrator, only to find her way barred by the ghost of her mother, who has always shielded her from powerful emotions. The heroine falls ill and dies, while the inconsolable hero is left with the realization that he is responsible for her destruction. The story thus sets out Turgenev's philosophy of the inevitable punishment for human happiness, a view that contrasted starkly with the morality of rational egoism advanced by the radical thinker Nikolay Chernyshevsky and the new men who would become so prominent in the 1860s.

Turgenev's lyrically elegiac voice comes through forcefully in “Zatish'e” (“A Quiet Spot,” 1854), “Perepiska” (“A Correspondence,” 1854), and “Yakov Pasynkov” (1855). In “A Correspondence” the young woman who authors half the correspondence confesses to a male friend that she has rejected her family's expectations for her: she will not have a conventional marriage, but rather will seek a full emotional and intellectual life. The young man, moved, declares his intention to return from abroad so that they may be joined, but then he is silent for a year. His last letter, written from his deathbed, tells of his destruction through his desperate passion for a dancer. In “Yakov Pasynkov” the narrator—who ironically dubs himself “superannuated”—voices his nostalgic enthusiasm upon meeting his old friend Yakov Pasynkov, the last romantic. Unlike the narrator, Pasynkov has lived his life nobly: true to his ideals and his only love, he dies with a vision of heaven.

In his short stories as well as his novels Turgenev sought a positive hero who could define his own place in the world. In “A Quiet Spot” and “Asya” (1858) that hero turns out to be a woman. In the first story a strong, passionate young woman is contrasted to the intelligent and talented young man she loves: he suffers from a tragic flaw in lack of will, practical intelligence, and purpose. In the end the heroine commits suicide and the hero becomes an alcoholic. In “Asya” the “reflective” Hamlet-like hero inexcusably loses his chance for happiness with Asya, an uninhibitedly innocent young woman who is strong enough to avow her love for him spontaneously. The appearance of “Asya” provided the occasion for a famous response by Chernyshevsky, in which the critic congratulated Asya on having avoided a union with a man unworthy of her and blamed the social system for creating a flabby and emotionally bankrupt male capable only of analyzing himself and not of taking any decisive action.

“Pervaia liubov'” (“First Love,” 1860) beautifully portrays the first birth of passion in this narrative of a sixteen-year-old who falls in love, for the first time in his life, with the beautiful Zinaida, only to discover finally that Zinaida and his own father are engaged in an adulterous affair. One of the most poignant scenes in all of Turgenev's fiction is that in which the adolescent Vladimir sees Zinaida slowly kissing the red welt her lover's crop has raised on her arm, and begins to understand something of the intensity of passion. The story ends with the father's sudden death and the unmotivated death of Zinaida a few years later. While the death of both lovers symbolizes Turgenev's mature belief in the impossibility of personal happiness in love, the adolescent narrator's freshness moves in a unique atmosphere of charm, suspense, and mystery.

Turgenev's ingrained pessimism emerges explicitly in such stories of the 1860s as “Prizraki” (“Phantoms,” 1864) and “Dovol'no” (“Enough,” 1865). The first is a fantasy in which the narrator is transported through the air by a phantom figure named Ellis: together they visit ancient Rome to see Julius Caesar; they witness the wild hordes of the seventeenth-century Russian rebel leader Stepan Razin; and they survey contemporary Paris and St. Petersburg. Wherever he is, the narrator experiences only horror and disgust, and after every flight feels physically weaker. On their last flight they confront a monstrous figure that turns out to be death itself. Apparently vanquished by death, Ellis disappears into nothingness, and the narrator feels his own end approaching.

“Enough” is an even more eclectic collage of meditations, memories, and scenes. All these disparate elements, however, are imbued with the same nostalgic sadness, and at the end the narrator finally rejects every human ideal: art, beauty, love, freedom, justice.

Instead of depicting well-formed characters, Turgenev portrays instability and variability as elements of individual psychology: at any moment a person may be quite different from what he was just a short time before. What is a person's genuine self? Beneath a veil of external contentment the human heart conceals stormy passions and powerful struggles. Some of Turgenev's stories from the last period of his life—“Neschastnaia” (“The Unfortunate Girl,” 1869), “Stepnoi Korol' Lir” (“King Lear of the Steppes,” 1870), “Veshnie vody” (“The Torrents of Spring,” 1872)—explore this problem. “The Unfortunate Girl” exhibits Dostoevskian resonances. The heroine, Susanna, not only finds herself in much the same situation as Nastasya Filipovna from The Idiot but also suffers from the same sort of wounded pride as she. Susanna is in effect Nastasya Filipovna while still under Totsky's tutelage. The illegitimate daughter of a rich landowner and a Jewess, Turgenev's heroine lives with her mother in the same house as her father, but without ever being acknowledged as his, which damages her psychologically. After the father's death his brother inherits the estate. Susanna and the new owner's son fall in love with each other but are brutally separated; Susanna eventually kills herself. A rebellious, spontaneous nature, always in the throes of hidden passions, Susanna's emotional intensity accompanies her on every page and at the end spills over into her suicide. But that outcome is inescapable: the narrator long before noted the spiritual torment constantly expressed on Susanna's face.

The character of the small landowner Kharlov (“King Lear of the Steppes”) is equally tempestuous. This noble man foolishly deeds his small estate to his two daughters, only to find himself then entirely in their power. When he can no longer stand their cruelty he destroys with his bare hands the house in which he used to live and dies in its wreckage. Unpredictably meek despite his great size, and equally unpredictably violent, this ordinary Russian is at the same time an exceptional man.

Sanin, the hero of “Torrents of Spring,” is violently attracted in turn by two heroines who are absolute opposites. Gemma represents purity, spiritual nobility, and elegance, while Maria Nikolaevna embodies will and passionate sensuality. The former offers Sanin the dream of family joy; the latter—that beautiful “serpent”—destroys all his hopes quite pitilessly. Sanin chooses Lilith over Eve, and the dark power of erotic passion compels him to become lover and lackey. In this work the woman is the predator and the man the victim.

Toward the end of Turgenev's life the romanticism that had always been part of his character emerged with new force in a series of supernatural stories. “Stuk … stuk … stuk” (“Knock, Knock, Knock,” 1871), “Son” (“The Dream,” 1877), “Pesn' torzhestvuiushchei liubvi” (“Song of Triumphant Love,” 1881) and “Klara Milich” (1883) illustrate his ambivalent attitude toward the supernatural.

Initially Teglev, the hero of “Knock, Knock, Knock,” seems a mere parody of a Marlinskian romantic. Though he appears a perfectly ordinary man except for his small green eyes with yellow eyelashes and his expression of inner sadness and arrogance, he believes that he is a “fatal” character and finally follows his destiny to suicide. Despite the realistic explanations the author provides for the series of events leading to his death, the reader still feels the sense of doom that hovers over Teglev.

That same sense of the supernatural is present in “Klara Milich,” whose hero, Aratov, expects something fateful even before he learns of the suicide of Klara, who had earlier declared her love for him. Haunted by what he believes is Klara's ghost, he does not know how to react to realistic explanations of his visions. When he is discovered dead with a lock of Klara's hair in his hand, we learn that Aratov had been given Klara's diary and that the lock could very well have been left in it by Klara's sister when she gave it to him. But there is a blissful smile on his face after his death.

“The Dream” is a highly stylized work, with its mysterious villain and his silent Arab servant, strange meetings, prophetic dreams, the interplay of shadows, light and darkness, good and evil. The narrator, the story's hero, is drawn into a whirlpool of horror by investigating his mother's past. Is the mysterious baron really his father? Is he dead at the end? How much of what occurs is a figment of the boy's imagination, how much due to the inexplicable power of fate? Turgenev gives no answer in this tale, which is an unusual one for him.

Only in “The Song of Triumphant Love” does Turgenev deal openly and explicitly with magic and the supernatural. Set in seventeenth-century Italy, the work describes the enigmatic force drawing Fabius's wife, Valeria, to his friend Mutsii. With the assistance of his Malaysian servant Mutsii performs incantations to hypnotize the innocent Valeria and evidently lead to her seduction. The jealous husband kills Mutsii, but Mutsii's servant apparently resurrects him. After the two depart, the young wife senses the presence of new life within her as her fingers involuntarily play on an organ the same song Mutsii had previously performed on a strange Indian violin encased in blue snakeskin.


In his first published work, Detstvo (Childhood, 1852), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) demonstrated that his approach to literary genres was iconoclastic. Although Childhood cannot be considered in any sense a short story, it was of considerable importance in indicating the future development of Tolstoy's writing. The child in this piece is no ordinary small boy: from the beginning he seeks to interpret what he sees, to judge people's relationships as well as his own actions and thoughts. As for literary method, as Nikolay Chernyshevsky noted at the time, Tolstoy was not content “with the depiction of the results of the psychological process—he is interested in the process itself and the barely perceived manifestations of this inner life, constantly changing with great rapidity and inexhaustible variety.” Thus Tolstoy developed from the first the method of the interior monologue, which would serve to present the deepest and most tragic feelings and thoughts of his future heroes, as well as reflect his yearning to resolve the problem of life and death within the soul of a single individual. Finally, Tolstoy looked to the Russian peasant as the repository of much that is good in mankind, the exemplar of his major ethical principle: living for others. The only person the narrator of Childhood trusts implicitly is Natalya Savishna, who embodies modesty, truthfulness, and simplicity. Though silent and meek, Natalya Savishna is no submissive slave or martyr. She has her own philosophy of life, her own moral code, partly developed on her own but partly elaborated by generations of peasants who have undergone the same sufferings she has. She is one of the chief moral influences on the spiritual evolution of the young nobleman depicted in Childhood.

“Utro pomeshchika” (“A Landowner's Morning,” 1856) developed out of an unrealized plan of Tolstoy's for a novel designed to portray an estate owner dedicated to improving the living conditions of his serfs. It tells the story of a young prince, Nekhlyudov, who, believing that the essence of life lies in “doing good,” seeks to eradicate the poverty of his peasants through work and patience. The peasants, however, reject all the suggestions he makes for the betterment of their lot, until finally he understands that they do not trust him at all. For example, when he offers a new cottage in a nearby area to a peasant whose hut is on the point of collapse, the entire family pleads with him to remain where they are. When he visits a second peasant to help him straighten out his affairs, he realizes he is being lied to; he sees that a third peasant is simply lazy. Finally he realizes he can do nothing in the face of their distrust. The interests of peasant and master are too divergent, and Nekhlyudov cannot overcome the barriers between the two classes.

Tolstoy's military service provided the material for his stories of the Caucasus and the Crimean War. “Nabeg” (“The Raid,” 1853) and “Rubka lesa” (“The Wood Felling,” 1855) handle the well-established theme of the Caucasus in Russian literature in a peculiar way. Pushkin and Lermontov had celebrated the beauty of the Caucasus and its people; it was a central topic of romanticism generally; and in some forms it has survived down to the present day. The Caucasian literary stereotypes included dashing, fearless natives surrounded by beautiful nature. This literature portrayed war as a lofty spectacle of courage and heroic deeds, and men's emotions as stormy, unrestrained passions. In Tolstoy's stories, though, the romantic natives become Georgian peasants trying to defend their homes against the enemy; the dashing officers become ordinary Russian soldiers who do not know why they are fighting and are compelled to wage a destructive war without feeling any hostility toward the Georgians. In addition to deromanticizing the Caucasus and war, Tolstoy examines bravery as well. For Tolstoy the romantic traits of courage and virility are only facets of the integrated character of a Russian: more important features are a sense of naturalness, duty, and comradeship, along with a consciousness of unity with one's people.

The Tolstoyan hero is the soldier or simple officer who shares the life of his men. In “The Raid” Captain Khlopov, unlike the stereotyped Marlinskian officer, is not proud or snobbish, but in a moment of danger “behaves as he should,” along with his soldiers. Thus in the narrator's eyes he becomes the embodiment of “genuineness and simplicity.” Courage is discovered in the deeds of battle, not in words. It is Captain Khlopov and the modest Trosenko from “The Wood Felling” who are truly brave, not Lieutenant Rosenkrants (“The Raid”) or Captain Kraft (“The Wood Felling”), devotees of big words and juvenile recklessness. Khlopov and Trosenko merely do their duty as soldiers. Indeed Khlopov admits he is serving in the Caucasus for double pay.

The Crimean War of 1853-55 between France, England, and Russia provided Tolstoy with material for a fine cycle comprising three stories: “Sevastopol' v dekabre mesiatse” (“Sebastopol in December”); “Sevastopol' v mae” (“Sebastopol in May”); and “Sevastopol' v avguste 1855 goda” (“Sebastopol in August of 1855”) (1855-56). The axis of the cycle is people and war: war as a cruel and ugly business is the leitmotiv of each story, though it is varied in each one.

In “Sebastopol in December” the theme of national heroism is presented in a generalized way. None of the characters has either a name or a biography, but together they embody the heroic spirit of Sebastopol. In order to convey the emotional impact of the siege, Tolstoy utilizes the device of transforming the reader into his companion, whom he then accompanies and on whose reactions he comments. The narrative thus seems to emanate from the reader, who, when he arrives in the town, is astonished at how false his ideas have been and begins to understand how things really are. The narrator ultimately interprets the significance of what the reader sees, generalizes on the basis of the reader's experiences, and then presents his conclusions. But the heroes of the siege are the simple people of Russia. The narrative consists of small sketches, each of which freezes a moment in time and space, but the work is not at all static: the vignettes are presented like a panorama unrolling before the observer's eyes, and thus an illusion of motion is created.

In Tolstoy's world the touchstone of genuineness is his characters' responses to the national war effort. In “Sebastopol in May” he compares various personages. Many officers from the aristocracy are motivated by the prospect of medals and personal advancement, whereas the soldiers fight for their fatherland. Of all the officers, Captain Mikhaylov is the most positive. Now Tolstoy's people have names and characteristics; Sebastopol is populated by individuals with their own psychological complexities. The plot deals with a cliché of war literature: one's response at the moment of greatest danger in battle. By Tolstoy's logic, nothing is as we are led to believe it is: Praskukhin, who thinks he has escaped, is killed; Mikhaylov, who believes he is dying, gets off with a concussion.

The third Sebastopol story is a more concentrated narrative about two brothers. The elder, an experienced officer, simply does his duty, and dies a hero's death at the end; the younger, richly endowed with imagination and ambitions, grows morally to emerge a more mature person. In this story Tolstoy also employs the device of “making strange,” or depicting what should be familiar as odd and unfamiliar. By presenting horrible details, he destroys the romanticism of war. In “The Wood Felling” the sight of Velenchuk's naked, white, healthy leg affects the narrator especially strongly: clearly Velenchuk has been mortally wounded, as his shrunken face and pallor attest, and the white leg serves as the symbol of a dead object.

In the latter 1850s and the early 1860s Tolstoy turned from psychological analysis to address ethics and aesthetics. The writer himself defined the form of the tales he wrote now when he said that a story is a work describing only one event and tracing only one idea. That one idea clearly evolves out of the narrative, and sometimes it is given at the end as a sort of authorial conclusion. Thus “Lucerne” (1857) ends with an explicit philosophical and social disquisition evoked by the simplest of stories: an itinerant musician and singer arrives in the beautiful resort city of Lucerne and endures contempt from both the rich tourists and the hotel servants, none of whom appreciates his spontaneous, delicate art.

“Dva gusara” (“Two Hussars,” 1856) and “Tri smerti” (“Three Deaths,” 1859) in their structure resemble parables giving direct and unadorned expression to an idea that eventually can be expressed almost in the form of an aphorism. Many years later Tolstoy would revert to this type of “philosophical tale” in writing stories for ordinary people. “Two Hussars” investigates the differing values of two generations. The father, though far from an ideal character, is a dashing and wealthy count who exhibits generosity and nobility in his dealings with women and friends. But his son, who arrives in the same town twenty years later, is a poor replacement for his father. Though as charming as the older count, he entirely lacks his father's extravagant spirit and good heart: indeed he turns out to be a spiritually petty egotist who tries to take advantage of a young girl. The story needs no interpretation: the contrast between old-fashioned morality and modern pettiness is stark.

“Three Deaths” is even more dogmatic in its outlook than “Two Hussars.” Tolstoy artificially compares the acceptance of death by a rich lady, a peasant, and a tree. The lady is dying of consumption, and because she fears death so greatly she accepts the lies of her husband and her doctor even though she realizes they are lies. A peasant, lying mortally ill in a hut at the same time, dies in peace because he accepts death as calmly as he has life. And the tree falls quietly when it is cut down to provide a cross for the peasant's grave. The contrast between these three deaths is so blunt as to detract from what small aesthetic satisfaction may be derived from the story.

“Albert” (1858), though it has no real plot, is a more sophisticated philosophical and psychological story about an impoverished alcoholic musician whom the wealthy Delesov wants to “save” by caring for him. Ultimately Albert flees the unbearable restrictions Delesov's charity imposes upon him. In one sense “Albert” stems from the tradition of the popular artist story dating back to the 1840s, for Albert has links with the poor genius unappreciated by society and doomed to failure. But on the other hand Albert is not destroyed by inhumane treatment, and his sufferings do not constitute the work's chief subject. “Albert” deals instead with the question of art, reflecting the aesthetic discussions of those years. The work has to do not with an artist and his unsuccessful career but with a man who lives outside contemporary society's laws. Albert reacts to Delesov's attempts to improve his situation with active hostility. He wants only to make music before an audience of one or many, masters or servants. He worships Mozart and Beethoven, but he also loves Strauss's lighter music and plays a Russian folk song for the servants with great inspiration. Albert cares nothing for practical considerations or for social barriers: he is equally friendly toward Delesov and toward his valet. Both master and servant consider Albert pitifully weak, but he serves and loves only one thing—beauty. In this story Tolstoy deals with the special meaning of beauty, with the special relationship that develops among people when they experience true art, and with those feelings that are inseparable from true art—namely, goodness, brotherhood, and faith in man's power to overcome evil.

Tolstoy also dealt with the contemporary issue of the treatment of women in ways that were both polemical and original, as we would expect. The problems of a woman's position in her family and of her right to independence are taken up from a feminine perspective in “Semeinoe schast'e” (“Family Happiness,” 1859).

The story's rather ordinary plot revolves around a seventeen-year-old girl, Masha, whose parents are dead, and her guardian Sergey, a man of thirty-six. What begins as friendship ends in marriage, despite Sergey's misgivings about the difference in their ages. The reader follows their developing closeness, succeeded by quarrels in which Masha complains that Sergey treats her like a child. They move to St. Petersburg, where they begin to grow apart as Masha becomes involved in society life; finally they go abroad. When eventually they return to their country estate, she feels that their intimacy is now a burden to her husband and blames him for having allowed her excessive freedom when she was too young to use it properly. At the end she perceives that their life together has entered a new phase: “My love affair with my husband was over … and a new feeling of love for the children and the father of my children laid the foundation for another, totally different, happy life which I have not yet lived to the full.”

“Family Happiness” exposes family relations as a process involving the appearance and resolution of contradictions, a kind of curve of psychological states and relationships between people who experience those states. Tolstoy believes that no one discrete stage in the relationship is crucial: only the development of the relationship in its totality can be evaluated as happy or unhappy.

“Kazaki” (“The Cossacks,” 1863) presents the further development and deconstruction of the romantic Caucasus theme, including the hero in love with a native girl. The title itself stresses the link with romantic thematics, but Tolstoy stands the traditional plot of the European among natives on its head: it is the Russian who appears comical by contrast with the spontaneous, freedom-loving cossacks.

In a later story, however, “Kavkazskii plennik” (“The Prisoner of the Caucasus,” 1872), Tolstoy not only attacks this well-known romantic locale but also recasts Pushkin's famous narrative poem of the same name. Tolstoy's response to the demand for the creation of a “new man” advanced in the 1860s was the portrayal of the modest Zhilin in a children's story written in simple colloquial language. Unlike romantic heroes who suffered and caused others to suffer, Zhilin is simple, strong, and wholesome. A good horseman and marksman, he is strong enough to withstand cruel treatment, cunning enough to deceive his captors, and compassionate enough to risk his life for a man who has betrayed him. Zhilin is a living rebuttal of the romantic stereotypes.

Tolstoy describes Zhilin's capture, unsuccessful escape attempt, and final successful flight in simple terms and without national prejudice: Zhilin respects the customs of others and finds a common language with both women and children. Moreover, Tolstoy substitutes the theme of brotherhood and friendship for the traditional love story. He introduces, instead of a beautiful native girl in love with the prisoner, a small girl, Dina, who responds to Zhilin's kindness with devotion and helps him escape despite the fact that he is her people's enemy.

Tolstoy returns to the peasant theme in “Polikushka” (1863), describing an irresponsible drunkard and occasional thief. Polikushka sincerely repents after each of his offenses, and his owner, a rich lady, is touched by his humility. One day she decides to test his honesty by trusting him to bring some money from town. Overwhelmed by such trust, Polikushka resists drinking when he receives the money and hides it in his hat. But on the way home he falls asleep in the cart and loses the hat. He hangs himself in despair, and when his wife discovers what has happened she forgets her baby, who drowns in the bathtub. Thus in this story the author illustrates (as Turgenev did in “Mumu”) the complex contradictions in the soul of the poorest serf. His perception of events constitutes the story's psychological content and engenders an intensely dramatic denouement.


Dostoevsky's prose of the later 1850s—“Malen'kii geroi” (“The Little Hero,” 1857) and “Diadiushkin son” (“Uncle's Dream,” 1859)—provides curious examples of the way one genre can be redefined as another.

“The Little Hero,” originally planned as a tale entitled “Detskaia skazka” (“A Child's Fairy Tale”), was reworked and given the subtitle “From Unknown Memoirs.” The narrative is organized vividly and rapidly: the events of the plot develop in two days and are resolved in a finale lasting only a few moments. The three protagonists—a boy; Madame M., object of the child's first love; and a nameless cousin, the narrator's enemy-friend—are sharply delineated, while the other characters are vaguer. The theme is that one may be chivalrous at any age, and the underlying idea is the notion of the superiority of the romantic spirit over the rationalistic viewpoint of the era.

On a visit to a country estate the narrator, an eleven-year-old boy, meets the beautiful cousin and Madame M. Immediately attracted by Madame M.'s pensive expression, the child becomes her page. In a mad attempt to show off in front of her, he tries to ride an unbroken stallion and is fortunate to escape injury. But he exhibits even greater nobility when he overhears a farewell scene between Madame M. and a handsome young man and finds what is apparently the man's last love letter to her. The child has the delicacy to conceal the letter in a bouquet of flowers which he presents to Madame M., who kisses the boy passionately out of joyous gratitude and thus completes his tumultuous experience. This relatively early story displays many distinctive features of Dostoevsky's later creative approach: the work begins at a leisurely pace, gathers momentum, and explodes at the scene of the mad ride on the charger. The denouement accelerates swiftly but gently to its resolution in the full-blooded kiss.

Evidently Dostoevsky made a conscious decision at this stage to depart from traditional forms, a conjecture corroborated by the creative history of “Uncle's Dream.” Though its subtitle “From the Mordasov Chronicles” suggests an extended narrative, the story in fact concentrates on one episode: the pursuit of a rich bridegroom, an old prince. The work is limited to the theme of mercenary self-interest, around which almost all the protagonists revolve.

“Skvernyi anekdot” (“A Nasty Joke,” 1862) is more reminiscent of the young Dostoevsky. It describes a high official who learns that one of his clerks is being married as he passes by his house and decides that an impromptu visit from him will both gain the clerk's gratitude and demonstrate his own “progressive” views. But the visit creates nothing but hardship for his hosts. They must scramble to find money to purchase champagne for their important guest, who then ruins the gathering by collapsing dead drunk. He is deposited on the only available bed, intended for the newlyweds, and is violently ill all night. Compelled to try to consummate their marriage on a mattress installed atop a few dining chairs, the young couple collapse on the floor. The high official thereafter stays at home for a week out of shame.

“Krotkaia” (“A Gentle Creature,” 1876) portrays an entire life full of dramatic conflicts and poignant situations within the confines of a short story. Dostoevsky himself starkly summarizes the plot in his introduction: “Imagine a husband whose wife is lying on a table (dead); she has committed suicide a few hours earlier by throwing herself out the window.” Anticipating criticism occasioned by his polemic subtitle “A Fantastic Story,” he also declares in the introduction: “I entitled it fantastic while I myself considered it to be realistic to the highest degree. However, the fantastic is truly there, and precisely in the story's very form.” Dostoevsky compares himself to an unseen stenographer who records everything his hero says, but then edits the chaotic material in a way that does not interfere with its most important feature, “psychological order.”

The story provides information on the heroine's background, including the desperate poverty from which she seeks to escape by marrying the hero, a former officer who is now a pawnbroker. The setting of the slums as well as the husband's perverse pride and obsessive intent to break his young wife's spirit fit the ideological, poetical, and psychological facets of Dostoevsky's literary approach in the 1860s and 1870s. But there is also a new element: the confessional soliloquy, with all its complexity and contradictory disorder, reproduces the chaotically capricious yet directed thought of the hero, who seeks to discover the true reasons for the catastrophe. He reconstructs his past and hers, including their marriage, feverishly searching his memory for various episodes and even “little traits,” the terrible and the ordinary moments of life, confusing and contradicting himself but all the while moving inexorably closer to the truth. Through his morbid self-analysis he reveals his paranoid desire for revenge on society for its past injuries to him, while recognizing the absurdity and baseness of that desire. A distorted sense of honor has led him to exile himself from society into his terrible dark underground where he nurtures the idea of rehabilitation. And yet along with this somber bitterness there exists deep within him a desire for truth, love, and redemption. But for the time being he suppresses this positive desire in order to pursue his cruel but well-designed system to achieve rehabilitation after his disgraceful past through the gentle creature he has taken as his wife. She is also to be part of a future idyllic life on the southern coast of the Crimea.

The narrator, simultaneously prosecutor and defendant, refuses to accept any sentence except that pronounced by his own conscience. He rails against youth, against women, against blind chance, against the cruel irony of fate, and against nature itself, but each accusation proves to be without substance. His casuistry is refuted each time by the invincible argument lying on the table, compelling his final admission: “I have tortured her to death, that's what it is.” By accepting the judgment of his conscience, the hero rises to heights permitting him to declare his great and final rebellion against the state, the law, the courts, and faith. The truth enhances, but does not redeem him: his guilt is too great for that, his loss irrevocable. But now the underground theme has acquired a new direction.

Dostoevsky returns to this theme in “Son smeshnogo cheloveka” (“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” 1877). Here he takes the narrative to the outermost limits, the point at which “nothing matters,” after which we follow the hero into nonbeing, death, until suddenly and miraculously he is resurrected to new life and happiness.

“Vechnyi muzh” (“The Eternal Husband,” 1869-70) is an earlier tale of the underground mentality. Recounted from the viewpoint of Velchaninov, the former lover of Madame Trusotskaya, the narrative revolves around the tormenting struggle between him and Trusotsky, who discovers after his wife's death not only that she has been repeatedly unfaithful to him but also that his little girl Liza is in fact Velchaninov's daughter. Trusotsky comes to St. Petersburg with Liza, whom he uses as a weapon in a silent duel with Velchaninov: in their repeated encounters, their facial expressions, hysterical gestures, and incoherent words bear witness to the tormenting passions wracking each of them. The duel ends with the cuckolded husband's attempt to murder Velchaninov. The epilogue, which occurs a few years later, depicts Trusotsky once more in the role of eternal husband and Velchaninov once again as the bon vivant. But this plot summary cannot convey the emotional complexity of the work. Thus Trusotsky's former admiration of Velchaninov turns to hatred, though he realizes this only at the end, while Velchaninov is oppressed throughout by an unbearable emotional weight he cannot describe in words. After her deliberate rejection by her legal father, Liza dies of a broken heart, to the despair of Velchaninov, who had hoped to begin a new life with her. The alternating feelings of hatred and admiration that both men feel lead to unexpected reactions. Thus Trusotsky nurses Velchaninov genuinely, even devotedly, during a medical crisis, but a few hours later he is discovered with a razor poised over his rival's throat.

Finally, of Dostoevsky's short stories one should mention a brief fantastic story that appeared in 1873 in The Diary of a Writer. “Bobok” portrays the hallucinations of the narrator in a cemetery: he imagines he overhears conversations emanating from the graves. It turns out the corpses remain “alive” for several months after death: they can communicate with one another, and with an astonishing cynicism of expression, for now their freedom from worldly considerations permits them to express their true opinions and desires. Sexual perversion, financial manipulation, and sycophantic flattery are as widespread among the dead as among the living, and much more open in their avowal. The Soviet scholar Mikhail Bakhtin was intrigued by this work's formal originality and regarded the story almost as a microcosm of Dostoevsky's creative art. He argued that many of Dostoevsky's themes and images—including some very important ones—emerge here in vividly naked form: the notion that “all is permitted” if there is no God and no immortality; the theme of confession without repentance, of “shameless truth”; the theme of eroticism permeating the highest levels of consciousness; and the idea of the “unrighteousness” of life.


Mikhail Saltykov (1826-89) first achieved renown with the publication of Gubernskie ocherki (Provincial Sketches, 1856-57), issued under the pseudonym N. Shchedrin. In these popular sketches Saltykov-Shchedrin attacks the excesses of power and exposes bribery, extortion, slander, and outright theft: in his world everyone from governor to petty clerk pitilessly robs the poor, though he also depicts these social parasites not as evil in themselves but as the inevitable products of an exploitative social system. In addition, a significant segment of Sketches is dedicated to the common people, religious wanderers, pilgrims, and prison inmates.

The sketches revolve about a vertical dissection of the provincial town of Krutogorsk, which lives its own profoundly limited life at the end of the world, as it were, for there are no roads from it leading anywhere else. Drawing on the tradition of the physiological sketch of the 1840s, Saltykov begins with a picture of a typical street fête and then introduces us to the town's history and the background of some of its leading citizens in “Proshlye vremena” (“Bygone Days”). Following that is a sketch devoted to the governor, his daughter, and local officials. Petty officials are depicted either through a collective image of the “poor toiler,” as meek victims of brutal bureaucracy (“Khristos voskres” [“Christ is Risen”]), or in individual scenes: the very title of “Vygodnaia zhenit'ba” (“An Advantageous Marriage”) speaks for itself. A characteristic sketch dealing with the “poor civil servant” theme is “Pervyi shag” (“The First Step”), in which the problem of boots acquires the same dimensions as Akaky Akakievich's purchase of a coat in Gogol's “Overcoat.” Saltykov, however, goes Gogol one better: at the end his clerk is arrested because he has become involved in a bribery scandal. Gogol's influence is also apparent in the introduction to the book, whose lyricism mixed with ironically good-natured praise of Krutogorsk's patriarchal way of life recalls “Old-World Landowners.”

The most significant elements of Saltykov-Shchedrin's artistic method emerge in Provincial Sketches, with dramatic scenes, monologues, travelogues, portrait galleries, and group descriptions all linked to the initial thematic plan. The free treatment of literary forms—transitions from one subgenre to another within the same cycle or even within the same story—is Saltykov's hallmark. Often he would publish a story—for example, his “V ostroge” (“In Prison,” 1856)—and then develop it into a series of stories under the same title. Thus in 1857 he published “Talantlivaia natura” (“A Talented Nature”) and then expanded it into a cycle entitled Talantlivye natury (Talented Natures).

In Provincial Sketches Saltykov employed an important satirical device he used in subsequent years, that of the zoological comparison, as when he wrote of “animallike ferocity,” “a porcupine expression,” or “the majesty characteristic of a turkey.” The stories also exhibit in embryo his obliquely allegorical narrative manner, his “realistic fantasy,” and his overuse of hyperbole, satirical nicknames and epithets, and grotesque devices. In short, Saltykov early achieved an individual but unified synthesis of fiction with journalism. After Provincial Sketches Saltykov was regarded as the leader of the school of literary exposure, and people spoke of the “Shchedrin school” or the “Shchedrin spirit.”

Nevinnye rasskazy (Innocent Tales, 1857-63) and Satiry v proze (Satires in Prose, 1859-62) complete the portrait gallery Saltykov began with Provincial Sketches. For the first time he introduced cruel serf owners and individuals who attempt to oppose oppression, in such works as “Gospozha Padeikova” (“Mrs. Padeykova”), “Razveseloe zhitie” (“Happy Living”), and “Derevenskaia tish”’ (“Rural Tranquility”). His depiction of provincial officialdom became a symbol of governmental administration generally in tsarist Russia. The cycle Satires in Prose is unified by the notion of serfdom's historically predetermined doom.

Satires in Prose also presents for the first time the town of Glupov (Fooltown) and its benighted inhabitants, an acid artistic metaphor for the entire tsarist regime. Saltykov would develop it to its highest point in one of his best-known cycles, Istoriia odnogo goroda (History of a Town, 1869-70). Pompadury i pompadurshy (Messrs. Pompadours and Mmes. Pompadours, 1863-75, derived from the name of the mistress of Louis XV) is the allegorical title of a cycle attacking the caprices of powerful provincial bureaucrats, an attack continued in Gospoda Tashkenttsy (The Tashkent Gentry, 1869-73).

Some critics have belittled Saltykov for his feuilletonistic style. It is true he employed many propagandistic elements, but they were organically fused with his artistic devices; and if a writer is to be judged by the degree to which he fulfills his intent, then Saltykov ranks very high. Unlike his contemporaries Turgenev, Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy, who sought to create psychologically convincing characters, Saltykov wished to depict his social milieu and the aggregate of conditions that constituted the prevailing social order. Indeed the radical critic Nikolay Dobrolyubov commented that the Turgenevian school of writing held that “the environment devours man,” and depicted this quite well, but that the school did a poor job of describing the environment itself and its relationship to the individual. Thus Saltykov, uninterested in the nuances of character, took upon himself the task of depicting the milieu, those social types who most clearly embodied the negative features of the group or class he was investigating. He was preeminently a political satirist.

Thus if Saltykov failed to explore the psychology of his characters, it was because psychological unveiling humanizes an individual, whereas satire exposes a humanoid creature. He focused on the psychology of class behavior rather than the individual: around the central person satirized are grouped a number of satellites who offer variations and nuances of a basic type. Thus Saltykov observed his characters in the social arena, not the personal one. And when he did touch upon their personal lives, it was only in order to trace the end of a development that began outside the family domain.

The names and nicknames that form an important element of Saltykov's artistic system derive from the satirical tradition established by Denis Fonvizin, Aleksandr Griboedov, and Nikolay Gogol. His “speaking” names are usually bestowed upon carriers of negative traits like lust for power, despotism, ferocity, and rapaciousness: Zmeishchev (Snakelike), Zubatov (Toothy), Davilov (Oppressor), Obirailov (Despoiler), Krokodilov (Crocodile). A second category points to intellectual and moral limitation: Slabomyslov (Weak-minded), Negodyaev (Scoundrel), Balbesov (Idiot). A third group bear names suggesting physical characteristics of a negative sort: General Golozadov (Barebottom), or Governor Pucheglazov (Popeye). He assigns to his characters of very high rank—princes, counts, generals—names that create a comic effect in conjunction with their titles: Strekoza (Grasshopper), Soliter (Tapeworm). Nor does Saltykov forget the lower classes, for he endows his rascally policemen and clerks with suggestive names like Zubotychin (Knock your teeth out) and Khvatov (Bribetaker). On occasion Saltykov's personages are characterized by their names alone.

The narrator, the “migrating” protagonists, and certain themes serve as unifying threads within cycles and between cycles. Some cycles, however, are not as closely structured as others. Thus the stories in Provincial Sketches are only loosely linked, whereas the bonds connecting the disparate parts of History of a Town are tight and multifaceted.

Aside from the cycles for which Saltykov is primarily remembered, he also wrote some individual short stories, such as “Dvorianskaia khandra” (“Gentry Blues,” 1878), “Starcheskoe gore” (“Sorrows of Old Age,” 1879), and “Bol'noe mesto” (“A Sore Point,” 1881). Although the short story as such was never as important as his cycles, the stories do possess some merits in contrast to the grotesque fantasies of the cycles. The stories describe emotionally poignant situations and offer plausible psychological portraits. Each story contains a dramatic or even tragic summing up of the ordinary life of ordinary people: a character has worked conscientiously and unobtrusively all his life, only to confront suddenly a revelation that strips his past of all meaning. Saltykov tells us that it is not sufficient for a man to have worked well all his life; rather he must consider what he has done and what he has served so well.

In some ways “A Sore Point” anticipates Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych. The protagonist's single solace in his old age is his only son. The young man, who has attended the university and associates with people with clear ideas of good and evil, discovers that his father has served an ignoble cause all his life. Unable either to reconcile himself to his father's past or to break with him, the son kills himself. Behind each intimate family drama, the author implies, lies an abnormal society. The old man falls victim to an inevitable retribution for the past in the form of the pitiless judgment of the younger generation, who will not accept evil passively. The awakening of the father's conscience ends this version of Fathers and Sons.

Saltykov's influence on the intellectual life of Russia in his day was considerable. His iconoclastic attacks on the fundamental institutions of society—family, property, religion, the administrative apparatus of the state—stimulated the appearance of younger voices who would echo his indignant protests.


Nikolay Uspensky (1837-89) was the first writer to describe peasant life without illusions and yet without the ethnographical objectivity of a Vladimir Dal. He looks at the villages soberly, not advertising the supposed charms of rural life. The peasantry as he pictures it is a defenseless, bankrupt mass of people, sunk in slavery, unawakened from the torpor of centuries, and living in superstition and the lethargy of ignorance. “Zmei” (“The Snake,” 1858), “Koldun'ia” (“The Witch,” 1863), “Sel'skaia apteka” (“The Village Pharmacy,” 1859), and “Bobyl'” (“The Landless Peasant,” 1859) paint horrifying scenes. In “Proezzhii” (“The Traveler,” 1861) a member of the gentry beats his innocent drivers and servants, but when his mood changes, he offers them vodka to sing for him and they do so with no thought of their dignity. The tavern keeper in “Kabatchik” (“The Tavern Keeper”) does well for himself: every day is a holiday for him, since people drink for all possible reasons. Uspensky's Russian village is full of hopeless, savage peasants, who through their drinking lose all their possessions and then thank the tavern keeper for robbing them. In their drunkenness the peasants send off to the army a sick villager with many starving children instead of a thief who has bribed them with vodka.

In his stories Uspensky takes his readers into fields, peasant huts, taverns, village meetings, and country fairs. He shows the people as they go about their daily lives, revealing their thoughts and problems, the dark ignorance in which they live, the ugliness of their manners. Frowning autumn skies or murky winter clouds spread over all.

Dostoevsky particularly liked Uspensky's “Porosenok” (“The Piglet,” 1858), which tells of a widow's attempts to bribe officials to recover a piglet stolen from her in the market. Not only does she receive no help; she is somehow made to feel so guilty that she hands over her money quite willingly. Beneath the good-humored surface of this tale of a simpleminded peasant woman the reader perceives the distortion of the most basic human values. “Starukha” (“The Old Woman,” 1858) paints a picture of frightful poverty that compels a peasant woman to beg for a little cottage cheese for her starving children, for whom she cannot even provide a roof. His well-known story “Noch' pod svetlyi den'” (“Easter Eve,” 1859) similarly depicts the inhumanity and disharmony of the contemporary world, in which Christ's commandments that we love one another and forgive others' sins have been forgotten.

The young hero of “Brusilov” (1860) asserts that work can heal a man's spiritual life and form his character. Although eager to work in order to maintain his status as a university student, he finally succumbs to disease and hunger. Even with his extraordinary thirst for knowledge he cannot overcome the problems of poverty.

In the course of time Uspensky's sketchlike stories become more like genuine tales, as he weaves together seemingly accidental or trivial but nonetheless homogeneous episodes from everyday life. In his longer story “Uezdyne nravy” (“Provincial Mores,” 1878) Uspensky presents disparate scenes from the meaningless lives of provincial landowners, merchants, clerks, and artisans through the consciousness of a young teacher who yearns for intellectual and spiritual companionship but realizes that he cannot find a kindred soul. The hero's alienation is the index of the degree to which society as a whole departs from the elementary norms of human relationships. Even the members of the same family suffer from the loneliness Uspensky depicts. He creates a terrible picture of a society with no authentic bonds between people, who communicate only by inflicting pain upon one another.

In “Tikhaia pristan'” (“A Peaceful Haven”) the initial naive expectations of an elderly woman who arrives at her son's home are more reasonable than the reality confronting her upon arrival. The mother, who had lived in poverty all her life, now sees at close quarters the “peaceful haven” of which her family has always dreamed. The son, a prosperous bureaucrat, is “judged by the mother,” but at the same time Uspensky subtly reevaluates the dream itself. The reader must fill in the details of a plot whose outlines Uspensky barely indicates. He stresses objectivity and verisimilitude, which he considers the principal ideals of literature.

Uspensky bases the ideological center of the story “Izdaleka i vblizi” (“From Near and Far,” 1870) upon an examination of the relationship between the intelligentsia and the people, that is, between the educated segment of society and the uneducated peasant masses. Members of the intelligentsia, separated from the people and oblivious of their needs, lead grossly parasitic lives. And the peasants, too, embittered by unbearably hard work, can be indifferent to the sufferings of others. Thus in “Uzhin” (“Supper,” 1859) an orphan boy with flies on his tear-stained face and thin legs too weak to support him sits in filth and begs for bread—in vain.

Even among the peasants there are those who cheat their fellows, especially the rich peasants, or kulaks, who enslave the poor peasants anew after the Emancipation. In “Egorka-pastukh” (“Egorka the Shepherd,” 1871) Uspensky shows the power of the kulaks. The rich peasants bribe with vodka the father of a young girl in love with a poor shepherd. After the bride is forcibly married, the husband is found murdered. The wife and the shepherd are arrested, and the story ends with a question: “What will the prosecutor say? How will the jury decide?”

The legion of oppressors and exploiters grows constantly in Uspensky's fiction: landowners, merchants, officials, priests, and tavern keepers most of all. But he also depicts the evil the peasants do to themselves. Though he discerns vulgarity, brutality, corruption, and violence in every segment of society, he controls his authorial intrusion, keeping the personality of the narrator in the background and never drawing attention to it through an emotional epithet or a lyrical digression. Chekhov once said that one does not need many words to describe the poverty of a poor woman: one need merely say that she is wearing a faded cloak. Uspensky too creates his story line economically, calmly, and in a subdued tone. His sketchlike stories contain no complex plots, no profound or moving psychological analysis, no brilliant wit, no elegance. He conveys instead the vulgar, drunken, argumentative speech and intonations of his peasant protagonists, the admixture of Church Slavic in the conversation of his priests, the comical voices of newly rich merchants trying to ape their betters. Uspensky gave the reading public a firsthand portrayal of peasant life, unadulterated by sentimentalism.

Nikolay Pomyalovsky (1835-63) received an ecclesiastical education since his father was a deacon; but he had no wish to follow in his father's footsteps and in 1859 began attending classes at St. Petersburg University. In those vital years just before the Emancipation, Pomyalovsky contributed to the common enthusiasm by teaching in a free Sunday school for working people. Unfortunately, however, his alcoholism led to his untimely death when he refused attention for a sore on his leg. He died at twenty-eight.

Aside from two short novels published in 1861, Pomyalovsky is best remembered for Ocherki bursy (Seminary Sketches). The first sketch, “Zimnii vecher v burse” (“A Winter Evening at the Seminary”), appeared in 1862; the second, “Bursatskie tipy” (“Seminary Types”), also came out in 1862. This was followed by “Zhenikhi bursy” (“Seminary Suitors”) and “Beguny i spasennye bursy” (“Runaways and Survivors”), both of which appeared in 1863.

The theme of education was very popular at the time, but this by no means diminishes the worth of Pomyalovsky's sketches. They are a stark condemnation of the seminaries' pedagogical philosophy, which was based upon the suppression of human dignity through brute force, rote learning, and the eradication of every original thought. Nor does Pomyalovsky idealize the savage behavior of the seminarians themselves, though he makes the point that they were not born savages, but were made that way by the seminary, which destroyed their natural talents and characters. Even the best teachers in his stories abuse the students both psychologically and physically. Pomyalovsky himself calculated that in the fourteen years of his life at a seminary he was whipped four hundred times. Moreover, the students live in filth and are fed a diet that keeps them at the edge of starvation.

The critic Pavel Annenkov at the time declared that Seminary Sketches went beyond the bounds of art. The teachers as tormentors and the seminarians as victims were equally disgusting, he thought, as was the author himself, with his “dry, unbearable objectivity toward both sides.” Another critic felt that the author's exaggerations extinguished the reader's sympathy.

It may be true that the seminarians evoke no compassion, but Pomyalovsky shows that their grotesque behavior stems from three interrelated causes: the wretchedness of their lives, their sense of helplessness, and their instinct of self-preservation. Their mutual brutality, wild drinking, cheating, and lying are a consequence of the way they live. Like Dostoevsky, Pomyalovsky seems to say that suffering and humiliation simply lead to more suffering and humiliation. The system destroys the weak and corrupts the strong.

Pomyalovsky's view of childhood was far from that advanced by Leo Tolstoy or Sergey Aksakov, who created sensitive pictures of a child's psychological growth. Pomyalovsky knew that the sons of the Russian clergy did not grow up in surroundings of leisured luxury. His first story, “Vukol” (1859), describes the birth of consciousness in a child but demonstrates how his merriment and sincerity gradually disappear until he becomes an embittered loner under the constant threat of punishment. Unlike Tolstoy and Akaskov, Pomyalovsky was less interested in the child's emotional growth than in conveying the concrete circumstances of the environment that would destroy him. In Seminary Sketches, for example, Pomyalovsky has no central autobiographical hero. Karas is the closest to such a hero, but even he is the central protagonist only of the last sketch; he is a peripheral figure in the other three.

The works composing Seminary Sketches differ structurally from one another. In each of the first three the action takes place within the limits of a single day; but since Pomyalovsky wished to show the evolution of consciousness in a clever boy in a savage pedagogical system through the autobiographical figure of Karas, he expanded the temporal framework to four years. But even in this sketch Pomyalovsky neither equates himself with his hero nor presents reality through the child's perception.

Seminary Sketches seemingly moves on two levels. The first, the depiction of seminary types and mores, predominates in the first three sketches, while the fourth sketch is on another level centered around the development of an autobiographical personage in the seminary's stifling atmosphere. But the first level exists on its own, not for the sake of the second. Pomyalovsky seems consciously to have decided to set a stage larger than that common in the autobiographical literature of the 1850s. He uses scenes, impressionistic sketches, portraits of individual seminarians, and interpolated stories and reminiscences to create a broad vivid picture of seminary life. Pomyalovsky deliberately avoids motivation in the development of the work, emphasizing the merely mechanical links between episodes. Thus the plot is very simple: he juxtaposes his protagonists as types, and not as participants in a developing story. He also varies the moods of his scenes, so that a comic occurrence may directly follow a somber episode.

For the purposes of his unique fictional genre Pomyalovsky developed an idiosyncratic language based on the speech of the seminarians, where elements of Church Slavonic, liturgical quotations, and scriptural allusions alternate and clash cacophonously with colloquialisms, comic comments, and witticisms. He defended himself against critical accusations that he used coarse, vulgar language by arguing that the work would be inauthentic otherwise. And the language of the author himself, with its gusts of indignation and ironic comments, is an organic synthesis of literary language with journalistic elements, a synthesis that was characteristic of the plebeian writers of the 1860s. We must remember, however, that the language was designed to destroy, so far as possible, every obstacle between author and reader.

Contemporaries hailed Seminary Sketches as a new discovery, and many similar works about seminary schools appeared afterward. This was not simply imitation, for a great number of seminarians were active in the intellectual life of Russia in the 1860s. Pomyalovsky's work obviously touched a sensitive nerve.

Fedor Reshetnikov (1841-71) had little formal education as a result of his poverty and suffered from alcoholism and want all his life. Passages from his somber diary reveal the agony he experienced. “With vodka I feel happier,” he confessed once. “I suffer terribly with each day. Life is becoming more difficult, more unbearable. There is nothing except suffering. I hate lies, filth, and slavery in life. I wish for something better.” When literary critics complained of his lack of artistic polish, he responded, “If I had the money to live in my own room and did not need advances, I would write more calmly and better than I do now.”

Reshetnikov wrote in order to reveal the inhuman conditions in which some people lived in Russia: he vicariously shared his protagonists' dreadful lives. The first part of his cycle Podlipovtsy (People of Podlipnaya, 1864) describes the slow death by starvation of the inhabitants of the village of Podlipnaya and the search of survivors for a better life; the second part describes the life of barge haulers. The totality of these impressions creates a tale whose hero is “the whole mass of the people,” as Saltykov put it at the time, and whose plot centers about the fate of a single family whose experiences mirror in microcosm the historical processes that engulfed large numbers of peasants.

Thus part 1 tells the dramatic “love story” of Sysoyka and Aproska, her supposed death, and her genuine funeral. The burial of the nineteen-year-old Aproska by her father, Pila (there is a hint of incest in the story), and her fiancé, Sysoyka, can only be described as grotesque. Sysoyka keeps begging Pila not to close the coffin so that he can see Aproska, but these sentiments are interrupted shockingly when he claims he wants to bite off her nose, and begins a fight with Pila: profoundly tragic emotion is expressed in a comic, almost animal manner. After the burial the two men hear moans coming from the grave but run away in fear of sorcery, while the author intervenes to inform us that they have buried Aproska alive.

No one could describe better than Reshetnikov the inner drama of the common people's life. Pila makes superhuman efforts to help both his own family and his fellow villagers, who have been abandoned by the authorities and by nature itself. When their flour gives out, the villagers sicken and die from eating tree bark mixed with their bread, but the living lack the strength to bury the dead. “Food torments everyone,” Reshetnikov writes. Unceasing hunger makes monstrous egotists of the peasants; for the most part they lie ill and apathetic, with the only sounds being curses, cries, and quarreling. They suffer from a mass psychosis of passive indifference to their own fate.

These drunken, stupid, hungry peasants leading a primitive existence could not be less like the idealized muzhiks of earlier Russian literature. Reshetnikov does not attempt to explore the psychology of his protagonists or their spiritual life. He is interested only in the inhuman conditions that create inhuman feelings. The reader feels immersed in an entirely unfamiliar world, rendered all the more strange by the peasants' language: when Reshetnikov's characters speak in something more than grunts or monosyllables, they employ a peculiar Ural dialect.

The work's narrative structure exemplifies Reshetnikov's historical perspective. His protagonists belong to their family and clan, and by extension to their class. This leads Reshetnikov to the larger problem of society as a whole and the social changes occurring at this particular time. People of Podlipnaya is essentially about the struggle for existence. Pila and Sysoyka, two survivors, leave to seek their fortune in the city, where they quickly learn who exercises power: but they are simply fictional examples of the thousands of real-life peasants who abandoned their native villages and wandered about Russia.

The second part of the cycle describes the two men's lives as barge haulers. By the end of the narration all the protagonists are dead, although the reader is told about the situation of Pila's two sons, who have survived and found a foothold in the new, industrialized Russia.

In a slightly different vein, Reshetnikov's “Nikola Znamenskii” (1867) describes the arrival in a village of a young priest full of energy and desire to serve the people. But his speech, his gestures, all his ways, seem foreign to the peasants, and they gradually stop attending church. After a vain struggle the priest gives up and begins to live the dissolute, drunken life of his parishioners. His successor, who has been ordained thanks to a bribe, is totally lacking in both secular and religious knowledge.

Reshetnikov, in his other stories and sketches—such as “Na palube” (“On Board,” 1863), “Skladchina” (“The Pooling,” 1863), “Lotereia” (“The Lottery,” 1863), “Maksia” (1864), “Gornozavodnye liudi” (“The Miners,” 1863), and “S Novym godom” (“Happy New Year,” 1864)—uses the same gray colors to paint a picture of the desperately impoverished masses. Reshetnikov had a one-track talent, which constituted both his strength and his weakness.

Vasily Sleptsov (1836-78) was the only man of gentry origin among the “plebeian” writers, although his life was also shadowed by poverty and insecurity. He was a fervent feminist for a time and associated with leading nineteenth-century feminists, although after he was arrested in 1866 he seemed to lose interest in the issue. His contemporaries unanimously described him as extraordinarily handsome and elegant, and that same elegance may be observed in his prose, in the refinement of detail with which he created a character. He was an extremely well-balanced writer, realizing artistically the conclusions of a serious intellect in a tersely constructed work. The events in his stories usually occur within a few days or a few hours and are set in locations with a multitude of people: a village inn, a busy street, a city square, a railway coach. In short, in the 1860s Sleptsov stood head and shoulders above his fellow democratic writers. In the 1890s Tolstoy would speak of him as an “unjustly forgotten writer.”

In 1860 the Imperial Geographic Society sent Sleptsov to Vladimir province to collect folk songs, tales, and proverbs. The result of this expedition was the cycle of sketches entitled Vladimir i Kliaz'ma (Vladimir and Klyazma, 1861), a work written literally as he was on his way from Moscow to Vladimir to provide a firsthand description of what he had learned. The sketches exhibit the distinctive features of his prose fiction: they are as harmonious, as laconic, as artistically perfect as his most mature works. Sleptsov never moralizes or bursts into angry tirades: he seems solely concerned with depicting what he has observed with the greatest accuracy. Vladimir and Klyazma recalls Aleksandr Radishchev's great eighteenth-century classic Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow in its form and approach.

Pis'ma ob Ostashkove (Letters on Ostashkov) appeared in 1862-63. After the press had published accounts of the extraordinary progress recently made in the cultural and social life of Ostashkov, including descriptions of its theater, library, bank, and school for girls, Sleptsov visited the town himself and wrote sketches exposing the superficiality of these cosmetic changes. Although the sketches at first glance appear insignificant, even accidental, in their entirety they present a picture of desolation, hunger, cold, slavery, illness, violence, and crime. The author seems detached from his subject, as if he did not realize how his reader must react to the horrors he describes in these free-flowing sketches. Saltykov remarked that behind the mass of apparently insignificant pictures with no statistics there lies the life of an entire town with its external smoothness and inner poverty.

Sleptsov's first short story set in an urban environment, “Ulichnye stseny” (“Street Scenes,” 1862), is done in the sketch tradition that emerged from the natural school of the 1840s. The small scenes he presents, and even the neutral nature descriptions, are permeated with elements of social and political significance. A story that on the surface recounts the innocent amusements of city dwellers thus acquires additional overtones.

Sleptsov created a new form that may be best described as dramatized physiological sketches. In the established tradition of the sketch, these works have no effective external plot development. But they are marked by a predominance of dialogue over description and remarkable renditions of the characters' speech: Sleptsov has few equals in Russian literature in his sensitivity to the spoken language. Unlike Nikolay Leskov, however, he has no interest in verbal play: he employs dialogue as a direct or indirect demonstration of social contradictions. Indeed, the predominance of auditory over visual depiction was characteristic of the narrative manner of the 1860s, as may be seen from the writing of Pomyalovsky and of both Nikolay and Gleb Uspensky.

One of Sleptsov's more harrowing stories, “Pitomka” (“The Fosterchild,” 1863) describes a peasant woman's conversations with people she encounters on a journey through the countryside. By his use of syntactic parallelism—“the peasant woman [baba] turned off the road,” “the peasant woman bowed,” “the peasant woman went on walking in silence,” with the increasing repetition of the word baba—Sleptsov emphasized the movingly emotional tragedy of a mother whose child has been taken from her.

Sleptsov's art and life reached their culmination in 1863. Aside from “The Fosterchild” and “Stseny v bol'nitse” (“Hospital Scenes,” 1863), in or before that year he produced his best stories, “Nochleg” (“Lodging for the Night,” 1863) and “Spevka” (“Choir Practice,” 1862), which display the structural elegance and refinement of detail observable in his best work. The Soviet critic Korney Chukovsky speaks of them as polished on a lathe in the harmony of their parts and faultless taste in the reproduction of dialogue. “V trushchobakh” (“In the Slums,” 1866) and “Stseny v politsii” (“Scenes at the Police Station,” 1867) round off Sleptsov's sketches on urban themes.

The essence of Sleptsov's literary approach lies in his protest against the violation of human rights. He returns constantly to the theme of the trampling of human dignity: none of his characters believes there are any such things as justice, compassion, selflessness, or goodness. Sleptsov's peasants know that authority exists only to steal, damage, and destroy.

Some of Sleptsov's contemporaries misinterpreted his narrative approach as cold or skeptical; his use of condensed colors and extravagance in “Mertvoe telo” (“The Corpse,” 1866) earned him an unwarranted reputation as a “comic” writer who heartlessly mocked Russian life.


Gleb Uspensky (1843-1902), the cousin of Nikolay Uspensky, lived a life of hardship and financial want before entering an insane asylum where he spent the last decade of his life. Uspensky once wrote that, for the working class, life's drama, which no moralizing can resolve, derives from its sufferings, deprivations, torments, illnesses, psychological pain, and crimes. The “psychological pain” of which he spoke seems to have affected him personally in a monstrous way: while mentally ill he saw himself as a disgusting porcine creature with a snout, and imagined that he had poisoned his children with strychnine.

Uspensky had an enormous influence on the democratic youth of the 1870s and 1880s, who looked to him constantly for guidance. He took his vocation very seriously, believing that a writer by telling the truth about the life of the common people could awaken the consciousness of the working class and inspire the masses. In his comments on the second edition of his works in 1888 he remarked, “Actually I have written very little fiction, and conversely, many observations that I convey I put in a nonfictional form.”

Uspensky characteristically describes terrible events without explicit anger or condemnation. Though he was often accused of being an unmitigated pessimist, he could see both the comic and the tragic side of things. He explained what he termed the “unfinished character” of his work as the result of external conditions and of his own spiritual loneliness and lack of faith in his capacities.

Though Uspensky worked in the form of the sketch, the content of his prose is dense—nothing is extraneous. There are no loving nature descriptions, psychological subtleties, or peripheral characters in Uspensky. His stories are always compact, sometimes excessively so, and somewhat schematic. The narrator's comments, also more laconic than eloquent, have been compared to a concentrated broth undiluted with water. Uspensky is an ascetic aesthete: he rejects anything superfluous, anything that does not lead directly to his goal or that detracts from the point he seeks to make at the moment. At times he may have enough material for a novel—as in the short story “Neizlechimyi” (“Incurable,” 1857), for example—but his work remains bare-boned because he sacrifices architectural harmony on the altar of his idea.

Uspensky's works of the 1860s are numerous, varied in subject, and artistically uneven. He took his material from his wanderings throughout Russia and into the corners and slums of the two capitals. He portrays the life of the urban proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie, the mores of little clerks. His very earliest stories—“Gost'” (“Guest,” 1861), “Star'evshchik” (“The Junkman,” 1863), “Pobirushka” (“The Beggarwoman,” 1864), “Zimnii vecher” (“A Winter Evening,” 1865)—exhibit the basic features of his writing: his skill at catching essential details and reproducing conversational speech, his mild humor, and his sympathy for the little man.

“Nuzhda pesenki poet” (“Poverty Forces One to Perform,” 1866) tells the poignant tale of a magician and a couple named Ivanov who are entertainers. In order to obtain the two hundred rubles needed to buy a replacement to save the husband from the military draft, they hire themselves out to a local merchant who is giving a party. The pregnant wife, weeping and dressed in a “Turkish turban” and gypsy shawl, dances for the rowdy guests while her husband clowns. The little drama is saved from maudlin sentimentality by being narrated in the comic and grotesque vocabulary of the magician. Sketches like “Skandal” (“Scandal,” 1865) and “Na begu” (“In a Hurry,” 1863) describe paradoxical or caricatured situations. In one of his stories Uspensky defines a young provincial man as “something between a matchmaker or bonnetmaker and a newspaper feuilleton”; in another he compares a young man with a city education to a bad pâté.

Uspensky could convey the external and internal essence of a man, social event, or object with one or two sharply defined details. “Tryntrava” (“It's All the Same,” 1867) contains a marvelous description of old “auntie,” who, though once quite generous, now seems to have lost all reason: she keeps her money under her mattress in which she has ordered her servants to breed fleas and lice to keep thieves away. The fact that she herself cannot sleep because of the vermin is of no consequence.

One of Uspensky's most famous works is “Budka” (“The Sentry Box,” 1868). Its central personage, the policeman Mymretsov, became a very popular figure among Russian revolutionaries (Lenin refers to him several times in his writings). Mymretsov's most famous sayings are: “Drag him off!”—as a result of which one is dragged off by the collar to a place one does not wish to go—and “Don't admit him!”—which means that one is forbidden to enter when one very much wants to. Mymretsov is so adept that eventually he perceives only collars, not real people. And who owns these “collars”? A laundress who trembles in fear as she tries to assert her independence from her “bloodsucker” husband; an alcoholic tailor; an old beggar starving along with his grandchildren; or a worker who throws himself into a barrel of boiling water rather than be drafted into the army. Throughout all these confrontations we hear Mymretsov shouting: “Where is my stick?” A stupid, ignorant man on the lowest bureaucratic rung, Mymretsov is the ideal servant of the autocracy. In his person he embodies the tsarist system.

Uspensky's first longer work was Nravy Rasteriaevoi ulitsy (The Mores of Rasteryaev Street, 1866), an innovative cycle of sketches painting a broad picture of life in post-Emancipation Russia. Rasteryaev Street, a microcosm of the larger world, corrupts man, disorients him, renders him helpless. Drink provides the only escape from unbearable conditions that show that the Great Reforms have not benefited the poor. Predators like Prokhor Porfirovich symbolize the money men, the builders of a nascent capitalism. Uspensky's portrait gallery also includes the somber figure of Tolokonnikov, a sanctimonious torturer who enjoys observing his subordinates' humiliation, and Drykin, a tyrant and money grubber. Uspensky's attitude is sad, almost tender, when he describes talented little people like Ignatych who are crushed by need, ignorance, and exploitation and who end up as alcoholics. The structure of the sketches is based on contrasts and juxtapositions between exploiters and their victims. Rasteryaev Street is a zoological world incompatible with human dignity, where people cannot change.

The trilogy Razorenie (Ruin, 1869-71) also offers a general canvas of post-Reform Russia, concentrating on the environment's crippling effects on individuals. The title refers to the destruction of the established pre-Emancipation way of life. One of the cycle's major threads is the disintegration of the Ptitsyn family: the episodic figure of old Ptitsyna, guardian of one of the old family strongholds, is brilliantly characterized by the simple slogan she repeats constantly to her family: “Put as much as you can in your pockets.” On the other hand, the worker-rebel Mikhail Ivanovich, who constantly protests against injustice and oppression, proves incapable of reaching any of his goals: for all his talk, his plan of starting a new life in St. Petersburg comes to nothing. Nadya Ptitsyna strives to escape the shackles of her family and dreams of a better, more enlightened life, but her vague yearnings also bring no result. The people she meets turn out to be consumed by self-centered and petty concerns, just like everyone else.

The cycle's second part, “Tishe vody, nizhe travy” (“Lying Low”), contains the confession of an intellectual named Vasily Petrovich, who has returned to his family in a provincial town. His feelings of helplessness are reinforced by the apathy of the townspeople and his contacts with his downtrodden sister, his mother, and a teacher afraid of offending her colleagues, until in the end he flees in fear. The final part of the trilogy, “Nabliudeniia odnogo lentiaia” (“Observations of a Lazy Man”), depicts the life of the lower classes. The image of the “lazy man,” the narrator, forms the background of this series of episodes showing the moral chaos, exploitation, and misery of the peasants and workers.

In Ruin Uspensky's artistic approach is more sophisticated than before: he no longer relies on obviously satirical and comically exaggerated portraits. Instead we observe the characters' inner emotions, desires, and hopes; we follow their actions, their conflicts, their arguments. Though the plot is not especially compact, in the ideological and thematic sense Ruin is a well-organized work.

One should not imagine that Uspensky worked with polymorphous semifictional and semijournalistic short-story cycles because he could not handle the larger form of the novel. He was far from indifferent to questions of genre: he examined thoughtfully the genres he thought were declining and those he believed were in the ascendancy. In connection with Ruin he wrote to Nikolay Nekrasov about his indecision over whether to work within the traditional short-story genre or to write superficially disparate sketches with a hidden inner unity. He made a conscious choice of form to enable his reader to enter into direct contact with the material under the direction of the author and narrator. Thus, while Ruin is composed of three independent stories, each is part of a larger artistic depiction of reality. In view of this, there is no doubt that Uspensky was a major reformer of Russian literary prose. His impact is felt even today in the didacticism of Soviet writing.

The cycle Novye vremena, novye zaboty (New Times and New Problems, 1873-78) is so saturated that it makes for difficult reading as Uspensky tries to depict the new disharmony of life. In “Na starom pepelishche” (“On Old Home Grounds”) the heroine, Verochka, is introduced to “new ideas” and acquires a new vocabulary including such words as labor, equality, and independence. She even comprehends these concepts, but it takes her a long time to break through the restrictions of her heritage. When she finally does, however, she is unable to continue living and poisons herself. In a similar way a deacon in “Incurable” realizes that the new ideas are destroying his hitherto harmonious existence: he suffers greatly after having eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The new victims of conscience Uspensky describes are powerless.

But then Uspensky also creates images of the new man in Russian society. Thus Petr Vasilevich, in “Khochesh' ne khochesh'” (“Willy-Nilly”), abandons his former depraved life, his family, and his wealth to live anonymously in his former village and teach peasant children. Only then does he gain spiritual equilibrium. Uspensky also favored serious work. The hero of “Perestala” (“She's Stopped”), Mikhaylo, protects his wife by keeping her from working. A doughnut seller scolds both of them: the wife is vigorous, she says, and the husband is depriving her of the work she requires. “The harder the merrier,” she argues: work brings true joy.

“Dokhnut' nekogda” (“No Time to Breathe”) displays Uspensky's imagination, rich humor, clear exposition, and artistic finish at their best. In this story, however, work is a source not of spiritual peace but of eternal anxiety: there is such a thing as harmful work, which leads to tragedy. Each of the characters works so much he scarcely has time to breathe, but each works at senseless, unnecessary things only in order to obtain the means of existence. Uspensky has no cogent advice to offer for the amelioration of the genuine unhappiness of his characters.

In the 1870s Uspensky turned to the peasant theme in such works as Iz derevenskogo dnevnika (From a Village Diary, 1877-80), Krest'ianin i krest'ianskii trud (The Peasant and Peasant Labor, 1880), and Vlast' zemli (The Power of the Earth, 1882-83). Power of the Earth in particular is an example of a new genre combining fictional elements with journalistic rhetoric so skillfully other populists of the day could not match it.

In From a Village Diary Uspensky offers the reader a rare example of a peasant “in the full sense of the word,” a man indissolubly linked to the earth in heart and mind, a patriarchal peasant who does not know how to be cunning or to cheat. Here Uspensky finds a purity of morals based on conscience and on certain principles that prevail, in his view, in unspoiled peasant families. In The Peasant and Peasant Labor Ivan Ermolaevich resorts to active labor as the only possible defense against the perils of capitalism. In the poetry of agricultural work that permeates Ivan Ermolaevich's life Uspensky detects the fullness of existence, the “wholeness” and “harmony” that make him an exemplary human being.

In The Power of the Earth Uspensky commences an investigation of the meaning of this power in the peasant's life. He re-creates an epic hero of Russian folklore, comparing him to the Russian peasant as he eulogizes agricultural work and the strong communal feelings of the peasantry. For the peasant the land is not merely a source of food: it also inspires him with unexpected strength, defines his entire view of the world, takes on a transcendent spiritual value. Uspensky insists—and almost believes—that the peasant instinctively knows everything that he needs to know. Ivan Bosykh earns a comfortable thirty-five rubles a month for easy work with the railroad, and yet he is dissatisfied. Life was hard back in the village, but at least he knew his work was both necessary and fulfilling. Ivan misses the harmony of life. Now he has become simply a cog in a huge mechanism whose purposes are distant from him.

Uspensky was a central figure in populist thought of the nineteenth century. He sought to discover methods by which the harmony of peasant life might be preserved; he appealed to the intelligentsia to accept the lofty mission that saints and holy men had accepted in the past. By the 1880s the image of the “intellectual toiler,” an analogue to the righteous men of the past, began appearing in his works. Referring to the humanizing role of ancient Christianity in his phrase “the intelligentsia of the holy men,” Uspensky argued that righteous men of old did not retreat to caves and forests but rather lived among and with the people. In his sketch “Narodnaia intelligentsiia” (“The Intelligentsia of the People”), from The Power of the Earth, Uspensky introduces the legend of Nikolay and Kasyan. When they both returned to give an account of their work among men, Nikolay wore dirty, torn clothes, while Kasyan was dressed like a dandy. Thus God decided that Kasyan had only talked of helping people, while Nikolay had worked at it, and ordered that the church celebrate Nikolay at least twenty times a year and Kasyan only once every four years. Uspensky's conception of the positively good man combines religious moral principles, religious images, ideas, and phraseology, with images and vocabulary from Russian folklore.

Uspensky's esthetic and ethical views coalesce in a curious sketch of 1882 entitled “Razgovory s priiateliami” (“Conversations with Friends”), which sets forth a rather androgynous ideal. There is a discussion of a picture depicting a young woman in a simple dress, with short hair and wearing a man's hat. The narrator comments that there is something extraordinarily attractive about her “purely feminine, virginal features that are endowed with … a presence of bright masculine thought.” He perceives an organic linkage between male traits and feminine charm, which creates “a newly born and hitherto unknown radiant type.” In “Vypriamila” (“She Straightened Up,” 1885) Uspensky pens enthusiastic pages about the famous statue of the Venus de Milo, denying that the sculpture represents feminine charm and insisting that, to the contrary, the artist took what he required to create this “stone enigma” from both male and female beauty without consideration of sex or even, possibly, of age. The Venus de Milo, he goes on, is an ideal in that it blends various human traits harmoniously. It should be said, though, that all Uspensky's models—holy men, intellectuals, women—have a detached feeling about them, a sense of an ideal not made of flesh and blood.

After Uspensky one of the best known populist writers was Nikolay Zlatovratsky (1848-1911), who continued the tradition of idealizing the rural commune and poeticizing the peasant. Not surprisingly, he worked in the form of the sketch or cycle of sketches, unifying his episodes not by plot but by theme and seeking to create an integrated picture of the life of the people. This is the structure he employs, for example, in an original story of 1875 entitled “Muzhiki-prisiazhnye” (“The Peasant Jury”), which deals with the election of peasants to the jury according to the Reform Laws of 1864, their preparations for departure from the village, their journey to the town on foot, their life there as members of the jury, and their return to the village. “V arteli” (“In a Collective,” 1875), a story of a peasant collective that travels to St. Petersburg to seek employment, has no plot, no conflict, and no resolution as it attempts to imitate real life in its natural flow. After the Emancipation the peasants entered on a new life; no longer tied to the land, they could move freely to the city. But Zlatovratsky thought the urban environment would destroy the peasant's healthily natural qualities: in this story he describes both the corrupting influence of urban life and the steadfastness of the peasant character, with its sense of group comradeship, mutual assistance, and responsibility. This idealized view of the village commune suggests that those peasants who remain with the collective are superior to the helpless city worker who must live as an individual. And it is true that Zlatovratsky's idealized view of the integrated peasant commune contrasted with the cruel city recalls Nikolay Karamzin's sentimentalist effusions on the peasantry from the end of the eighteenth century.

One might mention as well the names of a few other populist writers of the time. Filipp Nefedov (1838-1902), for instance, wrote sketches like “Nashi fabriki i zavody” (“Our Factories and Plants,” 1872) and “Krest'ianskoe gore” (“Peasant Sorrow,” 1872), which were used by the populists for propaganda purposes. Works by Nikolay Naumov (1838-1901), such as “Derevenskii torgash” (“The Village Shopkeeper,” 1871) and “Krest'ianskie vybory” (“Peasant Elections,” 1873), were influential in the “going to the people” movement of the 1870s, when young people sought to agitate and organize the peasantry for political purposes.

Of course the populists were not the only writers in the 1870s who dealt with contemporary issues. Others, though different stylistically or ideologically, did so as well. One characteristic representative of literature of the 1870s in this category was Petr Boborykin (1836-1921). The hero of his tale “V usad'be i na poriadke” (“On the Estate and among the Peasantry”) is an acutely sensitive young man who can discover no normal life either within his own circles or among the peasants. Everywhere he finds only disorganization and self-interest. The evil the estate owners do is mirrored in the peasantry: the hero's mother lives openly with her lover, and his peasant foster mother does the same thing. The only man of energy in the entire neighborhood is a German. Eventually the hero decides to leave this “nightmare” of an environment.

Banartsev, the hero of “Rannie vyvodki” (“Early Broods,” 1877), is a weak-willed, passive personality. He thinks of volunteering for the Russo-Turkish War, which was going on at the time, but does not; he wants something else, but again does nothing. He ends by leading a gray and boringly virtuous life.

“Dolgo li?” (“Will It Be Long?”) is among Boborykin's most successful stories. Its hero, the writer Prisypkin, is spiritually flabby. He can barely earn a living; the woman with whom he is living and whom he once loved no longer appeals to him, and she finally leaves him for a man who promises marriage; his petty and insignificant colleagues think only of money. The author presents Prisypkin's apathy, his unwillingness and inability to change his life, as characteristic of an epoch when everything is so disorganized that no individual can better his lot in life by himself. The story's action develops consistently with its internal logic and without external effects.

Boborykin anticipates Chekhov to a certain degree. His stories of insignificant lives are cast in muted tones. Everything is simple and pedestrian: therein lies the very horror of life.


The woman question was one of the burning issues of the day for nearly the entire period 1850-80, but authors approached it in different ways.

In the literature of the 1860s and 1870s are works that display compassion for the profound emotions of modest and truly feminine characters, contrasted with impertinently glib female intellectuals who regard themselves as followers of George Sand. In Bourgeois Happiness, for example, Pomyalovsky contrasts a dedicated George Sandist, a rich widow, to a modest young lady, much to the latter's advantage.

In certain short stories by Aleksey Pleshcheev (1825-93) the very polemical theme of the career woman is intertwined with the woman question and the family motif to form a complex narrative structure. Literature of this type often deals with the tyranny of a depraved husband, the suffering of a sensitive and well-educated wife, her fears for her children, her “spiritual kinship” with a teacher, a thinking young man, and subsequent gossip about their relationship. In Pleshcheev's “Dve kar'ery” (“Two Careers,” 1859) the hero tries his strength as a provincial teacher, but the story is complicated by the introduction of the theme of woman's position within the family and in society. The heroine, Sasha, is shown as trying to create a new and meaningful life for herself.

A young woman's moral odyssey is at the center of Pleshcheev's “Zhiteiskie stseny: Otets i doch'” (“Worldly Scenes: Father and Daughter,” 1857). The heroine, a strong and loving woman, sacrifices her personal happiness for her father's sake: she decides against marrying the man she loves and is ready to take an unloved husband in order to save her father from disgrace. But her sacrifice fails to save him, and he chooses suicide.

Marko Vovchok (pseudonym of Maria Markovich, 1834-1907) delves further into women's situation in society and their discontent with their situation. The encounter between two psychological and moral forces manifested in the relationship of a couple in love, or of a husband and wife, was a frequent literary theme, and it was often reinforced by social problematics, the author's assessment of women's role in society, and the effects of that role on women's characters.

The heroine of Vovchok's “Chervonnyi korol'” (“King of Hearts,” 1859) is an intellectually lethargic woman doomed by her upbringing to depend upon her husband. Vovchok, however, also perceives her heroine's capacity for all-encompassing love and self-sacrifice. Although her feelings emerge in a somewhat comical and old-fashioned way, her capacity for self-sacrifice sets her very much apart from the heartless milieu of the provincial gentry. The story is also interesting in its demonstration that a seemingly prosaic love without the expected romantic decor may discover profound depths of genuine feeling hiding behind silly provincial habits—in this instance fortune-telling with cards. Vovchok's sympathy for this “simple heart” of modest expectations and refined sensibilities is evident. In some ways this small work is comparable to the best of the psychological stories of the 1860s.

The situation in “Tri sestry” (“Three Sisters,” 1861) is somewhat altered. Now the narrative focus is not on the meek Olga, who dreams of a happy marriage and accepts domestic tyranny uncomplainingly, but rather on the restless Varvara, who is searching for an escape from the vulgarity of provincial gentry life, and of Sofia, who eventually becomes a revolutionary along with her lover. The liberals and reactionaries almost engage in fistfights when they visit the sisters and argue over such issues as wealth and poverty, the Great Reforms, the responsibilities of landowners, and the social position of women. Young people seek and find each other among these passionate debates, which reflect both genuine spiritual yearnings and material self-interest, fear of the new forms of life and the realization that it is no longer possible to live as before.

Vovchok is not especially profound or original in examining the emotional experiences of her protagonists. She often idealizes her heroines because she is attracted to strong, active female characters who move from undifferentiated yearnings through definite intellectual conclusions to specific action.

Vovchok's interest in the problems of women led her to create an entirely different picture of a serf girl in “Igrushechka” (“The Little Toy,” 1859) than does Tolstoy in the person of Natalya Savishna in Childhood. Both works describe a serf girl who is brought to the manor house to serve the young lady of the family but who is ultimately sacrificed to her master's whims. However, whereas Tolstoy's serf forgives her master for destroying her opportunity for personal happiness and sincerely dedicates herself to the service of her young lady, Vovchok's serf owners regard her heroine as their “little toy” for the entire course of her life. Even when the young girl she was to attend in the first place dies, she is not permitted to return to her mother. Exhibiting no Tolstoyan meekness and submission, Vovchok's serf fears and hates her masters; she rebels and dreams of freedom.

V. Krestovsky (pseudonym of Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaya, 1824-89) gave articulate expression to problems of daily family life. Most of her stories, traditional in structure, hearken back to the George Sandism of the 1840s, as we may see in such works as “Bratets” (“Brother,” 1858), “Stoiachaia voda” (“Stagnant Water,” 1862), and “Domashnee delo” (“A Domestic Matter,” 1864). In this last story a wealthy and determined estate owner turns her unworthy husband out of the house, a seemingly positive action that, however, has tragic consequences when their sixteen-year-old daughter cannot bear the shame of her father's disgrace. Though Krestovsky acknowledges a woman's right to liberate herself from the yoke of the family when necessary, she rejects the dogmatic idea that a woman must have an unloving heart in order to be free and equal.

Krestovsky mounts a similar defense of her humane ideal against egotistical “emancipated” society women in portraying a follower of George Sand in “Vera” (1860), where she contrasts genuine independence and the willingness to disregard false social conventions with idle female chatter about such matters. “Za stenoi” (“Behind the Wall,” 1862) is a more original work done in the spirit of the psychological realism of the 1860s. The narrator—a lonely, sick man of letters living in a St. Petersburg furnished apartment—becomes the involuntary witness of a cruel drama played out between his neighbor and his beloved. The narrator has never seen the woman, but he can guess at her sufferings and sympathizes with her wholeheartedly. Both the lovers are wealthy and independent members of good society. The man, a well-educated, refined aesthete, holds liberal views about women's rights and cannot understand why his beloved, a well-educated and intelligent widow, wishes to regularize their relationship. In his selfishness he cannot comprehend her anxiety lest her daughter suffer from social prejudice. What the man sees as strength and independence is simply a fear of losing his freedom. The woman, on the other hand, cannot tolerate falsehood and so suffers because she loves deeply. Although the story is not explicitly resolved, the reader may infer that the woman ends tragically.

In the 1870s Krestovsky dealt more frequently with the political topics of the day. A characteristic work of this time is “Schastlivye liudi” (“Happy People,” 1876), which deals ironically with the decline of the social activism of the 1860s. The generation of that decade still retains its ideals, whereas the men of the 1870s are either businessmen or bureaucrats, but the former, not having been trained to do anything in particular and now deprived of opportunities for action, are simply waiting for the end. Krestovsky finds these developments intriguing and speaks of the “fathers,” of whom “one fell and another retreated” and a third was unable to act. She reaches the bitter conclusion that the present generation has retained nothing of the inheritance of the 1860s.

In view of this, Krestovsky searches for an active hero who will justify the generation of the 1870s. “Uchitel'nitsa” (“The Teacher,” 1880) describes a young woman who goes to a village to organize a school for the peasant children. Although she loses her job, thanks to the intrigues of a neighboring gentry family, she does not despair: in a village church she discovers a small allegorical picture that gives expression to the ideal she seeks. The depiction is of a small figure with a halo in the desert and another figure with a halo on a hill in the distance. The first figure stretches out its arms as it walks toward the second: when the two meet, the desert will cease to be a desert.

One final representative of women in literature at this time was Evgeniia Tur (pseudonym of Elizaveta Salias de Tournemir, 1815-92). Although she belonged to the liberal wing of the women's movement, her fiction reflected the aristocratic way of life to which she was accustomed. Her first story, “Oshibka” (“The Mistake,” 1849), displays many parallels with Dostoevsky's later novel Unizhennye i oskorblennye (The Insulted and Injured, 1861). For example, the mother in Tur's story engages in intrigue much as does Dostoevsky's Prince Valkovsky, who shrewdly consents to his son's marriage to the modest poor Natasha in order to destroy her romantic aura of forbidden fruit and thus propel him into a union with a rich princess. In any case, Tur's stories and novels deal mostly with love adventures in high society. Although she was initially successful, her popularity later declined. She was also the author of moralizing books for children and young people.


Nikolay Leskov (1821-95), a highly original figure, is nearly impossible to fit into any trend or school in Russian literature. His origins lay in three distinct social classes: the gentry, the merchants, and the clergy; similarly, his literary work in its entirety probably offers a better cross-section of nineteenth-century Russian society than that of any other writer of his day. He depicts not only the most varied social classes and professions but also the different regions of the country to achieve an unusual breadth of interest.

Technically Leskov made frequent use of the frame device, which permits different voices to be heard and also frequently evokes a confession, or story, from one of the protagonists without the author's interference. But Leskov is perhaps most famous for his language. He did not write, he narrated: his language is so incredibly alive that his characters seem to arise physically from his pages, speaking an extremely colorful language specific only to them. Leskov once explained that in his view the author must be able to take possession of the voice and language of each of his heroes in turn. “I tried to develop this ability in myself,” he wrote, “and I think I managed to see to it that my priests talk like priests, my peasants speak like peasants. … I did not invent the language in my pages; I heard it from peasants, quasi intellectuals, holy fools, sanctimonious hypocrites, windbags.” Leskov has never been surpassed as a stylist; he revived the art of the folk storyteller who makes us hear the tone of each speaker's voice.

Since an audience can retain only a few sentences at a time—unlike the reader of a text—the storyteller must hold its attention by piling incident on top of incident, surprise on surprise, so that even Leskov's shortest works are saturated with events. Leskov moreover shared popular taste for excess. He liked his people full-bodied: when they drank they became very drunk, and when they fell in love they were not prudent about it. A good example of this is provided by the heroine of “Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo uezda” (“Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” 1865), who, consumed by passion, murders her father-in-law, her husband, a nephew, and finally her lover's mistress before destroying herself. In short, as the Soviet scholar Boris Eikhenbaum has put it, “it seemed that in the 1860s Leskov decided to compete with all the major writers of the time, to juxtapose his experience and his extraordinary literary language to theirs.”

Leskov was intrigued by the problems of the positive hero and proved more successful with them than most writers: he found them in places where Gogol, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky would not have dreamed of looking for them. Bogoslavsky (a name based on the word for theologian), the protagonist of “Ovtsebyk” (“The Musk-ox,” 1863), searches for meaning in life all his days, but accomplishes nothing despite his intelligence and goodness. Though filled with revolutionary fervor, this Don Quixote has no language in common with the people.

One of Leskov's masterpieces, “Ocharovannyi strannik” (“The Enchanted Wanderer,” 1872-73), describes the manifold adventures of one Ivan Flyagin. His life is full of dramatic conflicts and tense situations recounted in a narrative structure that blends elements of romanticism and realism. While a young serf, Flyagin saves his masters' lives but asks no reward: Leskov stresses that the notion of payment or reward has no importance for this very natural man. Among other adventures Flyagin is captured by the Tartars but manages to escape. His service with a prince ends in romantic tragedy when the prince's gypsy mistress becomes Flyagin's great love. After the prince abandons her, she implores Flyagin to help her end her life, and he complies by shoving her from a rock into the river. Flyagin tries his hand at everything: at one time or another he is nursemaid, soldier, clerk, actor, even medicine man. But above all else he is a folk hero, incorporating the finest Russian features into a personage bigger than life. This Russian Hercules of fantastic physical proportions lives an appropriately epic existence. Finally he enters a monastery, though on the story's last page we once more find him longing to take up arms. His broad nature can never find rest as his love for the people and his motherland drive him forward. His last words are: “I want so much to die for the people.”

Domna Platonovna, the central figure of “Voitel'nitsa” (“The Battle-ax,” 1866), an original personality and also a virtuoso in the “craft” of using lace peddling to obtain access to the upper classes, operates on another ethical plane, for in actuality she is a procuress of “live merchandise.” Domna takes in an educated young woman named Lekanida who has left her husband and come to the city to live independently but has been evicted from her lodgings. Domna wants to make an arrangement for Lekanida with a wealthy general and cannot comprehend her spiritual refinement when Lekanida refuses to open the door to him. Eventually destitution and pressure force her to succumb. Once she is secure in her position, however, she reviles Domna, who in turn takes revenge by denouncing Lekanida to the general's family, as a result of which the general decides to obtain a new mistress. Of course, in this story we see things from Domna's point of view, and by her lights she is eminently kind and fair: she is involved in her occupation for the “art” of it rather than for profit.

The second portion of “The Battle-ax” tells of Domna's sad downfall after she falls in love with a twenty-year-old, a scoundrel who exploits her mercilessly. Domna sacrifices everything for him. When he is arrested she has nothing more to live for, falls ill, and dies.

Leskov's mastery of skaz (narration in the words of an uneducated character) in “The Battle-ax” is unsurpassed. Generally speaking, intellectuals make poor skaz narrators, since their language is too literary. Leskov achieves his unique effect by selecting a colorful character like Domna, who does not belong to the cultural elite and speaks the language of the lower classes. Domna Petrovna tries to imitate the speech of her upper-class customers, but she does not understand it entirely and so cannot reproduce it correctly. The result is a comical jumble of colloquialisms, bookish language, and distortions of foreign words. In its absurdity and linguistic virtuosity this discourse is almost impossible to translate into another language, as Leskov works in the tradition of stylistic exhibitionism developed by Gogol and Veltman.

Leskov uses more standard language in “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” a title that counterposes a Shakespearean archetype with a specific Russian contemporary milieu. Katerina Izmaylova represents the merchant class, but her exuberant nature will not fit the empty existence offered her. Her sexuality cannot be contained, and she readily resorts to murder to achieve her objective of being with her lover. Incidentally, this highly charged story provided the material for Dmitry Shostakovich's opera Katerina Izmaylova.

“Zapechatlennyi angel” (“The Sealed Angel,” 1873) combines two areas of Leskov's expertise: the Old Believers, or religious schismatics, and icon painting. The narrator is an Old Believer who employs a very unliterary language. Trapped in a storm, a group of travelers congregates at an inn where sleep is impossible; when the conversation turns to guardian angels, the narrator tells his story, a tale of Russian officials' seizing and sealing a magnificent icon and the Old Believer community's desperate efforts to recover it. Those efforts end in a miracle when the schismatic leader is crossing the Dnepr River at night under extraordinarily difficult conditions: the seal falls from the icon to reveal the angel's pure face. Although the author offers a possible realistic explanation of this occurrence, the reader is left with a strong impression of the goodness of the Old Believers and the beauty of the icon.

Several of Leskov's later stories center around Russia's “righteous men” (pravedniki). These crop up in unexpected places as Leskov's gallery of such types grew: the hero of “Odnodum” (“Singlethought,” 1879) is a policeman; the hero of “Pigmei” (“Pygmy,” 1880) is a prison official; the hero of “Pavlin” (1874) is the doorman at a large apartment house. Though, paradoxically, their exteriors are forbidding, these righteous heroes seek the truth of life in Christian ideals and concepts of good and evil. Their harmonious natures are distinguished by spiritual beauty, wholeness, healthy individualism, blood ties with the common people, and total loyalty to their motherland. The hero of “Pavlin” is the fanatically conscientious agent of an evil landlord who evicts a family of three women on only the second day after they have failed to pay their rent. Pavlin carries out the eviction order, after which the grandmother and the mother die, leaving the little girl an orphan. Pavlin adopts her, raises her, and eventually marries her, only to learn that she has accepted his proposal merely in order to become the mistress of the owner's son. He arranges a fictitious death for himself and forces the young man to marry the pregnant Luba. The husband is killed, Luba repents, and both she and Pavlin retire to a monastery. Ryzhov, the hero of “Singlethought,” a former postman now a policeman, lives in a world of bribes, rank consciousness, and fear. At the end of his career this little man exhibits the moral strength necessary to oppose the bureaucratic system within which he works. In similar fashion the hero of “Pygmy” tries to save a man from an unjust sentence even though he as a loyal police official considers his own conduct treasonous.

Leskov did not write only about representatives of the Russian people: he produced some stories on the theme of foreigners in Russia—for example, “Iazvitel'nyi” (“The Mocker,” 1863) and “Melochi arkhiereiskoi zhizni” (“Little Things in a Bishop's Life,” 1870). The best of these works is “Zheleznaia volia” (“Iron Will,” 1875), which contrasts two national archetypes, the Russian and the German. The latter is represented by a German engineer, a paragon of self-discipline who with his iron will is so rigid he cannot adjust to the realities of life. He pushes his willpower to absurd lengths: he endures countless wasp stings without flinching, drinks gallons of strong tea, and commits other self-destructive acts rather than admit his own weakness. Perhaps his most inhuman act is his decision to delay consummating his marriage until he has saved ten thousand rubles, but his wife abandons him before that happens. At the end the German's iron will leads to his own destruction and the Russians prevail, even though they are portrayed as incompetent and unreliable—but also human.

Leskov occupies a special place in Russian literature because of his mastery of skaz, an area in which he had a number of followers, including Aleksey Remizov, Mikhail Prishvin, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and Isaak Babel.


General Anthologies in English Translation

Graham, Stephen, ed. Great Russian Short Stories. 1929. Reprint. New York: Liveright, 1975. A curious selection from a large number of authors from Zhukovsky to Kataev, including some unexpected and minor writers. A strange preface.

Richards, David, ed. The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1981. One story each by twenty authors from Pushkin to Solzhenitsyn. Well selected, with translations by various specialists.

Russian Short Stories. London: Faber & Faber, 1943. Generally prominent stories by writers from Pushkin through Leonov. Produced under wartime conditions, it misspells certain writers' names (for example, ‘Mikhail Pzishvin’).

A Treasury of Russian and Soviet Short Stories. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1971. Eighteen stories by authors from Pushkin to the contemporary Vasily Belov. Compiled with the assistance of the Soviet press agency.

Anthologies in English

Lavrin, Janko, ed. A Second Series of Representative Russian Stories, Leskov to Andreyev. London: Westhouse, 1946. A good selection from Leskov, Korolenko, Bunin, Remizov, Kuprin, and several other writers. Intended to present “works typical of Russian realism between the period of its triumph and the revolution of 1917.”

Strahan, John W., ed. Fifteen Great Russian Stories. New York: Washington Square Press, 1965. Stories from Dostoevsky through Zoshchenko, with short introductions to each author.

Anthologies in Russian

Meilakh, Boris, ed. Russkie povesti XIX veka 40-50-kh godov (Russian tales of the 1840s and 1850s). 2 vols. Moscow, 1952. A collection of important short works of the period difficult to obtain in modern editions.

———. Russkie povesti XIX veka 60-kh godov (Russian tales of the 1860s). 2 vols. Moscow, 1956. Sometimes quite lengthy works by relatively obscure writers of the decade.

Andreev, Leonid

Povesti i rasskazy (Tales and stories). 2 vols. Moscow, 1971.

The Seven That Were Hanged and Other Stories. New York: Modern Library, 1958.

Kaun, Alexander. Leonid Andreev: A Critical Study. 1924. Reprint. New York and London: Benjamin Blom, 1969. A biography followed by a critical discussion of Andreev's fiction.

Woodward, James. Leonid Andreyev: A Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969. An analysis of Andreev's writing in chronological order, with appropriate attention to his short stories.

Babel, Isaak

Izbrannoe (Selected works). Moscow, 1966.

Konarmiia (Red Cavalry), 1925:

Ehre, Milton. “Babel's Red Cavalry: Epic and Pathos, History and Culture.” Slavic Review 40, no. 2 (1981):228-40. A stimulating study of Babel's major work, with an epic sweep.

Luplow, Carol. Isaac Babel's “Red Cavalry.” Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1982. Investigates narrative, style, structure, and other elements of this major cycle.

Terras, Victor. “Line and Color: The Structure of I. Babel's Short Stories in Red Cavalry.Studies in Short Fiction 3, no. 2 (Winter 1966):141-56. An excellent treatment of Babel's achievement in the short-story genre.

Falen, James. Isaac Babel: Russian Master of the Short Story. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974. The best and most detailed overall study of Babel.

Mendelson, Danuta. Metaphor in Babel's Short Stories. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1982. Perhaps more concerned with metaphor as an entity in itself, the author in the second part of her study discusses its uses within the genre as Babel developed it.

Belov, Vasily

Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Selected works). 3 vols. Moscow: Sovremennik, 1983-84.

Hosking, Geoffrey. “Vasilii Belov, Chronicler of the Soviet Village.” Russian Review 34, no. 2 (April 1975):165-85. A good general treatment of Belov's career down to a turning point around 1975.

Bestuzhev-Marlinsky, Aleksandr

Sochineniia (Works). 2 vols. Moscow, 1958.

Leighton, Lauren. Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky. Boston: Twayne, 1975. A good general introduction to Bestuzhev's life and work, including his stories.

Bryusov, Valery

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 7 vols. Moscow, 1973-75.

The Republic of the Southern Cross and Other Stories. 1918. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion, 1977.

Rice, Martin. Valery Briusov and the Rise of Russian Symbolism. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1975. A concise life and works that deals with Bryusov primarily as a poet.

Bely, Andrey [Bugaev, Boris]

Complete Short Stories. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1979.

Mochulsky, Konstantin. Andrei Bely: His Life and Works. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1977. An overall study of the man and author, translated from the Russian.

Peterson, Ronald. Andrei Bely's Short Prose. Birmingham Slavonic Monographs no. 11. Birmingham: Department of Russian Language and Literature, University of Birmingham, 1980. A pioneering study of Bely's short stories with primary attention to their links with his novels.

Bulgakov, Mikhail

Izbrannoe (Selected works). Moscow, 1980.

Diaboliad and Other Stories. Translated by Carl Proffer. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1972.

Natov, Nadine. Mikhail Bulgakov. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A good brief introduction to Bulgakov's writing, with appropriate attention to his short stories.

Proffer, Ellendea. Bulgakov: His Life and Work. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. A detailed and judicious study.

Wright, A. Colin. Mikhail Bulgakov: Life and Interpretation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978. A thorough treatment of Bulgakov as writer and man, with an extensive bibliography.

Bunin, Ivan

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 9 vols. Moscow, 1965-67.

The Gentleman from San Francisco. Translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney. 1934. Reprint. New York: Octagon, 1981.

In a Far Distant Land: Selected Stories. Translated by Robert Bowie. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Heritage, 1983.

Connolly, Julian. Ivan Bunin. Boston: Twayne, 1982. An overview of Bunin's life and work, including his stories written in emigration.

Poggioli, Renato. “The Art of Ivan Bunin.” In The Phoenix and the Spider. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957, 131-57. A study of Bunin's prose, including both his short stories and his longer works.

Woodward, James. Ivan Bunin: A Study of His Fiction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. A detailed analysis of Bunin's prose, with full attention accorded his short stories.

Butkov, Yakov

Povesti i rasskazy (Tales and stories). Moscow, 1967.

Hodgson, Peter. From Gogol to Dostoevsky: Jakov Butkov, a Reluctant Naturalist in the 1840's. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1976. The pioneering study of this minor but characteristic figure of the 1840s.

Chekhov, Anton

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 12 vols. Moscow, 1960-63.

The Oxford Chekhov. Translated by Ronald Hingley. 9 vols. London, New York, and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1965-80.

Anton Chekhov's Short Stories: Texts of the Stories, Backgrounds, Criticism. Selected and edited by Ralph Matlaw. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.

The Stories of Anton Chekhov. Edited by Robert Linscott. 1932. Reprint. New York: Modern Library, 1959.

Simmons, Ernest J. Chekhov: A Biography. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1962. A large detailed biography, but pays very little attention to Chekhov's writings as artistic works.

Chekhov, A. P. Letters on the Short Story, the Drama and Other Literary Topics. Edited by Louis S. Friedland. New York: Minton, Balch & Co., 1924. A nicely arranged selection of Chekhov's own views on literature.

Chudakov, A. P. Chekhov's Poetics. Translated by Edwina Cruise and Donald Dragt. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1983. A study of Chekhov's techniques in both his plays and prose.

Hahn, Beverly. Chekhov: A Study of the Major Stories and Plays. London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. A considerable portion of this study deals with the short stories.

Hulanicki, Leo, and David Savignac, eds. and trans. Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing: Essays in Modern Soviet Literary Criticism. The Hague: Mouton, 1976. A collection of essays by prominent Soviet critics concentrating on the short story, with a bibliography of further works in English.

Kramer, Karl. The Chameleon and the Dream: The Image of Reality in Čexov's Stories. The Hague: Mouton, 1970. A well-defined but very broad topic of investigation within Chekhov's prose fiction, which leads to sometimes unpersuasive but always stimulating observations on the short stories.

Welty, Eudora. “Reality in Chekhov's Stories.” In The Eye of the Story. New York: Random House, 1978, 61-81. A perceptive essay, based on wide reading, on Chekhov's “constructive revolution” within the genre of the short story.

Dal, Vladimir

Povesti, rasskazy, ocherki, skazki (Tales, stories, sketches, fairy tales). Moscow and Leningrad, 1961.

Baer, Joachim T. Vladimir Ivanovic Dal' as a Belletrist. The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1972. After a short biographical chapter, the book offers a very close reading of Dal's numerous and influential short stories, with many parallels to the works of other Russian authors.

Dostoevsky, Fedor

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Complete works). 30 vols. Leningrad: Nauka, 1972-.

The Novels. Translated by Constance Garnett. 12 vols. London: Heinemann, 1912-20. A collected edition including the short stories.

The Best Short Stories of Dostoevsky. Translated by David Magarshack. New York: Modern Library, [1954].

The Short Stories of Dostoevsky. Edited by William Phillips. Translated by Constance Garnett. New York: Dial, 1946.

Leatherbarrow, W. J. Fedor Dostoevsky. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A remarkably stimulating critical study of such a prolific writer within a restricted format.

Mossman, Elliott. “Dostoevskij's Early Works: The More than Rational Distortion.” Slavic and East European Journal 10, no. 3 (Fall 1966):268-78. Examines an important link between Gogol's work and Dostoevsky's stories of the 1840s.

Schmid, Wolf. Der Textaufbau in den Erzählungen Dostoevskijs (Text structure in Dostoevsky's short stories). Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1973. A study of the “interference between the narrator-text and character-text” in Dostoevsky's short stories as a step toward understanding Dostoevsky's contribution to the novel form.

Terras, Victor. The Young Dostoevsky (1846-1849): A Critical Study. The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1969. Since most of the young Dostoevsky's writings were short stories, this thorough critical study deals primarily with that genre.

Garshin, Vsevolod

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Complete works). Moscow: Academia, 1934.

The Signal and Other Stories. Translated by R. Smith. 1915. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Yarwood, Edmund. Vsevolod Garshin. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A general introduction that necessarily deals at length with the short stories.

Stenborg, Lennart. Studien zur Erzähltechnik in den Novellen V. M. Garšins (Studies in the narrative devices in the short stories of V. M. Garshin). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis upsaliensis, 1972. A technical literary study of Garshin's works.

Gogol, Nikolay

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Complete works). 14 vols. Moscow: Akademiia nauk SSSR (USSR Academy of Sciences), 1937-52.

The Collected Tales and Plays of Nikolai Gogol. Edited by Leonard J. Kent. New York: Pantheon, 1964.

Vechera na khutore bliz Dikan'ki (Evenings on a farm near Dikanka), 1831-32: Holquist, J. Michael. “The Devil in Mufti: The Märchenwelt in Gogol's Short Stories.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 82 (October 1967):352-62. Traces a very important fantasy element through the corpus of Gogol's shorter works.

Mirgorod, 1835: McLean, Hugh. “Gogol's Retreat from Love: Towards an Interpretation of Mirgorod.American Contributions to the Fourth International Congress of Slavists. The Hague: Mouton, 1958, 225-45. Argues that Gogol's attitudes toward erotic love became more primitive as time passed.

“Shinel'” (The overcoat), 1842: Eichenbaum, Boris. “How Gogol's ‘Overcoat’ Is Made.” In Gogol from the Twentieth Century: Eleven Essays. Edited by Robert Maguire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, 267-92. The classic formalist essay on “The Overcoat.”

Trahan, Elizabeth, ed. Gogol's “Overcoat”: An Anthology of Critical Essays. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1982. Five essays by Soviet and Western writers on aspects of “The Overcoat.”

Erlich, Victor. Gogol. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969. A good brief survey of Gogol's life in its entirety.

Gippius, Vasily V. Gogol. Edited and translated by Robert Maguire. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1981. The best treatment of Gogol written by a scholar in the Soviet Union.

Driessen, F. C. Gogol as a Short-Story Writer: A Study of His Technique of Composition. The Hague: Mouton, 1965. Some general remarks and systematic analyses of Gogol's principal short stories by a Dutch scholar.

Woodward, James B. The Symbolic Art of Gogol: Essays on His Short Fiction. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1981. Careful studies of five of Gogol's major short stories, including “The Overcoat.” Has a good bibliography.

Gorky, Maksim

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. 25 vols. Moscow: Nauka (Science), 1968-76.

Collected Works. 10 vols. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978-82.

A Book of Short Stories. Edited by Avrahm Yarmolinsky and Moura Budberg. 1939. Reprint. New York: Octagon, 1973.

Kaun, Alexander. Maxim Gorky and His Russia. New York: Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, 1931. A detailed biography published several years before Gorky's death.

Weil, Irwin. Gorky: His Literary Development and Influence on Soviet Intellectual Life. New York: Random House, 1966. The standard “life and works” study of Gorky in English.

Borras, F. M. Maxim Gorky the Writer: An Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967. Chapter 2 (pp. 59-94) analyzes Gorky's short stories as a component part of his work.

Kataev, Valentin

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 9 vols. Moscow, 1968-72.

Russell, Robert. Valentin Kataev. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A good introduction to Kataev's life and works. Includes a chapter on his short stories.

Kazakov, Yuri

Going to Town and Other Stories. Translated by Gabriella Azrael. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.

The Smell of Bread and Other Stories. Translated by Manya Harari and Andrew Thompson. London: Harvill Press, 1965.

Arcturus: The Hunting Hound and Other Stories. Translated by Anne Terry White. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.

Kramer, Karl. “Jurij Kazakov: The Pleasures of Isolation.” Slavic and East European Journal 10, no. 1 (Spring 1966):22-31. A careful study of the important theme of isolation from society in Kazakov's stories.

Orth, Samuel. “The Short Stories of Jurij Kazakov: Old Russia and the Soviet World.” Russian Language Journal 32, no. 112 (Spring 1978):177-83. A brief study of a central theme of national nostalgia in Kazakov's short stories.

Korolenko, Vladimir

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 10 vols. Moscow, 1953-56.

Makar's Dream and Other Stories. 1916. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Bialyi, Grigorii. V. G. Korolenko. Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1983. A study of Korolenko's life and works by a leading Soviet scholar.

Kuprin, Aleksandr

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 9 vols. Moscow, 1970-73.

Gambrinus and Other Stories. 1925. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Sentimental Romance and Other Stories. New York: Pageant Press, 1969.

A Slav Soul and Other Stories. 1916. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

The Duel and Selected Stories. Translated by Andrew MacAndrew. New York: Signet, 1961.

Luker, Nicholas. Alexander Kuprin. Boston: Twayne, 1978. An introduction to Kuprin's writings with proper attention to his short stories.

Kuzmin, Mikhail

Selected Prose and Poetry. Translated and edited by Michael Green. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1980. Contains eleven short stories.

Lermontov, Mikhail

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 4 vols. Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1961-62.

A Hero of Our Time. Translated by Vladimir Nabokov, with Dmitry Nabokov. New York: Doubleday, Anchor Press, 1958.

Mersereau, John, Jr. Mikhail Lermontov. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962. Dedicated almost entirely to a discussion of Hero of Our Time, despite the general title.

Garrard, John. Mikhail Lermontov. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A general introduction that spends much time on Lermontov's poetry as well as his prose.

Leskov, Nikolay

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 11 vols. Moscow, 1956-58.

Satirical Stories of Nikolai Leskov. Translated by William B. Edgerton. New York: Pegasus, 1968.

Selected Tales. Translated by David Magarshack. New York: Noonday Press, 1961.

Lantz, K. A. Nikolay Leskov. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Provides a brief biography, followed by an overall critical study of Leskov's writings.

McLean, Hugh. Nikolai Leskov: The Man and His Art. Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1977. The definitive study of Leskov in any language.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov.” In Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968, 83-109. A general essay on the short story as an oral and written genre, with fairly frequent references to Leskov.

Odoevsky, Vladimir

Sochineniia (Works). 2 vols. Moscow, 1981.

Russian Nights. Translated by Olga Koshansky-Olienikov and Ralph Matlaw. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1965.

Karlinsky, Simon. “A Hollow Shape: The Philosophical Tales of Prince Vladimir Odoevsky.” Studies in Romanticism 5 (1966):169-82. A sympathetic and intelligent general article, with emphasis on Russian Nights.

Matlaw, Ralph. Introduction to Russian Nights. Translated by Olga Koshansky-Olienikov and Ralph Matlaw. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1965, 7-20. A brief general discussion of Odoevsky, with major attention paid to Russian Nights.

Pilnyak, Boris

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 8 vols. Moscow: Gosizdat, 1929-30.

The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon and Other Stories. Translated by Beatrice Scott. New York: Washington Square Press, 1967.

Mother Earth and Other Stories. Translated by Vera Reck and Michael Green. New York and Washington: Praeger, 1968.

Reck, Vera. Boris Pil'niak: A Soviet Writer in Conflict with the State. Montreal and London: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1975. Not a full biography but an account of Pilnyak's major clashes with the Soviet literary establishment.

Pisemsky, Aleksey

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 9 vols. Moscow: Pravda, 1959.

Moser, Charles A. Pisemsky: A Provincial Realist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969. A general study of the life and works with a detailed bibliography including Pisemsky's short works.

Platonov, Andrey

Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Selected works). 2 vols. Moscow, 1978.

Collected Works. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1978.

The Fierce and Beautiful World. Translated by Joseph Barnes. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970.

Pomyalovsky, Nikolay

Sochineniia (Works). 2 vols. Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura (Leningradskoe otdelenie), 1965.

Seminary Sketches. Translated by Alfred Kuhn. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1973.

Kuhn, Alfred. Introduction to N. Pomyalovsky, Seminary Sketches, pp. xi-xxxvii. One of the very few works on Pomyalovsky in English, with emphasis, of course, on the Sketches.

Pushkin, Aleksandr

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Complete works). 10 vols. Moscow: Nauka, 1962-66.

Complete Prose Fiction. Translated by Paul Debreczeny. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984.

Povesti pokoinogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina (Tales of the late Ivan Petrovich Belkin), 1831: Bethea, David, and Sergei Davydov. “Pushkin's Saturnine Cupid: The Poetics of Parody in The Tales of Belkin.Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 96 (1981):8-21. In part a response to the Gregg article below. The authors emphasize, among other things, the literary and parodic facets of the cycle.

Gregg, Richard. “A Scapegoat for All Seasons: The Unity and the Shape of The Tales of Belkin.Slavic Review 30 (December 1971):748-61. A stimulating analysis of the Tales as a unified cycle.

“Egipetskie nochi” (Egyptian nights), 1835[?]: O'Bell, Leslie. Pushkin's “Egyptian Nights”: The Biography of a Work. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. A close study of one of the most prominent fragments in nineteenth-century Russian literature.

“Pikovaia dama” (The queen of spades), 1834: Bocharov, S. G. “The Queen of Spades.” New Literary History 9, no. 2 (Winter 1978):315-32. Translation of a close reading and discussion of the story, by a Soviet critic in a relatively good Soviet critical tradition.

Simmons, Ernest J. Pushkin. New York: Vintage, 1964. The standard biography of Pushkin in English.

Bayley, John. Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971. See in particular the seventh chapter, on Pushkin's prose, for intelligent remarks on the writer's literary achievement.

Debreczeny, Paul. The Other Pushkin: A Study of Alexander Pushkin's Prose Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983. Includes readings of the short stories that draw upon the extensive scholarship on Pushkin now in existence.

Lezhnev, Abram. Pushkin's Prose. Translated by Roberta Reeder. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1974. Analysis of Pushkin's prose in close conjunction with that of his contemporaries.

Remizov, Aleksey

Izbrannoe (Selected works). Moscow, 1978.

Selected Prose. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1985.

The Clock. Translated by J. Cournos. London: Chatto & Windus, 1924.

Saltykov-Schchedrin, Mikhail

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (Complete works). 20 vols. Moscow and Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1933-41.

Fables. Translated by Vera Volkhovsky. 1931. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion, 1977.

Sanine, Kyra. Saltykov-Chtchédrine: Sa vie et ses oeuvres (Saltykov-Shchedrin: His life and works). Paris: Institut d'études slaves (Institute of Slavic Studies), 1955. A large detailed study, in the best tradition of French Slavists.

Sholokhov, Mikhail

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 8 vols. Moscow, 1980.

Short Stories. Translated by Robert Daglish. Moscow: Raduga Publishers, 1984. Vol. 1 of projected Collected Works in eight volumes in English.

Ermolaev, Herman. Mikhail Sholokhov and His Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982. Concentrates primarily on The Quiet Don.

Stewart, D. H. Mikhail Sholokhov: A Critical Introduction. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967. Also emphasizes The Quiet Don.

Shukshin, Vasily

Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Selected works). 2 vols. Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia (Young Guard), 1975.

Snowball Berry Red and Other Stories. Translated by Donald Fiene et al. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1979.

Roubles in Words, Kopeks in Figures, and Other Stories. New York: Marion Boyars, 1984.

Hosking, Geoffrey. “Vasily Shukshin.” In Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction since Ivan Denisovich. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1980, 162-79. A general discussion of the man and his work.

Sleptsov, Vasily

Sochineniia (Works). 2 vols. Moscow and Leningrad: Academia, 1932-33.

Sologub, Fedor [Teternikov, Fedor]

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 12 vols. St. Petersburg: Shipovnik, 1909-12.

Rasskazy (Short stories). Edited by Evelyn Bristol. Berkeley: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1979.

The Kiss of the Unborn and Other Stories. Translated by Murl Barker. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977.

Hansson, Carola. Fedor Sologub as a Short-Story Writer: Stylistic Analyses. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1975. Detailed discussions of certain of Sologub's short stories.

Leitner, Andreas. Die Erzählungen Fedor Sologubs (Fedor Sologub's short stories). Munich: Otto Sagner, 1976. A very systematic description (dissertation) and analysis of Sologub's stories.

Soloukhin, Vladimir

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 4 vols. Moscow, 1983-84.

White Grass. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971.

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 6 vols. Frankfurt: Posev (Sowing), 1969-70.

Stories and Prose Poems. Translated by Michael Glenny. New York: Bantam, 1972.

Matryona's House and Other Stories. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1975.

Kodjak, Andrej. Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A short biographical chapter followed by discussion of Solzhenitsyn's writings down to about 1975.

Scammell, Michael. Solzhenitsyn. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. A mammoth biography of the writer, reliable and detailed, but with little attention given to the writings as such.

Peppard, Victor. “The Structure of Solženicyn's Short Stories.” Russian Language Journal 32, no. 112 (Spring 1978):165-75. A brief but concentrated study of the structural coherence of Solzhenitsyn's shorter works.

Žekulin, Gleb. “Solzhenitsyn's Four Stories.” Soviet Studies 16, no. 1 (July 1964):45-62. A compact study of Solzhenitsyn's four short works of the early 1960s, with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich considered a story rather than a novel.

Tolstoy, Leo

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 20 vols. Moscow, 1960-65.

The Centenary Edition of Tolstoy. 21 vols. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude. London: Oxford University Press, 1929-37.

Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy. Edited by John Bayley. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

Simmons, Ernest J. Leo Tolstoy. London: John Lehmann, 1949. Probably the best biography of many in existence, full of detail but not excessively so.

Christian, R. F. Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969. Penetrating critical remarks on the entire scope of Tolstoy's writing.

Heim, Michael. “‘Master and Man’: ‘Three Deaths’ Redivivus.” In American Contributions to the Eighth International Congress of Slavists. Vol. 2, Literary Contributions. The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1978, 260-71.

Trifonov, Yuri

Izbrannye proizvedeniia. 2 vols. Moscow, 1978.

The Long Goodbye: Three Novellas. Translated by H. P. Burlingame and Ellendea Proffer. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1978.

Hosking, Geoffrey. “Yuri Trifonov.” In Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction since Ivan Denisovich. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1980, 180-95. A good general treatment of the man and his work.

Turgenev, Ivan

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem (Complete works and letters). 28 vols. Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiia nauk SSSR, 1960-68.

The Novels of Ivan Turgenev. 15 vols. Translated by Constance Garnett. London: Heinemann, 1894-99. Includes his stories.

First Love and Other Tales. Translated by David Magarshack. New York: W. W. Norton, 1960.

The Hunting Sketches. Translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney. New York: Signet, 1962.

Peters, Jochen-Ulrich. Turgenevs Zapiski ochotnika innerhalb der očerk-Tradition der 40er Jahre: Zur Entwicklung des realistischen Erzäblens in Russland (Turgenev's Hunting Sketches and the sketch tradition of the 1840s: On the development of the realistic short story in Russia). Berlin-Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1972. Includes a treatment of the physiological sketch and an attempt at defining the term ocherk (sketch) before turning to the Hunting Sketches.

Shapiro, Leonard. Turgenev: His Life and Times. New York: Random House, 1978. A very thorough biography by a careful scholar who has made excellent use of his sources.

Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Turgenev: The Man, His Art and His Age. 1959. Reprint. New York: Collier, 1962. Still a very good shorter treatment of Turgenev's life and work.

Brodianski, Nina. “Turgenev's Short Stories: A Revaluation.” Slavonic and East European Review 32, no. 78 (December 1953):70-91. A wide-ranging and very stimulating investigation of Turgenev's approach to the short story generally.

Ledkovsky, Marina. The Other Turgenev: From Romanticism to Symbolism. Wurzburg: Jal-Verlag, 1973. A study of Turgenev's “nonrealism” that emphasizes his shorter works and, more specifically, his “mysterious tales.”

Natova, Nadine. “O ‘misticheskikh’ povestiakh Turgeneva” (On Turgenev's “mystical” tales). Transactions of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in U.S.A. 16 (1983):113-49. A close reading of certain of Turgenev's stories, particularly “Klara Milich.”

Uspensky, Gleb

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). 9 vols. Moscow, 1955-57.

Zamyatin, Evgeny

Sochineniia (Works). 2 vols. Munich: A. Neimanis, 1970, 1982.

The Dragon and Other Stories. Translated by Mirra Ginsburg. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1975.

Shane, Alex M. The Life and Works of Evgenij Zamjatin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. The standard work on Zamyatin, divided into biography and a chronological study of his writing.

Zoshchenko, Mikhail

Izbrannoe (Selected works). 2 vols. Leningrad: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, Leningradskoe otdelenie, 1978.

The Woman Who Could Not Read and Other Tales. Translated by Elisaveta Fen. 1940. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion, 1973.

The Wonderful Dog and Other Tales. Translated by Elisaveta Fen. 1942. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion, 1973.

Nervous People and Other Satires. Translated by Maria Gordon and Hugh McLean. 1963. Reprint. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

Chudakova, M. O. Poetika Mikhaila Zoshchenko (Zoshchenko's poetics). Moscow: Nauka, 1979. A very thorough study that deals with much more than the “authorial word” (as the author puts it) as the key to Zoshchenko's writing.

Titunik, Irwin R. “Mikhail Zoshchenko and the Problem of Skaz.California Slavic Studies 6 (1971):83-96. Examines the question of skaz with particular application to Zoshchenko; concludes one can make “no safe assumptions” on the subject.

Andrew Hook (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: Hook, Andrew. “Reporting Reality: Mark Twain's Short Stories.” In The Nineteenth-Century American Short Story, edited by A. Robert Lee, pp. 103-19. London: Vision and Barnes and Noble, 1985.

[In the following essay, Hook contends that Mark Twain's greatest contribution to realism in his short fiction was primarily through his use of American vernacular speech.]


The short story is as American as apple-pie, and of all American authors Mark Twain is the most archetypally American. The result must be that Twain's short stories are the end of the line, the last word. Strangely, however, Twain himself does not seem to have thought so. Mark Twain saw himself as a great many things: journalist, Literary Man, novelist, lecturer, financial wizard, but never, apparently, as short story writer. He wrote nothing in the way of a planned book of stories; he published no collection exclusively of his short stories. Apart from one short piece entitled ‘How to Tell a Story’ (and even there he insisted that what he had to say referred to the oral tradition of story-telling), he had almost nothing to say about the ‘art’ of short fiction. Yet, in that admirable tradition to which the great majority of America's prose masters belong, Twain did write a large number of short stories. Just how large a number it is impossible to say, because, peculiarly in Twain's case, it is often difficult to decide where something else ends and the short story begins, or where the short story ceases to be only that. Whatever the exact number, he certainly wrote them; and the general critical consensus would be, wrote them well. As the editor of a recent collection of critical essays on Twain's stories puts it: ‘ … without question Twain became one of our finest masters of short fiction in America.’1

Pace Twain himself, then, does my opening syllogism hold water? The initial premise is of course no more than a version of an historical and critical commonplace which one suspects readers of this volume of essays will never be allowed to forget. The only interesting question is why it should be so: why is it that the short story caught on in America in such a bigger way than elsewhere? Literary historians have tended to favour the arguments from popular taste, the economics of publishing, and the conditions of authorship: American readers enjoyed the kind of story they read in Blackwood's Magazine; native American magazines developed to satisfy that taste; such magazines provided economically-rewarding outlets for budding American writers. But in truth the development of the short story as the characteristic American form reflected deeper structures than these.

The novel as a literary form settled uneasily upon the American scene. Its major nineteenth-century practitioners are united on this if on little else. Cooper, Hawthorne, James (and there is no dissent from Poe or Melville), as everyone knows, agreed that the American novelist was constantly finding himself in a tight spot, as Twain would have put it, because of the nature of American society. Where was the social richness, density, and variety, where were the traditions of conduct, the conventions of manners and behaviour, where was the sense of a rich historical past, which the novelist needed to go to work upon? And indeed it is true that what emerged as the major examples of novel-writing in nineteenth-century America proved to have little enough in common with the great tradition of the Victorian novel in Great Britain. Hence the inevitable critical debate over whether the American ‘novel’ is not in fact a ‘romance’; or over what Trollope called the American author's preference for ‘dreams’ rather than the ‘beef and ale’ which concerned English novelists. Hence, too, the widely-expressed feeling that the American novel lacks a sense of fullness and coherence; it is a thing of ‘scenes’, ‘tableaux’, ‘sketches’, ‘episodes’; usually nothing is fully rendered, exhaustively ‘done’.

In the short story, of course, nothing needs to be. Hence the sense in which it seems to offer a formal solution to the kinds of problem faced by the American novelist that Hawthorne and James felt so keenly. The short story is by definition not much more than a ‘scene’, a ‘tableau’, an ‘episode’ or ‘sketch’. (Early in the nineteenth century Washington Irving's The Sketchbook was a key work in demonstrating to a sceptical English readership that American literature did actually exist.) Perhaps this then is why Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, James—and Twain—turned so readily to the shorter forms of fiction, and why even in their longer fictional essays the characteristics of the short story—or even the thing itself—recur so frequently.

Or does the explanation of the American-ness of the short story lie even deeper within the distinctive structures of American culture and society? The favourite three-decker novel of Victorian England is at every level bound up with the nature of Victorian society; its essentially realistic mode, its slow, unfolding movement, its leisurely entwining of the lives and characters of its protagonists with a basically stable and well-ordered society—all of these characteristics reflect and appeal to basic dimensions and assumptions of Victorian society. Take away that society and its given readership, and the necessity or attraction of the three-decker novel form is no longer self-evident. And this of course is the American case. In the nineteenth century, America is still a frontier society; it is changing, growing, moving, building, creating itself. If the East is settled, civilized, the West is not. America is still a world in motion. What is the artist to do? The work of art shapes, orders, patterns; but what if the artist's material resists, refuses, the fixities of order and definition? If he is a Whitman, say, he sets aside the shaping spirit of imagination, and embraces instead a new aesthetic of motion or process; that is, he identifies with his material, rather than imposing himself upon it. (‘The United States themselves are the greatest poem’, said Whitman.) Or the writer may abandon the attempt to create the larger structure, the more comprehensive statement, and settle instead for the temporary arrest, the briefer moment of ordering—all the more appealing and aesthetically satisfying because of the context of confusion out of which it has been plucked. If he is a prose writer, that is, he opts for the short story. From this perspective the short story emerges as the most appropriate form through which the literary imagination can contain the American experience. The nature of American society—its dynamic of change and restlessness—creates the short story as its typical aesthetic product.

But the image of the short story that is built into an analysis of this kind is one of the well-wrought urn, or even of Wallace Stevens's poetic jar which ‘took dominion everywhere’, taming the wilderness in Tennessee. The story as high art, taming, shaping, ordering. Now some American stories are of this kind—one thinks immediately of Poe or Hawthorne, still more of the polished elegance of James or Hemingway. But what would Mark Twain have made of any comparison between Stevens's ‘Anecdote of the Jar’ and any of his stories? The answer is a raspberry. The tradition of story-telling to which Twain belongs has little or nothing to do with high art. It is a tradition which is sceptical about Art of any kind. Art means the pretentious, the high-flown, the superior; Art means the undemocratic, the élitist; Art means the morally upright and inoffensive; Art means Europe, the Old World, which America has cast aside. Twain, in his short stories, just as in the rest of his work, rejected Art in all these senses. The Dickens of American writers, Twain was above all a popular writer. Hence his art emerged out of popular American culture: out of that tradition of comic Western story-telling which, as everyone knows, Twain inherited, consummated, and eclipsed. That is one story that does not need to be rehearsed.

The Western tradition of story-telling to which Twain belongs rejects the notions of artistic polish and perfection which help to sustain the argument about the naturalness of the short story form in the context of the restless, dynamic nature of American society. Yet the alternative tradition may share with the first at least a considerable unease over the traditional forms of the novel. For some American writers at least Art may have come to mean the Novel. Perhaps this is why the most genuinely distinctive American contribution to the formal development of prose fiction lies in the area of the ‘collection’ of short stories. ‘Collection’ though is misleading; it suggests a random bringing together of disparate elements. Rather in question is a group of stories, discrete in terms of action and plot, but unified in terms of over-all design. Hamlin Garland's Main-Travelled Roads (1891) is an early example of the genre; Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919) a slightly later one. Garland distrusted the novel form; its structure and plot were determined by the demands of a harmful, sentimental romanticism. In order to write about life as it was, the sketch or the short story were more satisfying. What he called the ‘novelette’ was ‘the most perfect form of writing’.2 Sherwood Anderson went further, more or less announcing that the novel was an unAmerican activity. Anderson felt that ‘the novel form does not fit an American writer.’ It was a form ‘which had been brought in’. What was wanted was ‘a new looseness’. ‘In Winesburg’, he wrote, ‘I had made my own form.’3 In the work of Faulkner, and other more recent writers, the attack on the novel form, and the search for a ‘new looseness’, has been carried still further.

Twain himself made no direct theoretical contribution to this debate over the form of the novel. As we noted at the beginning, he never even published a ‘collection’ of stories. However he did once suggest that ‘the world grows tired of solid forms in all the arts’4—and in such a comment there is at least a hint of a link between Twain and those American writers who more consciously wished to move away from traditional notions of the novel form. In any event, for a writer practice is more important than theory. Twain's practice is crystal clear. A ‘looseness’ of form—whether ‘new’ or not—is entirely characteristic of all his major fiction.

Even the critics agree. Twain was in some respects a meticulous craftsman, a true word-smith. But always at the local level. What he lacked was the kind of imagination that shapes and forms an extended body of material; a sense of over-all design is what is least evident in his books. As George Feinstein puts it: ‘Mark Twain values, not the architectonic effect of a tale, but the art of the paragraph, the sentence, the illuminating incident.’ Even his humour ‘is in essence paragraphic, episodic, inconsequential’.5 William Gibson broadly agrees: Twain's ‘talent, his span of attention and concentration perhaps, worked best and most unremittingly in relatively short pieces of writing’.6 And Justin Kaplan makes the same point with confidence and authority:

Sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph Mark Twain was an entirely deliberate and conscious craftsman; he insisted that the difference between the nearly right word and the right word was the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning; his ear for the rhythms of speech was unsurpassed, and he demanded in dialect and social notation nothing short of perfection. But his larger, structural methods were inspirational and instinctive.7

What is abundantly clear is that Twain worked instinctively in terms of the minute particular. This is why his books are all in a sense ‘collections’, assembling large bodies of material into a kind of loose grouping. ‘Solid forms’, as a result, are very largely absent from his writing. But in their very formlessness, Twain's longer fictions are at least gesturing towards a re-definition of the novel form—a re-definition that has its origins in some kind of perhaps only half-conscious sense that the American experience as Twain himself understood it—‘the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century’8—was not containable within the traditional structures of the novel form.

Thus Twain's rejection of that genteel tradition which had sustained New England's hegemony over America's literary culture involved not only his use of vernacular forms of linguistic usage, and the deployment of the humorous Western tradition of the tall story, but also his preference for fictional forms which depended less for their effect upon an identifiable structural unity than upon the force of his own presence within them. Twain, then, does indeed belong to that tradition in American writing which is uneasy about the appropriateness of established English models to the creation of American fictions. Admittedly, he advanced little in the way of theory on the topic; and he certainly did not consciously see some version, some re-definition, of the idea of the collection of stories or sketches as one possible solution to the problems at issue. But the pattern that emerges from within his longer fictions does point generally in that direction.


As I have noted, Twain did once undertake a brief excursion into the theory of the short story. In ‘How to Tell a Story’ his interest is in the humorous tale which he regards as a distinctively American creation. The witty or comic story, he argues, should not be confused with the humorous one. Wit and comedy depend upon matter; humour is essentially a question of the manner of story-telling. It is because the humorous story is all about the method of its narration that it is in fact a work of art: ‘the humorous story is strictly a work of art—high and delicate art—and only an artist can tell it.’9 (Even if he is a Western farmer.) His art lies in the fact or pretence of innocence: he keeps a straight face throughout. ‘To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art. … ’10 Other features specified by Twain are ‘the slurring of the point’, or ‘the dropping of a studied remark apparently without knowing it, as if one were thinking aloud’—and the effective use of the pause.11 (Twain is writing about telling a story aloud, not in print; but it is obvious that his own practice reveals a substantial carry over from the one medium to the other. None the less, one does well to remind oneself that throughout his life Twain was a magnificent stage, platform, and after-dinner, performer. What he could earn from his readings and lectures, frequently provided him with a more stable financial return than his published writings. His capacity to hold and enthrall an audience did an immense amount to create and further his reputation. Twain, that is, did not learn how to tell a story from the example of earlier story-tellers such as Petroleum V. Nasby and Artemus Ward; he learned the hard way in front of live audiences.)

What is clear, though, is that the lesson was a deeply congenial one. Like Dickens, Twain clearly found some kind of profound reassurance in his capacity to hold an audience spell-bound. Like Dickens too, who over and over again ended his public readings with the murder of Nancy by Bill Sikes, Twain felt a compulsive need to repeat a successful story. His favourite was ‘The Golden Arm’, a Gothic horror story about an American black whose wife had a golden arm. When she dies, he opens her grave to get the golden arm for himself. The rest of the story concerns his growing awareness that his dead wife is pursuing him to get her arm back. The haunting voice draws nearer and nearer, asking who has got its arm; the black cowers under his bed clothes; but the question is asked more and more loudly; at the climax of the story, Twain uses his device of the pause—and then comes out with—‘You've got it!’ Twain said that every time he told this story, if he got the timing right, he could guarantee that some girl in his audience would at this point, scream and jump out of her shoes. Twain's daughter Susy hated this story, and when her father came to read at Bryn Mawr she begged him not to include it in his programme. He agreed. But when the time came, he could not resist it, and the story was told as usual.12

In formulating his ideas about ‘how to tell a story’ Twain then had his own immense experience to draw upon. And when he came to write his stories down, he undoubtedly had that oral experience very much in mind. Indeed many of his stories do possess all or some of the characteristics he set out in his brief theoretical essay. Tales like ‘The Story of the Old Ram’, ‘A Medieval Romance’, ‘Tom Quartz’ and ‘What Stumped the Bluejays’, with their stringing together of ‘incongruities and absurdities’ have a ‘shaggy dog’ quality. Other tales—such as the famous ‘Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’—seem innocent in a similar sort of way, but in the end prove to be what Twain calls ‘snappers’, or stories which—like ‘The Golden Arm’—do after all make a pretty sharp point.

Apart from ‘How to Tell a Story’—and perhaps his ‘Report to the Buffalo Female Academy’, in which he recommends to his young audience, as the essentials of good writing, naturalness, simplicity, unpretentiousness, linguistic aptness, and above all, the avoidance of moral didacticism—Twain rarely chose to discuss the aesthetics of his own practice as a writer. However, towards the end of his career, when he was writing fragments of his autobiography, he defended his decision to dictate his material in terms that are highly illuminating in relation to his writing as a whole. The passage is a fascinating one, and deserves to be quoted at some length:

Within the last eight or ten years I have made several attempts to do the autobiography in one way or another with a pen, but the result was not satisfactory; it was too literary. With the pen in one's hand, narrative is a difficult art; narrative should flow as flows the brook down through the hills and the leafy woodlands, its course changed by every bowlder it comes across and by every grass-clad gravelly spur that projects into its path; its surface broken, but its course not stayed by rocks and gravel on the bottom in the shoal places; a brook that never goes straight for a minute, but goes, and goes briskly, sometimes ungrammatically, and sometimes fetching a horseshoe three-quarters of a mile around, and at the end of the circuit flowing within a yard of the path it traversed an hour before; but always going, and always following at least one law, always loyal to that law, the law of narrative, which has no law. Nothing to do but make the trip; the how of it is not important, so that the trip is made.

With a pen in the hand the narrative stream is a canal; it moves slowly, smoothly, decorously, sleepily, it has no blemish except that it is all blemish. It is too literary, too prim, too nice; the gait and style and movement are not suited to narrative. The canal stream is always reflecting; it is its nature, it can't help it. Its slick shiny surface is interested in everything it passes along the banks—cows, foliage, flowers, everything. And so it wastes a lot of time in reflections.13

Such an analysis of the nature of narrative surely finds its ideal within the context of oral narrative; the technique it is recommending is the technique of the ideal American storyteller of ‘How to Tell a Story’. Surely too it cannot be mere accident that, in attempting to identify the fundamental nature of narrative movement, Twain reaches instinctively for metaphors of the brook, the stream, the canal. It is as though the Mississippi itself, so central to Twain's experience of life, insistently presents itself as the paradigm of art as well. Experience, that is, seems to order art. It is hard to imagine an aesthetic that more thoroughly overturns traditional models. Such an aesthetic, however, does give substance to the view that Twain was a key figure in moving American narrative prose away from notions of the necessity of conventional formal discipline and control. Substance, too, perhaps to the view that it was the American experience itself (the Mississippi) that did not lend itself to such discipline and control.


Twain, as we have seen, was not a theory man. He would be the first to agree that the proof of the apple pie is in the eating. What then is the verdict? In my view at least, to read all of Twain's shorter fictions—including the stories extracted from his longer works—is to experience a measure of disappointment. They do not quite live up to the man. Precisely why is not always easy to pin down. Paradoxically enough, the problem often seems to be one of form. Much of what has been said above amounts to an attempt to explain how the short story can escape from the discipline of its own given form. But not even Twain can go on writing stories the point of which is their own lack of point. Formal problems also persistently arise for Twain in the crucial area of point of view. Just as much as in his longer fictions, he often seems to have had difficulty in sustaining throughout a story a coherent narrative voice. The voice present in the stories is most frequently an authorial one. This is both a strength and a weakness: a strength in that Twain's own robust character, his own nononsense, satirical, humorous, perspective can be effectively communicated by it; a weakness in that a version of that moral didacticism or even social and aesthetic superiority which he despised so much, can begin to obtrude through it.

Even more damagingly, the narrative voice can begin to reflect unresolved tensions within Twain's own approach to his subjects. To write at his best, it was clearly necessary for Twain to feel a stable relationship with his material. In his ‘Report to the Buffalo Female Academy’ he told his audience to write straight from the heart, applying its own language and its own ideas to its subjects. In his own case this usually meant either writing about his own childhood and past, or, more frequently in the case of the stories, about issues or topics which deeply concerned him. The characteristic mode of such stories is of course satirical—which is why stories of a broadly satirical kind make up easily the largest category in Twain's total output of short fiction. The objects of Twain's satire are widely-ranging: the sentimental moral idealism purveyed by popular fiction; romantic fiction's distorting of reality; politics and bureaucracy; newspapers and journalism; economic and other types of ‘experts’; science and speculation; detective writing—‘A Double-Barreled Detective Story’ has an interesting self-reflexive quality (the late A Fake even more so); money and human folly in a variety of forms. The greater or lesser degree of success achieved by these satirical tales has much to do with the pressure of moral feeling with which Twain regards the particular topics. In them, too, he often emerges as the critic of the world which, in other contexts, he was happily prepared to represent and recommend. Twain found it possible to be both satirist and spokesman for late nineteenth-century America; the inherent contradiction, nonetheless, was perhaps enough to prevent his satirical writing always achieving the deeper kinds of intensity, and it also helps to explain the kind of narrative uncertainties I have just referred to.

Probably most interesting are those stories—‘The £1,000,000 Bank-Note’, ‘The $30,000 Bequest’, and even ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’ and ‘The Mysterious Stranger’—which seem to tap deeper levels of Twain's own complicity with a deeply materialistic, financially corrupt society. Twain knew a lot about the power of money to corrupt, because he had experienced that power in his own life. He had the gambling instinct, the financial fever, the materialist impulse, which had made post-bellum America into what he himself had dubbed the Gilded Age. Stories like ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’ and ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ make it clear that Twain saw money as the root of all evil. The protagonist of ‘The £1,000,000 Bank-Note’ is not corrupted by the money he is given; the couple in ‘The $30,000 Bequest’ are destroyed by the money they never even actually possess. In ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’ and ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ human nature is shown to be prey to the basest kind of material self-interest and selfishness. In all these stories Twain is able to fuse personal experience with a widely-ranging social criticism. Twain's very first successful story—‘The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’—with its mocking allusions to Daniel Webster and Andrew Jackson—has come increasingly to be seen as a comment on the American national scene from a post-Civil War perspective. Equally, the later stories of money and corruption, individual and universalist as they are, should not be seen as divorced from the context of late nineteenth-century American capitalism. Of that phenomenon, Twain after all had an inside view.

Whatever the particular context in which they are placed, ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’ and ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ have become Twain's two best-known and most widely discussed stories. As has already been implied, Twain was in practice far from fussy about the definition of what for him amounted to a short story. When, in 1957, Charles Neider came to compile the book which was published as The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain he culled five stories from Roughing It, two from A Tramp Abroad, three from Life on the Mississippi, and three from Following the Equator. But even within this kind of context, the case of ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ is a genuinely extraordinary one. In a strict sense, despite its fame and all the critical attention paid to it, Twain did not actually write ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ as a single, autonomous unit. The familiar version of the tale, published originally in 1917, was in fact compiled from three different, unpublished, and unfinished Twain manuscripts by Albert Bigelow Paine, Twain's official biographer, and Frederick A. Duneka, general manager of Harper's publishing house. The editors apparently even wrote some linking material to make the story seem complete. Earlier in his career, Twain had been humorously scathing about unauthorized English editions of his works which contained material attributed to him but in fact the work of other hands—one wonders what he would have to say about the status and posthumous fame of ‘The Mysterious Stranger’.

Whatever its textual instability, ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ has come to be regarded as the definitive statement of the pessimism and despair which overtook Twain in the latter part of his life. Not of course that Twain had not always had a sharp eye for human absurdity and pretentiousness, and for the everyday cruelty and violence of human existence. Huckleberry Finn (1886) is full of just such an awareness of human folly and callousness, but as early as 1869, in ‘A Day at Niagara’, Twain was capable of describing the human race as ‘this hackful of small reptiles … deemed temporarily necessary to fill a crack in the world's unnoted myriads’ until such time as they ‘shall have gathered themselves to their blood-relations, the other worms, and been mingled with the unremembering dust’. What happens in the later stories is no more than that such a vision is presented with no qualifying relief. In ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’ and ‘The Mysterious Stranger’, the narrative voice now assents to the negative vision that the stories’ actions create. In Huckleberry Finn Twain could still envisage the triumph of human feeling and human integrity over the distorted values produced by a ‘deformed conscience’. The conscience that teaches Huck he is committing a capital sin by deciding not to betray Jim, the run-away slave who is his friend, is, in Twain's view, wholly the product of the society in which he has been brought up. In ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ the place of conscience is taken by the similarly socially-determined Moral Sense, the source of that enlightened, prudent, rational, self-interest that ensures that the injustices and cruelties of human life shall remain as they have always been. In the sixth section of the story, Satan offers us a vision of the capitalist economic system at work: the proprietors of the factory are rich and ‘very holy’; but their workers are cruelly exploited and degraded. They are slaves, who would be better off dead. The explanation of the employers' readiness to behave in such a manner is not far to seek: ‘it is the Moral Sense that teaches the factory proprietors the difference between right and wrong—you perceive the result.’

I want here to divert for a moment from my main line of critical argument. Twain's singling out of the idea of an innate moral sense as the key to the sustaining of an economic, social, and ethical system, however corrupt and inhuman in practice, is an astonishing feat of cultural insight. The notion of the moral sense had been developed by those Scottish common-sense philosophers whose primary concern had been to refute the dangerous and subversive scepticism of David Hume and his followers. Despite its own revolutionary beginnings, American society had embraced the Scottish common-sense school of Scottish philosophy with unparalleled enthusiasm. For most of the nineteenth century, disseminated by every college, university, and seminary, the tenets of that philosophy came to dominate American thinking. In the post-bellum Gilded Age, its inherent conservatism was available to go on providing an apparently adequate philosophical basis for the activities of an unrestrained, ruthless, capitalism. Singling out the Moral Sense as the object of his most devastating satirical attack, Twain was acting much less arbitrarily than might appear.

At the high point of his literary career in the 1880s, Twain had found only one sure defence against the shams and impostures, the selfishness and corruption of human society and human nature, which in these late stories threaten to overwhelm him. That defence was the realism, the truth, enshrined in the vernacular language of America. The vernacular in which Huck Finn narrates his novel challenges the distortions of thought and feeling produced by other, more socially approved, linguistic modes. Huck's vernacular, that is, acquires a kind of moral authority; in a corrupt world, the naturalness of the vernacular is the only surviving source of honesty, integrity, truth. Let me end then by paying tribute to some stories in which the most lasting and memorable of Twain's literary achievements—his transformation of American vernacular speech into a creative and aesthetically satisfying literary medium—is also apparent. In his comic mode, ‘Buck Fanshaw's Funeral’ from Roughing It is a minor triumph of Twain's art: even if the problem of the point of view of the narrative voice as so often remains unresolved. The clash of linguistic modes works marvellously. The Eastern cleric and the Western ‘rough’ Scotty, find it difficult to communicate:

The clergyman sank back in his chair perplexed. Scotty leaned his head on his hand and gave himself up to thought. Presently his face came up, sorrowful but confident.

‘I've got it now, so's you can savvy,’ he said. ‘What we want is a gospel-sharp. See?’

‘A what?’

‘Gospel-sharp. Parson.’

‘Oh! Why did you not say so before? I am a clergyman—a parson.’

‘Now you talk! You see my blind and straddle it like a man. Put it there!’—extending a brawny paw, which closed over the minister's small hand and gave it a shake indicative of fraternal sympathy and fervent gratification.

‘Now we're all right, pard. Let's start fresh. Don't you mind my snuffling a little—becuz we're in a power of trouble. You see, one of the boys has gone up the flume—’

‘Gone where?’

‘Up the flume—throwed up the sponge, you understand.’

‘Thrown up the sponge?’

‘Yes—kicked the bucket—’

‘Ah—has departed to that mysterious country from whose bourne no traveler returns.’

‘Return! I reckon not. Why, pard, he's dead!’

The story ends with Twain's narrative voice re-establishing the normative, taken-for-granted superiority of Eastern gentility and linguistic ‘correctness’ over the comic vernacular of the Western figure; but the confrontation itself in the body of the story is robust enough to survive such an ending.

Even better and more satisfying, however, is a story which, exceptionally, is entirely without humour. When Twain submitted this piece to William Dean Howells in his capacity as editor of the Atlantic, he wrote: ‘I enclose also a “True Story” which has no humour in it. You can pay me as lightly as you choose for that, for it is rather out of my line.’ ‘A True Story’ may well be out of Twain's line in its absence of humour, but it is characteristic of his unselfconsciousness as a writer, his uncritical response to his own work, that he does not recognize just how far the story is in his very best line in its wonderful handling of vernacular discourse to create a moment of the highest emotional and imaginative realism. Howells at least was in no doubt about its quality. He found it ‘extremely good and touching and with the best and reallest kind of black talk in it’. In a subsequent review of Twain's Sketches, New and Old in 1875, he wrote of ‘A True Story’:

The rugged truth of the sketch leaves all other stories of slave life infinitely far behind, and reveals a gift in the author for the simple, dramatic report of reality which we have seen equalled in no other American writer.14

Howells is no doubt correct in seeing in ‘A True Story’ Twain's gift ‘for the simple, dramatic report of reality’; but the simplicity and drama in question are achieved this time by the defeat of the authorial narrative voice. The tale is told as it were at its author's expense. He is rebuked by his own creation. Here there is therefore no problem over point-of-view. Apart from an opening descriptive paragraph, and a brief exchange between the narrator and Aunt Rachel, the tale's protagonist, the story is sustained by the black woman's narration of how she was separated from her favourite child at a slave auction and how they were reunited twenty-two years later during the Civil War. The story ends with Rachel's last words. For the narrator there is only silence. He had suggested that Rachel had had a life without trouble. The story has answered him.

‘A True Story’ looks forward to Huckleberry Finn in its sustained use of a first person, vernacular narrative voice. (And to a degree in subject-matter as well.) The success of both these works well suggests how crucial for Twain's art both vernacular language and narrative consistency are. All too often Twain's fiction is flawed by what one comes to feel is the uneasy relationship between author and his fictions. Out of this uneasiness flows Twain's flippancy, evasiveness, and cynicism. (No doubt the formal problem is itself a reflection of Twain's ambiguous relationship to that late nineteenth-century American culture which both repelled and sustained him.) The short stories can in no way be seen as differing in this context from the rest of Twain's work; the problem is common to all his writing. But no account of the American short story can ignore the contribution of a writer so representative of the characteristics and contradictions of post-bellum America as Mark Twain.


  1. Elizabeth McMahan (ed.), Critical Approaches to Mark Twain's Short Stories (Port Washington, 1981), p. ix.

  2. See Donald Pizer, Hamlin Garland's Early Work and Career (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), p. 63.

  3. Sherwood Anderson, A Story Teller's Story (New York: B. W. Huebsch, Inc., 1924).

  4. Quoted by George Feinstein, ‘Mark Twain's Idea of Story Structure’ in McMahan, op. cit., p. 10.

  5. Ibid., p. 10.

  6. William Gibson, The Art of Mark Twain (New York, 1976), pp. 72-3.

  7. Justin Kaplan, Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (London, 1970), p. 275.

  8. Ibid., p. 391.

  9. ‘How to Tell a Story’ in Charles Neider, The Complete Essays of Mark Twain (Garden City, New York, 1963), p. 156.

  10. Ibid., p. 158.

  11. Ibid., p. 158.

  12. For this story see Kaplan, op. cit., pp. 475-77.

  13. Quoted by Charles Neider, in his Mark Twain (New York, 1967), pp. 178-79.

  14. Quoted by Kaplan, op. cit., p. 277.

Philip V. Allingham (essay date summer 1999)

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SOURCE: Allingham, Philip V. “Dickens's Aesthetic of the Short Story.” Dickensian 95, no. 448 (summer 1999): 144-53.

[In the following essay, Allingham delineates the defining characteristics of Dickens's short fiction.]

Like Mark Twain, Charles Dickens did not publish a thorough aesthetic or theory of the short story or novella, despite ample evidence that he has left of his mastery of these forms. However, throughout his essays, sketches, and novels Dickens addresses the necessity for fancy, and for fellow-feeling and an emotional and imaginative release in an increasingly Utilitarian age. His letters are a particularly useful resource in attempting to determine his attitudes towards short fiction. Certainly, he seems to have regarded short fiction as a testing ground for ideas and narrative strategies that he might later use in full-length novels, as well as an imaginative vacation from novel-writing. As Slater notes in his introduction to the two-volume Christmas Books, the shorter fiction is often characterized by an intimacy of tone and a style more colloquial than those found in the novels; furthermore, in the range of short fiction which Dickens produced from 1833 to 1867, one often finds ‘the theme of memory and its beneficial effect on the moral life’ (Slater vii) associated with painful rather than pleasant memories.

Twentieth-century critics until recently have tended to undervalue Dickens's short fiction (with the exception of The Christmas Books) because, unlike that of such modern masters of the form as Joyce, Mansfield, and Lawrence, it emphasizes the outward elements—the narratorial commentary and the mechanisms of plot—rather than the inward aspects of character and theme. Even in such Poesque first-person narratives as ‘The Bride's Chamber’ (1857) and ‘A Confession Found in a Prison in the Time of Charles the Second’ (1840), Dickens rarely invites us as readers to share the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of his characters. Rather, in Sketches by Boz especially, we are listeners, always on the outside looking in, objective and detached, passing judgment upon but rarely identifying with the actors in the drama. Amusement and edification are afforded by the farces in Sketches by Boz, while the inset narratives in The Pickwick Papers serve as cautionary and thematic complements to the main tale. However, as Dickens refines his art, his short stories (or, more properly, such linked stories as ‘Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions’ and ‘Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings’) begin to exhibit the inner life that the twentieth century celebrates as the hallmark of the best short fiction.

When the space at Dickens's disposal is such that selection is forced upon him, as in Sketches by Boz, he seems to come closest to the modern short story. Those in this collection belong to a kind of journalism still with us, impressions of the world that are not documentary only because the subject is seen through a temperament.

(Allen 12)

Harris (1979) contends that such nineteenth-century British writers as Dickens, Gaskell, Collins, and Eliot ‘produce stories and tales which strike the contemporary reader as too formless to be regarded as first-class short stories’ (60). Bates (1942) goes so far as to assert that Dickens's short stories fail to impress us today because Dickens underestimated his reader's intellectual capacity for apprehending significant detail:

he not only described every character by the system of catalogue but, in many cases, and because he was often writing a serial story that was to be read in parts, reissued that catalogue after an interval in which he judged the reader might have forgotten what goods were for sale.

This was all very well, and in many cases delightful fun, in a novel of 200,000 words; but to apply the same method to the short story was rather like dressing a six-months-old baby in a top-hat and fur coat, with the inevitable result—suffocation.

(Bates 22-23)

One wonders how much of Dickens's short fiction Bates had read, for such stories as ‘Hunted Down’ (1859) demonstrate the compression, rigid selectivity, and authorial control of voice, tone, atmosphere, and characterisation that modern readers have come to expect of first-rate short stories. In speaking of ‘compactness of treatment’ (Letters VI: 719) as one of the hallmarks of a good short story, Dickens seems to have been well aware that a short story was significantly more than a collapsed novel.

Canby (1909) in his examination of both British and American short fiction in the nineteenth century contends that ‘the prestige of Hawthorne and the technique of Poe’ (246) were slow in influencing British writers. Dickens's comedy of character, of surface descriptions and authorial musings, argues Canby, was ill-suited to the short story form as presented by Poe and Hawthorne. Despite the success of The Christmas Books as foreshortened novels, ‘Dickens would have no room in the modern short story; at least not room enough to reveal personalities’ (267). The ‘Tales’ in Sketches by Boz Canby regards as ‘short descriptive narratives’ (267) rather than genuine short stories, but he concedes that ‘Dr. Manette's Manuscript’ in A Tale of Two Cities is ‘an admirable example of simple narrative centring upon one incident, and highly unified by a careful limitation’ (269). Although ‘Miss Wade's Autobiography’ in Little Dorrit (March, 1857) exhibits a similar unity of impression, its focus is revelation of character motivation rather than plot details; yet it is recognizably as much a short story as ‘Dr. Alexandre Manette's Hidden Manuscript’ (October, 1859). ‘Incident’ seems to limit Canby's conception of the short story form; for example, ‘A Child's Dream of a Star’ (6 April, 1850) he relegates to the status of an ‘imaginative prose poem’ (269). Disregarding such psychological studies as ‘The Black Veil’ and ‘A Madman's Manuscript’, Canby contends that Dickens employed the new techniques of Poe in just one story, ‘The Signal-Man’ (1866), in which ‘the end is in sight from the opening paragraph’ (270). Canby describes it as an impressionistic story of mystery and pathos, but one ‘foreign to the methods of the free-and-easy writer’ (270).

Thomas O. Beachcroft (1968), emphasizing the oral nature of British short stories descended from Sir Walter Scott's ‘The Two Drovers’, ‘Wandering Willie's Tale’ in Redgauntlet, and ‘The Tapestried Chamber’, states that neither Dickens nor Thackeray ‘noticed the development of technique that had already been accomplished across the Atlantic’ (101). Beachcroft singles out ‘The Holly-tree Inn’, a sequence of stories by Dickens and others for the Extra Christmas Number of Household Words for 1855, as ‘a gem both of Dickens's art and of short-story writing’ (102) since its ‘sentimentality is kept in check by the Boots's sense of reality’ (102). Beachcroft also singles out for praise another short story sequence, ‘Dr. Marigold's Prescriptions’ (in the Christmas number of All the Year Round, 1865), which he considers a ‘complete and single long short’ (108) story. Abandoning this piecemeal approach, Deborah A. Thomas (1982) has thoughtfully examined the body of Dickens's output of short fiction; however, she has neglected to take into account the context of the inset narratives and of the linked tales. Too often, she sees the value of a story only in terms of Dickens's novelistic production. Sometimes her discussions force connexions between stories that are improbable; for example, as Michael Cotsell points out, she deals with ‘The Tuggses at Ramsgate’, ‘The Drunkard's Death’, and ‘The Black Veil’ as ‘studies of the mentally abnormal’ (Dickensian 80, 117). One of the few modern critics to examine several stories in depth, as independent works of art rather than extensions of various novels, is Harry Stone; in The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity (1994) he explores the psychological nuances and biographical implications of ‘The Bride's Chamber’ from The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (October, 1857) and ‘George Silverman's Explanation’ (1868). After a century of neglect, Dickens's short fiction seems ready for critical re-appraisal which will go beyond its relationship to his novels and define those qualities which distinguish it from his other work; to establish, in short, Dickens's æsthetic of the short story.

Dickens rarely offered public commentary on his art or on fiction in general—few great writers of his time did. He ‘was convinced that fiction should stand alone, that good writing was intelligible to most readers …, and that commentary was offensive to his audience, a kind of patronizing “Let me tell you what you missed”’ (Lettis 2). In a speech to the ‘First Annual Soirée of the Athenæum’ at Manchester (5 October 1843), Dickens defined his relationship to that broad readership that serialisation and cheap weeklies had enabled him to reach:

In the literary point of view—in their bearings upon literature—I regard … [such institutions as the Athenæum] as of great importance, deeming that the more intelligent and reflective society in the mass becomes, and the more readers there are, the more distinctly writers of all kinds will be able to throw themselves upon the truthful feeling of the people, and the more honoured and the more useful literature must be.

(Fielding 49)

Dickens might mentally have added, ‘and the more profitable writing as a profession will be if the work of writers can appeal to so broad a readership’. The phrase ‘the truthful feeling of the people’ implies not merely a sentimental and moralistic approach to fiction, but an avoidance of unconventional techniques and unorthodox themes and characters which might disturb or alienate the reader.

As the editor of two highly successful weekly periodicals, Household Words (1850-1859) and All the Year Round (1859-1870) Dickens consistently acted to make his contributors' stories accessible and entertaining to a broad readership by enhancing the potential of his periodicals' fictions ‘for exciting emotion’ (Lettis 150). However, so broad a readership required protection from the offensive and unpleasant; consequently, throughout Dickens's correspondence with Wills and his contributors

there is the editor's concern that the customer not be offended; there is the writer's dislike of mere sensationalism. But the note most often struck is that the reader should not find himself engaged in [reading] what might be distasteful.

(Lettis 151)

Surprisingly, Edgar Allen Poe in his review of a pirated edition of ‘“Watkins Tottle” and Other Sketches’ (Southern Literary Messenger, 11 June 1836), praises Dickens's early short stories for their ‘unity of effect’, an observation that makes us aware that Dickens's short story æsthetic involved the same selectivity of detail and creation of an enveloping atmosphere that one encounters in Poe's works. As Harvey Peter Sucksmith notes, Poe's famous definition of the short story in his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales (in Graham's Magazine, May 1842) ‘was probably written shortly before or after the [Philadelphia] meetings with Dickens. Poe may even have been in the course of writing it when he met Dickens’ (71). What Poe, despite the psychological nature of his horror tales, has in common with Dickens is his belief in the power of the artist's imagination to transform reality, to defamiliarize it so that the reader views life (and himself) with new eyes. As Romantics, both writers sought to move their readers through stirring their emotions rather than appealing to their reason.

‘Frauds on the Fairies’ (Household Words, 1 October 1853) underscores Dickens's belief in the necessity for unfettering works of the imagination from the service of dogma, creed, or cause. Dickens here is attacking his friend Cruikshank's turning fairy-tales into temperance propaganda. What Dickens hoped his readers would see through ‘the fairy literature of our childhood’ (97) was ‘the romantic side of familiar things’; he wanted adults as well as children to accept the wonderful and the bizarre for their own sakes, not for any precept or homily they might assist in inculcating. He contends ‘that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun.’ His method of attacking Cruikshank is one of parody, as he speculates on the various perspectives (such as those of the ‘Total abstinence’, the ‘Vegetarian’, and the ‘Aborigines Protection Society’) that could be applied to Robinson Crusoe, then presents various ‘doctrinaire’ additions to the traditional ‘Cinderella’ that the factions of his day would impose in order to enlist child-readers in their causes. This is the method that Dickens applies in ‘A Christmas Tree’ (in the Household Words, Extra Christmas Number for 1850) when, to demonstrate the limitations of the traditional ghost story associated with the English great house, he satirizes all the hackneyed plot-gambits: the haunted chamber, the family curse, the stained floorboard, the haunted portrait, the closed-up room, the rattling of chains in the night, and so on. He notes that the ghosts in such stories are ‘reducible to a very few general types and classes; for ghosts have little originality, and “walk” in a beaten track’ (14). For Dickens, who began writing during the Romantic era, a story ought, above all, to move the reader, whether to tears or laughter, so that the reader will internalise its observations about life. For example, prior to the 1852 Extra Christmas Number of Household Words, Dickens evaluated Harriet Martineau's ‘The Deaf Playmate's Story’ for its ‘telling’ nature:

I have not a shadow of a doubt about Miss Martineau's story. It is certain to tell. I think it very affecting—admirably done—a fine plain purpose in it—quite a singular novelty. For the last story in the Xmas No. it will be great. I couldn't wish for a better.

Mrs. Gaskell's ghost story, I have got this morning—have not yet read. It's long.

(Letters VI: 798,?4-5 November 1852)

This piece, which Dickens suspects of being tedious for the common reader on account of its length, is Gaskell's ‘The Old Nurse's Story’. On 4 December, 1852, Dickens reacts to reading it, telling Mrs Gaskell:

you weaken the terror of the story by making them all see the phantoms at the end. And I feel a perfect conviction that the best readers [that is, those whose responses most resemble Dickens's own] will be the most certain to make this discovery. Nous verrons. But it is greatly improved.

(Letters VI: 815)

The letter reveals that, despite a prejudice against ‘long’ short stories (probably because such pieces were not easily fitted into Household Words), Dickens appreciated a story with psychological interest and a twist that makes the reader pause to reflect.

The keynote here, the ingredient wanting in Dickens's estimation, is originality, a quality he underscores again and again in his correspondence. For example, even early in his career, Dickens expressed the notion that the hurrying public will allow its attention to be arrested only by the striking or unusual:

I am glad you like The Black Veil. I think the title is a good one, because it is uncommon and does not impair the interest of the story by partially explaining its main feature.

(To John Macrone [30 December, 1835], Letters I: 114)

The impression one receives throughout the volumes in the Pilgrim Letters is that Dickens was as fussy about editorial matters pertaining to his short fiction (and as enthusiastic about its public reception) as he was in those pertaining to his full-length novels. Even so slight a work as ‘The Lamplighter’ stimulated his imagination and offered him scope for his considerable sense of humour, as we see in his letter to J. P. Harley on 28 November 1838 (Letters VII: 794-5). Writing to Miss Burdett Coutts on 5 January 1855, he reveals obvious pleasure in announcing that ‘80,000 Poor Travellers have been sold’ (VII: 498); a similar elation is conveyed in ‘To Thomas Beard’, on 19 December 1848 with respect to sales of 18,000 copies of The Haunted Man, the last of the Christmas Books. The correspondence makes it plain, too, that Dickens throughout his life struggled in producing his short as well as his full-length fiction; to his fiancée Catherine he complained on 5 February 1836 of ‘The Tuggses at Ramsgate’: ‘I wish to Heaven it would clear up … I never worked with so little pleasure’ (I: 125)—and yet how effortlessly the farcical little satire on the nouveau riche moves along as one reads it today.

Only after his early period does Dickens begin to regret using himself up in short fiction, as one sees in the following letter to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton:

What you said of the Battle of Life, gave me great pleasure. I was thoroughly wretched at having to use the idea for so short a story. I did not see its full capacity until it was too late to think of another Subject—and I have always felt that I might have done a great deal with it, if I had taken it for the groundwork of a more extended book.

(10 April 1848; Letters 5: 274)

Not surprisingly, in the coming decade he attempted to develop a collaborative framework that would release him from completing his ‘somethings for Christmas’ in their entirety. As Stone remarks in his Uncollected Writings (1968), Dickens's object was to have ‘the storytelling interludes [grow] naturally out of what came before and what went after, and [form] a subordinate and yet functional part of the whole’ (II: 563).

He felt that a short story should never be treated in a cavalier fashion, but rather as a serious artistic work. To Frank Stone on 1 June 1857 he wrote:

These notes are destroyed with too much smartness … Airiness and good spirits are always delightful, and are inseparable from notes of a cheerful trip; but they should sympathise with many things as well as see them in a lively way. It is but a word or a touch that expresses this humanity, but without that little embellishment of good nature, there is no such thing as humour.

(Letters, VIII: 339)

Evident here is his belief in moving the reader through sentiment, which very much marks Dickens as a Romantic. However, as the quintessential Victorian, Dickens prided himself on knowing precisely what his readers wanted in short fiction. In this regard, a letter of rejection that he wrote to one contributor, the Rev Edward Tagart, is quite enlightening:

I have read the story, carefully, and am sorry to say it will not do for Household Words. I need not say to you, that something more is wanted in such a Narrative, than its literal truth—that it is in the very nature of such Truths as are treated of here, to require to be told, artistically, and with great discretion. Now, the young man's illness appears to me to be very common-place—ditto, the proposal of the married gentleman to the heroine—ditto, Helen Winslow's narrative, in the last degree. In the last-named lady, I discern a diluted remembrance of a little book called (if I remember right) the Chimes; and the heroine's dread about her own child, was shadowed out, I think, in the same little Volume. On the whole, our readers would decidedly think that there is nothing in it to excuse its length.

(Letters VI: 177)

The deaths in The Chimes are merely visions that may be altered by the dreamer's change of heart and future actions; generally in short fiction Dickens preferred happy endings, since such were most satisfying to the common reader. Despite the fate to which he consigned Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which death proves the heroine's only effective escape from the clutches of the villainous Quilp, Dickens did not wish to confront his readers with the death of a child. On Thursday, 12 December, 1850, regarding Elizabeth Gaskell's ‘The Hearty John Middleton’ (Household Words, 28 December 1850) Dickens writes to his sub-editor, William Henry Wills:

The name I have given it, expresses it better than any other I can think of. Withal, it is not a common name. The story is very clever—I think the best thing of hers I have seen, not excepting Mary Barton—and if it had ended happily (which is the whole meaning of it) would have been a great success. As it is, it had better go into the next No., but will not do much, and will link itself painfully [in many readers' minds], with the girl who fell down at the Well, and the child who tumbled down stairs.

(Lehmann 43)

In short, what Dickens wanted for his readers was what he wanted for himself when he read (and wrote) short stories: he wanted ‘novelty’; he wanted ‘the effect of a Fairy Story out of the most unlikely materials’ (Letters VII: 762); he wanted to be ‘moved’. As he remarked of ‘The Tale of Richard Doubledick’, part of The Seven Poor Travellers, to W. W. F. de Cerjat on 3 January 1855: ‘I hope you will find, in the story of the Soldier which [the pages of the recent number of Household Words] contain, something that may move you a little. It moved me not a little in the writing, and I believe has touched a vast number of people’ (Letters VII: 488):

The idea of that little story obtained such strong possession of me when it came into my head, that it cost me more time and tears than most people would consider likely. The response it meets with is payment for anything.

(To Arthur Ryland, 22 December 1854; Letters VII: 488)

Although the public's reception of the inset tales in Pickwick and Nicholas Nickleby was lukewarm, Dickens continued to be attracted to the short story form throughout his lifetime, demonstrating great technical artistry and psychological subtlety in ‘George Silverman's Explanation’ (The Atlantic Monthly: January, February, and March, 1868). Also published by Ticknor and Fields, Boston, in his final years was the far less critically acclaimed novella A Holiday Romance. Contrary to Forster's contention that Dickens's sole motivation for writing this children's story was the lure of Yankee dollars (Forster finds the most remarkable aspect of these American pieces the £1,000 fee he received for each of them), Dickens took enormous pleasure in writing a joke that would appeal to children of all ages and parents who might read the four stories to their children. To Forster and Percy Fitzgerald Dickens commended especially the droll humour of the tale of Captain Boldheart; to James T. Fields on 25 July, 1867, he wrote,

I hope the Americans will see the joke of ‘Holiday Romance.’ The writing seems to me so like children's that dull folks (on any side of any water) might perhaps rate it accordingly. I should like to be beside you when you read it, and particularly when you read the Pirate's story. It made me laugh to that extent that my people here [presumably in the office of All the Year Round] thought I was out of my wits, until I gave it to them to read, when they did likewise.

(Kitton 94)

That was the greatest value Dickens saw in the short fiction he published in his own weekly periodicals—its power to move (whether to tears of laughter or of sympathetic, sentimental response, or to goosebumps and dread) a readership far vaster than that which he reached with his full-length novels published in monthly parts. As he remarked in rejecting a pair of children's stories by Charles M. Young for Household Words, Dickens felt that his ‘constant endeavour [was] … to adapt every paper to the reception of a number of classes and various orders of mind at once’ (Letters VI: 719, 21 July 1852). Wills, his sub-editor, praised Dickens's ability to treat even generally ‘uninviting’ topics ‘in a more playful, ingenious and readable manner than similar subjects have been hitherto presented in other weekly periodicals’ (Letters VI: 850, 17 October 1851). Wills uses the phrase ‘Elegance of fancy’ to encapsulate Dickens's short story æsthetic; Dickens himself stressed ‘novelty of observation, charm of expression, and plain force of purpose’ (Letters VI: 719) as qualities he felt worthwhile in short fiction and essays alike. Deborah A. Thomas in her introduction to Charles Dickens Selected Short Fiction concludes that in his shorter pieces, especially in his short fiction, Dickens

showed most intensely the quality of fancy, which he never firmly defined yet sensed as a primary aspect of his art. Thus, he felt quite free to escape momentarily from actuality or soften it with emotion, to transform fact through the power of a perceiving eye, and to experiment with techniques of narrating perspectives on the ordinary world.


Works Consulted

Allen, Walter. The Short Story in English. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.

Bates, H. E. The Modern Short Story, A Critical Survey. New York and London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1942.

Beachcroft, Thomas O. The Modest Art, A Survey of the Short Story in English. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Bentley, Nicholas; Slater, Michael; and Burgis, Nina. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Browning, Robert. ‘Sketches by Boz’ Dickens and the Twentieth Century. Ed. John Gross and Gabriel Pearson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962. Pp. 19-34.

Canby, Henry Seidel. The Short Story in English. New York: Henry Holt, 1909.

Cotsell, Michael. ‘Review of Deborah A. Thomas, Dickens and the Short Story. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1982.’ Dickensian 80 (1984): 117-118.

Dexter, Walter, ed. The Letters of Charles Dickens. Nonesuch edition. 3 vols. Bloomsbury: Nonesuch Press, 1938.

Dickens, Charles. ‘A Christmas Tree’. Extra Christmas Number of Household Words, 1850. Rpt. Christmas Stories, intro. Margaret Lamb. Oxford Illustrated Dickens. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Pp. 1-18.

‘Frauds on the Fairies’. Household Words Vol 8: 184 (1 October 1853): 95-100.

Sketches by Boz Illustrative of Every-Day Life and Every-Day People, il. George Cruikshank. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, rpt. 1987.

Easson, Angus. ‘Who is Boz? Dickens and his Sketches.’ Dickensian 81 (1985): 13-22.

Fielding, K. J., ed. The Speeches of Charles Dickens. Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens, 1812-70. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1872-4.

Harris, Wendell V. British Short Fiction in the Nineteenth Century: A Literary and Bibliographic Guide. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979.

Hogarth, Georgina, and Dickens, Mamie (eds.). The Letters of Charles Dickens, 1833-1870. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1882.

Kitton, Frederic G. The Minor Writings of Charles Dickens: A Bibliography and a Sketch. London: Elliot Stock, 1900.

Lehmann, R. C. Charles Dickens As Editor; Being Letters Written By Him to William Henry Wills, His Sub-Editor. London: Smith, Elder, 1912.

The Letters of Charles Dickens. 1820-1855. Pilgrim edn. Ed. Madeline House, Graham Storey, K. J. Fielding, Kathleen Tillotson, and Nina Burgis. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965-(simply called ‘Letters’ throughout).

Lettis, Richard. Dickens on Literature—A Continuing Study of His Aesthetic. New York: AMS Press, 1990.

Slater, Michael. ‘Introduction’. The Christmas Books. 2 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971. Pp. vii-xxiv.

Stone, Harry, ed. Charles Dickens' Uncollected Writings from Household Words 1850-1859. Bloomington: Indiana Press, 1968. See especially ‘The Seven Poor Travellers Extra Christmas Number of Household Words for 1854’ (II: 523-9), ‘The Holly-Tree Inn Extra Christmas Number of Household Words for 1855’ (II: 541-9), and ‘The Wreck of the ‘Golden Mary’ Extra Christmas Number of Household Words for 1856’ (II: 563-9).

The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994.

Sucksmith, Harvey Peter. The Narrative Art of Charles Dickens, The Rhetoric of Sympathy and Irony in his Novels. Oxford: Clarendon, 1970.

Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and the Short Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

‘Introduction’. Charles Dickens Selected Short Fiction. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1976. Pp. 11-30.

Thompson, G. R. “Literary Politics and the ‘Legitimate Sphere”: Poe, Hawthorne, and the “Tale Proper”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 49, 2 (September, 1994): 167-195.

Representative Works

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Honoré de Balzac
Adieu (novella) 1830
La Comédie humaine 20 vols. (novels, novellas, and short stories) 1842–53
The Human Comedy 40 vols. (novels, novellas, and short stories) 1895–98

Anton Chekhov
Pestrye rasskazy (short stories) 1886
Nevinnye rechi (short stories) 1887
V sumerkakh (novella) 1887
Rasskazy (short stories) 1889

Alphonse Daudet
Lettres de mon moulin (short stories) 1869
Les contes du lundi (short stories) 1873

Charles Dickens
Sketches by Boz (short stories) 1836
*A Christmas Carol (novella) 1843
The Chimes (novella) 1844

Fedor Dostoevsky
Bednye lyudi [Poor Folk] (novella) 1846
Zapiski iz podpolya [Notes from Underground; also translated as Notes from the Underworld] (novella) 1864
Podrostok [A Raw Youth] (novella) 1876

Gustave Flaubert
Trois contes [Three Tales] (short stories) 1877

Henry Blake Fuller
From the Other Side: Stories of Transatlantic Travel (short stories) 1898

William Dean Howells
Suburban Sketches (short stories) 1871
A Fearful Responsibility, and Other Stories (short stories) 1881

Henry James
A Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales (short stories) 1875
Daisy Miller: A Study (novella) 1878
The Madonna of the Future and Other Tales (short stories) 1879
The Diary of a Man of Fifty, and A Bundle of Letters (short stories) 1880
The Siege of London, The Pension Beaurepas, and The Point of View (short stories) 1883
“The Patagonia” (short story) 1888
The Two Magics: The Turn of the Screw. Covering End (novellas) 1898

Guy de Maupassant
La Maison Tellier (novella) 1881
Contes de la bécasse (short stories) 1883
Contes et nouvelles (short stories) 1885

Leo Tolstoy
Detstvo [Childhood] (novella) 1852
Sevastopolskiye rasskazy [Sevastopol Sketches] 2 vols. (short stories) 1855–56
Semeinoe schaste [Family Happiness] (novella) 1859
Kazaki [The Cossacks] (novella) 1863
Smert Ivana Ilyicha [The Death of Ivan Ilyich] (novella) 1886

Anthony Trollope
“The Journey to Panama” (short story) 1861
Tales of All Countries, First Series (short stories) 1861
Tales of All Countries, Second Series (short stories) 1863
Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories (short stories) 1867
An Editor's Tales (short stories) 1870
Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (novella) 1873
Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories (short stories) 1882
Anthony Trollope: The Complete Short Stories 5 vols. (short stories) 1979-83

Ivan Turgenev
††“Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka” [“The Diary of a Superfluous Man”] (short story) 1850
“Mumu” (short story) 1852
Zapiski okhotnika [Russian Life in the Interior; or, The Experiences of a Sportsman; also published as A Sportsman's Sketches, Sportsman's Notebook, Tales from the Note-Book of a Sportsman, and as The Hunting Sketches] (short stories) 1852
Asya [Annouchka] (novella) 1858
Pervaya lyubov' [First Love] (novella) 1860
“Stepnoi Korol Lir” [A Lear of the Steppe; also published as “A King Lear of the Steppes”] (short story) 1870
Veshnie vody [Spring Floods; also published as The Torrents of Spring] (novella) 1872

Mark Twain
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (short stories) 1867
Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old (short stories) 1875
The £1,000,000 Bank-Note, and Other New Stories (short stories) 1893

*This work, along with The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain, was collected in and published as Christmas Books in 1852.

†This collection contains the stories “Un Cœur simple,” “La légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier,” and “Hérodias.”

††This work, along with the short story “Mumu,” was published posthumously in Mumu and the Diary of a Superfluous Man in 1884.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

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SOURCE: Bates, H. E. The Modern Short Story: A Critical Survey, pp. 72-121. Boston: The Writer, Inc. Publishers, 1941.

[In the following excerpt, Bates provides an overview of nineteenth-century European realist short fiction writers Anton Chekhov (here spelled Tchehov), Guy de Maupassant, and Leo Tolstoy.]


In nineteenth-century America the short story took a series of halting steps forward, its performance rather resembling that of a child learning to walk. If at times it walked badly it could at least be said to be walking by itself; if it did not walk far it could also be said that vast continents are not explored in a day. It needs little perception to note the main defects of the American short story from Poe to Crane. It was often raw, facile, journalistic, prosy, cheap; it was unexperimental, and, except in rare instances, unpoetical. It was all these things, and much more; so that beside the European (not English) short story of the same day it appears to suffer from one huge and common defect. It lacked culture.

In Europe, on the other hand, culture rose readily and naturally to the top of artistic life like so much cream. By contrast with the saloon-bar back-cloths of Bret Harte, the Bowery of Crane, the embittered etchings of Bierce, the literary life and output of Europe appeared richly civilized, smooth, and settled. In France Flaubert could spend years polishing and perfecting the periods of Madame Bovary; in Russia Turgenev and Tolstoy were bringing the art of the novel to the state where it was becoming what has been called “the great means of cosmopolitan culture”; these writers worked in, depicted, and appealed to a more or less settled civilization, with more or less fixed boundaries. In America the writers of the day appear to suffer from a certain common, and quite natural, bewilderment; half their continent is undeveloped, much unexplored; they have not found their feet, and they give the natural impression of needing not only a pen but a compass in their hands. The literature of that America is amateurish, unorganized, still in its working clothes; that of Europe is civilized, centralized, well dressed.

Under these circumstances it would be strange if Europe had not something to offer, in the short-story as well as in literature generally, that America did not and could not possess. It would be surprising indeed if it had not produced at least one short-story writer greater than Poe or O. Henry. It did in fact produce several; but from many distinguished names two stand out as the pillars of the entire structure of the modern short story: Guy de Maupassant, born in 1850, and Anton Pavlovitch Tchehov, born ten years later.

During recent years it has become the fashion to divide both exponents and devotees of the short story into two camps, Maupassant fans on the one side, Tchehovites on the other. On the one side we are asked to contemplate the decisive virtues of the clear, acid, realistic straightforwardness of the French mind, which tells a story with masterly simplicity and naturalism, producing such masterpieces as “Boule de Suif” on the other hand we are asked to marvel at the workings of a mind which saw life as it were obliquely, unobtrusively, touching it almost by remote control, telling its stories by an apparently aimless arrangement of casual incidents and producing such masterpieces as “The Darling.” From one side emerges a certain derision for the peasant vulgarity of the man who was preoccupied with the fundamental passions; from the other comes the tired sneer for the man in whose stories nothing ever happens except conversations, the drinking of tea and vodka, and an infinite number of boring resolutions about the soul and work that never gets done. To some, Maupassant's stories leave a nasty taste in the mouth; to others Tchehov's are unintelligible. To some the Maupassant method of story-telling is the method par excellence; to others there is nothing like Tchehov. This sort of faction even found an exponent in Mr. Somerset Maugham, who devoted a large part of a preface to extolling Maupassant at the expense of Tchehov, for no other reason apparently than that he had found in Maupassant a more natural model and master.

Odd as it may seem to the adherent of these two schools, there are many readers, as well as writers, by whom Tchehov and Maupassant are held in equal affection and esteem. Among these I like to number myself. I confess I cannot decide and never have been able to decide whether “Boule de Suif” or “The Steppe” is the finer story; whether “Mademoiselle Fifi” is superior to “The Party”; whether “Maison Tellier” is greater than “Ward No. 6.” In admiring them all I have learned from them almost equally. For me Tchehov has had many lessons; but it is significant to note that I learned none of them until I had learned others from Maupassant. I recall a period when both were held for hours under the microscope; and in consequence I have never had any sympathy with the mind that is enthusiastic for one but impatient of the other. Much of their achievement and life bears an astonishing similarity; the force of their influence, almost equally powerful, has extended farther than that of any other two short-story writers in the world. Both were popular in their lifetime; both were held in sedate horror by what are known as decent people. Tchehov, they said, would die in a ditch, and it is notable that Maupassant still holds a lurid attraction for the ill-balanced.

The differences of Tchehov and Maupassant have therefore, I think, been over-laboured, and in no point so much as that of technique. Their real point of difference is indeed fundamental, and arises directly not from what they did, but from what they were. For in the final analysis it is not the writer that is important, but the man; not the technician but the character. Technical competence, even what appears to be revolutionary technical competence, can be, and in fact always is, in some way acquired; and since writing is an artificial process there is no such thing as a “born writer.” The technician responds to analysis, to certain tests of the critical laboratory. The personality behind the technician, imposing itself upon the shaping of every technical gesture and yet itself elusive of analysis, is the thing for which there exists no abiding or common formula. There is no sort of prescription which, however remorselessly followed, will produce a preconceived personality.

Thus Tchehov and Maupassant, so alike in many things, are fundamentally worlds apart. Almost each point of similarity, indeed, throws into relief a corresponding point of difference. Both, for example, sprang from peasant stock; both excelled in the delineation of peasant types. But whereas Maupassant's peasants give the repeated impression of being an avaricious, hard, logical, meanly passionate, and highly suspicious race, Tchehov's give the impression of good-humoured laziness, dreamy ignorance, kindliness, of being the victims of fatalism, of not knowing quite what life is all about. Again, one of their favourite themes was the crushing or exploitation of a kindly, innocent man by a woman of strong and remorseless personality; in Maupassant the woman would be relentlessly drawn, sharp and heartless as glass; in Tchehov the woman would be seen indirectly through the eyes of a secondary, softer personality, perhaps the man himself. Similarly both liked to portray a certain type of weak, stupid, thoughtless woman, a sort of yes-woman who can unwittingly impose tragedy or happiness on others. Maupassant had no patience with the type; but in Olenka, in “The Darling,” it is precisely a quality of tender patience, the judgment of the heart and not the head, that gives Tchehov's story its effect of uncommon understanding and radiance. Both writers knew a very wide world teeming with a vast number of types: not only peasants but aristocrats, artisans, school teachers, government clerks, prostitutes, ladies of the bored middle-class, waiters, doctors, lovers, priests, murderers, children, thieves, the very poor and the very ignorant, artists, the very rich and the very ignorant, students, business men, lawyers, adolescents, the very old, and so on. Their clientele was enormous; yet the attitude of Maupassant towards that clientele gives the impression, constantly, of being that of a lawyer; his interest and sympathy are detached, cold, objectively directed; the impression is often that, in spite of his energy and carefully simulated interest, he is really wondering if there is not something he can get out of it. Is the woman frail? Has the man money? It is not uncommon for Maupassant to laugh at his people, or to give the impression of despising them, both effects being slightly repellent. “What they are doing,” he seems to say, “is entirely their own responsibility. I only present them as they are.” Tchehov, on the other hand, without closely identifying himself with his characters, sometimes in an unobtrusive way assumes responsibility. His is by no means the attitude of the lawyer, but of the doctor—very naturally, since his first profession was medicine—holding the patient's hand by the bedside. His receptivity, his capacity for compassion, are both enormous. Of his characters he seems to say, “I know what they are doing is their own responsibility. But how did they come to this, how did it happen? There may be some trivial thing that will explain.” That triviality, discovered, held for a moment in the light, is the key to Tchehov's emotional solution. In Maupassant's case the importance of that key would have been inexorably driven home; but as we turn to ask of Tchehov if we have caught his meaning aright it is to discover that we must answer that question for ourselves—for Tchehov has gone.

Inquisitiveness, the tireless exercise of a sublime curiosity about human affairs, is one of the foremost essentials of the writer. It is a gift which both Maupassant and Tchehov possessed in abundance. But both possessed, in a very fine degree, a second dominant quality, a sort of corrective, which may be defined as a refined sense of impatience. One of the directest results of inquisitiveness is garrulity; perhaps the worst of society's minor parasites are not nosey-parkers, but those who will not stop talking. We are all gossips by nature; it is an excellent gift to know when to hold the tongue. Too few writers have a sense of personal impatience with their own voice, but it was a sixth sense to Maupassant and Tchehov, as it is in some degree to every short-story writer of importance at all. Both knew to perfection when they had said enough; an acute instinct continually reminded them of the fatal tedium of explanation, of going on a second too long. In Tchehov this sense of impatience, almost a fear, caused him frequently to stop speaking, as it were, in mid-air. It was this which gave his stories an air of remaining unfinished, of leaving the reader to his own explanations, of imposing on each story's end a note of suspense so abrupt and yet refined that it produced on the reader an effect of delayed shock.

It is very unlikely, of course, that Tchehov was wholly unaware of this gift, or that he did not use it consciously. Yet if writers are only partly conscious of the means by which they create their effects, as it seems fairly obvious they are, then what appears to be one of Tchehov's supreme technical gifts may only be the natural manifestation of something in the man. From his letters you get the impression that Tchehov was a man of the highest intelligence, personal charm, and sensibility, a man who was extremely wise and patient with the failings of others, but who above all hated the thought of boring others by the imposition of his own personality. Most of his life he was a sick man, deprived for long intervals of the intellectual stimulus and gaiety he loved so much, yet he never gives an impression of self-pity but rather of self-effacement. He was beautifully modest about himself, and “during the last six years of his life—growing weaker in body and stronger in spirit—taking a marvellously simple, wise and beautiful attitude to his bodily dissolution, because ‘God has put a bacillus into me.’”1 Contrast that quality with the story of Maupassant who, at the height of his success, used ostentatiously to bank his large weekly cheque at a certain provincial bank, holding it so that those at his elbow might not miss the size of the amount.

Tchehov's charm, the light balance of his mind, and his natural gift of corrective impatience were bound to be reflected in the style he used, and it is impossible to imagine Tchehov writing in that heavy, indigestible, cold-pork fashion so characteristic of much English fiction of his own day. In describing the countryside, the scenery, the weather, for example, Tchehov again exhibits a natural impatience with the obvious prevailing mode of scenic description; in his letters he shows this to be a conscious impatience, and condemns what he calls anthropomorphism: “the frequent personification … when the sea breathes, the sky gazes, the steppe barks, Nature whispers, speaks, mourns and so on … Beauty and expressiveness in Nature are attained only by simplicity, by some such simple phrase as ‘The sun set,’ ‘It was dark,’ ‘It began to rain’ and so on,”2 To Maupassant the necessity of creating effects by the use of the most natural simplicity must also have been obvious. In that sense, perhaps more than any other, Maupassant and Tchehov are much alike. Both are masters in what might be called the art of distillation, of compressing into the fewest, clearest possible syllables the spirit and essence of a scene. Both were capable in a very fine degree of a highly sensuous reaction to place. Both, more important still, were capable of transmitting it to the page:

The tall grass, among which the yellow dandelions rose up like streaks of yellow light, was of a vivid fresh spring green.

Beyond the poplar stretches of wheat extended like a bright yellow carpet from the road to the top of the hills.

Of these two descriptions, so simple and yet so vivid pictorially and atmospherically, each creating its effect in the same number of words, it would be hard to say at random which was Tchehov and which Maupassant: the effect in both is beautifully and swiftly transmitted; no fuss, no grandiose staying of the scene, no elaborate signalling that the reader is about to be the victim of a description of nature. The words are like clear, warm, delicate paint.

Contrast their effect with what Mr. E. M. Forster has called “Scott's laborious mountains and carefully scooped out glens and carefully ruined abbeys,”3 or with Hardy, who was writing side by side with Maupassant and Tchehov, as he struggles for six pages to convey the gloomy impression of Egdon Heath:

It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity. Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do this, for they are permanently harmonious only with the existence of better reputation as to its issues than the present.

What are we listening to?—for it is clear at once that we are listening and not looking—a guide-book? a sermon? a windy report? Hardy is not painting a picture, but is talking about what he sincerely believes to be a description of a picture. His failure is highly pompous, entirely uninstructive, and unconsciously amusing. It is not even the failure of a man trying to paint a small canvas with a whitewash brush; it is the failure of a man trying to paint a picture with a dictionary.

Neither Maupassant nor Tchehov was ever guilty of this mistake; neither was a dictionary man. From both one gets the impression that they might never have kept such a thing as a dictionary in the house. The style of both conforms consistently to a beautiful standard of simplicity—direct, apparently artless, sometimes almost child-like, but never superficial. In Maupassant it is a simplicity that is brittle, swift, logical, brilliant, and hard as a gem; in Tchehov it is clear, casual, conversational, sketchy, and delicate as lace. Both, however, were capable of genuine elaboration, as and when the theme demanded it, so that both are masters in a wide range not only of subjects, moods, and pictures, but of forms also. In such stories as “The Steppe,” “Ward No. 6,” “The Black Monk,” “Yvette,” “The Story of a Farm Girl,” and so on, they are masters of the longer story; at the same time both brought to the very short sketch, the significant impressionistic trifle of a few pages, an artistry it had never known.

It is indisputable that both were great writers, but if we look for a common and insistent characteristic, or lack of one, which sets them apart from English writers of their own time, we are faced with the fact that they were not gentlemen. In further discussing Scott, Mr. Forster makes the point that he lacks passion and “only has a temperate heart and gentlemanly feelings.” But if there is one thing that Maupassant and Tchehov possess, though in highly contrasting forms, it is passion; and if there was one condition which neither imposed on his work it was gentlemanly feelings. To the English novel a certain moral attitude, or at very least the recognition of the governing force of morality, has always seemed indispensable. One of its most luscious crops is that of the bitter fruits of sin. Not until Samuel Butler turned up, with The Way of All Flesh, had any writer of the nineteenth century the courage to suggest that the fruits of sin are more often than not quite pleasant enough. Neither Maupassant nor Tchehov had much truck with sin; both declined to entangle themselves or their characters in the coils of an artificial and contemporary morality; both set down life and people as nearly as possible as they saw them, pure or sinful, pleasant or revolting, admirable or vicious, feeling that that process needed neither explanation nor apology. To the old, old criticism that such a process produced a literature that was disgusting Tchehov rightly and properly replied, “No literature can outdo real life in its cynicism”; and went on:

To a chemist nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist, he must lay aside his personal subjective standpoint and must understand that muck-heaps play a very respectable part in the landscape, and that the inherent bad passions are as inherent as the good ones.

In short, all life is the writer's province; never mind about gentlemanly feelings: a view with which Maupassant, it is quite clear, would have been in firm and complete agreement. Like Burns, indeed, Maupassant and Tchehov pleaded for the acceptance of human frailty as a condition of their work—the acceptance of the fact that, as Mr. Edward Garnett pointed out, “people cannot be other than what they are.”4 In all of what he had to say about this frailty Tchehov was never cynical; he brought to its interpretation qualities of tenderness, patience, a kind of humorously wise understanding, and what has been described as “candour of soul,” a quality which, it has been suggested, was by no means exclusive to Tchehov, but was a virtue common to all the greatest Russian writers from Pushkin down to Gorki. Maupassant had none of that Russian candour of soul, but rather excelled in candour of mind. Where he was cynical, Tchehov was merely sceptical, and what Tchehov was really remarkable for, it seems to me, was not so much candour of soul as greatness of heart. Mr. Middleton Murry has called it, rather characteristically perhaps, pureness of heart—“and in that,” he says, “though we dare not analyse it further, lies the secret of his greatness as a writer and his present importance to ourselves.”5

This was written twenty years ago, when Tchehov's extreme modernity could further inspire Mr. Murry to remark that “to-day we begin to perceive how intimately Tchehov belongs to us; to-morrow we may feel how infinitely he is in advance of us.”6 To-day Tchehov still exercises a vital influence on the short story, and still, in many ways, seems more in advance of us than almost any other exponent of it, including Maupassant. It seems remarkable, for example, that Tchehov was at work when Bret Harte was at work, and died indeed only two years after him. Does the author of “Mliss” exercise a powerful influence on contemporary thought or writing to-day? Does he seem in advance of us? Yet the work of writers, once printed, does not change. The words that Bret Harte and Tchehov put down on the page in 1896, for example, are the words that still appear on the page to-day. Yet something has changed, obviously very radically and very drastically, and if that something is not the work it can only be the standards, the judgment, and the world of those who read the work. Time is the inexorable acid test. In a few years it eats away the meretricious exterior veneer of writers like Bret Harte, who thereafter go through a rapid process known as dating, and yet leaves the delicate surfaces of such writers as Turgenev, Sarah Orne Jewett, Tchehov, Maupassant, and so on untouched. Time knows no standards of criticism, and yet is the definitive test. “If a man writes clearly enough,” says Hemingway, “anyone can see if he fakes.”7 Exactly: if there is a subtler kind of faking it is simply a question of time, as Hemingway goes on to point out, before the fake is discovered. So after all, perhaps, the so-called modernity of Tchehov, and for that matter of Maupassant too, has nothing to do with pureness of heart. It has nothing to do with technique, except in so far as technique is another word for control. It arises perhaps from something very old, very simple, and yet not at all simple of achievement: the setting down of the truth as you see it and feel it, without tricks or sham or fake, so that it never appears out-dated by fashion or taste but remains the truth, or at least some part of the truth, for as long as the truth can matter.

Both Maupassant and Tchehov strove for that result; both achieved it with a remarkable degree of success. The artist who fakes must initially regard his audience with some kind of contempt which is inseparable from any such attitude as “wrapping it up so that the fools don't know it.” Neither Maupassant nor Tchehov wrote for an audience of fools; neither did any wrapping up—rather the contrary. Yet if we look for another point of difference between them, it is that Tchehov's estimation of his audience rose a shade or two higher than Maupassant's. Tchehov, taking it for granted that his audience could fill in the detail and even the colour of a partially stated picture, wrote consistently on a fine line of implication. Maupassant rather tended to fill in the picture; his natural distrust of humanity's intelligence inevitably extended to his readers. In consequence he is more direct; the colours are filled in; his points are clearly made; the reader is left far less to his own devices. Maupassant seems to say, in the logical, economical way of a French peasant: “Having gone to all the trouble to prepare the ingredients and make the dish I'll see that the eating of it isn't left to chance.” Tchehov, on the other hand, walks out before the end of the meal, completely confident in the intelligence and ability of his reader to finish things for himself.

This, of course, is entirely responsible for the most constant of criticisms of Tchehov—that nothing ever happens. The truth is that always, in Tchehov, a great deal happens: not always on the page or during the scene or during the present. Events or happenings are implied; they happen “off”; they are hinted at, not stated; most important of all, they go on happening after the story has ended. The reader who complains that nothing happens is in reality uttering a criticism of himself; the “nothing happens” is unfortunately in his own mind. Tchehov has supplied certain apparently trivial outlines which, if properly filled in, will yield a picture of substance and depth, and has done the reader the honour of believing that he is perceptive enough to fill in the very substance that is not stated. Each reader will fill in more or less of the picture, according to the measure of his own perception and sensibility. But the man who can fill in nothing and then hurls back at Tchehov the charge that “nothing ever happens” is simply turning Tchehov's generous estimate of himself into an insult of Tchehov.

Perhaps we can look at a typical example of Tchehov's method of implication, a story in which “nothing happens.” Take a very short one, “The Schoolmistress.” What happens in it?—i.e. what happens that can be set down as so much co-ordinated material and physical action? The answer is that a schoolmistress who has been thirteen years in her post at an outlying village goes to town to fetch her salary; as she is driving back she is overtaken by a rich, rather intelligent and handsome neighbour who rides part of the way with her, says a few trivial things and then says good-bye; there follows a short argument with some peasants, and just before the story ends she sees the man once again as her horses wait for the road-barrier to be raised at the railway level crossing. That is all that can be called action; the man, the driver of the cart, the peasants, and the charming state of the April weather are all briefly described. But there is no swift action, no dynamic impact of events, no runaway horse, no pursuit, no fainting, no dramatic rescue. The reader who seeks these things must feel that this is tiresome indeed. What, then, is the story about?

The reader himself must supply that answer. Tchehov's story is not labelled True Love, Heartache, Disappointment, or A Tragic Woman; it is not a public garden, as some stories are, with sign-posts saying To the Lake, To the Fairy Garden, and finally Exit. Tchehov does not label; he does not point and push. He shows the schoolmistress thinking of her home in Moscow, her mother, “the aquarium with little fish … the sound of the piano”; he shows her thinking again of her life as a schoolmistress, the inconvenience, discomfort, boredom, loneliness. The two lives, the real and the remembered, are thrown together, as they so often are in one's own experience, suddenly fused. Of the remembered life the cultured man Hanov, who is himself going to seed through loneliness and unhappy marriage, is a sort of real but unattainable symbol. As Tchehov unfolds these thoughts, the boundaries of the story gradually widen, until what appears to be a series of casual notes about a trivial journey becomes a universal tragedy of misplaced lives, of frustration, of “the happiness that would never be.” When the story ends, Hanov and the schoolmistress step out of it into independent life. Presented as individuals, they emerge as figures of universality; and though we are touched by what happens to them within the limits of the story, it is the thought of what happens to them beyond these limits that moves us more deeply still.

That is something of what Tchehov is aiming at. To explain it, to subject it to a process of analysis, is really to destroy its living tissues. It is rather like dissecting a bird in order to solve the secrets of flight. In dissection, magic is lost.

Tchehov, therefore, places immense responsibility on the reader. Gifted with a finely graduated measure of sensibility, perception, and understanding, the reader will not fail. But where sensibility is dead and the reader cursed by a kind of short-sightedness, the charge of “greyness” and “nothing ever happens” is bound automatically to follow. Tchehov's method is therefore a risky one, partly because what Tchehov supplies is a negative that needs an equal positive to give it life, and the chances are that it may never get that positive; and partly for another reason. Supposing Tchehov's exposure to have been wrongly done, too seriously for example, and supposing the reader offers a response that is not seriously conceived? In a moment Tchehov's serious beautiful picture produces exactly the reverse of Tchehov's intention; it evokes, and is destroyed by, laughter.

This is the risk Tchehov ran in hundreds of stories. As a perfectly conscious writer he recognized it and insulated himself against it in the only possible way, by his own sense of humour. In a preface to Ernest Hemingway's Torrents of Spring, a parody of Sherwood Anderson, Mr. David Garnett8 remarks how Anderson, in Dark Laughter, pushed his style to a degree of over-simplified affectation that produced an effect entirely opposite to the serious one intended. Even to Hemingway, at that time something of a devotee of Anderson, Dark Laughter was altogether too much. To parody it was the only corrective Hemingway could apply, and to do so was, in one way, a courageous thing, for in parodying Anderson Hemingway was also parodying himself. But it was better to have done that consciously, as Hemingway well knew, than to have gone on doing it unconsciously for the rest of his life.

Tchehov, of course, could be parodied, and no doubt could have parodied himself. Parody is one of the rewards of the highly individual writer. Self-applied, it is a corrective. To a tragic view of life (which he felt that no literature could outdo in cynicism) Tchehov was fortunate enough to be able to apply a constant corrective in the form of humour. Beginning as an author of comic sketches written for funny papers, Tchehov was only with some difficulty persuaded by Grignovitch to take himself and his work more seriously. Luckily he never learnt that lesson thoroughly, and throughout his work the sly glance of corrective humour keeps breaking in. Tchehov, indeed, might be studied as a humorist. He delights in the farcical situation, the burlesque of life; he loves to play skittles with pomposity, dignity, and the top-heaviness of mankind generally; he adores the opportunity for discovering that the most impressive characters in life often wear false noses. Yet this humour is never mean; throughout the whole of Tchehov there is not an echo of a single vinegary sneer. The qualities that colour his tragic view of life also colour his humorous view of it: charitableness, compassion, gentle irony, a kind of patient detachment. Tchehov had no judgment to pass, through either humour or tragedy, on the most ridiculous or the most depraved of his fellow-men. In the face of the appalling forces that shape lives Tchehov offered no condemnation. He seems rather to have felt that it was remarkable that mankind emerged as well as it did.

As compared with Maupassant, Tchehov will always, I think, seem the slightly more “advanced” and difficult writer. Maupassant, guided by more logical forces, left nothing to chance. Like all writers working within prescribed limits, he was fully aware of the value of a thing implied. By implying something, rather than stating it, a writer saves words, but he also runs the risk that his implication may never get home. That risk, in a very logical French way, Maupassant was less prepared to take than Tchehov. His pictures are more solidly built up; he knows that faces, actions, manners, even the movements of hands and ways of walking are keys to human character; in addition to that he takes a sensuous delight in physical shape, physical response, physical beauty, physical ugliness and behaviour; you can see that nothing delights him so much as a world of flesh and trees, clothes and food, leaves and limbs; in describing such things, as he did so well, he was partially satisfying his own sensuous appetite. That fact gives his every material and physical description a profound flavour. When Maupassant talks of sweat you not only see sweat but you feel it and smell it; when he describes a voluptuous and seductive woman the page itself seems to quiver sensuously. He knew, far better even than Tchehov, which words time and association have most heavily saturated with colour, scent, taste, and strength of emotional suggestion, and it is that knowledge, or instinct, and his skilful use of it, that constitutes one of his most powerful attributes as a writer.

For these reasons Maupassant's appeal will always be more direct and immediate, less subtle and oblique, than Tchehov's. He will always appear to be the greater story-teller, working as he does in the order of physical, emotional, and spiritual appeal. For even if a reader should miss the spiritual touch of a Maupassant story, and even the least subtle of its emotional implications, the physical character of the story would remain to give him a pleasure comparable to that of a woman who has nothing but a physical charm.

This is not of course quite as Maupassant intended. For a Maupassant story is as closely co-ordinated as one of Tchehov; ingredients in it cannot or should not be picked out singly and sampled to the exclusion of others; you cannot pick out the choice morsels of passion and leave the unpleasant lumps of inhumanity, meanness, cruelty, deceit, and falsity which are so important a part of the Maupassant offering. Maupassant too had something to imply as well as something to state. One sees all through his work how money and passion, avarice and jealousy, physical beauty and physical suffering, are dominating influences. Humanity is mad, greedy, licentious, stupid, but beautiful; incredibly base but incredibly exalted. Maupassant, even more than Tchehov, was struck by the terrible irony of human contradictions—contradictions which were so much an integral part of himself that he could not help hating and loving humanity with equal strength. In his attitude to women the force of these contradictions sways him first one way and then another. Women may be prostitutes but they are magnificent, as in “Boule de Suif”; they are rich but they are also depraved; they are poor but generous; they are beautiful but mean; they are divine but deceitful; they may be farm-girls or lonely English virgins, as in “Miss Harriet,” but they are at once pitiable and stupid; they have beautiful bodies but empty heads and, alas, even emptier hearts.

It has been said that Flaubert, by taking the young Maupassant in hand, ruined for ever a great popular writer. Does the statement bear examination? I hardly think it does. Maupassant, it is true, was more prolific than his master, less an aesthete, more inventive, less detached. To him words and humanity were a kind of aphrodisiac, stimulating rapid cycles of creative passion. This tendency of his, working unchecked by others, might have resulted in a tenth-rate sex-romanticist. Fortunately it was checked by others. It was checked by the two things which combine perhaps more than any others to prevent a writer from attaining the junk status of two-penny-library popularity: remorseless clarity of vision and equally remorseless integrity of mind. Whatever else stimulated Maupassant, these forces governed him. They struck out of his finest work any possibility of fake, but equally they removed from it any possibility of moral attitude. Maupassant, of course, has been stigmatized by successive generations of the straitlaced as highly immoral. But in fact he was amoral, and that fact alone kept him from entering the most palatial spaces of popular approval and acceptance.

Maupassant and Tchehov, indeed, are alike in this: they are not part of the popular stream, “the great tedious onrush,” as Mr. E. M. Forster says of history. Great though they are, they must always be, unless humanity shows some startling signs of change, part of a movement that is small if measured by the vast standard of popular demand. “There is a public,” said Tchehov, “which eats salt beef and horse-radish sauce with relish, and does not care for artichokes and asparagus.” To that public the flavour of “The Darling,” and in a slightly less degree “Maison Tellier,” must always remain, unfortunately, something of a mystery.


The assumption that Tchehov and Maupassant were not only the supreme but the exclusive exponents of the Russian and French short story during the nineteenth century would be unfortunate. Ruling them out, we are left with a remarkable body of writers beside whom the English writers of the corresponding period have, for the most part, the flavour of cold mutton. In Russia, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gorki, Dostoevsky, Garshin, Andreyev, Korolenko, and in France, Flaubert, Coppée, Daudet, Anatole France, were all actively contributing to the short-story form. These names, unsupported by Tchehov and Maupassant, make their period one of the richest in the history of the short story's development. To this development no single writer in England made a contribution comparable in weight and artistry to that of Tolstoy. Having regard to the fact that in England Kipling is regarded as a national symbol standing somewhere between a stained-glass window and Nelson's monument, this statement is of course heretical. To discuss it will be part of the later purpose of this chapter. Meanwhile Tolstoy the short-story writer, disregarded for a moment as a novelist, cannot be ignored.

Tolstoy, it seems to me, exceeded with certain stories the best standards of Tchehov and Maupassant, neither of whom wrote a more powerful story than The Death of Ivan Ilytch, which I have in fact heard described by a highly acute critic as the most powerful story in the world, or a more tenderly beautiful story than Family Happiness, which makes almost every English and American product of its time look as distinguished as the serial story in the local Friday paper. If it is compassion in Tchehov and passion in Maupassant that immediately strikes us, it is something utterly dispassionate in Tolstoy. The story of the struggle to express himself by dispassionate objectivity, to write with absolute truth, with remorseless fidelity to what his eye observed, is recorded throughout his early private diaries with constant self-criticism, dissatisfaction, and even pain. In forcing himself to carry on that struggle for supreme technical and emotional honesty in writing, Tolstoy was a revolutionary of the kind prose-writing seems to need every two generations or so. Tolstoy, like Butler and Hemingway, was, and had to be, an iconoclast. All three found the writing of their day cushioned, decorated, dusty, and dulled from ill-usage; all three beat the dull, dusty, decorated woolliness out of it, leaving it clean and spare. So that, in Tolstoy's case, Nekrasov, the editor of The Contemporary, wrote to him in 1855: “Truth, in such a form as you have introduced it into our literature, is something completely new to us.”9

Three-quarters of a century after that was written, Hemingway in The Green Hills of Africa is trying to define the supreme standards of prose—“prose that has never been written.” It is only through the form of a dialogue that Hemingway, who shies like a nervous mare at any discussion of the harness, can bring himself to discuss the subject of literary method at all; but finally this does emerge:

First there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and an absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking.

This is well said, and some such perfection of standard has been the conscious aim of many writers before Hemingway. And in 1853 Tolstoy was also saying what he felt about it:

I am frequently held up when writing by hackneyed expressions which are not quite correct, true or poetic, but the fact that one meets them so frequently often makes me write them. These unconsidered, customary expressions, of the inadequacy of which one is aware but which one tolerates because they are so customary, will appear to posterity a proof of bad taste. To tolerate these expressions means to go with one's age, to correct them means to go in advance of it.10

From the many references Tolstoy makes in these diaries to the necessity of relentless self-discipline it becomes clear that both Tolstoy and Hemingway are after the same thing. The difference is that Tolstoy has all that Hemingway demands: great talent, beside which Kipling's is that of a brass-band player, great discipline, and an “absolute conscience.” Tolstoy throws further light on this, and incidentally makes a just indictment of English writing, in a later remark to his translator. He speaks of the “temptation of literary allusion” and goes on, “I try to say precisely what I mean, but Englishmen have in their blood a desire to say things neatly rather than exactly … to subordinate the sense to the sound.”11

Tolstoy's standard, inspired and shaped by a desire “to try to say precisely what I mean,” is dateless; it is the standard, however variously expressed, of all time. Its re-discovery in slightly altered form by successive generations of writers is one proof of its universality. It is the “develop, print, fix” method of Mr. Isherwood as he looks at a boarding-house in Berlin; it is the standard to which more and more writers look, and in fact must look, as they seek to “develop, print, fix” the common history of our day.

To an inflexible honesty in trying “to say precisely what I mean” about a subject, Tolstoy added something else. It is an admirable thing to resolve “to say what I mean,” but how far you are going to extend or limit the range of things you are going to talk about is another matter. A photographer may say, “I take the object exactly as I see it. No fake, no artificial background or lighting. No trickery. Absolute clarity and honesty. But mind, I only take close-ups.” Thus limited, honesty of purpose and accuracy of statement may both become far easier tasks. Perfection within deliberately chosen limits is not rare, and in fact will be seen as a fairly common phenomenon in the short story of the last ten or fifteen years. The repetitive “gem of art” may have the honesty and accuracy of a statement made on oath, but repetition will sooner or later detract from even that value. Tolstoy did not make this mistake; far from imposing limitations on himself he chose to make his range, if possible, limitless. For him it was not enough “to try to say what I mean,” but to try to say it about as much of the world and humanity as possible. To limit his view of that world, to romanticize it, to set down a false impression of any part or person of it, constituted for him the cardinal sins.

Tolstoy, therefore, excels not simply in accuracy of portrayal but also in the vast range of things portrayed. As a soldier he depicted war and soldiers; as an aristocrat he portrayed aristocrats; but in spite of being an aristocrat he identified himself with the struggle of the serfs for emancipation: though a man of action he was attracted throughout his work towards spiritual conflict; he was aware of what the courts call “marital incompatibility of temperament,” and he portrayed that; he was keenly aware of the beauty of the countryside and painted it in the generous, broad, accurate colours of a master; he depicted peasants, landowners, lovers, beautiful women, cossacks, the good, bad, indifferent, happy and unhappy, faithful and unfaithful—life was never too contradictory, the range never too wide. If final perfection of portrayal sometimes eluded him, as it did in his pictures of peasants, it was not through lack of sympathy or the keen power to identify himself with the subject, but simply because the accident of classbirth robbed him of the most intimate means of contact with those outside that class, making his peasant-pictures seem, when compared with Tchehov's, as if “done with the subtle inflections of an upper-class mind.”12

Tolstoy, indeed, was having a look at the life going on about him with a clarity of vision that seems to have had relentless sobriety. Less clouded than Tchehov's, far less fierce than Maupassant's, his eye is penetrative and dispassionate. His work gives the constant impression of great organic force. What he had to say outside his novels, in a shorter form, was not trivial; the result had the same concentration of force, the same high finish, and was not a by-product. Tolstoy therefore belongs to that class of novelist, commoner now than in his day, who paid the short story the honour of regarding it as an equal form, not simply the recipient of what Miss Elizabeth Bowen has called “side-issues from the crowded imagination.” The Death of Ivan Ilytch, The Cossacks, Family Happiness, and many others are great, therefore, in their own right: distinct from the novels in all ways except that of supreme distinction.


  1. Constance Garnett: intro. trans. Letters of Anton Pavlovitch Tchehov to Olga Knijper (Chatto and Windus)

  2. Constance Garnett: trans. Letters of Anton Tchehov

  3. E. M. Forster: Aspects of the Novel (Arnold)

  4. Edward Garnett: “Tchehov and His Art” from Friday Nights (Cape)

  5. J. Middleton Murry: Aspects of Literature (Collins)

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ernest Hemingway: Death in the Afternoon (Cape)

  8. Ernest Hemingway: intro. Torrents of Spring (Cape)

  9. Louise and Aylmer Maude: trans. Private Diaries of Leo Tolstoy (1853-57) (Oxford University Press)

  10. Ibid., pp. 36-37. The version in the diary itself differs slightly from that quoted by Aylmer Maude in the preface. I have quoted the diary.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Edward Garnett: Friday Nights (Cape)

Ingrid Stipa (essay date fall 1994)

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SOURCE: Stipa, Ingrid. “Desire, Repetition and the Imaginary in Flaubert's ‘Un Cœur simple.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31:4 (fall 1994): 617-26.

[In the following essay, Stipa explores the literary symbolism underlying the serving-maid's obsessive infatuation with a dead parrot in Flaubert's story “Un Cœur simple.”]

While the writer's ironic perspective hovers incessantly above the story of “Un Cœur simple,” the carefully crafted narrative protects Felicite from its potentially venomous bite. A pattern of incremental repetitions played out within a network of strategic semiotic moves prepares the most important event of Felicite's life, her love relationship to a parrot. The carefully crafted structure combines with a mode of cognition Lacan would call “Imaginary” in that it allows the protagonist to process reality primarily through images, visual projections, and material objects rather than through a symbolic system based on arbitrary linguistic signs. Together they facilitate the transformation of Loulou from an ordinary household pet, a love object, to a sacred symbol, a visionary ideal, and a promise of redemption fusing libidinal and spiritual desire. It is the intent of this reading to focus on the component parts of this strategy, to trace the links between key events, and to analyze the subtle semiosis promoting the shift to different registers of signification.

The opening lines of thc narrative set the physical and psychological boundaries framing Felicite's repeated story of desire, love, and loss. As a female servant she occupies a borderline position in the bourgeois society of nineteenth-century France, a position more akin to the material objects (Schulz-Buschhaus 123) in Mme. Aubain's dwindling estate than to the independent subjects of Pont l'Eveque society. This marginalization means that Felicite's relationship to others, her worth as a human being, is measured according to the principles of economic exchange (Woodhull 142) rather than according to any intrinsic human values: “Pour cents francs par an, elle faisait la cuisine et le menage, cousait, lavait, repassait, savait brider un cheval, engraisser les volailles battre le beurre et resta fidele a sa maitresse” (Flaubert 157). What a deal! It is hardly surprising that the French for “windfall”(une aubaine) is echoed by Mme. Aubain's name and that Pont l'Eveque society envies her for this possession.

Felicite's “eccentric” (Jameson 82) social position points to the marginalization of nineteenth-century French servants (Schulz-Buschaus 125), to their exclusion from all significant political and social institutions. In Flaubert's text, “The strict demarcation of spaces” (Woodhull 142) in the family dwelling marks the physical and psychological boundaries between servant and master while it sustains the existing social order. A relatively long, descriptive passage describes the Aubains' spacious dwelling of faded luxury while a single, unembellished sentence designates Felicite's private room significantly situated one floor above the family quarters: “Une lucarne au second etage eclairait la chambre de Felicite, ayant rue sur les prairies” (158).

This small room under the roof of the house will eventually be filled with a collection of objects summarizing Felicite's relentless search for a love object, her repeated experience of love and loss ultimately culminating in the fetishistic attachment to a dead parrot (Schulz-Buschhaus 117), who by way of the taxidermist's skillful art and Felicite's capacity for signifying within the Imaginary will become the vehicle for negotiating the psychic distance between religious fervor and libidinal desire.1

Always silent and upright, Felicite relates to the world primarily through a language of images, objects and actions rather than through verbal communication. Where it does occur, direct speech tends to be “truncated,” normally limited to single word utterances (Debray-Genette, “Profane” 19-20). These generally serve to execute a command or strike a deal at the market; only once or twice does Felicite's speech allude to emotional states of being. Whether she always lived in this virtual silence remains a matter of speculation.

Although Felicite is illiterate, one might justifiably assume that there must have been a time when she had no reason to doubt the capacity of conventional language to authentically mediate thoughts and feelings - not, that is, until Theodore's betrayal left her wordless, grief-stricken, moaning “toute seule dans la campagne jusqu'au soleil levant” (160-61). Although Flaubert's text is constructed on the principle of discontinuity, and therefore deliberately attempts to avoid explicit cause and effect relationships (Debray-Genette, “Les figures” 357), the intensity of her emotional pain (“Ce fut un chagrin desordonne,” [160]) suggests that Felicite's alienation from what Lacan calls the “Symbolic Order” might be rooted, at least partially, in this first humiliating, self-negating experience of love and loss. In her new life as Mme. Aubain's servant she conducts her affairs with the silent precision of a robot, “une femme en bois, fonctionnant d'une maniere automatique”(158).

This emotionally crippling silence nurtured by subsequent disappointments and losses, will eventually be broken by the senseless chatter of a parrot to whom Felicite will respond in equally disconnected but heartfelt phrases. With this episode, the language skepticism, up to then only implied by Felicite's psychic constitution, becomes a conscious element of the text: it suggests that words displaced by pure sounds resembling the peeling of bells and the bleating of sheep, or words transformed into rhythms keeping time to the movement of quivering wings hold greater promise for communicating inner states of being than institutionalized modes of communication.

Felicite's religious education and devotion at first parallels and then becomes implicated in her repeated story of desire, love, and loss. As she listens to Virginie's catechism lessons, for example, “elle croyait voir le paradis, le deluge, la tour de Babel, des villes toute en flamme, des peuples qui mouraient, des idoles renversees” (168) and she visualizes such biblical scenes as the sowing of the fields, the harvest and the pressing of the grapes. In other words, Felicite easily assimilates those passages of the Sacred Scriptures she is able to translate into pictorial representations of her personal experiences, while allegoric or symbolic images leave her confused and bewildered: “Elle avait peine a imaginer... [le Saint-Esprit]; car il n'etait pas seulement oiseau, mais encore un feu, et d'autres fois un souffle” (168).

In another episode Bourais's pedantic explanations of latitudes and longitudes result in thc same bewildered confusion. The unfamiliar markings on the map he shows her to situate Victor's new whereabouts, simply will not add up to a visual impression of America: “Bourais l'invitant a dire ce qui l'embarrassait, elle le pria de lui montrer la maison ou demeurait Victor” (174).2 In order to visualize Victor's new surroundings, Felicite calls upon her recollection of illustrations from a geography book Bourais had given the children some years prior to the above incident. Transformed by time and memory, these become the iconographic medium for thinking about Victor in his new surroundings. She imagines him “mange par les sauvages, pris dans un bois par des singes, se mourait le long d'une plage deserte” (173),3 and when later she learns that Victor has gone to Havana, associative logic, nourished by nineteenth-century advertising, helps to evoke the image of her nephew walking about among black natives, surrounded by clouds of tobacco smoke (174).

A variant of this pre-discursive logic accounts for the libidinally charged moment of identification on the occasion of Virginie's first communion: “sa figure devenait la sienne, sa robe l'habillait, son cœur lui battait dans la poitrine; au moment d'ouvrir la bouche, en fermant les paupieres, elle manqua s'evanouir” (169). When the next day Felicite celebrates her own first communion, she does so, “devotement, mais n'y gouta pas les memes delices” (170; emphasis added). The sensuous component of the words “gouta” and “delices” call attention to the psychological link between the erotic desire for fusion with the other and religious ecstasy played out in the Imaginary.

On the narrative level, the objects Felicite collects over the years function as material equivalents of the pictorial psychic inscriptions.4 Displayed on the “altar” of her “chapel” these range from a box of sea shells Victor had brought back from one of his coastal trips, to Paul's illustrated geography book, an old watering can, a ball that had belonged to the children, and various articles of clothing that had once been worn by the people she had loved and served.

Within Felicite's signifying system, this collection of objects functions as material signs substituting for verbal communication in the process of self-representation.5 Some simply recall various people of the household while others bear witness to the fusion of spiritual with libidinal longing. The coconut holy water fount, for instance, recalls America and with that Felicite's nephew, Victor, the picture of the Virgin Mary resonates the name Virginie, and by alliteration alludes to Victor, and the colorful print of the Holy Ghost with its purple wings and emerald body, will eventually be transformed into an “authentic” portrait of Loulou.

In keeping with the inner/outer signifying system of images and objects, the text represents emotional states by drawing its figurative energy from the physical objects of Felicite's immediate surroundings. For example, several lines of unemphatic prose depict Felicite's physical/emotional response to the news of Victor's death: pink eyelids, bowed head, dangling hands, staring eyes, all signify repressed grief and unshed tears. Immediately thereafter follows the single sentence paragraph: “Des femmes passerent dans la cour avec un bard d'ou degouttelait du linge” (175). If this paragraph were not so strategically placed, the scene constructed from the sociolect of nineteenth-century French villages, could simply be read mimetically. By virtue of its contiguity, however, it becomes part of the emotive signifying register. When Felicite becomes aware of the women, she remembers that she too has laundry to do and sets out for the river. As the reader completes the semiotic move initiated by Felicite's glance, the water dripping from the newly washed linens becomes the figurative vehicle for imaging her unshed tears.

Such scenes give visual expression to emotional states without betraying the unemphatic tone and simple syntactics of the narrative. Let me cite just one more example. When Felicite goes to Le Havre late at night to bid Victor farewell, she arrives just in time to see the gangway pulled ashore and the sail swing around so that everyone on board is hidden from view. In her despair she turns to a wayside cross for consolation “et elle pria depuis longtemps, debout, la face baignee de pleurs, les yeux vers les nuages” (172). Her solitary grief is echoed by the water ceaselessly pouting “par les trous de l'ecluse, avec un bruit de torrent” (172). The association of grief with water pouring through the sluice gate and the earlier dripping laundry belongs to a more general network of signs by which water and the lexically related terms, harbor, boat, river, and sea come to signify departure, loss, disappointment and death within the figurative movement of the text.


The external events of Felicite's life are recorded with diachronic rigor: Victor departs for America on 14 July 1819, Loulou dies in 1837, Mme. Aubain in 1853, and so on. To the extent that the narrative evolves according to chronological succession, it seems to abide by one of the cardinal rules of nineteenth-century narrative fiction. This would be significant if Flaubert's text were not primarily concerned with inner events organized around the intra-psychic principle of repetition, which shifts the focus from the diachronicity to the synchronicity of human experience. All past losses reappear with renewed vigor in the one of the present moment: “Alors, une faiblesse l'arreta—et la misere de son enfance, la deception du premier amour, le depart de son neveu, la mort de Virginie, comme les tots d'une maree—revinrent a la fois et, lui montant a la gorge, l'etouffaient” (185). This cyclical repetition of desire, love and loss is in part produced by the striking similarity in the staging and structure of key events.

From the very beginning Felicite's relationship to Mme. Aubain's children is compromised by her subordinate position. The affection she expresses through the services rendered is taken for granted if not received with marked indifference. A case in point is Virginie's behavior when she leaves for the convent at Honfleur: she tearfully embraces her mother while completely ignoring Felicite, who had nurtured and cherished her. “Le marchepied se releva, la voiture partit” (170). With this laconic narrative comment Virginie, the center of Felicite's emotional existence, vanishes from her life without a consoling word or the least gesture of farewell.

Felicite's relationship to Victor seems equally flawed. The manner in which she relates to him is largely determined by the socially imposed role of the servant. She cooks for him, mends his clothes and showers him with gifts. Instructed by his parents to get as much out of his aunt as possible, Victor readily accepts and exploits her self-sacrificing generosity. After Victor leaves for America, Felicite waits for a letter and thinks of nothing but him. Six endless months later a laconic note from his father arrives announcing that Victor has passed away.

The “v i” of Virginie resonating the name “Victor” constitutes just one of the numerous narrative signs linking the episodes of two children in the figurative register of the text. Among the most prominent of these is the sea. It is introduced into the narrative in conjunction with Virginie's fragile health. Acting on Dr. Poupart's recommendation that Virginie's so-called nervous disorder be treated by a bathing cure, the family goes to the seaside resort, Trouville. The inn they occupy is situated on a cliff overlooking the harbor and the boats moored below; the same vista later links the destiny of Victor to that of Virginie.

The principal diversion of the family on their daily outings is to watch the fishing boats sail into the harbor from a field overlooking “Deauville a gauche, Le Havre a droite et en face la pleine mer” (166). On one of these occasions Felicite meets her long-lost sister Nastasia accompanied by “un petit mousse, les poings sur les hanches et le beret sur l'oreille” (167) Victor later goes to sea as a cabin boy and dies in America, a victim of medical incompetence.6

Virginie's untimely death can be attributed to a similar lack of medical skill. The bathing cure in the cold Normandy waters prescribed by Dr. Poupart only decreases her physical resistance and hastens the onset of pneumonia of which she later dies in the convent at Honfleur. Shortly before her death during moments of heightened sensitivity her gaze is repeatedly drawn to “les voices au loin et tout l'horizon, depuis le chateau de Tancarville jusqu'aux phares du Havre” (176), that distant spot on the horizon where Victor had begun the journey toward his death.

Victor and Virginie disappear from Felicite's life suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving Felicite to mourn her loss with only an odd collection of objects to console her. In each instance intervening circumstances and obstacles prevent her from arriving on time for a final farewell.

The night before Virginie's death Felicite catches up with the coach taking M. Poupart and Mme. Aubain to Honfleur. She suddenly realizes that she has forgotten to lock the courtyard gate and driven by her sense of duty as household servant, she returns to rectify the situation. The next morning Felicite arrives at Doctor Poupart's office in the hope of catching a ride with him only to learn that he has just left. After waiting all day for a message, she arrives in Honfleur the moment the death bells have begun to toll. As she enters the convent she hears a nun pronounce the words, “elle venait de passer” (177).

The deferred arrival this episode stages structurally repeats Felicite's earlier attempt to say farewell to Victor before his departure for America. On her way to the harbor she turns right instead of left, gets lost in the shipyard, has to retrace her steps, and trips over the moorings “puis le terrain s'abaissa, des lumieres s'entre-croiserent, et elle se crut folle, en apercevant des chevaux dans le ciel” (172). When at last she spots Victor aboard the cargo in a crowd of people, among baskets of cheese, sacks of grain and barrels of cider and is about to run toward him, the gangway is pulled ashore. As the boat pulls out of the harbor, the sail swings around so that no one on board remains visible from the shore.

The clothes-washing scene after the announcement of Victor's death produces proleptic images anticipating the passing of Virginie. As Felicite pounds out her grief on a pile of chemises, her eyes fall upon some long weeds at the bottom of the river waving to and fro “comme des chevelures de cadavres flottant dans l'eau” (175). Sometime thereafter Felicite wraps Virginie's corpse in a shroud and spreads out the young girl's blond hair, “extraordinaires de longueur a son age” (177).


After the disappearance of Victor and Virginie the place of the love object comes to be occupied by Loulou, first as a living parrot and then as a fetishized object. Significantly, Loulou receives more narrative, descriptive attention than either Virginie or Victor. His physical attributes and personality traits are depicted in almost lavish detail, remarkable in a text noted for its laconic tone and economy of language. We learn, for instance, that Loulou dislikes Fabu because the latter had once flicked his finger at him, that he breaks into gales of laughter every time the unsavory Bourais appears on the scene and that, in addition to his remarkable linguistic skills, he is able to reproduce the screeching sound of the chain saw or the “tic toc” of the spit turning on the fire.

By virtue of his origin, Loulou is metonymically linked to Victor whose name in turn evokes Virginie. Occupying the place of daughter/son/lover, Loulou negotiates the distance between self and other more effectively than any of Felicite's former love objects. The endless “conversations” between the parrot and the servant accompanied by the bird's wings moving in unison with those of the maid's large bonnet (“les grandes ailes du bonnet et les ailes de l'oiseau fremissait ensemble” [184]) constitute moments of perfect communion unequaled in previous relationships. As Felicite grows deaf and blind, Loulou keeps her in touch with the world by reproducing the familiar sounds of her habitual surroundings.

Felicite first becomes aware of the Holy Ghost as her glance accidentally lands on the stained glass window while listening to the priest's biblical discourse during Virginie's catechism lessons. The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove easily blends into her pictorial repertoire of ideas grounded in an iconic mode of cognition and her personal experiences of nature. This visual representation of the Holy Ghost is forgotten until Loulou comes into Felicite's life. At this time the gradual convergence of the parrot and the dove and the actual displacement of the latter by the former transpires as a series of strategic semiotic moves based first on similarity (they are both birds) and then on difference (the parrot speaks), and is primarily motivated by Felicite libidinal investment in the parrot (Molk 218).

Long before Loulou definitively takes over the dove's symbolic function signifying the Holy Spirit, two events prophetically announce this final semiosis. At one point Loulou has mysteriously vanished from the spot on the lawn where Felicite had left him to get some fresh air. After desperately searching for him in the bushes, down by the river, and on the roofs of the houses, Felicite returns “les savates en lambeaux, la mort dans l'ame”(183). Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, “un poids leger lui tomba sur l'epaule” just as the Holy Spirit had descended upon the apostles on Pentecost Sunday. And when Felicite sends the dead parrot from Honfleur to the taxidermist in Le Havre. Loulou once more seems to have disappeared for good. Six agonizing months pass followed by an interminable period of time, before he returns just as unexpectedly as before. This time he arrives splendidly “reanimated.” The taxidermist's skillful art had transformed Loulou's mortal remains into a “stuffed simulacrum” (Woodhull 151) of the living bird: miming a pose from real life he sits on a branch “une patte en l'air, la tete oblique, et mordant une noix, que l'empailleur, par amour du grandiose, avait doree”(186). In this form Felicite places him on a chimney beam jutting out into the center of her “commemorative chapel” from where he presides over the curious collection of objects displayed on the “altar” of her room, just as the writer's ironic glance hovers over the text.

At this point in the narrative, Felicite takes renewed interest in the Holy Ghost. She alternates between gazing at the parrot in her room and at the representation of the Holy Ghost in the stained glass window of the church. On the basis of common physical features, the images of the two gradually begin to merge. The dove, she notices, “avait quelque chose du parroquet” (187) The dove's physical resemblance to the parrot is even more pronounced in the Epinal color print representing the baptism of Christ. “Avec ses ailes de pourpre et son corps d'emeraude, c'etait vraiment le portrait de Loulou” (187).

This last observation marks a significant shift in the semiotic process. It valorizes the dove by virtue of its resemblance to the parrot and with that begins the revision of the former's conventional symbolic function. When Felicite places the Epinal color print on the wall of her room, the two are “juxtaposed, contiguous,” so that she can enclose both, the dove and the parrot, in a single glance (“du meme coup d'oeil” [Debray-Genette, “Les figures” 351, 364!); this gesture reduces even further the mental space between dove and parrot.

The semiosis, however, will not be completed until it is substantiated by a rewriting of the Scriptures more in keeping with Felicite's Imaginary mode of cognition: “Le Pere, pour s'enoncer, n'avait pas pu choisir une colombe,” she reasons, “puisque ces betes-la n'ont pas de voix, mais plutot un des ancetre de Loulou” (187). This rather bold semiotic move elevates Loulou's signifying function from mere human object of desire to a representing the Holy Spirit.

It now seems quite natural for Felicite to first occasionally glance at the sanctified bird while saying her prayers and then to quite simply kneel down before it in order to pray. Stripped of its signifying function, the dove now no more than an empty sign drops out of the text just as it has been expelled from Felicite's field of vision.

The final scene of the narrative grows out of a synthesizing network of signs consisting of a play of light, colors and scents that link Felicite's vision of the gigantic parrot hovering in the heavens above to the events of the Corpus Christi procession in the street below. Felicite inhales “avec une sensualite mystique” (192; emphasis added) the blue vapor that drifts into her room, never letting us forget for a moment the libidinal component of her religious fervor. The blue vapor mirrors the blue poll, “pareil a une plaque de lapis”(192), the only visible part of the stuffed bird hidden under the roses decorating the altar celebrating the miracle of the Holy Eucharist.

At the height of the religious ceremony, the priest places the monstrance, (“son grand soleil d'or qui rayonnait” [192]) on the festive altar bearing Loulou's humble remains. Earlier a similar play of light anticipates the transformation of the inanimate parrot into a sacred symbol: while still installed in Felicite's room, the sun sometimes strikes the bird's glass eye “et en faisait jaillir un grand rayon lumineux qui la [Felicite] mettait en extase” (189).

The feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the mystery of the Eucharist, the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. According to Catholic dogma, the Eucharist transcends ordinary symbols in that the act of consecration presumably closes the gap between signifier and signified in transforming bread and wine into the very substance it symbolizes, the body and blood of Christ.

By staging the celebration of this religious feast as the background against which Felicite moves toward the moment of death, Flaubert's text plays off one event against the other. Just as the Eucharist promises to redeem the soul, Felicite's “mystical” vision of a gigantic parrot hovering above her head as she takes her final breath promises the harmonious union between self and other denied during her lifetime.7 In the final analysis then, Flaubert's text is not without irony, an irony not so much directed at an uneducated female servant falling in love with a parrot and in the end “confusing” it with the Holy Spirit, but the more subtle irony suggesting that the mental gesture or leap of faith involved in the so-called mystery of the Eucharist is perhaps not all that far removed from the one that transforms an ordinary parrot into a “visionary” ideal of redemption.


  1. Gerhard Penzkofer notes in a similar vein: Die sich hier abzeichnende enge Korrelierung heterogener semantischer Bereiche ist weder willkurlich noch zufallig; am Ende des Textes findet sie ihre vollkommenste Realisierung in Loulou, der als Papagei, als Heiliger Geist und als potentieller Liebhaber von Felicite die Merkmale des Tierischen, des Sakralen und des Sexuellen exemplarisch auf sich vereinigt (238-39).

  2. Ross Chambers refers to the same sections in the text as illustrations of what he calls Felicite's “incapacite semiotique generalise” (784).

  3. Debray-Genette points out that the image of deserted beach condenses two original illustrations. The mechanism of condensation, fundamental to dream work, seems to be present in Felicite's unconscious thought processes. This facilitates the identification between the parrot and the Holy Ghost (“Les figures” 354).

  4. For a discussion of cult of the object see Chambers 786-89.

  5. “Verallgemeinert man das Beispiel, dann erweisen sich Felicite's gesammelte Andenken als Zeichcn einer Sprache” (Penzkofer 231).

  6. In an attempt to cure Victor of yellow fever, his incompetent doctors only succeed in bleeding him to death.

  7. “Nowhere in the text is an ideal family presented until the last moment when a poor sick woman is united with the heavenly father who, through his metaphoric link to Loulou, is simultaneously a son and lover” (Woodhull 153).

Works Cited

Chambers, Ross. “Simplicite du cœur et duplicite textuelle. Etude d'un cœur simple.” Modern Language Notes 96 (1981): 769-91.

Debray-Genette, Raymonde. “Les figures du recit dans ‘Un Cœur simple.’” Poetique 3 (1970): 348-64.

———. “Profane, Sacred: Disorder of Utterance.” Schor and Majewski 13-29.

Flaubert, Gustave. “Un Cœur Simple.” Trois Contes. Editions P. M. Wetherill, Classiques Gernier. Paris: Bordas, 1988. 157-92.

Jameson, Fredric. “Flaubert's Libidinal Historicism.” Schor and Majewski 76-83.

Molk, Ulrich. “A propos de deux motifs accouples dans ‘Un Cœur simple’ de Gustave Flaubert. Romanische Zeitschrift fur Literaturgeshichte 5.2-3 (1981): 215-23.

Penzkofer, Gerhard. “La Chambre de Felicite.” Romanische Foruschungen; Organ fur romanische Sprachen, Volker und Literaturen 101.2-3 (1989): 221-37.

Schor, Naomi, and Henry F. Majewski, eds.. Flaubert and Postmodernism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Schulz-Buschhaus, Ulrich. “Die Sprachlosigkeit der Felicite.” Zeitschrift fur franzosische Sprache und Literatur 93.2 (1983): 113-30.

Woodhull, Winifred. “Configuration of the Family in ‘Un Cœur simple.’” Comparative Literature 39.2 (1987): 139-61.

Ronald L. Johnson (essay date 1993)

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SOURCE: Johnson, Ronald L. “The Master, 1895-1903.” In Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 76-103. New York: Twayne, 1993.

[In the following essay, Johnson contends that a shift in Chekhov's narrative perspective during the late period of his career added greater depth and complexity to his short stories.]

Raymond Carver believed an agreement might be reached among “thoughtful” readers that Chekhov was the greatest short story writer who ever lived, not only because of the “immense number” of stories he wrote, but the “awesome frequency” with which he produced masterpieces.1 That frequency is most apparent in this last period, from 1895 through 1903, when Chekhov treated the same subjects, but with a shift in point of view technique to include a narrating author persona in many stories. In general, this persona is disembodied, commenting on the characters and action as do the narrators in Henry James and George Eliot. A. P. Chudakov remarks that his characteristic manner of “depicting the world through a concrete, perceiving consciousness” has not been replaced. Rather the “old manner remains and a new one is added to it” (99-100).

Chekhov's contemporaries noticed this shift in point of view. One critic commented in 1898 that Chekhov was no longer the “objective artist” he had been earlier; that same year, another critic perceived that Chekhov's “added subjectivity” would deepen the content of his creative work (Chudakov, 73). The modern critic Nicholas Moravcevich traces the evolution of Chekhov's earlier artistic creed of strict objectivity to the new “persuasiveness” of his “artistic aims,” a transformation that gradually occurred over a five-year span from 1887 to 1892; Moravcevich believes this different approach marked the end of Chekhov's formative period and the beginning of his “transcendence of the aesthetic dictates of naturalism” (225).


“A Lady with a Dog” (Hingley) beautifully illustrates Chekhov's use of a shift in point of view, for in addition to the perceiving consciousness of the protagonist, comment is presented directly to the reader through Chekhov's disembodied narrating persona. Like many of Chekhov's middle-class protagonists, the bank employee Gurov does not have a satisfactory relationship with his wife. He fears her because she is outspoken and intellectual. Any happiness he finds with women occurs in a series of affairs, and while on vacation in Yalta, he engages in what appears to be another such affair. The woman, the “lady with the dog,” is named Anne, and on an outing to a church at Oreanda, the couple sit on a bench, entranced by the view. Shifting beyond Gurov's conscious mind, Chekhov adopts a narrating persona who relates that “borne up from below, the sea's monotonous, muffled boom spoke of peace, of the everlasting sleep awaiting us” (IX, 132). This passage has a mystical dimension that recalls the last section of “Gusev,” also narrated beyond the conscious mind of the protagonist. The comment becomes more lyrical as it develops in a passage on eternity and the indifference of the universe, which measures not only Gurov but the reader against its endless vastness. It concludes with an optimistic comment on the eternal nature of life—not on the individual, who is mortal, but on life itself which is immortal and constantly progressing, a recurring motif in Chekhov's stories from this period.

The paragraph closes with a return to Gurov's mind as he reflects that “everything on earth is beautiful, really, when you consider it—everything but what we think and do ourselves when we forget the lofty goals of being and our human dignity” (IX, 132). This thought, mirroring Chekhov's own sensibilities, makes Gurov a more sympathetic character. Although he lives an inauthentic life—in which he speaks disparagingly of women, calling them the “inferior species”—he is capable of this insightful observation when sitting beside Anne. The couple takes a number of excursions which invariably leave an impression of “majesty and beauty,” while a subtle transformation begins to occur in each of them. Anne articulates her desire for that transformation when she voices her yearning for a different life—in Chekhov, such a desire is usually the telltale sign of a character's living an inauthentic life. Like Gurov, she does not love her spouse, but her adulterous relationship with Gurov disturbs her because she wants to live a “decent, moral life.”

Gurov on the other hand easily dismisses the affair until he returns to his inauthentic life in Moscow. There he resumes his boring life of “futile activities,” realizing such meaningless activities “engross most of your time, your best efforts, and you end up with a sort of botched, pedestrian life: a form of imbecility from which there's no way out, no escape” (IX, 135). Gurov's thought recalls the final comments of Nikitin on his domestic life in “The Russian Master”: “You might as well be in jail or in a madhouse” (IX, 135). Gurov feels the same desperation Anne felt before her vacation in Yalta, a desperation marked by the feeling she could not control herself. He now flees Moscow to seek out Anne, because their affair has become the most important aspect of his life. This transformation in Gurov's attitude constitutes the dramatic climax of the plot.

After Gurov finds Anne, their situation develops into a prolonged affair, and Gurov begins to live two lives. One is the false life he has been living, full of “stereotyped truths and stereotyped untruth,” identical to the life of his friends and acquaintances. He despises this inauthentic life, and feels that “everything vital, interesting and crucial to him, everything which called his sincerity and integrity into play, everything which made up the core of his life” (IX, 139) occurs in his other, secret life with Anne. In contrast to those protagonists from earlier stories such as “Lights” and “The Duel” who undergo a transformation and throw off their inauthentic lives, Gurov retains his old life in the form of a facade that satisfies the decorum of the age. This compromise makes him a more complex character, a typical modern hero unable to integrate his multiple lives into one.

As the story closes, both Anne and he feel their love has “transformed” them, but the most difficult part of their lives is “only just beginning” (IX, 141). Chekhov's method of ending a story with the suggestion that the lives of his characters will go on developing becomes one of his most effective closures during this period. This conclusion reinforces the theme that through love—one of Chekhov's favorite topics—the characters have been transformed, making them better people.

Chekhov approaches the power of love with a different tone, achieved partially through a shift in point of view, in “Angel” (Hingley). Chekhov has a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the protagonist, Olga, who is “always in love with someone—couldn't help it” (IX, 82). She is a “quiet, good-hearted, sentimental, very healthy young lady with a tender, melting expression” (IX, 82) to whom men are attracted and to whom women respond openly and kindly. At first Chekhov conveys his criticism through light satire as Olga marries a theater manager and adopts his opinions in all matters, especially on the importance of the theater. When the theater manager dies a few years later, she marries a lumberyard manager and in turn adopts his opinions in all matters, including the idea that the theater is a “trifle.” Olga is not consciously insincere, merely naive and shallow.

When the lumberyard manager dies after six years—during which the couple prayed for children but had none—Olga falls in love with an army veterinarian who is estranged from his wife, and, in turn, takes up his opinions. But when he is transferred, Olga goes through a crisis because “she no longer had views on anything”—she cannot form her own opinions. She feels she needs a love “to possess her whole being, all her mind and soul: a love to equip her with ideas, with a sense of purpose, a love to warm her ageing blood” (IX, 88). This function of love is the object of Chekhov's satire. Although Chekhov presents some of Olga's experiences from her perspective, he also addresses much of the action directly to the reader. In earlier works, “Ward Number Six” and “Three Years,” for example, the passages outside the consciousness of the characters are almost always pure exposition, unmediated by the assertive voice of a separate, vital narrating persona.

To this point in the action, “Angel” satirizes Olga's sensibility in an amusing series of events without a focused form, reading more like a character sketch than a story. What makes the work a masterpiece is the last episode, in which the tone shifts to one of compassion for the protagonist, much as it does for Jacob in “Rothschild's Fiddle.” With this shift, the character is redeemed in the reader's eye, becoming worthy of respect and sympathy. After a half-dozen years, the veterinarian returns as a civilian with his wife and son, and Olga emotionally adopts the child, a nine-year-old boy named Sasha. Olga cares for all his needs as her love for him becomes boundless, eclipsing her earlier loves. Olga's desire to love, which Chekhov has been satirizing, now becomes meaningful by its very compassion: “For this boy—no relative at all—for his dimpled cheeks, for his cap she would give her whole life, give it gladly, with tears of ecstasy. Why? Who knows?” The satire is absent from this statement, which is as straightforward as the closing passage of “A Lady with a Dog.” The question “Why? Who knows?”—Chekhov directly addressing the reader—deftly deepens the reader's involvement in the action.

“Angel” has generated a number of widely different critical interpretations. One of the more insightful comes from an anonymous reviewer in 1916 who notes Chekhov possessed the “subtlest sympathy,” which enables him to “understand and reveal” his characters; this critic maintains that the effect of reading Chekhov's tales is to be “washed free of petty impatience and acerbity of judgement.”2

In “Ariadne” (Hingley), the character of Olga in “The Butterfly” is recast into a colder, more calculating young woman, and in place of the virtuous Dr. Dymov is a sensitive, idealistic young landowner, Shamokhin, who must resolve his feelings for the woman who makes him a victim of his love. Dr. Dymov escapes his situation with Olga through death, but in this later story, Chekhov develops the situation to its more complex, more logical, and more realistic conclusion.

Shamokhin narrates his story to a first-person character. As in the earlier stories, “Easter Eve” and “Uprooted,” this first-person character is a writer. The difference between this character and the persona identified in “A Lady with a Dog” and “Angel” is that in “Ariadne” the narrator is an actual character who interacts with another character, Shamokhin, not simply a narrating voice. The setting of the frame of “Ariadne” provides a backdrop for the telling of Shamokhin's story: the two men are on the passenger deck of a Black Sea steamer when Shamokhin makes some general comments on the nature of women and love, comments that recall the initial attitude of Gurov in “A Lady with a Dog”: because of disappointing love affairs, he looks upon women as “mean, restless, lying, unfair, primitive, cruel creatures” (VIII, 74). Shamokhin then relates his specific story to illustrate this opinion.

A few years previously, in his mid twenties, Shamokhin fell very much in love with a neighbor's sister, Ariadne, a beautiful woman whose selfish demands for luxurious items were bringing her brother's estate to ruin. Like many of Chekhov's landowners, Shamokhin is an idealist who “romanticizes” love, but he is wise enough to realize Ariadne is so self-centered, so taken with her own beauty and charm, that she is incapable of really loving another person. However, Shamokhin cannot resist her, so he follows her to Europe and eventually becomes her lover. There they live at resorts with the money Shamokhin obtains from his father, who must mortgage their estate to pay for the extravagance. Like Olga in “The Butterfly,” Ariadne begins painting, but her real interest is “to attract”: she must “bewitch, captivate, drive people out of their minds” (VIII, 90). Although Ariadne is without much taste, she is “diabolically sharp and cunning, and in company she had the knack of passing as educated and progressive” (VIII, 91). She is one of Chekhov's least likeable characters, a hypocrite whose behavior causes some critics to condemn her, and others to find in her an attack upon the marriage customs and lack of opportunities for women of the day.

After a short while, Shamokhin falls out of love and yearns to return to Russia, “to work and earn my bread by the sweat of my brow and make good my mistakes” (VIII, 92). This desire is a common goal for Chekhov's idealistic heroes—the same salvation through work the engineer espouses in “Lights” and Vanya clings to in the play Uncle Vanya. The story closes with a return to the frame, where the author character argues against Shamokhin's attitude toward women, maintaining one cannot generalize from Ariadne on the nature of women, but Shamokhin remains unconvinced. In contrast to Olga and Dymov in “The Butterfly,” the relationship between Shamokhin and Ariadne is portrayed over the entire course of its development and decline in a remarkable illustration of Chekhov's mastery of point-of-view technique.

The situation of a person trapped in a frustrating, harmful relationship is also the subject of “The Order of St. Anne” (Hingley). The narrative is often at a considerable distance from the heroine, but at times, shifts into her mind. In contrast to Ariadne, the young woman is a sympathetic character, and her husband takes advantage of her. Chekhov begins the story outside the consciousness of the heroine, commenting on people's response to a government official of fifty-two marrying an eighteen-year-old girl. Anne, the daughter of a recent widower, marries the wealthy official for independence and security, hoping to help her family, but in Chekhov, marrying for such reasons is inviting trouble.

Once married, Anne realizes she doesn't even like Modeste, her husband, and soon discovers she now has less money than before since Modeste will give her nothing. But, afraid to protest, she forces herself “to smile and pretend to be pleased when defiled by clumsy caresses and embraces that sickened her” (VIII, 36). Anne's position suddenly changes, however, when Modeste has her attend a ball to impress his supervisor and colleagues, where she dazzles the dignitaries in Cinderella-like fashion. The next day, after Modeste's supervisor visits the house to thank her for her attendance, Modeste appears before her with the “crawling, sugary, slavish, deferential look” (VIII, 41) he keeps for powerful people. With her newly won power, Anne now gains the upper hand, and begins spending his money freely, cavorting with other men in an ironic reversal of her situation: she is now the one who orders Modeste about. However, Modeste is not dissatisfied, for he receives a medal—the Order of St. Anne, Second Class—from his supervisor. Ronald Hingley observes that this story is one of the many by Chekhov that are only a “mere dozen pages” but seem to have the content of full-length novels because of Chekhov's ability to “conjure up a whole milieu by suggestion without needing to fill in every detail” (VIII, 7). The government official's desiring the medal, his fawning before a superior, and the ironic reversal recall Chekhov's early humorous period.

In contrast to the coarse, philistine Modeste is the idealistic, sensitive artist in “The Artist's Story” (Hingley). A landscape painter, his idealism resembles that of Shamokhin in “Ariadne.” In commenting on first-person stories from this period, A. P. Chudakov notes a shift in narrative technique away from the “individualized features” of the protagonist's speech toward a conventional literary narrator, similar to the use of the persona in such third-person stories as “A Lady with a Dog,” “Angel,” and “The Order of St. Anne.” (69). In both instances, strict objectivity is replaced by the author's presence. Because the pretext in “Ariadne” is that the author himself is a character, the conventional literary narration is justified; but in “An Artist's Story,” the narrative suggests a written manuscript although the story mentions none. Like Shamokhin, the narrator—he remains unnamed in the story—falls in love with a young woman from a neighboring estate, but unlike Ariadne, this girl, Zhenya, is sensitive and caring. Only seventeen or eighteen, Zhenya is five years younger than her sister, Lydia, who dominates the family, even their mother.

Lydia is an idealist, like the narrator, but her ideals have led her in a different, more practical direction: she builds schools and hospitals for the local peasants and teaches them herself. The artist, on the other hand, believes such efforts actually are keeping the peasants in poverty. He maintains a radical transformation of society is required for any real change. In one of the arguments between the narrator and Lydia, he declares that the peasants must be freed from their manual labor so that they can develop meaningful, spiritual lives. Otherwise, he believes work has no meaning, and thus refuses to do any. Lydia rejects his position, accusing him of simply saying “charming things” to excuse his laziness, for she believes “rejecting hospitals and schools is easier than healing or teaching” (VIII, 108). She believes such work is more valuable than “all the landscapes ever painted” (VIII, 109). This exchange of ideas is effective as fiction because Chekhov is portraying characters whose ideas are an integral part of their individuality.

But the artist finally is no match for Lydia with her practical sense. Lydia forbids Zhenya to ever see the narrator again, ordering Zhenya and her mother to leave the district. The story closes as the narrator relates that several years after his departure from the district he learned that Lydia continues to teach, struggling to improve the life of the peasants, and Zhenya no longer lives in the district. Now when he paints, he recalls their love, and it seems to him as if soon they shall meet again. Chekhov poignantly evokes a sense of expectation in the character that the reader is aware can never be realized.

The complexity of the story evolves from the ambiguity of the characters' situations. The narrator and Zhenya are both sensitive and sympathetic, and their love is obviously a beautiful, desirable emotion. The hard-working idealist Lydia, although a valuable member of her community, is the very person who makes the further development of that love impossible. Once again, Chekhov presents no solutions to his characters' problems in life.

Love is the subject of another landowner's story in “Concerning Love” (Hingley), which shares characters and a narrative approach with “A Hard Case” and “Gooseberries.” Because of these similarities, critics refer to these stories as the “Little Trilogy.” One function of the frame setting for the story—the opening and closing sections are in the third person—is to set the atmosphere for the landowner's inner story. Two sportsmen—Ivan Ivanovich, a veterinarian, and Burkin, a teacher—have been caught in a rainstorm while out hunting, so they must spend the night at the estate of Alyokhin, a landowner. The next day at lunch, Alyokhin comments on the general “mystery” of love in a metaphor that is not only particularly appropriate for Chekhov as a doctor, but can be applied to his poetics in short fiction: “What seems to fit one instance doesn't fit a dozen others. It's best to interpret each instance separately in my view, without trying to generalize. We must isolate each individual case, as doctors say” (IX, 41). The comparison to a case history is an apt one for many of Chekhov's stories, and Alyokhin's further comment on a lack of a solution in love suggests Chekhov's own position.

In Alyokhin's particular case, he took up farming his estate—“not without a certain repugnance”—to pay off the mortgage, and over the course of several years, he and a married woman who lived in town fell in love. However, because of her family duties, and because of Alyokhin's sense of responsibility to her household, they did not declare their love to each other. She eventually became depressed, feeling that her life was unfulfilled and wasted. When her husband secures a judgeship in a different province, the family moves away. As they part for the last time, Alyokhin realizes how inessential, how trivial, and how deceptive and unnecessary everything that frustrated their love was. As the story closes, the narrating persona returns to comment on how the two listeners—Ivan and Burkin—feel compassion for Alyokhin, and regret he has nothing to make his life more pleasant. This sense of regret, of love unfulfilled, of wasted opportunities and unlived lives, is the essence of the popular Chekhovian mood.


These aspects of the Chekhovian mood also are present in another story published in 1898, “All Friends Together” (Hingley). The structure does not resemble “Concerning Love” as much as a more complex “Verotchka,” published eleven years earlier in 1887. As in “Verotchka,” a professional man from the city travels to the provinces where he has the opportunity for a life of love, but like the protagonist in “Verotchka,” he rejects that opportunity. The story is filtered through the consciousness of Podgorin, a successful lawyer who visits the estate of some old friends, where he had served as a tutor when a poor student. Both the types of characters and the estate's atmosphere resemble the characters and setting of Chekhov's later plays: because of mismanagement, the estate is to be sold, as in The Cherry Orchard; and the three women and Sergy are similar in many ways to the family in The Three Sisters. The story should not be confused with the earlier prose plays where the structure is composed of dialogue, for the interior, psychological action in Podgorin's consciousness is the structural center of this story.

The dramatic line of development involves Podgorin's relationship with Nadya. Ten years before, Podgorin had tutored her, and later, fallen in love with her. Now Nadya, an attractive, twenty-three-year-old, desires to marry, and the plot revolves around whether Podgorin will propose. One moonlit summer night, when Podgorin is sitting out on the grounds, Nadya appears. She senses his presence, but since she cannot see him in the shadows, she asks if someone is there. Podgorin knows that now is the time to speak, if he wishes to propose, but like the protagonist in “Verotchka,” he feels strangely indifferent. His emotions remain disengaged from this “poetic vision” of the woman in the moonlight. Podgorin remains silent, and Nadya turns away with the comment, “There's no one there” (IX, 242). On one level, her “no one” suggests Podgorin's lack of substance as a human being, for he has rejected the opportunity to become part of this “poetic vision,” the chance for a life of love. In his action, Podgorin on a deeper level rejects himself: “this Podgorin with his apathy, his boredom, his perpetual bad temper, his inability to adapt to real life” (IX, 241). Shortly afterward, Podgorin leaves for Moscow, feeling “indifferent,” not sad.

In “Verotchka,” the protagonist's rejection is a clear-cut turning away from a vital, life experience, but Podgorin's choice is more ambiguous. He does not wish to become entangled in the web of problems in Nadya's family, and more importantly, he yearns for a “new, lofty, rational mode of existence” (IX, 241), which he senses this marriage could not provide. The desire to change one's life is a common trait of the Chekhov protagonist who senses he is living an inauthentic life.

A story published later in 1898, “Dr. Startsev” (Hingley), is similar to “All Friends Together” in subject, but where “All Friends Together” has the tight dramatic focus of a play, “Dr. Startsev” suggests a novel that has been marvelously telescoped into a short story. Instead of the highly focused time span of one day, which leads itself to remaining exclusively in the consciousness of the protagonist, the time in “Dr. Startsev” spans several years, during which the protagonist ages considerably and his position in society changes. The story provides a good example of Chekhov's narrating persona, with several shifts into the consciousness of the protagonist during key dramatic moments.

In the opening, the narrator provides a general introduction to a provincial town and to the Turkins, the town's most cultivated and accomplished family. Dr. Startsev, a young doctor recently appointed to the area, falls in love with an aspiring pianist named Catherine Turkin, but when he proposes, Catherine rejects him. Although she believes he is kind and intelligent, she is determined to escape the provincial town with its “empty, futile existence” (IX, 60). In the four years that pass after Catherine leaves for Moscow, Startsev settles into a middle-class existence: he grows to resent the limited views of the provincial townspeople, gains a great amount of weight, and becomes a nightly bridge player. When Catherine returns after her discovery that she will never become a great pianist, she desires Startsev's company, but he rejects her request to call upon her.

The story closes after a few more years in which Startsev has built a vast practice, and has gained even more weight. Now a dedicated materialist primarily interested in acquiring property, he lives a dreary life without other interests. Like Podgorin, he has rejected the opportunity for a different life, and the narrator describes him as a rather pathetic figure. In commenting on the artistic merit of the story, Ronald Hingley observes that although “Dr. Startsev” has been comparatively neglected by the critics, the story holds its own with any rival (IX, 1).

Life in the provinces takes a different turn in “The Savage” (Hingley), in which the protagonist is not Chekhov's typical middle-class hero but an elderly, retired Cossack officer who invites a lawyer to his farm. At the farmhouse, the lawyer discovers the Cossack's wife is still young and pretty, although the couple has two full-grown sons. But the Cossack treats her with indifference: “She wasn't a wife, she wasn't the mistress of the house or even a servant, she was more of a dependent—an unwanted poor relation, a nobody” (VIII, 232). This deplorable condition is dramatized not only by the manner in which the Cossack orders his wife about, but when the Cossack says that “women aren't really human to my way of thinking” (VIII, 231).

The Cossack's treatment of his wife is but one form of his behavior that the lawyer finds objectionable, and Chekhov's achievement in the story is in portraying this very unsympathetic character in human terms. Because of a recent stroke, the Cossack is searching for “something to hold on to in his old age,” some belief so he will not be afraid of dying. For all his callous behavior, the old Cossack knows that for the “good of his soul” he should shake off “the laziness” that causes “day after day and year after year to be engulfed unnoticed, leaving no trace” (VIII, 232). Despite his cultural difference, the Cossack displays the same search for individual meaning exhibited by Chekhov's common middle-class protagonists.

Another character like Dr. Startsev who becomes confined to a life in the provinces is the heroine of “Home” (Hingley). Vera, a sensitive, educated, young woman, returns to her grandfather's farm after ten years in Moscow. At first, she is excited about her life in the country, although the wide-open landscape with its “boundless plain” is “so monotonous, so empty” it frightens her, and although she has reservations about her grandfather, who before emancipation had his peasants flogged and who still terrorizes his servants. But as Vera discovers the limited nature of the provincial society—she had never met people so “casual and indifferent”—her feelings about her life and future begin to change to uncertainty, and like so many Chekhov characters, she yearns for something to give her life meaning, a situation which will enable her to “love and have a family of her own” (VIII, 244).

Vera's aunt suggests that Vera marry Dr. Neshchapov, who is attracted to Vera. In his materialism, this doctor shares characteristics with Dr. Startsev: the director of a factory, he considers his medical practice his secondary profession. Vera is not attracted to him, but her other possibilities seem even more limiting, for the “vast expanses, the long winters, the monotony and tedium make you feel so helpless” (VIII, 246). She fears that disabling boredom so many Chekhov protagonists experience, but “there seemed to be no way out. Why do anything when nothing does any good?” (VIII, 246). One day Vera vents her frustration on her servant. Realizing the inappropriateness of her action—she detests such behavior in her grandfather—she agrees to marry Dr. Neshchapov, and thus resigns herself to her own “perpetual discontent with herself and others” (VIII, 247), the same discontent that Podgorin displays. Defeated, she accepts that “happiness and truth have nothing to do with ordinary life” (VIII, 247). In surrendering her aspirations and dreams for a better life, Vera knows she will now “expect nothing better.” The provincial social reality will overcome her desire for a better, richer life.

Chekhov had a special place in his heart for schoolteachers, and it shows in “In the Cart” (Hingley), published five weeks after “Home” in 1897. The events are structured around the journey of a rural schoolmistress. As in “All Friends Together” and “Home,” the story is centered in the consciousness of the protagonist, Marya, who has taught at the same school for thirteen years, although to her, the constant hardship makes it seem a “hundred years or more.” During Marya's journey, a local landowner, an alcoholic about her age, passes Marya's cart in his carriage. She feels attracted to him, but knows to fall in love would be a “disaster.” Although she desires a husband and wants “love and happiness,” she feels her job has made her unattractive, and so her love would not be returned.

Through her thoughts, Chekhov details the hardships of her position. All winter she must endure the cold schoolhouse, and she must struggle constantly against the attitudes of the janitor and the school manager. She realizes that no one finds her attractive, for the job is wearing her out, making her a drudge ashamed of her timid behavior. Her salary is low, and she is so worried about finances that she misses the satisfaction of serving an ideal in her work.

As Marya enters her home village, she sees a woman on a train who resembles her dead mother, reminding Marya of her life before teaching. This experience gives her a sudden surge of happiness and joy, a form of rapture. When the landowner again appears, she imagines “such happiness as has never been on earth” (VIII, 258). She feels the sky and trees and building windows are “aglow with her triumphant happiness” (VIII, 258). This mystical experience, which resembles the happiness of Gusev, is the climax of the story.

But this wonderful experience vanishes as Marya's cart continues into the village, leaving her “shivering, numb with cold.” She realizes she will continue her joyless life as before. She is trapped as firmly in her barren, provincial environment as Vera or Dr. Startsev. In commenting on her character, however, Kenneth Lantz notes that she is not “fixed, limited, easily defined,” but a character in flux: he compares her to Nadya Shimin in “A Marriageable Girl,” contending that characters such as these are “alive”—they are “unpredictable, and they can develop.”3

In many ways “A Marriageable Girl” (Hingley), the last short story Chekhov wrote, stands in opposition to such stories as “Dr. Startsev, “Home,” and “In the Cart.” Unlike Vera, who decides that marriage is the only available option, or Marya, who desires the opportunity for a suitor, the protagonist Nadya escapes her inauthentic life by a brave decision. When the story opens, Nadya has a fiancé whom she will marry in a few weeks, but she becomes depressed. Nadya attempts to tell her mother about this depression, but her widowed mother does not understand. A friend of the family, Sasha, encourages Nadya to flee the engagement and her home. He is one of those revolutionary students in Chekhov who advocates radical change—Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, written immediately after “A Marriageable Girl,” is another example. Sasha accuses the whole family, including Nadya, of being “sordid and immoral” in their idleness. Although Nadya agrees with Sasha's criticism, she feels trapped in her situation and unable to change it.

A critical point comes a few weeks before the marriage, when her fiancé takes her to inspect their luxurious future house. Nadya hates it. She realizes she also hates her fiancé's “sheer complacency,” and “sheer stupid, mindless, intolerable smugness” (IX, 214-15). Afterwards Nadya explains to her mother that she cannot marry the man, and declares that their lives are “petty and degrading” and that she despises herself and “this idle, pointless existence” (IX, 217). In contrast to Vera in “Home,” Nadya does not submit to the objective, social reality of her circumstances, but begins a transformation of her life that affirms her subjective view of the world. The next day she runs away to St. Petersburg to go to school, “on her way to freedom.” Ronald Hingley notes that in the story's own time, Nadya would have been readily identified as a revolutionary figure (IX, 10); she feels a “new life opening before her, with its broad horizons” (IX, 223). In contrast to Vera in “Home,” Nadya does not settle for a life she knows will eventually defeat her. The last of Chekhov's great fiction protagonists, Nadya is a heroine in a most positive manner, a final tribute to Chekhov's ability to view each story as a fresh effort in his search for artistic integrity.

If the character of Nadya represents a challenge to the restrictions imposed by society, then Belikov, the protagonist of “A Hard Case” (Hingley), represents the other extreme. Belikov demands that everyone rigidly conform to the restrictions and rules of the objective, social reality. Like the others in the informal trilogy, “Concerning Love” and “Gooseberries,” there is a story within a story. Burkin, a schoolteacher, relates the inner story of Belikov to Ivan, the veterinarian surgeon, in a village barn after a day of hunting. Belikov, who died a few months before, was a classics teacher who had taught at the local school for fifteen years. He had terrorized not only other schoolteachers and students, but the whole town with his strict adherence to the rules. Out of fear of Belikov's disapproval, the townspeople gave up their amateur theatricals, and the clergy would not eat meat or play cards in his presence. Instead of directly bullying the townspeople like Sergeant Prishibeyev, Belikov, also one of Chekhov's more famous characters, intimidates them with the authority of his position.

Chekhov's portrayal of Belikov's personal life gives the character credibility. Belikov was afraid of life: he feared “repercussions” in his job, feared his throat would be cut by his servant, feared burglars; and the crowded school itself “terrified him, revolted his whole being” (IX, 18). Belikov's undoing begins when a Ukrainian woman moves to town, and the townspeople decide the two of them should marry. When Belikov sees the Ukrainian woman riding a bicycle, he goes to her brother to protest what he feels is a lack of decorum. But the brother—a robust, new teacher—tosses Belikov out of his lodgings, and he falls down the stairs. Although he is unhurt, the Ukrainian woman and some other ladies laugh at his ludicrous expression. Greatly upset, Belikov returns home where he goes to bed for a month, until he dies. Burkin remembers that after the funeral everyone enjoyed an hour or two of “absolute freedom,” but within a week, life was back to its “old rut. It was just as austere, wearisome, and pointless as before” (IX, 25).

Burkin closes his inner story with the comment that Belikov left behind a lot of other men in “shells” who will continue to be a force in the future. In contrast to Nadya from “A Marriageable Girl,” such men have a fixed response to life, and in their rigidity are living inauthentic lives, incapable of change or growth. Ivan believes everyone in the provincial town is living in a “shell,” like Belikov, and expresses the desire to tell an “extremely edifying” story himself, but since Burkin is tired and soon falls asleep, Ivan is left pondering the story he wanted to tell. On one level, this ending is an effective closure to the story, for Burkin's story strikes a moral chord in Ivan that makes him want to relate his own tale. On another level, it sets the stage for the next story in the trilogy.

Ivan relates his “edifying” story, “Gooseberries” (Hingley), on another hunting trip. Again Chekhov uses his narrator persona to establish the frame setting for Ivan's story: it begins raining, so the two men seek shelter on the estate of Alyokhin, who later will narrate “Concerning Love,” the last story in the trilogy. Over tea, Ivan begins his tale of his brother Nicholas, who spent much of his life saving for a small estate like the one on which the brothers spent their childhood. The dramatic section of Ivan's inner story occurs a year before his present narration, when he first visited Nicholas' estate. Nicholas, like Dr. Startsev, had gained weight; in describing him, his dog, and his cook, Ivan employs imagery that recalls pigs, so that Nicholas himself seems “all set to grunt.” Nicholas has undergone a great change, and behaves like “a real squire, a man of property.” Ivan believes he has become blatantly arrogant, with a typical landowner's attitude toward his peasants; he believes education is not right for “the lower orders,” and corporal punishment is “in certain cases useful and indispensible” (IX, 34).

The important change in the story, however, occurs in Ivan himself, which is appropriate since he is the point-of-view character. During the long years of saving, Nicholas dreamed of eating gooseberries from his estate, and his first action as owner was to order twenty bushes and plant them himself. A few hours after Ivan's arrival, when Nicholas picks his first gooseberries and, in silence and tears, eats them, Ivan realizes Nicholas is a happy man. But that realization plunges Ivan into a “despondency akin to despair.” Later that night Ivan realizes what a crushing force the happy people of the world are, for among the “grotesque poverty everywhere, the overcrowding, degeneracy, drunkenness and hypocrisy” (IX, 35), there is the impudence and idleness of the strong. Ivan believes happy people have “no eyes or ears” for those who suffer, and the “silent happiness” of a community is a collective hypnosis that allows such suffering to continue simply as “mute statistics” (IX, 35-36). Because of this system, Ivan believes at the door of every contented man should be someone standing with a little hammer, someone to keep “dinning into his head” that unhappy people do exist, and that, happy though he may be, life “will round on him sooner or later” (IX, 36).

In presenting this idea, Ivan becomes a voice advocating a moral position that underlies much of Chekhov's work in the last decade of his life, from the character of the earlier Ivan in “Ward Number Six” in 1892 to the revolutionary Sasha in “A Marriageable Girl” in 1903. In “Gooseberries,” Ivan relates this realization has worked a change in him, a kind of moral conversion, so now he finds the peace and quiet of town life unbearable, and no spectacle more depressing than a happy family having tea around a table. Ivan's search for meaning and authenticity in life becomes the focus for the larger moral content of the story.

When the story returns to the frame setting, the dissatisfaction of the listeners with Ivan's story is portrayed with Chekhov's tongue-in-cheek tone as they wish for a different kind of story, one about elegant persons that does not bore them. With this comment, Chekhov makes a light, ironic statement about the stereotypical concept of the function of fiction. To add to the irony, the listeners watch a pretty young maid clearing the table of their teacups, and believe watching her is “better than any story” (IX, 37).

In commenting on this masterpiece, Thomas Gullason states that nothing is solved, but the story is like “a delayed fuse” that depends on “after-effects on the reader via the poetic technique of suggestion and implication.”4 In Chekhov's own comments on “Thieves,” he maintained he would allow “the jury” to decide the “guilt” of the characters and would avoid “sermonizing” (Yarmolinsky, 133), but in “Gooseberries,” the character of Ivan seems to occupy the role of the prosecuting attorney. The idea that Chekhov could use the character of Ivan in this manner, and yet avoid didacticism, is implied in Gullason's further comment that the story seems “as artless, as unplanned, as unmechanical as any story can be; it seems to be going nowhere, but it is going everywhere” (27). Chekhov achieves the effect of the master artist in creating the illusion that the story is artless, as episodic as life itself, while presenting a moral content as well-defined and as detailed as in any story he wrote.

That search for meaning in life is the subject of Chekhov's most complex and accomplished novella written in the first person: “My Life—A Provincial's Story” (Hingley). The narrating protagonist Misail Poloznev, one of Chekhov's most compelling characters, embodies that search for the authentic life with his honesty and his integrity. As the subtitle suggests, the story is a portrayal of provincial life, Chekhov's most extensive effort in prose in that direction, and the limiting nature of that life is explored in depth. One situation involves the tension that family relationships generate. The twenty-five-year old son of the town architect, Misail is considered a failure because he cannot retain a clerk's position, although it requires no “mental effort, talent, special ability or creative drive” (VIII, 118). Since he despises the work, he has been fired nine times. Chekhov's characters frequently turn to work in their search for an authentic life, but that work must be meaningful labor. After his last dismissal, Misail wishes to find such meaning through manual labor, but his typically middle-class father is ashamed that Misail would do such work, believing it is the “hallmark of slaves and barbarians” (VIII, 116). In the ensuing argument, the father beats Misail with an umbrella, causing a permanent break between them. The tension involves more than manual labor, for Misail believes his father is an incompetent architect because his imagination is “muddled, chaotic, stunted”—another example of the limiting nature of provincial life. Not only does Misail rebel, but when his sister Cleopatra discovers her provincial, middle-class life to be inauthentic, she does also.

Misail finds manual labor as a house painter, working for a Dickens-like character named Radish. Chekhov's portrayal of the laboring men and their attitudes toward life, each other, and the townspeople illustrates a broad knowledge of life. Misail's ideas on the meaning of life are articulated in a dialogue with another of Chekhov's doctor figures, Dr. Blagovo, whom Misail believes to be the “best and most cultivated” man in town. Like the dialogues in “In Exile” and “Ward Number Six,” the philosophic positions of both characters are dramatized in lengthy conversations. Where Blagovo believes the “gray and commonplace” concerns of present life are not worth one's effort, Misail is committed to improving society. He is afraid “the art of enslavement” is gradually being perfected in the modern world, and believes although serfdom has been abolished, capitalism is spreading, so that “the majority still feeds, clothes and protects the minority, while remaining hungry, unclothed and unprotected itself” (VIII, 139). Misail also believes every man should do manual work, a belief similar to the artist's in “An Artist's Story,” published earlier in the same year of 1896. Like in “An Artist's Story,” Chekhov's artistic achievement in “My Life” lies not in articulating such ideas, but in creating emotionally complex characters capable of thinking deeply and passionately about the nature of man and society.

One aspect of the search for an authentic life in “My Life” involves love. Masha Dolzhikov, the daughter of a wealthy railway builder, falls in love with and marries Misail. Masha, who in contrast to the other provincials has lived in St. Petersburg, is an idealist who shares Misail's belief that rich and educated people should work like everyone else. She and Misail occupy one of her father's estates, where she attempts to live a meaningful life by farming. Misail knows Masha is not committed to a laboring life, for she has other choices with her wealth, but against his better judgment, he falls unequivocally in love with her. Chekhov's portrayal of the suffering this love causes Misail is one of the great accomplishments of the novella. The love between Misail and Masha is complemented by the love between Cleopatra and Dr. Blagovo, who has left his estranged wife and children in St. Petersburg. Cleopatra's love for the doctor incites her to seek an authentic life. In typical Chekhovian fashion, neither of these love relationships endure.

The relationship between Misail and Masha becomes dependent on her success with the estate. In contrast to Lydia in “An Artist's Story,” Masha becomes disillusioned in attempting to build a school for the peasants. Chekhov's portrayal of her efforts and the peasants' response illustrate the immense difficulty of effecting change in society; one of Chekhov's many achievements in this novella is presenting that complex relationship between landowner and peasant. The peasant is presented sympathetically through the attitudes of Misail, for through plowing, harrowing, and sowing, he develops some sense of the “barbarous, brute force” that both confronts the peasant and is a part of him. Misail, drawn to the peasants, concludes they are a “highly strung, irritable people” who have had a raw deal and whose imaginations have been “crushed” (VIII, 170). For all the limitations of the peasants, Misail sees something vital and significant in them, something that is “lacking in Masha and the doctor for instance” (VIII, 170). That element is the belief in the truth, and the power of the truth to save not only the peasant himself, but all mankind. Misail believes the peasant “loves justice more than anything else in the world” (VIII, 170), a belief that connects Misail directly to Leo Tolstoy. As Ronald Hingley notes, no contemporary Russian reader would have missed the connection (VIII, 5).

As the love relationship between Misail and Masha dissolves, she leaves for St. Petersburg, and then, before leaving for America, she requests a divorce. The other love relationship ends as Cleopatra dies shortly after giving birth to the doctor's child out of wedlock. In their last days, the suffering that Cleopatra and Misail endure in their poverty recalls the novels of Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Like characters in those novels tried by circumstances, Misail experiences a mental breakdown from the emotional strain, and wanders the streets out of his mind.

After his recovery, in the final, expository chapter, Misail continues to work as a painter in town as he cares for his sister's child, like the narrator in “An Anonymous Story.” In Misail's final comments, he declares the townspeople have been “reading and hearing about truth, mercy and freedom for generations” but “their entire progress from cradle to grave is one long lie”; they torment each other, “fearing and hating freedom as if it were their worst enemy” (VIII, 181). Chekhov thus links the relationship between the lie and freedom in this masterpiece. In commenting on “My Life,” D. S. Mirsky states only one other story by Chekhov, entitled “In the Hollow,” can rival it in terms of “poetical grasp” and significance (363).

The search for meaning in life in the provinces is also the subject of “On Official Business” (Hingley). The protagonist is a young coroner Lyzhin, who accompanies a doctor to a small village to investigate a suicide, the “official business” of the title. Once again, the limitations of provincial life are a theme. Because of a blizzard, Lyzhin must remain with the body for a number of hours in a hut, where he visits with the local constable, an old peasant who tells him about the dead man. After the peasant retires to another room, Lyzhin considers his life in this provincial outpost, contrasting it with the excitement of Moscow where he lived as a student, and decides “here you want nothing, you easily come to terms with your own insignificance, and you expect only one thing in life: just let it hurry up and go away” (IX, 117). If he could escape to Moscow in five or ten years, it still would not be too late to have a “whole life” ahead of him. To this point in the action, the events seem typical of many of Chekhov's stories about the limitations of provincial life, but events take a different direction when the doctor returns and invites Lyzhin to a local estate.

Lyzhin contrasts the gay happenings on the estate with the dismal peasant hut, feeling the difference between them is “magical.” That night he dreams of the suicide and the old peasant marching together through the freezing cold and the deep snow, singing, “We know no peace, no joy. We bear all the burdens of this life, our own and yours” (IX, 122). When Lyzhin wakes, he realizes “some link—invisible, but significant and essential” (IX, 122) exists not only between the suicide and the old peasant, but between all men. Such a thought recalls “The Student,” another story deceptively simple in its events, but in “On Official Business,” the moral context of the idea is based in a secular humanism, without a Christian holiday as backdrop for the vision. Even in this remote backwater, Lyzhin realizes nothing is arbitrary, for “everything is imbued with a single common idea, everything has one spirit, one purpose” (IX, 122). This mystical thought occurs to an ordinary coroner, an undistinguished protagonist, and it suggests even ordinary man is capable of profound experiences. Lyzhin realizes reasoning is not enough to furnish these insights, but the gift of penetrating “life's essence” is required, and that gift is available to him who “sees and understands his own life as part of the common whole” (IX, 122). This vision of the individual's relationship to mankind serves as Chekhov's own moral position. The idea that the sense of man's responsibility to his fellow man could occur to such an ordinary man in such a remote backwater does not refute the limitations of provincial life, but illustrates the possibility that even here, man can exercise his human responsibility.

Chekhov's vision of mankind has a sociological dimension in “A Case History” (Hingley) written shortly before “On Official Business.” The events are narrated through the consciousness of Dr. Korolyov, an assistant to a professor of medicine in Moscow, one of Chekhov's scientist doctors with a well-developed moral vision of the relationship between the individual and society. Society is represented by the setting of a factory town, similar to that in “A Woman's Kingdom,” written four years previously; the stories share other similarities as well, one being the burden of social responsibility felt by the future heiress.

When Korolyov is summoned from Moscow to treat the owner's daughter, he ascertains her primary problem is not physiological but “nerves.” Her symptoms are an indication of her inauthentic life, for like Anne in “A Woman's Kingdom,” this young woman will inherit the vast mill with all its responsibility and she is “worried and scared” without understanding the reason. Her problem is she does not believe she has “the right” to be a mill owner and rich heiress, and Korolyov tells her that her insomnia is a good sign because it shows concern about right and wrong. Korolyov has a moral vision of the age: the previous generation was not bothered by such moral questions, and future generations will have solved them. In his belief in the future—“Life will be good in fifty years' time” (IX,77)—he resembles other optimistic doctors in Chekhov's work.

Korolyov's most profound thoughts on the nature of man and society develop as he strolls around the mill that evening. He had never visited a factory before, and previously had compared improvements in the workers' lives to the treatment of incurable diseases. The situation is so hopeless for the worker and/or the patient that he can only be made as comfortable as possible and never really healthy or cured. But now Korolyov realizes not only the workers, but the supervisors and the “bosses” are all involved in a labor in which the “principal, the main beneficiary, is the devil” (IX, 75).

Korolyov actually does not believe in the devil, but the image comes to mind because of the appearance of the mill fires at night. He imagines in the chaos of everyday life, some malevolent, mysterious force has forged the relationship between weak and strong so that both are “equal victims.” Like the mutually harmful relationship between master and slave, the strong as well as the weak are victims of the “primitive mindless force” (IX, 75) that rules mankind.

With this vision, Korolyov functions as a metaphor for a spiritual doctor, “accustomed to forming accurate diagnoses of incurable chronic ailments deriving from some unknown ultimate cause” (IX, 74), with society as the sick patient, suffering from the malevolent, mysterious force that creates the illness in man's relationship to his fellow man. On one level, “On Official Business” complements this earlier story, for the coroner's vision of the common bond among men with its “one spirit, one purpose” becomes an answer, a cure, to the metaphoric illness that Korolyov diagnoses.


During this last period Chekhov wrote two masterpieces with peasant village life as his primary subject, “Peasants” and “In the Hollow.” After appearing in 1897 in a literary journal, “Peasants” was printed as a separate volume with “My Life” and became very popular, with seven reprints in the following few years. Where the narrator in “My Life” is from the middle class and views the peasant in an objective, but sympathetic manner, in “Peasants” Chekhov mainly presents the peasants' experiences directly to the reader. The second masterpiece, “In the Hollow,” resembles “Peasants” in that the characters and events also are presented directly through Chekhov's narrator. “The New Villa” (Hingley) is an important, chronologically intermediate story that gives the landowner and the peasant equal weight. The landowners in this story are a railway engineer and his compassionate wife who have recently moved to the area and built a new villa. They attempt to forge a relationship of integrity with the peasants in a neighboring village, but some of the peasants constantly take advantage of the engineer. In disgust, the engineer leaves the villa with his family and sells the estate.

The events provide insight into the difficulties of communication between both individuals and social groups. The goodwill efforts of two sets of characters—the engineer and his family, and a peasant blacksmith and his family—are defeated by the attitudes and actions of other hostile peasants. A new owner of the villa behaves much worse toward the peasants than the original compassionate owners, but the peasants get along with him much better. In one scene, the peasants pass the villa and wonder why they get along so well with the new owner, but knowing no answer, they “trudge on silently, heads bowed” (IX, 107). This image, when well-meaning people are defeated by some powerful force that operates against the betterment of human relations, is a powerful comment on the mysteriousness of human affairs.

If the portrait of peasant conditions that emerges from “The New Villa” is not encouraging, then the portrait in “Peasants” (Hingley) is a downright bleak naturalistic picture of unrelenting poverty that grinds down the human spirit. The portrayal is so unrelenting that Leo Tolstoy is reported to have termed it “a sin against the common people,”5 but in Russia during Chekhov's own lifetime, “Peasants” was the most famous of all his stories. Ronald Hingley believes the story clearly is “a great work of art,” and “a work of genius” (VIII, 3).

Brutal violence and indignities characterize life in a small peasant village of some forty huts. The narrative is a succession of hardship scenes with only an occasional experience to relieve the bleakness. A terminally ill waiter, Nicholas, returns from Moscow with his wife Olga and their ten-year-old daughter to live with his parents and his brother's families, all in one hut. When they arrive, Nicholas “actually took fright” as he sees how dark, cramped and dirty the hut is, recognizing the “real poverty and no mistake” (VIII, 196).

Later that first day, Nicholas and Olga have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty in the natural surroundings, but then Nicholas' drunk brother Kiryak comes to the hut and punches his wife Marya in the face. Pleased at the fear he causes, Kiryak drags Marya out of the hut “bellowing like a wild animal to make himself more frightening still” (VIII, 198). As usual in cases of domestic violence, Kiryak's beatings increase in intensity, and later are so severe that Marya has to be doused with water to bring her back to consciousness. Another instance of violence occurs as Kiryak himself is taken off to be flogged by the authorities.

The characters experience other disheartening indignities. Fyokla, another sister-in-law whose husband is away in the army, also lives in the hut with her children. One night she is stripped naked by the neighboring estate's servants, with many of whom she has been having sexual relations, and is left to wander home alone. When she returns, she weeps for her debasement. Another moving scene occurs when Nicholas' mother, Gran, who works hard to provide for the family, verbally abuses Nicholas. The samovar, their pot for heating tea water and symbol of the household, has been taken to pay taxes. Although she loves Nicholas, she feels so degraded and insulted when this happens she unfairly blames his family's presence for the misfortune. Since the members of the family have no one to turn to for help, they are completely vulnerable to these sufferings and hardships.

Although the events of the novella are narrated primarily through Chekhov's persona, certain passages are presented through the sensibility of Nicholas' wife Olga. As a newcomer, she notices behavior and detail that would not consciously register with the other characters. After a few months, Olga realizes life in the village is such a struggle that little time or effort is allowed for people to behave with anything but “mutual disrespect, fear and suspicion.” But for all the hardship, Olga learns these people have a sense of community. When Kiryak is taken off to be flogged, Olga remembers “how pitiful and crushed the old people had looked” (VIII, 221).

During the middle of winter, Nicholas dies, and that spring Olga decides to return to Moscow, to secure a position as housemaid. As the novella closes, she and her daughter are walking to Moscow, begging for alms. Chekhov employs his objective technique in this scene so that the effect paradoxically provides the reader with a sense of intimacy with these destitute characters.

The sociological information contained in “Peasants” created a political uproar among parts of society, generating the kind of public response that recalled the appearance of a new novel by Ivan Turgenev or Fyodor Dostoevksy in previous times (Simmons, 393). The artistic value of the novella, however, derives from the validity of the characters and from the experience of village life that Chekhov depicts. Chekhov's portrayal of Fyokla's sensibility and motivation is superb, and there are a number of powerful, lyrical descriptions. One is a fire scene when one of the village huts burns; another is the peasants' response to the visit of a traveling religious procession and another is the simple experience of attempting to sleep in the crowded hut. Since there is no sharp dramatic conflict, the narrative becomes a succession of mosaics that remains etched in the reader's mind.

Since the characters of “In the Hollow” (Hingley) are engaged in a dramatic conflict, the form is more traditional. In contrast to the beautiful natural surroundings in “Peasants,” the setting for this village is, as the title suggests, in the bottom of a ravine. Chekhov's environmental concerns are evident here where the village water is polluted by a tannery factory and the air always smells of factory waste, as if it were “clogged by a dense miasma of sin” (IX, 155). Unlike “Peasants,” which focuses on a poor family, the subject for “In the Hollow” is the members of the family that operate the village store, the Tsybukins, the wealthiest family in the village. The head of the family is a clever old man who has built up his business by constantly cheating his peasant customers. In addition to illegal vodka, Tsybukin sells putrid salt beef before feast days, “stuff with so vile a stench you could hardly go near the barrel” (IX, 155). But Tsybukin does love his family, especially his eldest son Anisim, now a police detective in Moscow, and his daughter-in-law Aksinya, a “beautiful, well-built” peasant married to his younger son, a mentally impaired deaf man. The basic family situation in this novella recalls “Peasant Women,” and in many ways “In the Hollow” develops from where the earlier story ends: the tensions in the family relationships, unresolved in “Peasant Women,” are worked dramatically through in “In the Hollow” until the dissatisfied daughter-in-law controls the family.

Aksinya is one of Chekhov's most sinister characters, an ambitious woman with an unusual head for business. She operates the store as effectively and dishonestly as her father-in-law. Chekhov often uses the image of the snake in describing her; like a viper, she is physically dangerous, eventually killing her sister-in-law's baby in a fit of rage. In contrast to her dishonesty is the goodness of Barbara, Tsybukin's second wife; cheerful and lighthearted, she freely gives alms to beggars and various pilgrims who stop at the store. Another sister-in-law, Lipa, is a poor, self-effacing, but physically attractive peasant girl whom the eldest son Anisim marries on a return trip to the village. While the guests at this major event are feasting at table, a crowd of poor peasants gathers in the store yard. Occasionally when the band is not playing, one village woman's cry carries clearly to the table: “Rotten swine, grinding the faces of the poor. May you rot in hell!” (IX, 163). This cry of protest recalls Misail's comment in “My Life” on the desire of the peasant for justice. By the end of the novella, Lipa emerges as a symbol of the peasant. Both a victim and an endurer of wrongdoing, she joins that mosaic of suffering depicted in “Peasants.”

The novella's key dramatic event occurs several months after Anisim is arrested for counterfeiting money. Ironically, Anisim's dishonest behavior was learned from his father. When Tsybukin returns from the sentencing of his son to Siberia, he wills some land to his grandson, the baby of Lipa and Anisim, but Aksinya is operating a brick factory on this land, and flies into a rage. In one of the most memorable scenes in Chekhov's work, she scalds the baby with boiling wash water. Once again, Chekhov uses irony: the action taken to help the baby instead destroys it. As Lipa attempts to come to terms with her grief, she wanders the countryside with the dead baby in her arms and questions the meaning of suffering in her simple, eloquent language.

In the final section, which occurs three years later, Lipa's character is once again juxtaposed against the members of the family. Aksinya has become the head of the house since Tsybukin is becoming feebleminded, in part from grief. Aksinya is now a force in the community because of her brick factory; her power attracts the ardor of a local landowner. As Lipa passes through the village with a group of peasants who work in Aksinya's brickyard, she gives Tsybukin something to eat. This act, symbolic of her human compassion, is juxtaposed against the thriving dishonesty of the very family that threw her out, and is Chekhov's final use of irony in the novella. In commenting on the complexity and power of “In the Hollow,” V. S. Pritchett pairs it with “The Bishop” as one of Chekhov's two “surpassing masterpieces” (178).


During this period Chekhov wrote two stories about characters committed to a religious life, stories in many ways diametrically opposed and indicative of Chekhov's great range as a writer. The characters in “Murder” (Hingley), Chekhov's most sensational story, are members of a fundamentalist religion who, in a frenzy of rage generated by frustration, beat a member of their household to death. The narrative begins in the consciousness of the victim, Matthew Terekhov, a laborer whose primary pleasures are attending church and singing in the choir. The element that makes his character so appropriate for the events that befall him is Matthew himself is a former religious fanatic, reared in a fundamentalist family like his cousin Jacob. After Matthew left home as a youth, he became increasingly devoted until he crossed over into fanaticism, doing penance such as going barefoot in the snow, wearing irons, and dragging around heavy stones. He established his own church where members went into “crazy fits” of shouting and dancing until they dropped. In one such service, Matthew committed fornication and when he requested forgiveness from his landlord, the man admonished Matthew to be an “ordinary man,” for “overdoing things is devil's work” (VIII, 52). Matthew eventually responded to that guidance, and now does everything—“eat, drink and worship”—like everyone else.

Because of this experience, Matthew criticizes his cousin Jacob's religious practices. Jacob believes the churches are observing the rites incorrectly, and spends his time in special fasts and prayer sessions. In describing Jacob, Chekhov employs one key detail that resembles his later description of Belikov in “A Hard Case”: both men wear galoshes all the time. Like Belikov, Jacob desperately clings to the “rules” because of his fear of life. Jacob's devotion is not to receive benefits from God, but for “form's sake”—upholding decorum, the same motivation of Belikov. During Easter week, when Jacob feels his faith leaving him and cannot worship as before, the stage is set for confrontation. Matthew implores Jacob to reform and accuses him of evil because he maintains a tavern at the inn where they live.

The murder is related with clever use of detail, revealing that Chekhov could be a superb writer of physical action, a fact often overlooked because so many of his stories are concerned with psychological action. One reason the scene is so effective is the unpremeditated manner in which the event unfolds. Like so much domestic violence, an argument simply gets out of hand. Jacob's sister engages Matthew in an argument about the use of oil on his food, forbidden during Lent, and Jacob joins the argument. Ironically, this day of religious observance becomes the scene for a deadly disagreement. Growing increasingly angry, Jacob grabs Matthew to drag him from the table, and in the confusion, the sister believes Matthew is attacking Jacob; she slams the bottle of oil down on Matthew's head, rendering him semiconscious. Jacob, who is “very worked up,” props Matthew up and, pointing to the flat iron beside the table, directs his sister to hit him again. In their fury, they beat Matthew to death, not realizing what is happening until it is too late.

A year later, after the trial, Jacob is disgusted at his former religion—“it seemed irrational and primitive” (VIII, 67). But in a situation that recalls the events in “God Sees the Truth, But Waits” (1872) by Leo Tolstoy, Jacob, while in prison, eventually turns to God and the “true faith” once again. Like many of Chekhov's characters, Jacob now wants “to live.” His heart aches with longing for his home, and he wants to return to tell people about his new faith.6 Ivan Bunin, a short story writer especially sensitive to technique, thought this story the best of Chekhov's later work because the “objective narrator lets the shocking conduct make a great impact upon the reader” (Meister, 117).

Another masterpiece involving a character's commitment to religion is “The Bishop” (Hingley). Part of the power of the narrative derives from the subtle portrayal of an intelligent man's perceptions, his mind and emotions. In contrast to the characters in “Murder,” the bishop is a reasonable and learned man with a good grasp of humankind who becomes annoyed during service by “the occasional shrieks of some religious maniac in the gallery” (IX, 191). Born into relative poverty, the bishop worked his way up to a position of power and influence and is now a distinguished figure, one of Chekhov's most elevated characters. The events are structured around his final struggle and test, typhoid fever. Appropriately enough, given the spiritual nature of the protagonist, the time is Easter week: the passions of the traditional religious ceremony are an effective backdrop for the protagonist's own emotional experiences. This story and “Easter Eve” are the crowning achievements of the Easter stories Chekhov had written since early in his career.

The focus is the bishop's evaluation of his life, a process initiated by the visit of his mother when she appears unexpectedly on the eve of Palm Sunday during his service. That evening his mind is filled with delight in recalling his poor native village and happy childhood, memories that his mother's appearance has triggered. The sheer delight with which the details are remembered—“the wheels creaking, sheep bleating, church bells pealing on bright summer mornings” (IX, 193)—recalls the thoughts of the character Gusev in his feverish state. The bishop is unknowingly developing typhoid fever, and like “Gusev” (1890), where the mind of the ill character is filled with memories before he eventually dies, the bishop's mind increasingly alters with his feverish state. The impressionistic prose is a development from those earlier depictions of altered states of consciousness in “Typhus” and “Sleepy.”

During the next few days, as the bishop performs his administrative duties, he reflects on the “pettiness and pointlessness” of his tasks. The church ladies seem “tiresomely stupid,” the peasants rough, the theological students ill-educated, and the paperwork overwhelming. The bishop is experiencing that particularly modern day Chekhovian test: instead of fire or sword, he must fight the trifles of everyday life, the “sheer weight” of which is dragging him down.

During the week, the bishop's illness progresses until he experiences the desire to escape and become a simple priest or ordinary monk, for his position seems to “crush” him. After he suffers an intestinal hemorrhage, he is diagnosed with typhoid fever, and in his weakness, he feels his past has escaped from him “to some infinitely remote place beyond all chance of repetition or continuation” (IX, 203). A sense of past provides a sense of identity, and so as the bishop desires, his identity is now dissolving. At this moment, his mother kisses him like a “dearly beloved child,” and with her soothing presence, he feels like an “ordinary simple man walking quickly and cheerfully through a field,” as “free as a bird” so he can go where he likes (IX, 203-204). Released at last from his worldly responsibilities, the bishop dies, symbolically just before dawn on Holy Saturday. The lyrical description of that joyful Easter Sunday captures the traditional rising of the spirit in Christian ritual as the continuity of the life process is thus assured. Chekhov relates in the closing paragraph no one remembered the bishop anymore except his mother, who lives in a remote province. His desire to become “ordinary” is fulfilled.

The subject of this masterpiece seems particularly appropriate for Chekhov at this stage in his life, when he himself was dying and confined to Yalta. That he should convert such personal materials into this work of art when writing itself was becoming an increasingly physically demanding task marks his great dedication as an artist.


  1. Quoted in the Ecco Press fall catalog for 1990, 13.

  2. Times Literary Supplement, 9 November 1916, 537a, quoted in Charles W. Meister, Chekhov Criticism: 1880 Through 1986 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1988), 143; hereafter cited in text.

  3. “Chekhov's Cast of Characters,” in A Chekhov Companion, ed. Toby W. Clyman (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), 83.

  4. “The Short Story,” Short Story Theories, ed. Charles May (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1976), 27. Hereafter references will be cited with “Gullason” and page number.

  5. Quoted in Meister, 123. Gleb Struve notes this opinion is not, however, documented in Tolstoy's own writing. Chekhov: Seven Short Novels, trans. Barbara Makanowitzky; introduction and prefaces by Gleb Struve (New York: Norton, 1971), 365-6. Hingley uses the quote in his introduction (VIII, 5), with the source from N. I. Gitovich, Letopis zhizni i tvorchestva A. P. Chekhov [Chronicle of the Life and Literary Activity of A. P. Chekhov] (Moscow, 1955), 821. In 1962, Ernest Simmons termed this Gitovich book “the most indispensible reference work for all aspects of Chekhov's life and writings” (642), but unfortunately, the book remains untranslated.

  6. The closing events of “Murder” contain Chekhov's most realized portrait of Sakhalin Island in fiction. Some of Chekhov's prose non-fiction narratives such as “Yegor's Story,” in The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin, trans. Luba and Michael Terpak; introduction by Robert Payne (New York: Washington Square Press, 1967), suggest the origins for characters such as Anisim from “In the Hollow,” Yergunov in “Thieves” and Jacob Terekhov in “Murder.” In his introduction to this translation, Robert Payne terms The Island “a strange work, brilliant and wayward, scrupulously honest and unpretentious, lit by a flame of quiet indignation and furious sorrow” (xxxvi).

Selected Bibliography

Primary Works

Translations of Short Fiction

Note: I have listed the translations cited in this book. For a more complete list of translations, with 36 entries by 26 translators noted in chronological order, see Constance Garnett's Tales of Chekhov, vol. 13, 339-341.

Chertok, I. C., and Jean Gardner, trans. Late-Blooming Flowers and Other Stories. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1964.

Dunnigan, Ann, trans. Selected Stories. New York: New American Library, 1960.

FitzLyon, April, and Kyril Zinovieff, trans. The Woman in the Case and Other Stories. London: Spearman and Calder, 1953.

Garnett, Constance, trans. The Tales of Chekhov. 13 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1917-23; rpt. New York: Ecco Press, 1984-87. Vol. 13 includes a title index.

Hinchcliffe, Arnold, trans. The Sinner from Toledo and Other Stories. Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972.

Hingley, Ronald, trans. and ed. The Oxford Chekhov. Vol. 4-9. London: Oxford University Press, 1965-1980.

Jones. St. Peter's Day and Other Tales. Translated by Frances H. Jones. New York: Capricorn Books (Copyright: G. P. Putnam's Sons), 1959.

Miles. Chekhov: The Early Stories, 1883-1888. Translated by Patrick Miles and Harvey Pitcher. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982.

Miller. Anton Chekhov: Collected Works in Five Volumes: Volume One: Stories 1880-1885. Translated by Alex Miller and Ivy Litvinov (other translators listed at the end of some stories). Edited by Raissa Bobrova. Moscow: Raduga Publishers, 1967.

Payne. The Image of Chekhov: Forty Stories by Anton Chekhov in the Order in Which They Were Written. Translated by Robert Payne. New York: Vintage, 1966. Reprinted by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf; copyright 1963 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Smith. The Thief and Other Tales. Translated by Ursula Smith. New York: The Vantage Press, 1964.

Yarmolinsky 1947. The Portable Chekhov. (Stories used in this text translated by Yarmolinsky.) Edited by Avrahm Yarmolinsky. New York: The Viking Press, 1947. (Note: reference to Chekhov's letters are not from this source, but from Letters of Anton Chekhov, ed. Avrahm Yarmolinsky. See Bibliography, “Letters” below.)

Yarmolinsky 1954. The Unknown Chekhov: Stories and Other Writings hitherto Untranslated. Translated with an Introduction by Avrahm Yarmolinsky. New York: The Noonday Press, 1954. (Note: references to Chekhov's letters are not from this source, but from Letters of Anton Chekhov, ed. Avrahm Yarmolinsky. See Bibliography, “Letters” below.)

Collected Works in Russian

Belchikov, N. F., et al, eds. Polnoye sobraniye sochineny i pisem v tridsati tomakh. 30 vols. Moscow, 1974-83.

Balukhaty, S. D., et al, eds. Polnoye sobraniye sochineny i pisem v dvenadtsati tomakh. 20 vols. Moscow, 1944-51.


Anton Chekhov's Life and Thought: Selected Letters and Commentary. Translated by Michael Heim with Simon Karlinsky; selection, commentary and introduction by Simon Karlinsky. Originally published as Letters of Anton Chekhov. New York: Harper and Row, 1973. Rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

Letters of Anton Chekhov. Selected and edited by Avrahm Yarmolinsky. New York: Viking Press, 1973.

Letters of Anton Chekhov to His Family and Friends with Biographical Sketch. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Macmillan, 1920.

Letters on the Short Story, the Drama, and Other Literary Topics. Selected and ed. Louis S. Friedland, with a Preface by Ernest Simmons. New York: Minto Beach, 1924; rpt. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1964.

The Life and Letters of Anton Tchekhov. Trans. and ed. S. S. Koteliansky and Philip Tomlinson. Cassell & Co. Ltd., London, 1925; rpt: New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965.

The Selected Letters of Anton Chekhov. Translated by Sidonie K. Lederer; edited with an Introduction by Lillian Hellman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1984.


The Oxford Chekhov. Vol. 1-3. Edited and translated by Ronald Hingley. London: Oxford University Press, 1964-1967. Vol. 1: Short Plays. Vol. 2: Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and The Wood-Demon. Vol. 3: Platonov, Ivanov, and The Seagull.


The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin. Translated by Luba and Michael Terpak. Introduction by Robert Payne. New York: Washington Square Press, 1967.

Secondary Works

Buford, Walter H. Chekhov and His Russia: A Sociological Study. 2d. ed., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1948; rpt. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1971.

Chudakov, A. P. Chekhov's Poetics. Translated by Edwina Cruise and Donald Dragt. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1983.

Clyman, Toby W., ed. A Chekhov Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Eekman, Thomas, ed. Anton Cechov 1860-1960: Some Essays. Leiden: Brill, 1960.

Eekman, Thomas, ed. Critical Essays on Anton Chekhov. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Halunciski, Leo and David Savignac, trans. and eds. Anton Chekhov as a Master of Story-Writing: Essays in Modern Soviet Literary Criticism. The Hague: Mouton, 1976.

Hahn, Beverly. Chekhov: A Study of the Major Stories and Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Hingley, Ronald. A New Life of Anton Chekhov. New York: Knopf, 1976.

Jackson, Robert Louis, ed. Chekhov: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Kirk, Irina. Anton Chekhov. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Kramer, Karl. The Chameleon and the Dream: The Image of Reality in Cexov's Stories. The Hague: Mouton, 1970.

Meister, Charles W. Chekhov Criticism: 1880 Through 1986. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1988.

McConkey, James, ed. Chekhov and Our Age. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, n.d.

Rayfield, Donald. Chekhov: The Evolution of His Art. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1975.

Simmons, Ernest J. Chekhov: A Biography. Boston: Little Brown, 1962.

Stowell, H. Peter. Literary Impressionism, James and Chekhov. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1980.

Tulloch, John. Chekhov: A Structuralist Study. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.

Welleck, Rene and Nonna D. Welleck, eds. Chekhov: New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Williames, Lee J. Anton Chekhov: The Iconoclast. Scranton, Pa.: University of Scranton Press, 1989.

Winner, Thomas. Chekhov and His Prose. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1966.

Yermilov, Vladimir. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, 1860-1904. Trans. Ivy Litvinov.

Moscow: Foreign Language Publishing House, n.d.[1956]. (Russian original: Moscow, 1953.)


“Bibliographical Index to the Complete Works of Anton Chekhov.” In David Magarshack, Chekhov: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 1953; rpt. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970. 393-423.

“Chekhov's Stories: A Chronology.” Tales of Chekhov, vol. 13, 345-350.

Leighton, Lauren. “Chekhov's Works in English: Selective Collections and Editions.” In A Chekhov Companion, edited by Toby W. Clyman. 306-309.

Lantz, Kennth. Anton Chekhov: A Reference Guide to Literature. Boston: Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1985.

Heifitz, Anna. Chekhov in English: A List of Works By and About Him. Ed. with a foreword by Avrahm Yarmolinsky. New York: New York Public Library, 1948.

Yachnin, Rissa. Chekhov in English: A Selective List of Works By and About Him 1949-1960. New York: New York Public Library, 1960.

Richard A. Hocks (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: Hocks, Richard A. “Early James: Social Realism and the International Scene.” In Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 12-35. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

[In the following essay, Hocks explores the international theme—the contrast between Americans and Europeans—in Henry James's short fiction.]

In James studies it is sometimes customary to cite “The Madonna of the Future” (1873) and “A Passionate Pilgrim” (1871) as early prototypes in James's evolution toward the international theme, yet many Jamesians would probably agree that both immature tales are uncertain in their focus. It is true that in “The Madonna” the artist-protagonist Theobald, an expatriate American and compatriot to the narrator, proclaims Americans “the disinherited of Art,” and that the narrator himself admits to being of the “famished race”;1 yet the real center of the tale seems to be the ironic disparity between a pristine aesthetic idealism and artistic practice, and thus more generally between ideality and actuality. Theobald can boast that as an artist he has not yet “added a grain to the rubbish of the world” (13:444), but the ironic cash value of that proposition (as William James might say) turns out to be both the narrator and reader's eventual surprise discovery that the canvas of his Raphaelesque masterpiece, his “Madonna of the Future,” has remained blank and unattempted through all his expatriate years in Florence due to his own paralyzing perfectionism.

James complicates this theme of Theobald's impotence-through-idealism, however, by providing some Melvillian “crosslights”: a “productive” Italian artist who creates only crude figurines of cats and monkeys; the figure of Mrs. Coventry, an unpleasant American “social high-priestess of the arts” in Florence (13:458), who nonetheless predicts accurately Theobald's lack of any real accomplishment; and, finally, Theobald's “inspiration,” the now stout model Serafina, hardly any longer the appropriate image for a “maiden mother,” who carries on promiscuously with the Italian figurine maker. Only the narrator emerges intact, and even he must reckon with the knowledge that he himself has been the instrument of Theobald's disillusionment and eventual swift death. Indeed, this narrator is an early specimen of that frequent Jamesian unnamed narrator, a quasi-busybody whose curiosity is at once helpful and suspect: in later stories like “Four Meetings” and “Greville Fane” such curiosity is mostly helpful; in The Sacred Fount it is compulsive, obsessive, but also perhaps meta-artistic; and in “The Aspern Papers” it is self-deceptive, manipulative, and inhumane. “The Madonna of the Future” is really therefore neither a Jamesian art parable like his later tales of the 1890s nor an incisive exploration of the international theme. It is essentially an example of “negative realism,” that is, a tale that exposes the flaws of a romantic or idealistic viewpoint, although it uses art and expatriation as its frame, background, and context.

“A Passionate Pilgrim” is perhaps more pointedly James's inchoate discovery of his international subject. Clement Searle, the expatriate American protagonist in England, is a dying man throughout the story. His “passionate” romanticizing of English life, culture, and countryside are checkmated thematically by two beggars, “immemorial vagrants,” who appear in the tale and whom even Searle recognizes as his spiritual doppelgängers; also by the unpleasantness surrounding Searle's own abortive claim to an ancestral estate, which culminates in an ironic reversal when both Searle and his antagonistic cousin die at the same time. Most important, Searle's romanticizing is contradicted constantly by his very real dying condition, his “attenuated person” and the “spiritless droop of his head” (13:338). While such language clearly evokes Poe-like melancholy, James does not really affirm, as does Poe, its inevitable association with supreme beauty. Yet the American narrator, who remains Searle's confidant throughout the story, does respond like Searle time and again to the picturesque beauty of English life and landscape, evoking not a Poe but a Hawthornesque Our Old Home tenor, although the narrator himself intends from the start to return to America. The two characters taken together bespeak James's own ambivalence in the early 1870s to America and Europe, but what remains consistent, despite an authentic appreciation of English country life at times evocative of, say, Gray's “Elegy,” is a similar strain of antiromanticism like that found in “The Madonna of the Future.” Inasmuch as his illness is never specified, we cannot help but wonder whether Clement Searle's passionate-pilgrimage mindset is somehow destroying him, especially when we consider that at the end the accidental death of the hostile kinsman, coupled with the support and affection of his sister, which might have given Clement the estate after all, coincides with his own death: what he wants the most seals his demise, and the spirit behind that want, the passionate pilgrimage, has been killing him by inches.

Far more successful than either tale and indeed one of the truly significant works of James's immaturity is “Madame de Mauves” (1874), which Christof Wegelin says “points across the whole of [James's] career to his latest novels,” in part because it “dramatizes the contrast between two visions of Europe—the romantic and the real, the sentimental and the objective,” and partly because “we flounder in Jamesian ambiguity” at its end.2 In the case of both the heroine, Euphemia de Mauves, victimized by an unfaithful French aristocrat husband, and the hero, Longmore, a young, ardent American timber merchant attracted to his abused compatriot, we get for the first time in Henry James the American innocent abroad in combination with his use of a central consciousness—in this case focused on Longmore—to render the narrative through a third-person “register”; in other words, the very ingredients found in James's classic international works, “Daisy Miller,” The Portrait of a Lady, even The Ambassadors. All of this is accomplished within the familiar structure of James's longer tales, which are divided into several sections.

What is distinctive about “Madame de Mauves,” however, is the skillful way it first enlists our sympathy for then gradually raises serious questions about the American idealism so deeply embedded in the two principal characters, Euphemia and Longmore. Euphemia's marriage to Richard de Mauves is greatly the result of her own youthful romantic delusions about European aristocracy, delusions enhanced by her convent reading (much like Emma Bovary's) but also seen in her obliviousness to the explicit warnings of old Madame de Mauves, her prospective grandmother. Warning signs abound, too, in the “pagan” lifestyle of her sister-in-law Madame Clairin, whose husband, a druggist and thus another outsider, “blew his brains out” after marrying into the high-born family (13:249). Just as important, perhaps, depending on one's reading of this tale, is the fact that Euphemia when young was placed in a European school by her rich mother to be educated and ends up through marriage coupling her American money to a French count. In any case, she is a deeply unhappy, long-suffering, pretty woman dressed in muslin and lace when Longmore first meets her through a mutual friend, Mrs. Draper, a bona fide early-Jamesian ficelle, that is, an indispensable auxiliary figure who imports necessary information to protagonist and reader alike.

One must stress that this is Longmore's story as much as, perhaps even more than, it is Euphemia's: for Longmore is a perfect match for her romantic nature, emblematized in her name Euphemia, or “euphemism.” Longmore is a thoroughgoing restless idealist, as his name indicates (and only that surname is used); a man with a sense of “curiosity still unappeased,” who “never chose the right-hand road without beginning to suspect after an hour's wayfaring that the left would have been the better” (13:215-16). As the two become close friends they share the American “Protestant” outrage at the infidelity of Richard de Mauves and a disgust at the conduct of his sister Madame Clairin, whose initial advances to Longmore—though as a widow she is free—are deeply repugnant to him. Once the situation is established, however, the center of the tale becomes Longmore's growing attraction for Madame de Mauves, an attraction fueled in part by his knowledge of her husband's neglect and misconduct but also by her beauty—of character, of body, and of something like moral compatibility.

It is precisely at this level that James introduces successfully a series of complications and irony of the sort that really do anticipate his later work. For one thing, Longmore fails to perceive the obvious parallel between his growing erotic love for a married woman and the rakish behavior of her husband, until the count finally proposes to his wife in front of his sister (who reports it all to Longmore) that he will encourage an affair between her and the attentive Longmore if only that the two may no longer bask in moral superiority like “a certain Wordsworth” Euphemia once tried to force him to read. James even gives an early hint of his patented operative irony when Mme. Clairin reports this episode to Longmore: “My belle-soeur sat silent a few moments, drawing her stitches, and then without a word, without a glance, walked out of the room. It was what she should have done!” And Longmore reiterates, “Yes, it was just what she should have done” (13:293-94). What is Jamesianly “operative” about that irony is that the two characters mean diametrically opposite things: Mme Clairin, in European fashion, means, yes, Euphemia reacted with appropriate discretion; Longmore, in American fashion, means, yes, she walked out of the room in the face of such an immoral proposition.

But the broader irony, of course, is that Longmore does court his countrywoman, who is also his neighbor's wife, and the count's suggestion externalizes the desires just beneath Longmore's own squeamishness. This becomes clear when in great frustration Longmore takes a sojourn into the French countryside and (amazingly like Lambert Strether at the other end of James's career in The Ambassadors) experiences a kind of “recognition” scene. He espies, admires, and idealizes a young picnicking French couple only to learn from the innkeeper that the two are not married, but that the woman is married. Following a countryside dream in which he and Euphemia appear on opposite shores of a river with de Mauves seated in a boat between them, the disillusioned Longmore now gives in to nature, embraces carpe diem, and comes to seek his prize, characteristically opting for the “left road,” as it were, after previously choosing the right. At this point James manages a marvelous scene of re-reversal. When Longmore approaches Euphemia, never more desirable, dressed in white, standing in a “soft, warm wind,” she confronts her would-be lover with the statement: “Don't disappoint me.” Longmore must listen to a “marble statue,” “a beautiful woman preaching reason with the most communicative and irresistible passion” (13:312). But with the appearance, one last time, of Mme Clairin and Euphemia's insistence that “If you should go away in anger this idea of mine about our parting would be but half-realised” (13:314), Longmore leaves and chooses, so to speak, the right road again.

James, however, is not yet finished. Longmore returns to America after both he and Euphemia successfully astound de Mauves by their mutual renunciation. Longmore reaffirms his moral idealism, that he “must assent to destiny,” that “he must see everything from above” (13:318-19). And he does just that, even priggishly criticizing Mrs. Draper's simple reflection that “just a little folly's often very graceful” with a severe rejoinder: “Don't talk of grace till you've measured her reason!” (13:330). Longmore himself, however, has the opportunity to do such measuring after two years in America. He visits the returning Mrs. Draper and from her learns an astonishing sequel: that de Mauves, first frustrated and then smitten by his wife's moral courage, begged her forgiveness, changed his entire life, and on his knees beseeched to be readmitted to her favor. Euphemia, however, flatly refused him. Finally, like his own ex-brother-in-law, “they discovered he had blown out his brains.” As for Longmore, he “was strongly moved, and his first impulse after he had recovered his composure was to return immediately to Europe. But several years have passed, and he still lingers at home. The truth is that, in the midst of all the ardent tenderness of his memory of Madame de Mauves, he has become conscious of a singular feeling—a feeling of wonder, of uncertainty, of awe” (13:331).

This ending (or re-reversal, if you will) is an important source of the ambiguity that Vaid, like Wegelin, sees in James's tale (Vaid, 144). But I really do not believe with Wegelin that we need “flounder” in such ambiguity to see that the tale does foreshadow the mature James. I think it fairly evident that Longmore at the end is not only divided characteristically between his “left and right roads”; he is downright afraid to go near her, or more accurately, he is on the threshold of discovering that she is “spooky” and that he wants no part of her. For what James really adumbrates in this early story is one of his great later themes, a character's “violation by an idea,” the rapacious capacity to allow a tenacious prescriptive “idea” to take precedence over humanity and experience; the opposite, for example, of William James's counterbelief that all ideas must be subordinate to the ongoing stream of experience from which they arise in the first place.

This point can be far better appreciated as a whole in “Madame de Mauves” if we look at two features of the tale never discussed, yet both quite prominent. The first is James's ironic substructure of the whole medieval courtly love tradition. It runs from one end of the tale to the other, including even the “languid grey eyes” of the heroine, and “high-walled court” and “artificial garden” that form the principal meeting grounds of the two (13:217, 244). It is also inherent in the supernal devotion of the young man for the married woman: Longmore insists at one point that “if that in life from which you've hoped most has given you least, this devoted respect of mine will refuse no service and betray no trust” (13:276). The important Jamesian twist here is that the “mandatory” adultery of courtly love does not take place—not because, like Sir Gawain, Longmore must parry the sensuous advances of a Lady Bercilak, but because he must instead obey the strictures of someone more like Wallace Stevens's high-toned Christian woman. The real function of James's use of courtly love, however, is that it points up the great ironic disparity between these two American “Protestant” moralists and the age-old European tradition they unconsciously enact. But of course they are Americans and so do not, finally, consummate it. Like the artist James was to become, he is already having it both ways. Even Longmore's dream in the country, routinely dismissed as trite and simplistically allegorical, is not here, I believe, the clumsy device of a too-early Henry James; it is a variation of the dream vision associated with the literature James is in effect parodying: one need only recall a poem like Pearl, the other medieval masterpiece from the author of Sir Gawain, which culminates in a river scene dividing the lover from his beloved girl suspiciously like that presented as Longmore's dream. But again James has it both ways: on the one hand, Richard (as symbolized in Longmore's dream) does “come between” the two, when all is said and done, by his suicide and its sinister implications; on the other hand, the whole idea of Euphemia being on the opposing shore once Longmore reaches the other side—that is, on the shore he himself left to go to her—suggests that they are two sides of the same person, are, as it were, each other's alter-ego.3 Longmore has good reason to pause in “awe” at the end.

The second feature of the tale is the motif James employs of the “secret.” References to Euphemia's “secret” or its equivalent meaning occur nine times throughout the story, including even the old grandmother, who elaborates it as Euphemia's being “wound up by some key that isn't kept by your governess or your confessor or even your mother, but that you wear by a fine black ribbon round your own neck” (13:229). Longmore's “unappeased curiosity” is finally satisfied, he thinks, when he knows the source of Euphemia's sadness and tears: “He felt his heart beat hard—he seemed now to touch her secret” (13:275). He feels confirmed in this later when they speak openly of her abuse: “She had ceased to have what men call a secret for him, and this fact itself brought with it a sort of rapture” (13:296). There is here most certainly a sexual innuendo—also as old as medieval poetry—but the more critical level of meaning, I believe, is that this entire rhetorical motif of “secret” is a verbal artistic strategy that comes into its own with the end of the tale: Euphemia's “secret” is ironically reestablished with a vengeance at the conclusion, and Longmore is left in “awe.” Even the sexual parallel functions ironically, for Euphemia's secret is not to be penetrated from the moment she asserts, “Don't disappoint me.

Ultimately, then, it really is legitimate to speak of Euphemia's “ambiguity” in the same respect that James's later fiction skillfully explores and affirms the ambiguity of a character or complexity of a situation—which I take to be different from the concept of our “floundering” in it. Euphemia's ambiguity and secret are both adroitly and subtly symbolized by her name. “Mauve” means a purple dye and refers to the first of the coal-tar dyes. She is literally named after an “odd compound” (Mme Clairin's characterization of her at one point), a phrase that works on two levels. First, since it is her married name it suggests initially the dark wickedness that surrounds her French family; this is exactly Longmore's idealistic assumption about her, that she is pure while the rest of them give him a “moral chill.” Eventually, however, it points to her own capacity to give us—and even Longmore at the very end—a moral chill. In other words, the dual meaning of “mauve” parallels what is suggested by the multiple meanings of “secret.” James seems to have wished us to grasp this, for he chose her name for his title. Further, by naming her Euphemia de Mauves, he combines and exhibits the terms of her ambiguity and our complex judgment of her—dreamy coal tar, an “odd compound.” Thus, although it is quite common to cite “Madame de Mauves” for its renunciation theme, we must also recognize that renunciation is in the process of being redefined rather than simply affirmed, much less approved. Like the concept of “secret,” we have with renunciation what William James would call a “transitional” term, one that undergoes new modification of meaning through successive experience and consequence. The opposing stance to that perspective is to be “violated by an idea,” to make everything conform to it. This is Euphemia's principal flaw, one that Longmore probably has managed to escape. To discuss a very early James tale this way is to sense that Christof Wegelin is right—not about our “floundering” in its ambiguity but rather about its “point[ing] across the whole of his career to his latest novels.”

Although “Four Meetings” (1877) may not be quite the remarkable anticipation of late James accorded “Madame de Mauves”—which is, after all, like no other tale written before it—it is every bit as valuable for my purpose here, since it is a fine representative short tale both in its realist theme and in its handling of the international theme, surely among the reasons for its traditional reappearance in anthologies. James's structure is relatively simple; in fact, the tale resembles a three-act play, two of the four meetings occurring consecutively at the same time period.4 Although connoisseurs of late Jamesian complexity might think of it superficially as “four easy pieces,” the story presents James's early technical mastery as well as a presage of certain important thematic preoccupations in his later work.

Caroline Spencer, a school teacher from North Verona in the depths of New England, has saved every penny to fulfill the great dream of her life, to visit Europe. The narrator of the tale, who like the majority of those in which James uses first-person narration remains unnamed, is a cosmopolitan European traveler from New York who befriends Caroline and takes an interest in her. At the first meeting they inspect a portfolio of European photographs, and he hears of her intense eagerness to go abroad. He warns her in a humorous vein that she must get abroad speedily because “Europe was getting sadly dis-Byronised” (16:271), and he also teases her that she possesses “the great American disease” and has “got it ‘bad’—the appetite, morbid and monstrous, for colour and form, for the picturesque and the romantic at any price” (16:274). Caroline is both shy and intense, yet single-mindedly interested in the narrator's travels and determined to experience for herself the adventure of Europe.

The second and third meetings take place several years later at the French port of Havre. Here he runs into Miss Spencer, who has just disembarked from the same ship as the narrator's own sister and brother-in-law. Her great enthusiasm on finally reaching Europe is immediately complicated, however, by her Europeanized American cousin, a Parisian art student, who arrives and asks for financial help in his courtship of a supposed noblewoman. Although the narrator warns Caroline that she is being fleeced, Caroline, empathetic and even intrigued by the “old-world romance,” gives her money to the cousin and his young “Countess” wife, who has “written me the most beautiful letter” (16:291)—and departs for home. “The poor girl,” the narrator tells us, “had been some thirteen hours in Europe” (16:294), never getting farther than the French seaport!

The final, fourth meeting occurs five years later back at North Verona, the scene of the initial meeting. The narrator, on a visit, discovers Caroline looking much older, haggard, “tired and wasted.” In a Maupassant-like twist of irony, we learn that the “Countess,” now a widow, has come over to live with Caroline and in fact treats her like her servant, a condition Miss Spencer accedes to. The narrator, even more impatient with her than at the previous meetings, tries to rekindle her interest in Europe, but Caroline says she doesn't “care for it now” (16:300). The worldly-wise narrator swiftly ascertains that the late art student's wife—if she ever was his wife—is anything but a countess; indeed, her speech and manner reveal to him someone of very low class and probably of questionable profession, since she seems to practice it with a young, rich Mr. Mixter to whom she presumably gives French lessons behind a “closed door.” And yet his repeated attempts to show Caroline she is once again being cruelly exploited are, as before, to no avail. Sensing finally that she wants him to leave, he does so, leaving behind the young woman with “the great American disease.” Although Caroline's long-cherished goal of going to Europe was stinted, Europe has come to her “to stay,” while the cost of this trip is exacted in her constant servitude to her fraudulent guest.

Caroline's victimization is an early example in James of his lifelong theme of human exploitation, always the moral basis for his art. “Four Meetings” also epitomizes James's theme of antiromanticism, or what I chose to designate earlier while discussing “The Madonna of the Future” his “negative realism”; that is, negative because the principal purpose is to show the destructive consequences of a romantic view, a realism found so frequently in Howells and Twain in stories like “Editha” or “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.” This is opposed to James's mastery of “positive realism,” which is rather the attempt to render and poetize all the shades, nuances, and implications of ordinary everyday reality, especially the permutations of human consciousness. Like Poe's grotesque, arabesque, and ratiocinative elements, however, James's positive and negative realism are most frequently woven together in a given story and not simplistically divided. But they can be distinguished, however, for there are tales in James's canon in which either the negative or positive expression of his realist theme predominates. In general, one finds a predominance of negative realism in the earlier tales and of positive realism in the later ones.

“Four Meetings” also gives us an early taste of James's innocence-to-experience theme in the person of Caroline Spencer; we also find his trademark of some pivotal irony or “turn of the screw,” a feature, again, very Maupassant-like, but one greatly embellished and complicated in his work much later. “Four Meetings” also points up another characteristic element in James's international theme, the fact that Caroline, the American, is exploited not only by a European (the “Countess”) but first and foremost by a Europeanized American, her art-student, cousin who gives the narrator “a solemn wave, in the ‘European’ fashion,” and who extracts “the stone from a plump apricot he had fondly retained” (16:284, 293). The morally flawed Europeanized American persists in Henry James's work and can be seen more individualized in such figures as Winterbourne in “Daisy Miller,” Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle in The Portrait of the Lady, and the Moreen family in “The Pupil.” The exploitative European, like the “Countess” of “Four Meetings,” is actually the rarer instance in James and found most prominently in his early novel, The American, in the personages of the Bellegardes and in Mlle Noemie. In The American the ambivalent Mrs. Tristram is the principal Europeanized American character; had she been more representative of Christopher Newman's moral hazards than the Bellegardes, the late James would likely have thought his early novel more realistic and less flawed by romance. Furthermore, for those (unlike the present writer) who may wish to read “Four Meetings” in such fashion, James provides at least some slight possibility that the unnamed narrator is perhaps specious or slightly obtuse, if not unreliable—all trademarks of much of the late fiction.5

“Four Meetings” is in fact quite surprising in its subtle exhibition of poetic elements and metaphorical substructure, despite the fact that it remains an early piece and therefore would not be expected to have anything like the rich massive poetic texture of a late James tale. For example, at the conclusion of the first meeting, after Caroline and the narrator have finished speaking of Europe and of her firm intention to go, he tells us that “she left me, fluttering all expressively her little straw fan” (16:275). This figure is antiphonally answered and recalled at the conclusion of the second meeting, when the manipulative art-student cousin gestures “with his swaggering head-cover a great flourish that was like the wave of a banner over a conquered field” (16:286). These are, to be sure, instances of what James meant by “air of reality” and “solidity of specification” in “The Art of Fiction” (PP, 390), but it is interesting to note that with this pair of examples only one contains an overtly rhetorical metaphor (actually a simile), whereas both convey the force of imagery, especially when seen in relation to one another. Something of the same effect is also present when the narrator's brother-in-law tells him that during the trip over on the steamer Caroline “was never sick. She used to sit perpetually at the side of the vessel … looking at the eastward horizon” (16:277). This is the obvious attitude of Caroline portrayed in her emblematic “stance” facing Europe; but we have also the less obvious rhetorical and ironic point that the same woman who is about to be victimized by her Europeanized relative has not been subject to the normal pitfalls of European travel, that is to say, seasickness, a point enforced by the fact that the narrator's own sister, unlike Caroline a frequent traveler, has had to retire to her room immediately upon landing because of seasickness.

James also employs direct metaphor to enrich his early tale. One example occurs when Caroline at the Havre informs him excitedly of her proposed plans of travel: “She had them on her fingers' ends and told over the names as solemnly as a daughter of another faith might have told over the beads of a rosary” (16:283). This is an excellent example from the early James of a “reflexive” image, that is, one whose content is not intended to lead the reader away from the character to the broader associations the image might otherwise denote but, as William James would say, circles back and “redirects itself” to its source, in this case the pious childlike character of Miss Spencer, whose plans will not materialize. The tenor of this metaphor consorts well with a subsequent one when Caroline, informed by the narrator that her cousin is about to swindle her, “asserted at this, her dignity—much as a small pink shorn lamb might have done. … ‘I shan't be stripped. I shan't live any worse than I have lived, don't you see? And I'll come back before long to stay with them’” (16:292). This last declaration typifies the sort of anticipatory irony that permeates this tale, for it is ultimately the ersatz Countess who comes to stay with her. And the imagery of the innocent “small pink shorn lamb” asserting its dignity even echoes a detail from the first meeting at North Verona, when Caroline's fan is said to be “adorned with pink ribbon” (momentarily suggestive of Hawthorne's Goodman Brown's innocent wife Faith) and her attire “a scanty black silk dress” (16:269), suggesting fragility and vulnerability—someone who, as the narrator exclaims, eventually can be “stripped of every dollar” (16:292).

Another related technical achievement in this early story is the fluidity of what Mark Twain, in his praise of William Dean Howells, called a writer's “stage directions,” those descriptive details accompanying dialogue that are in their quiet way touchstones for the kind of craftsmanship sought by the American realists beyond the technique of Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville.6 Instead of the narrator's telling us he “said” or “cried” a statement, we hear such things as this: “‘We must speak of it,’ I declared as I dropped beside her again.” Or Caroline, defending her cousin's young wife, whom she has yet to meet but who has written her “‘asking me for confidence and sympathy’—Miss Spencer spoke now with spirit” (16:289, 291). James's early skill with such “stage directions,” however, is most evident near the end of the tale when, during the fourth meeting, the bogus countess herself tells the narrator of her boredom away from Paris at such a place as North Verona. “‘You may imagine what it is. These two years of my epreuve. … One gets used to things’—and she raised her shoulders to the highest shrug ever accomplished at North Verona” (16:309). This particularly fine “stage direction” seems to match up, if you will, with Twain's own unforgettable image of the Calevaras frog Dan'l Webster, who, full of shot and unable to jump, looks at his owner Jim Smiley and “hysted up his shoulder—so—like a Frenchman.”7 In general, James's “stage directions” in an early tale like “Four Meetings” also bespeak his ease in the strategic use of vernacular language, as when the narrator tries to warn Caroline not to be cheated “for such a rigmarole!” or when, on the lookout for the shifty art-student cousin, he tells us “There, sure enough,” he was “at the end of a long table” (16:289, 292).

Still, the later James is at least tacitly embedded within the early James of “Four Meetings,” for the character of Caroline Spencer at the end of the tale seems finally shrouded in ambiguity. Why does she allow herself to be so abused when the woman comes from Europe “to stay” with her and orders her to do all the work (the alleged noblewoman claiming exemption from “manual labor”)? Why does the wasted, indeed, as it turns out, dying Caroline finally not see through the shabby charade? Does she remain a romantic even as her vision of old-world Europe ravages and brutalizes her? Neither the narrator nor the reader ever comes to know—at a certain level her psyche eludes us.

Nevertheless, James as potential master of the poetic novel and tale does create an acute “objective correlative” during the last awkward interview between Caroline and the narrator. First, when he arrives at her door unexpectedly Caroline unconsciously steps outside and closes the door before coming to herself again and inviting her old friend in; such “body language” hints that she knows the score at some deep recess of her being and prefers the narrator not to have access to that knowledge. Once inside, moreover, he persists in asking the now haggard young woman when she will finally make her European tour. Before answering him, Caroline “attached her eyes a moment to a small sun-spot on the carpet; then she got up and lowered the window-blind a little to obliterate it” (16:300). This literal act amounts on James's part to a fusion of metaphorical activity and landscape: that is to say, the image bespeaks her willful blindness; at the very same time, she herself is impenetrable. James clearly reinforces this tenor just afterward when the “Comtesse” makes her first appearance and orders Caroline to fetch her coffee: “I looked at Miss Spencer, whose eyes never moved from the carpet” (16:303). She continues like a menial to do the Frenchwoman's bidding while young Mr. Mixter remains on the premises and pays for his questionable French lessons; but Caroline herself remains “impenetrable” (16:303) to both the narrator and to us. He finally tells us by way of sealing James's own extended conceit that “I couldn't let in, by the jog of a shutter, as it were, a hard informing ray and then, washing my hands of the business, turn my back forever” (16:311).8

That is, the narrator cannot, like his counterpart in “The Madonna of the Future,” first undeceive Caroline and then simply walk away from the brutality attending her condition of knowledge. And yet it is all too clear that she does know, although apparently not yet consciously, while she continues in effect physically to obliterate the “sunspot.” At this deeper level her character becomes ambiguous in a way that does adumbrate the later James. If there is any “hard informing ray” from the author himself on this score, it might lie in the references made at certain strategic moments in the story to Caroline's puritan sensibility. At one earlier point, for example, while she tells the narrator how she has “saved and saved up” for her trip, he tells us she “went on with suppressed eagerness, as if telling me the story were a rare, but possibly an impure satisfaction,” and he even alludes to her as a “thin-stemmed, mild-hued flower of Puritanism” (16:273, 278). Moreover, at another early point, when the narrator quips in a humorous vein that she has wasted a great deal of time if she is to have all the “experience” she speaks of, she replies “Oh yes, that has been my great wickedness!” (16:275). Does Caroline, then, accept her intolerable situation at the end because of some feeling of appropriate punishment, perhaps the “wickedness” of squandering her one opportunity? We cannot ever know, but we can see here again, especially in the final meeting, certain ingredients of James's later mode within the early tale. “Four Meetings” begins with the narrator learning of Caroline's death, after which he proceeds to narrate the story in retrospect, and it ends with the grim and ironic situation of the “Countess,” that is to say, “Europe,” coming to live with Caroline Spencer. And in between there is considerable humor that then turns to pathos, an interlocking substructure of poetic and metaphoric linkages, and, when one ponders it, a rather complicated view of the “international theme.” And so although “Four Meetings” remains predominantly a piece aimed “negatively” at romanticism, it has significance beyond its salient ironic reversal in structure and theme. In it, James has already begun to master the short story form with an artistic compression not immediately obvious and has likewise insinuated a psychological complexity that emerges, as it were, when one takes a second look.

If “Four Meetings” culminates in pathos and a certain measure of psychological ambiguity, “An International Episode” (1878-79), “A Bundle of Letters” (1879), and “The Point of View” (1882) present a successful trio of early unabashed Jamesian international comedies of manners. The first is a long tale, longer than “Daisy Miller,” its companion piece, and even a bit long for the nouvelle category or classification.9 This allows James full development of the multiple biases and misunderstandings emanating from his symmetrical English and American cast of characters and played out structurally first in New York and Newport, then in London. This story has always escaped the prominence of “Daisy Miller,” doubtless, as its different title suggests, because of the absence of the magnetic, almost lyric, central figure of Daisy herself. Nevertheless, as pure international comedy it is superb. “A Bundle of Letters” and “The Point of View” are thematically related, again through the comedy of internationalism, but they are most unusual on account of James's rare yet highly successful use of the epistolary form. He appropriately grouped them all together in one volume of the New York Edition with his international comedies, including “Lady Barbarina” (1884) and “The Pension Beaurepas” (1879), the latter a piece that overlaps characters with “The Point of View.” Not reprinted in the New York Edition is James's fine work The Europeans (1878), which much resembles these international comedies yet inverts both The American and “Daisy Miller” by dramatizing the complications in New England arising from the “intrusion” from abroad of radically Europeanized Americans Eugenia Münster and Felix Young. The chemistry of defensiveness and circumspection that develops between Robert Acton and Eugenia is particularly well handled and worth exploring, but the book is too long to qualify as a tale and merit discussion here. What all of these stories illustrate best is James's objective or “perspectivist” stance on the international subject during this period of his work.

“An International Episode” abounds in hilarious crisscrossing cultural biases, foibles, and transcontinental suspicion. Englishmen Percy Beaumont and Lord Lambeth must deal with the stifling New York climate by taking epic baths, after first assuming quite wrongly that their hotel will not have sufficient showering facilities. Through a mutual friend they connect socially with Mr. Westgate, a lovely Jamesian profile of a downtown American businessman, who generously puts them up with his family in Newport and then, although continuously expected to arrive and join them, never appears again in the entire story, his absence a testimony to his total absorption in the financial enterprises that support his family's life-style and their trips abroad. The real complications arise between Beaumont and Lord Lambeth, on the one hand, and Mrs. Westgate and her younger sister Bessie Alden, on the other. Mrs. Westgate is a warm, pretty, stylishly dressed woman of thirty who keeps a sort of open house in her Newport mansion and who chatters incessantly, beyond even the scope of Daisy Miller; her verbal motif is that America is impoverished primarily by having “no leisure class.” Her sister, Bessie Alden, is a prepossessing figure, a combination of Bostonian self-reliance, intellectual curiosity, and romantic idealization of Europe—part Caroline Spencer, part Euphemia de Mauves, and part Isabel Archer, of whom she is a prototype, strictly speaking, even more than is Daisy Miller. Lord Lambeth is wonderfully good natured and unpretentious, also very handsome, yet totally inaccessible to ideas, reminiscent of Matthew Arnold's concept of nobility as “barbarians” in Culture and Anarchy. Percy Beaumont, his cousin, is continuously called by James's narrator the more “clever” of the two, which indicates less his mental superiority than his constant suspicion of Americans. When Lambeth and Bessie become attracted to each other in Newport, the vigilant Beaumont, despite his own pleasant diversion in Mrs. Westgate's company, promptly alerts the Duchess of Bayswater, Lord Lambeth's mother, who virtually dragoons her son back to England: both Beaumont and the Duchess unquestionably assume that Bessie is out to hook Lord Lambeth, an English marquis.

When Mrs. Westgate and Bessie arrive in England the following May, some eight months after the two Englishmen's departure, James beautifully complicates the cultural conflict. First of all, Mrs. Westgate is entirely different in character and personality once away from her native soil and Newport “turf”: she arrives obsessively defensive, absolutely certain that the superior English society who accepted her hospitality in America will snub her in England, and is therefore determined not to give them the chance. James diminishes the extent of her chattering in line with her wariness, but now she continually introduces French phrases into her conversation (James's impartial narrator never makes note of this; he just presents it dramatically). Moreover Mrs. Westgate is now most proprietary about the “rules of conduct” regarding her sister, Bessie, and at one point even announces that “For me there are only two social positions worth speaking of—that of an American lady and that of the Emperor of Russia” (14:357). Clearly she has forgotten her earlier ubiquitous theme of “no leisure class” in America! But of course Beaumont's continued suspicions regarding Bessie's designs on Lambeth seem to justify Mrs. Westgate's defensiveness, and the two of them, once temporarily friendly while in Newport, now become outright verbal antagonists.

James's handling of the courtship in England between Bessie and Lambeth is wonderfully soft-toned and comic. Bessie constantly asks him about the great cultural artifacts in which he has no interest. About the Tower of London, for instance, she declares, “You have no right to be ignorant” of its history. “Why haven't I as good a right as anyone else?” he wonders. “Because you've lived in the midst of all these things,” she argues with all her freedom, passion, and spirit. “What things do you mean?” he rejoins, “Axes and blocks and thumbscrews?” (14:361). Bessie is similarly frustrated in attempting to draw forth an expression of Lambeth's hereditary powers and obligations: when telling him she wishes to hear him speak in Parliament, he replies, “I never speak—except to young ladies,” and when pressed as to why he doesn't address the House—“Because I've nothing to say” (14:351-52).

Nevertheless, Bessie remains attracted to the handsome and unpretentious Lambeth, and he becomes greatly enamored of her along with her iconoclastic American spirit. By now James has the “international episode” running at full tilt with its multiple agendas. Mrs. Westgate, assured that Bessie does not really love Lambeth, nonetheless yearns for the English nobility to be terrified at the prospect of the marriage so that she might rebuff their imperious assumptions. Percy Beaumont and the Duchess meanwhile are maneuvering to shame Bessie and get Lambeth to lose his interest; and Lambeth himself is asserting his preference and individuality independent of hereditary obligations by inviting Bessie to his castle at Branches to meet his mother and sister, which forces them (much to Mrs. Westgate's delight) to have to call first upon Mrs. Westgate and Bessie at their hotel in London. Finally, in a brilliant reversal, Bessie herself, after being looked over by both the Duchess and her daughter, puts an abrupt quietus to everything and everyone by refusing the invitation, and, in effect, rejecting the marriage proposal. This is wonderful Jamesian “operative irony” with respect to Mrs. Westgate: her very “plan” is achieved, yet she is just furious at the thought that the English noblewomen will believe that their hotel visit prevented and “saved” Lambeth from an inappropriate marriage. “But Bessie Alden,” writes James, “strange and charming girl, seemed to regret nothing” (14:389).

Bessie does emerge as “very theoretic” and wishes from Lambeth “an ideal of conduct” to which he is unable to measure up. As James also expresses it, “she tried to adapt it to her friend's behaviour as you might attempt to fit a silhouette in cut paper over a shadow projected upon a wall. Bessie Alden's silhouette, however, refused to coincide at all points with his lordship's figure” (14:368). Critics understandably have long been interested in Bessie Alden as a prototype of the Jamesian independent American woman, sister to Daisy Miller and Isabel Archer. Yet to extrapolate her interesting figure from the various broader comic parameters of this long story, as is the temptation in James criticism, is to fail to appreciate the full “internationalism” of this tale and that of James's final witty stance of detachment.10 If one laughs at Mrs. Westgate's turnabout of personality in England, for example, one must chuckle just as quickly, say, at the ingenuous, simpleminded Lambeth, who is named ironically for the great and historic councils of English ecclesiastical history.

James's objectivity is the key as well to his mastery of the epistolary form of “A Bundle of Letters” and “The Point of View.” The first is set in a boarding house in Paris and comprises nine letters, four of which are written by Miranda Hope to her mother in Bangor, Maine. Miranda, a spontaneous young American woman traveling alone, combines the liveliness of a Daisy Miller with the culture-questing of a Bessie Alden. The second tale, “The Point of View,” is set (if that is the right word for this second bundle of letters) in New York, Newport, Boston, and Washington; it comprises eight letters, two of which are by young Aurora Church, who has lived abroad with her mother but has persuaded her to spend several months in their native land—which Mrs. Church loathes—in search of a husband for Aurora. James's detachment, again, is the key to both these tales. His epistolary system allows for dramatizing the characters' opinionated ideas about the multitude of social data on which the tales collectively comment. Yet the two young American women, Miranda and Aurora, are, perhaps not surprisingly from James, the most attractive individuals. Still another American, Miss Violet Ray, a young society woman, is a snob who thinks Miranda the “most extraordinary specimen of self-complacent provinciality” (14:495)—an unwittingly self-reflexive proposition if ever there was one. Moreover, Louis Leverett, who appears in both tales, is an odious Boston aesthete; his letter from Paris is sprinkled with pompous allusions to Balzac, and his idiom is laced with affectations like “as they say here.” In the second tale his corresponding letter from Boston is a shallow effete's lament at being severed from his beloved Paris. And so it goes. Young Evelyn Vane is probably a decent sort, yet her letter virtually glows with the narrowness of this English woman's horizon, as her mind inexhaustibly engages trivialities, and she totally misreads Miranda as “awfully vulgar” for “travelling about quite alone” (14:518). Leon Verdier is a French gallant whose immemorial and erroneous male presumptions about all young American women, especially Miranda, is a travesty and parody of Frederick Winterbourne's memorable questionings and doubts about Daisy Miller's “virtue” in James's tale the previous year. One gets the feeling at times that Miranda Hope, not unlike, say, Faulkner's Benjy in The Sound and the Fury, is in effect a sort of “moral mirror” that reflects and assesses the other figures. Dr. Rudolph Staub, who refers to the decline of English-speaking “specimens” and American “varieties,” exhibits a contempt, superiority, and arrogance on behalf of the “conquest” and “incalculable expansion” of the “deep-lunged children of the Fatherland” that probably reflects James's own dislike of Germans, the one place his otherwise objective authorial stance may be transparent (14:531).

Characters in “The Point of View” besides Aurora Church and Louis Leverett, already mentioned, include Aurora's “Mamma,” Mrs. Church, whose expatriate mind monotonously criticizes U.S. culture whatever topic she happens to land on. Equally mindless, perhaps, is the lawyer Marcellus Cockerel, whose chauvinistic Americanism negatizes both Mrs. Church and Louis Leverett. The dignified Honorable Edward Antrobus, M.P., is both priceless and meticulous in his elaborate discussion of American versus European train travel in his letter to his wife. Then there is M. Gustave Lejaune, of the French academy, who has such incalculable bias in his letter home as to permanently disqualify him to be “the first French writer of distinction who has been to America since De Tocqueville” (14:546)—so described by the generous Aurora in her letter. Only Miss Sturdy, a fifty-year-old spinster writing to her best friend in Florence, seems to give an intelligent, balanced mixture of pros and cons regarding America and Europe.

In these pieces James perforce ignores plot and concentrates on dramatizing character. As with “Four Meetings,” most impressive is what James himself would in “The Art of Fiction” call “solidity of specification” in the cumulative effect of these letters and the collection of social data projected by the various figures—even though the later James would in his fiction intentionally prune such “solid specification” and subordinate it to the conceptualizing of language and the rendering of consciousness. The epistolary form and its effect as a whole in these pieces give further ample evidence of how much early James participated fully with Twain and Howells in post-Civil War American humor; one thinks of Twain's “Letters from Honolulu,” for example, which have far less variety of character or “points of view.” James at one point even goes out of his way to parody his own celebrated list of American cultural handicaps and “denudation” voiced in Hawthorne (1879)11 in the mouth of M. Lejaune: “No salons, no society, no conversation.” Indeed, “the country's a void—no features, no objects, no details, nothing to show you that you're in one place more than another. … Naturally, no architecture (they make houses of wood and of iron), no art, no literature, no theater. I've opened some of the books. … No form, no matter, no style, no general ideas: they seem to be written for children and young ladies” (14:589-90). All this, remember, comes supposedly from the first writer of distinction since De Tocqueville. But just in case we have missed James's parody and think for a second this really does reflect his own cultural critique from Hawthorne, James makes himself the butt of his own joke when Lejaune immediately declares: “They've a novelist with pretentions to literature who writes about the chase for the husband and the adventures of the rich Americans in our corrupt old Europe, where their primeval candor puts the Europeans to shame. C'est proprement écrit; but it's terribly pale” (14:590-91).

“A Bundle of Letters” and “The Point of View” as international social comedy are in fact mainly about provinciality in its inexhaustible variety. This holds true for everyone from Miranda Hope and Aurora Church on down to the far less attractive individuals. From the standpoint of subject matter the traits of American women and children probably predominate over any other single topic, but there are so many observations and topics as to give these papers a kind of comic miniature-encyclopedic tenor. James was not to cultivate the epistolary form as a major mode of fiction in his long career; and yet, if the following is not too preposterous a claim, it is not altogether impossible for the reader to think ahead to, say, As I Lay Dying when reading these virtual monologues and hearing these often free-associating voices commenting on the same experience and on one another.

Finally, the best known and perennial favorite among James's early stories is “Daisy Miller” (1878), a nouvelle that like “Madame de Mauves” employs third-person narration focused on a viewpoint character of “register.” It occupies a special place in his canon for several reasons. First, its notoriety and popularity made James for a brief moment in his career a popular writer: Howells could have a character in The Rise of Silas Lapham refer casually to “Daisy Millerism”; society was even said by Howells to divide into “Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites”; and James was frequently identified on the title pages of his later novels as the author of “Daisy Miller.” The story, published in Cornhill Magazine by Leslie Stephen (Virginia Woolf's father), was pirated immediately, sold twenty thousand copies in pamphlet form in a few weeks, and spawned a play and even a Daisy Miller hat. The reason for this early and enduring interest is that James had fully identified and staked as his imaginative territory the plight of the international American woman whose free-spiritedness flouts European respectability. He also had focused swiftly on the antagonism between Daisy and the Europeanized “gang” abroad and had rendered convincingly the “moral muddlement” of the expatriate American Frederick Winterbourne, James's viewpoint character and a man attracted to Daisy's “natural elegance” (18:21), yet who eventually sides with her antagonists, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello, both Europeanized Americans. Newly abroad from Schenectady, New York, Daisy's principal “crimes” are that she ignores class structures and customary behavior, whether at Vevey or in Rome, and both speaks and walks freely with whomever she likes, in essence treating all she meets as equal human beings. Eventually she dies of malarial or “Roman” fever after exposing herself through evening walks in the Colosseum with Mr. Giovanelli, a simple man disapproved of by the ardent American colony of matrons who assume custodial standing over Daisy and her family and who define expatriate morality. Daisy thus dies a sacrificial victim like the Christian martyrs who have preceded her.

To tell the story this way, however, is to fail to represent James's skillful complication of the conflict, his dialectical inquiry, or at least what has been called his “middle point of view” (Wegelin, 32). The key to any sophisticated reading along the line James intended is to focus as well on Winterbourne, since his is our point of view, whereas Daisy remains, as she should, the “phenomenon” into whose consciousness we are not permitted to enter, yet whose continual and insubstantial “chatter” and love of a “fuss” qualify her stature otherwise as free spirit and genuine expression of nature opposed to artificial forms of respectability. Both Winterbourne and Daisy are in James's language “queer mixtures” of contradictory elements and “booked to make a mistake” with each other (18:41, 93) because the reactions of each to the other are culturally and socially predetermined. He lives in Geneva and has lived in Europe since a boy of twelve, about the same age as Daisy's rambunctious brother, Randolph. Daisy's beauty and natural good taste in clothes no less than her enthusiasm and spontaneity do not change the fact that, like her mother and her absent, “downtown” father too busy working to come abroad, she inhabits an intellectual vacuum: mother and daughter in central and southern Europe can share as conversational topics only Randolph's antics and Schenectady's Dr. Davis, and Daisy believes Europe is “nothing but hotels” (18:15). Although much attracted to her, Winterbourne recognizes eventually that she is “nothing every way if not light” (18:75)—a “lightweight” in Jamesian lexicon usually meaning someone without sufficient consciousness. Daisy's own “queer mixture” incorporates her “natural elegance,” commensurate with the flower for which she is named, and it includes her nighttime martyrdom symbolized by the same flower, the “day's eye,” which is eclipsed at night; but it also comprises her “chatter,” stubbornness, foolishness, and, on occasion, a sort of tactless crudity. The emphasis in “Daisy Miller” remains at the level of social determinism, and it is in that respect fundamentally what its companion tale immediately following it is called, “An International Episode,” but with an extremely crucial difference necessary for grasping James's internationalism. In “Daisy Miller” he portrays the conflict and mutual misunderstanding that arises not between Americans and Europeans but between the “natural” American free spirit and the complicated response to that spirit by the Europeanized American, Winterbourne, who is at once attracted and repelled by it, as well as by the other Europeanized Americans who are merely repelled and think Daisy “of the last crudity” and a “little abomination” (18:23, 44).

In fact, Winterbourne's tale, if as James's “register” it is his tale—is really about the making of a Europeanized American, his ultimately siding with Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello against Daisy, his rejection of his own attraction to her “natural elegance” or what he earlier calls her “queer little native grace” (18:31). That sad and deleterious process of rejection completes itself by the very end, when he returns to Geneva and to a “very clever foreign lady” (18:94), the antithesis of a Daisy Miller. His name of course insinuates such moral culpability, for the chilly Winterbourne does in a real sense “kill” the innocent and vulnerable Daisy, especially when he espies her at the Colosseum with Giovanelli and turns against her: Daisy herself cries out, “Why it was Mr. Winterbourne. He saw me and he cuts me dead!” (18:86)—her colloquialism doubling as James's metaphor for the death of a flower. Winterbourne's moral failure is underscored by James in numerous ways, including the young man's eventual reaction of “horror”—the very word used of Daisy by Mrs. Costello early on—and also his “relief” at finally deciding that Daisy “had no shades [and] was a mere black little blot” (18:86). Shades and nuances comprise a virtual microcosm of James's own epistemology and aesthetic practice, and therefore as “register” Winterbourne's relinquishing of “shades” at this critical moment in the story in effect pits him against everything James stands for as a writer and humanitarian sensibility.

There are very many other such instances where James's verbal patterns serve to indict Winterbourne. He himself admits that he has “lived too long in foreign parts” (18:93) when he realizes from the lips of Mr. Giovanelli, ironically the one real European of the story, that Daisy was “the most innocent” (18:92). One of the innumerable verbal signifiers for Winterbourne's flawed character occurs when James with exquisitely deceptive simplicity says of him that at the Colosseum he sought “a further reach of vision, intending the next moment a hasty retreat” (18:85). This is yet another instance in James of “reflexive” or “ricochet” language: for while the literal meaning is that Winterbourne intends to leave the monument quickly lest he become infected with the malarial disease, the deeper meaning, conveyed in subsidiary metaphor, is that in the course of his story Winterbourne first expands his “vision” by his positive response to Daisy and then “retreats” from his enlarged horizon by rejecting her. In point of fact, James drives home this kind of moral reflexivity when he writes of Winterbourne's Colosseum repudiation of Daisy's “shades,” “He stood there looking at her, looking at her companion too, and not reflecting that though he saw them vaguely he himself must have been more brightly presented” (18:86). Any reader who assumes this is only a description of Winterbourne's visibility in moonlight simply does not comprehend James's Emily Dickinson-like layering of the figurative within the literal. Not only is the young man “shown” in the fullness of his own moral deformity, he even fails to realize that Daisy at that moment is visually enshrouded in the tenebrous “shades” he has just now abruptly denied to her character.

Although “Daisy Miller” remains a comedy of manners, James's later revisions coat it with a symbolic and poetic overlay, one that not only emphasizes her charm and spontaneity and the disagreeableness of her censors, but also stresses her obvious ties to nature, ties that, inevitably, also betoken her subjugation to its laws and processes. The “Roman fever” or “miasma” she catches in her innocence is worldly evil, which is pervasive, whether she knows it or not. Her instincts against conformity are most valid when she tried to coax Winterbourne out of his “stiffness,” just as his are most valid when he senses that, with all her vibrant parts, she yet fails to “compose.” It is not Daisy's directness, her fresh beauty, or obvious lack of ulterior design in her negotiations with people, any more than, say, Billy Budd's, that tell against her. Rather, she is unfortunately as devoid of a real inward life as she is of any guile. That void is filled up instead with capriciousness, chatter, and the unexamined desire for a “fuss.” Daisy's will is at once strong and weak by virtue of the indistinctness of her aims and the absence of any critical reflection of them.

Thus the story remains a true dialectical inquiry from the early James and a penetrating examination of the internationalism that would be the hallmark of his finest novels throughout his career. Although it remains implicit, the iconography of this tale and of James's international theme tells us that nature requires art, activity and energy require meaning and consciousness, innocence requires experience, freedom demands an awareness of life's limitations, and spontaneity must always inhabit a world of history and custom. James's great early success in “Daisy Miller” with his distinctive social realism and his figure of the young American woman does not prevent our seeing in retrospect that we have also a case of quasi-tragedy through cultural implantation; or, to put it another way, a social comedy of errors with a darkening and lyric edge.12 This retrospective view is also reinforced by our awareness that in The Portrait of a Lady Henry James was soon to deepen his generic Daisy Miller type into Isabel Archer and make her, rather than a male character, the reflecting consciousness of her own “history.”


  1. The Novels and Tales of Henry James, vol. 13, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), 441-42; hereafter cited in the text by volume and page number (e.g., 13:441-42). The twenty-four volumes of this New York Edition appeared between 1907 and 1909.

  2. Christof Wegelin, The Image of Europe in Henry James (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1958), 45-46; hereafter cited in the text. At one point Wegelin calls this 30,000-word story a novel, one instance of the confusion surrounding the nomenclature of James's shorter fiction discussed in my preface.

  3. This exchange of places on an opposite shore makes a curious and interesting parallel with the visitations in “The Turn of the Screw” involving the Governess and Miss Jessel.

  4. Although James does not actually discuss “Four Meetings” in his Preface to volume 16 of the New York Edition (which is stocked with twelve stories, an unusually large number), he does use that Preface to emphasize what he calls the “Dramatise it, Dramatise it!” principle. This is also the same Preface in which he compares the short story to a sonnet. See AN, 232-40.

  5. Among those who find some fault with the “Four Meetings” narrator are John A. Clair, The Ironic Dimension in the Fiction of Henry James (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1965), 1-16; Roger Seamon, “Henry James's ‘Four Meetings’: A Study in Irritability and Condescension,” Studies in Short Fiction 15 (1978): 155-63; and W. R. Martin, “The Narrator's ‘Retreat’ in James's ‘Four Meetings,” Studies in Short Fiction 17 (1980): 497-99. Generally speaking, I believe it is mistaken to read the later James back into the early James, although it is certainly valid to detect anticipations of later James in his earlier work. I myself see neither fault nor unreliability in the narrator of “Four Meetings.”

  6. See Mark Twain's essay, “William Dean Howells,” first published in Harper's Magazine (July 1906) in Major Writers of America, vol. 2, ed. Perry Miller et al. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962), 102-6. Although Mark Twain inevitably becomes creatively comic in the essay, the fact that he signed it S. L. Clemens reflects the seriousness and sincerity of his admiration for Howells and his prose, especially the “stage directions.”

  7. Selected Shorter Writings of Mark Twain, ed. Walter Blair (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1962), 18.

  8. James elaborated this figurative conceit in the New York Edition, still another instance of his fine revision.

  9. The length of a James nouvelle extends from about 17,000 to 26,000 words if we include “Daisy Miller” and “The Lesson of the Master” as nouvelles, each about 23,000 and 24,000, respectively. “The Pupil” and “The Bench of Desolation” run from 17,000-18,000 words. “An International Episode” runs to almost 30,000 words. Is it a “long” nouvelle? What of “A London Life,” “The Aspern Papers,” “The Siege of London,” and “The Turn of the Screw,” all in the early thirties or forty thousands? They exceed the length of a nouvelle and, as I indicate in my preface, do not yet qualify as short novels. They are just long tales. So “An International Episode” is one of the “shorter” long tales beyond the length of a nouvelle, Strict, consistent classification of James's shorter fiction is obviously difficult, but this problem bespeaks James's creative productivity and elasticity.

  10. A notable exception to this tendency is Wegelin, 48-51, whose comment that “James's impartiality is reflected in the symmetrical structure of the story” is a key signature to his approach to the tale.

  11. For James's famous and much reprinted passage from Hawthorne on the impoverishment of American culture for an aspiring writer like Hawthorne, see The Art of Criticism, ed. William Veeder and Susan M. Griffin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 108-9.

  12. For a fuller discussion of “Daisy Miller” along these same lines see my essay “Daisy Miller, Backward into the Past: A Centennial Essay,” Henry James Review 1 (Winter 1980): 164-79

Adeline R. Tintner (essay date winter 1995)

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SOURCE: Tintner, Adeline R. “James's ‘The Patagonia’: A Critique of Trollope's ‘The Journey of Panama.’” Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 1 (winter 1995): 59-67.

[In the following essay, Tintner treats Henry James's short story “The Patagonia” as an attempt to improve the characterization and plot of English realist Anthony Trollope's story “The Journey to Panama.”]

Five years before Henry James wrote “The Patagonia” (1888), James published his long essay on Trollope in which he noted that, although many of Trollope's short stories were “charming,” the presentation of his “British maiden” had not “a touch of the morbid.” James concluded that Trollope had “a wholesome mistrust of morbid analysis” (Partial Portraits 102). It is this deficiency, as James considered it, that he “corrected” in his version of Trollope's “The Journey to Panama” (1861). By introducing the actual suicide of James's heroine, Grace Mavis, presented as a “mysterious tragic act” (“Patagonia” 347), with all its unsaid deeper psychology into the framework of “The Journey to Panama,” James offers his critique of Trollope's tale when he remodels it as “The Patagonia.”

The publication in the nineteen-eighties of the complete collected tales of Anthony Trollope has given the scholar an opportunity to see some startling connections between one of the 40 tales by Trollope and the talc of Henry James. Some of these Trollope tales had been republished in 1867 in a volume called Lotte Schmidt and Other Stories, which James probably saw and read, although the volume does not appear in his library and in his famous essay on Trollope of 1884 he does not mention in detail any of the short stories.

The early tale by Trollope seems to have interested James enough to improve on it in his tale written during a very productive year, 1888, a kind of annus mirabilis, along with such fine stories as “The Lesson of the Master,” “A London Life,” “The Modern Warning,” “The Aspern Papers” and “The Liar.” William Dean Howells spoke of this series as “one masterpiece” following the other, all revealing “depths under depths” of characterizations and showing James's “clutch upon the unconscious motives” of his people. This is as true of “The Patagonia” as it is of the other well-known tales.

The “germ” given by James in his Notebooks was suggested to me by Mrs. Kemble's anecdote of Barry St. Leger and the lady (married and with her husband awaiting her in England) with whom he sails from India. She was young and pretty and had been placed under the captain's care. At a certain stage in the voyage, the captain was notified that the passengers were scandalized by the way she was flirting and carrying on with B. St. L. This came to her knowledge and during the night she jumped overboard. Admirable dismal little subject. (Complete Notebooks 43)

That same day James receives from Theodore Child the idea for “The Lesson of the Master” (Complete Notebooks 43). These two stories are typical of those written during the 1887-88 period, in which James uses the basic plot suggested by a few words from a friend's anecdote. However, these tales get their further impetus, not only from the anecdote in life, but also from some specific literary model. Although “A London Life” was suggested by Paul Boutget, lames uses Hogarth's literary illustrations to create the main parallel or analogue and for the “The Lesson of the Master” he resorts to the life of St. George from The Lives of the Saints. So also in “The Patagonia” James uses “The Journey to Panama” to fortify Mrs. Kemble's “germ.”

The Trollope story and the James story both concern the sea voyage taken by a young woman who is going out to meet her fiance to get married after “a long engagement, of ten years” (Trollope 356; James, “Patagonia” 295). There is no love in either case as far as the young women are concerned and both take up with an attractive young man on shipboard. A tentative shipboard romance develops in each case between them, but their being seen together leads to gossip, which in turn leads to the breakup of the romance. Unlike Mrs. Kemble's “germ,” the women are unmarried and have contracted their engagements to avoid poverty and social isolation. It is in the denouement that James parts company with Trollope. His heroine, Grace Mavis, actually commits suicide, whereas Trollope's Emily Viner only occasionally thinks of killing herself and, in the end, she is saved from a loveless marriage by the unexpected death of her fiance.

The plots therefore are very close. In spite of the changes James has made in some details of the Trollope story, the resemblances reveal Trollope's tale as an important source for James's story. It is in certain details that his tribute to Trollope becomes clear and factual. Although Donald D. Stone had indicated that James also used certain themes first suggested in Trollope's novels, Stone judged the echoes from the earlier novelist to be simply “wandering” (Stone, “James, Trollope … ” 101). Not so in the case of “The Journey to Panama” and “The Patagonia.”1 James parts company with Trollope at that point where he imports a greater tragic force to the basic plot invented by Trollope. It is the tragic element, the suicide, in Mrs. Kemble's anecdote that creates for James's imagination an “admirable little dismal subject.” Although Emily Viner, the British heroine of “The Journey to Panama,” does not kill herself, she rejects the loving proposal of marriage made by her shipboard friend. James's heroine, Grace Mavis, whose romance with Jasper Nettlepoint is a serious matter only for her, takes the tragic exit because she does not love her fiance the plodding architect, Mr. Butterfield, whom she is to meet at the end of her journey, and Jasper has not taken her love for him seriously. Both heroines are “nearly thirty” (Trollope 352), both engagements were “long” and had lasted 10 years. Emily's “was a long engagement, of ten years' standing” (Trollope 356); Grace Mavis equally was “the victim of a long engagement” (“Patagonia” 294). The heroine of “The Patagonia” had met her fiance in Paris “ten years” before and he had never returned to see his fiancee during that period.

What elements in James's tale can only have come from Trollope's tale? The exotic journey from England to Panama taken on Trollope's ship, called the Serrapiqui (after a South American river) involved entering a very hot zone in Central America. One speculates that James also named his ship the Patagonia after a South American area, mainly in Argentina, to convey the same sense of an exotic place also in the Western hemisphere, but now situated in the most southernmost part of South America. In fact, attention is called to the name “Patagonia” because it is supposed to mean “big foot” and at the end of the story we see how the older gentleman narrator has put his “big foot” into the situation and has precipitated the death of the heroine (“big feet” is the name that Magellan is traditionally said to have given to Patagonian inhabitants because of their great size [Encyclopaedia Britannica 17: 303]).

In James's tale, Grace Mavis, who is going out to meet her fiance of 10 years, and Jasper Nettlepoint, the irresponsible young man who has nothing to lose by engaging in a mild flirtation with her on shipboard, create a scandal by disappearing together during the 10-day voyage. The slow ship they are taking has been substituted for the one they were supposed to take, “The Scandinavia,” which was a faster vessel (“Patagonia” 286). The name “Patagonia” further suggests a concentration on the southern aspects as opposed to the northern aspects of the discarded name of the ship through the association of its title. Trollope, in his tale, points out that, on such a long route from England to Central America, romances were possible. James has changed and renamed his ship not only to suggest a South American Western hemisphere geographical site, but also to make the trip from Boston to England take longer than the usual route in order to accommodate the period of romantic gestation.

Trollope tells us that among the women on board some are going to “find a husband” and are “generally consigned to some prudent elder” (Trollope 350). James follows Trollope in this and devotes all of his first chapter to the machinery of Grace Mavis's introduction to the older Mrs. Nettlepoint, who is asked to be her chaperon. And, in that chapter, by focusing on the extreme heat of Boston in August, James claims for his own tale some of the heat of Trollope's voyage once it gets to Panama. Outside of the last scenes in The Golden Bowl, in which the torrid August in England is part of James's recourse to Orientalism in order to extend that novel's desert analogies, James never again spends so much space on summoning up the discomfort of a heat spell. He employs this device of uncomfortable weather to allow Jasper Nettlepoint and Grace Mavis to disappear temporarily when they sit on the balcony of the young man's mother's house in Boston in order to get a breeze. Thus it is that they begin their withdrawal into secret encounters even on land, encounters that subsequently will cause so much gossip on shipboard.

This element of gossip is derived directly from Trollope's tale. His gossiping and ill-natured family by the name of Grumpy, who watch Emily Viner and Ralph Forrest, establishes the mode of symbolic and satirical names James also used, although he surely had used such devices before. But, in this case, James not only follows the example of Trollope, but he also creates variations on the nastiness of these upper-class (as well as lower-class) women in his own characters, drawn from the Boston area on the Patagonia. The names of Nettlepoint and Peck belong to the women who cast aspersions on each other's class status, the first belonging to the upper-class and the second to the lower. Grace Mavis and her mother occupy Mrs. Peck's home location in a barely respectable area in Boston where the girls are an “improvement on their mothers” (“Patagonia” 291). As in the case of the friendship between Emily Viner and Ralph Forrest on board the Serrapiqui, which would not have been noticed “had it not been for the prudish caution of some of the ladies” (Trollope 357), so the flirtation between Jasper Nettlepoint and Grace Mavis would also not have been noticed. Had it not been for the pushing curiosity of Mrs. Peck, who had been snubbed by Grace, Grace's reputation would not have been in question.

As Miss Viner admits to not loving her elder, rich fiance (“No, certainly not, I shall never know anything of that love” [Trollope 356]), so Grace Mavis, although more reserved than Miss Viner, gives indications that she is not looking forward to her marriage with Mr. Porterfield, the plodding architect, as she indicates she wants the boat trip never to end: “I could go on for ever, for ever and ever” (“Patagonia” 320).

In both tales, suicide by jumping overboard is mentioned in conversation (but without serious intent) two times. Miss Viner states “Where should I be … if I were to) throw myself forward into the sea? I often long to do it” (Trollope 356). But since she is afraid “of the bourne beyond … that fear will keep me from it” (Trollope 356). When her new friend, Ralph, offers her money to go back and reject the man she does not love, she is again tempted to throw herself into the sea and, although she is afraid “of that bourne,” she would rather “face that than act as you suggest” (Trollope 358). In the same way in James's story, suicide is mentioned twice before the actual suicide takes place. It is mentioned once by the narrator who says, “If I have outraged her in thought, I will jump overboard” (“Patagonia” 307) in the sense of a rhetorical exaggeration. The second time it is mentioned by another passenger, who claims that if Grace tells her fiance about her flirtation, “He'll jump overboard” (“Patagonia” 326). “‘Jump overboard?’ cried Mrs. Gotch, as if she hoped then that Mr. Porterfield would be told” (“Patagonia” 326). These are humorous remarks, whereas the real event does take place when Grace Mavis throws herself into the sea just before they land. Although Miss Viner had been serious in her figure of speech, she did not have to put it to the proof, but the precedent for even considering suicide takes place first in Trollope's tale in connection with the possible action of his heroine.

In an 1867 letter, Trollope identifies the tale's origin as having occurred when he had the job of telling a lady “going out to be married that her intended husband was dead …. She at once asked to have a large trunk brought to her. In the course of an hour I found her packing and unpacking the trunk, putting the new wedding clothes at the bottom and bringing the old things, now suitable for her use, to the top. And so she employed herself during the entire day” (Thompson 347-48). In the stow, Trollope expresses this detail by having Miss Viner tell the reader that all the contents of her “big box” had been paid for by her fiance so that, when she is told he is dead, she is found by Ralph in a room whose “floor was strewed with clothes,” in preparation for her return (Trollope 363). James follows this pattern also. Just before Grace disappears, she tells her stewardess that she cannot receive Mrs. Nettlepoint in her cabin because “she was packing a trunk over,” a detail clearly suggested by Miss Viner's getting rid of the wedding clothes which had been on the top of her box (“Patagonia” 343). After this detail, the narrator meets Grace, who looks pale and, as we find at the end, has now decided to end her life. At this point she asks the narrator whether he would “know” her fiance, whom he had met before in Paris, “when you see him?” indicating to him, as he later realizes, that he should be the bearer of the news of her death (“Patagonia” 344).

There is another detail that James seems to have found in Trollope's story. Ralph, in “The Journey to Panama,” is confronted by the problem of breaking the news of the fiance's death to Emily Viner, just as James's narrator is burdened with the fact that he must break the news of Grace's death to her fiance. Ralph considers, “Who should tell her? And how would she bear it?” (Trollope 361) “And above all would this sudden death of one who was to have been so near her, strike her to the heart?” (Trollope 361). He continued to feel that “it was incumbent on him that Miss Viner should not hear the tidings in a sudden manner and from a stranger's mouth” (Trollope 362). James follows this procedure, but changes it. And it is in this change that we see another divergence from Trollope's treatment. Having recognized that, by Grace's preliminary questions, she had “delegated to me mentally a certain pleasant office,” that of breaking the news of her death to her fiance (“Patagonia” 348), the narrator approached the fiance who remained speechless. “I had to speak first …. I told him first that she was ill. It was an odious moment” (“Patagonia” 349). This silence about his actual execution of his unpleasant task indicates a correction that lames has made of the talkativeness of Trollope's characters and the obviousness of their remarks. James, in a contrary fashion, uses silence as opposed to Trollope's garrulousness. His tale ends in silence as to the details of the revelation of the tragedy, much in contrast to the way Trollope had managed it and had built it up into a big scene.

But this silence on James's part is part of his criticism of Trollope's story. He makes his heroine the opposite of Miss Viner, who was a “talkative lady,” telling her plight to Mr. Forrest, her shipboard friend. “Am I to lie for heaven's sake, and say nothing during these last hours that are allowed to me for speaking?. … and why should you begrudge me the speech?” (Trollope 358). She is always clear-sighted in regard to her position and clear-headed as to what the final action will be, now that she is free of her fiance and the heiress of a moderate sum of money. James, on the contrary, represents his heroine, Grace, as essentially sealed in silence, for she is clearly depressed and unwilling to talk about her impending marriage. From her very first meeting in Mrs. Nettlepoint's Boston house, she impresses her hostess as putting on “an affectation of silence” (“Patagonia” 301) and silence is her essence. When she retreats with Jasper to the balcony, we never hear what they say nor do we overhear their conversation when they meet frequently in the hidden quarters of the Patagonia. After the narrator chides Jasper for having let Grace fall in love with him, since he is not at all serious about her, we never hear how Grace responds, although we learn from her behavior that she has become unhappy once more. That emotional response, plus the captain's awareness of the “scandalous behavior,” leads to her hiding in her cabin. Since she does not talk much, it is only from her actions that we can infer her wretchedness. She thinks herself caught in a trap of a socially inferior milieu; she is talked about as a flirt, engaging with a young man who does not take her seriously and with the dreary prospect of her future marriage ahead of her. Hers is a case of serious depression experienced by someone with a morbid temperament and she takes the only way out. The “big-footed” narrator has created this climate and has brought it to a climax by telling lasper to stop his attentions to the young woman. It is the young man's removal from her that leads her to a self-inflicted death. As the narrator muses only too late, he wonders, “Why I could not have kept my hands off” (“Patagonia” 345). His talkativeness has proven to be the precipitating factor in contrast to her silence.

So James has turned Trollope's rather chatty tale about the plight of a young girl going to marry a man she does not love into the tale of the tragic trap a young woman of sensibility finds herself in. The trap consists of the loss of her reputation among the ship's society, the possibility of the ensuing scandal reaching her fiance (a point from Mrs. Kemble's anecdote) and the ultimate unhappiness of a loveless marriage. Unlike Emily Viner, Trollope's practical heroine, is James's unusual and neurotic young woman whose depression and consequent silent refusal to accept her unfortunate life lead her to only one possible action - suicide at sea. Miss Viner was saved from that fate by the death of her unwanted fiance and by the modest legacy he has left her and so, released from her trap, she refuses the offer of a young man who loves her since she has no need of him. In James's shipboard world, the only release is through self-destruction. James's ship, the Patagonia, is the theater of a real human tragedy where a young woman's ineluctable fate is consummated.

One can visualize James's creative processes as having occurred in two steps: one dependent on the intensive accumulated reading he engaged in all his life and the other on the “germs,” the anecdotes he heard from the conversations of his friends in his clubs or at the many dinner parties he attended. It is that his reading, that mass of material ingested from early days by James that becomes the submerged material from which the story grows. Perhaps the most important clement in the whole case is that James's imagination transforms the tale from the submerged Trollope tale and in itself becomes a criticism of that tale. The imaginative act thus is seen as a complicated but synchronized one, an act that is the result of accumulated remembered reading, rendered remarkably powerful by the fact that another occurrence analogous to it, the anecdote told by Mrs. Kemble, has taken place in real life. James follows the details from Trollope's story to show how the equivalent situation could be viewed tragically once removed from the chatty, garrulous atmosphere of his predecessor's tale.

James's repossession of themes by other writers is not an act of plagiarism; it is part of a conscious, critical act, as he often tells us. “Whenever a story really interests one, he is very fond of paying it the compliment of imagining it otherwise constructed, and of capping it with a different termination” (Essays on Literature 950). James wrote this in 1868 when he was 25 years old.

“If a work of imagination, of fiction, interests me at all … I always want to write it over in my own way, handle the subject from my own sense of it. That I always find a pleasure in ….” James wrote this in 1902, 34 years later. This was his permanent “tic”; he knew it, and he communicated this fact to others over and over again. He added to this general principle in a letter to Mrs. Humphry Ward: “I can't ‘criticize’ … though I could re-write” (Tintner xix-xx).

So we see that James's rewriting of “The Journey to Panama” is chiefly a criticism of it, for although the reader is referred to that tale by the close resemblance of so many of its elements, he is shown by the tragic end of a repressed and silent young woman's life that James considered Trollope's version inadequate to the tragic possibilities.


  1. In his earlier general article on Trollope's short fiction, Donald D. Stone noted a few similarities between the two stories, preferring the Trollope version (“Trollope…” 38).

Works Cited

The Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th Ed. 1910.

James, Henry. The Complete Notebooks. Ed. Leon Edel and Lyall H. Powers, New York: Oxford, 1987.

———. The Complete Tales of Henry James. Ed. Leon Edel. 12 vols. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1962-65.

———. Essays on Literature. American Writers. English Writers. Ed. Leon Edel et al. New York: Library of America, 1984. Vol. 1 of Literary Criticism. 2 vols. 1984.

———. Partial Portraits. [1888] Intro. Leon Edel. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1970.

———. “The Patagonia.” Complete Tales 7: 285-349.

Stone, Donald D. “James, Trollope, and ‘The Vulgar Materials of Tragedy.’” The Henry James Review, 10.2 (Spring, 1989): 100-03.

———. “Trollope as a Short Story Writer.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 31 (1976): 26-47.

Thompson, Julian, ed. Anthony Trollope: The Complete Shorter Fiction. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992.

Tintner, Adeline R. The Book World of Henry James: Appropriating the Classics. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1989.

Trollope, Anthony. “The Journey to Panama.” Thompson 347-63.

Further Reading

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Crowley, John W. The Dean of American Letters: The Late Career of William Dean Howells. Amherst: University of Amherst Press, 1999, 146 p.

Biographical essay on American writer and editor William Dean Howells.

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky, 4 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Four-volume biography of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Glendinning, Victoria. Anthony Trollope. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992, 551 p.

Biography of English writer Anthony Trollope.

Kaplan, Fred. Henry James: The Imagination of Genius: A Biography. New York: Morrow, 1992, 620 p.

Biography of American writer Henry James.

Rayfield, Donald. Anton Chekhov: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1998, 674 p.

Biography of Russian writer Anton Chekhov.

Robb, Graham. Balzac: A Life. New York: Norton, 1994, 521 p.

Biography of French writer Honore de Balzac.

Schapiro, Leonard Bertram. Turgenev, His Life and Times. New York: Random House, 1978, 382 p.

Biography of Russian writer Ivan Turgenev.

Smiley, Jane. Charles Dickens. New York: Viking, 2002, 212 p.

Concise biography of English writer Charles Dickens.

Wall, Geoffrey. Flaubert, a Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001, 413 p.

Biography of French writer Gustave Flaubert.

Wallace, A. H. Guy de Maupassant. New York: Twayne, 1973, 156 p.

Brief overview of the life and work of French writer Guy de Maupassant.

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Dayton Duncan. Mark Twain. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, 269 p.

Biography of Mark Twain (nee Samuel Clemens).

Wilson, A. N. Tolstoy. New York: Norton, 1988, 572 p.

Biography of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.


Farrant, Tim. Balzac's Shorter Fictions: Genesis and Genre. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 356 p.

Historical and critical exploration of the short fiction of Honore de Balzac.

Fusco, Richard. Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of Form at the Turn of the Century. University Park, PA.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994, 230 p.

Analysis of the influence of Guy de Maupassant on the American short story.

Johnson, Ronald L. Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993, 165 p.

Full-length critical examination of the short fiction of Anton Chekhov.

Lee, A. Robert. The Nineteenth-Century American Short Story. London: Barnes and Noble, 1985, 196 p.

Concise overview of developments in nineteenth-century American short fiction.

May, Charles E. “Nineteenth-Century Realism.” In The Short Story: The Reality of Artifice, pp. 42-61. New York: Twayne, 1995.

Provides an overview of nineteenth-century short fiction by major authors, including realists Ivan Turgenev, Henry James, and Anton Chekhov.

Moser, Charles A., editor. The Russian Short Story: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1986, 232 p.

Critical overview of developments in the Russian short story.

Navakas, Francine G. “The Case for Trollope's Short Stories.” Modern Philology 83, (November 1995): 172-8.

Critical examination of Trollope's collection of short stories.

O'Toole, L. Michael. Structure, Style, and Interpretation in the Russian Short Story. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982, 272 p.

Discussion of the Russian short story in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Petrey, Sandy. Realism and Revolution: Balzac, Stendhal, Zola, and the Performance of History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988, 211 p.

Critical discussion of literary realism and French political thought in the nineteenth century.

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Essays and Criticism