Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 603
None of us entertained the slightest doubt as to what the result would be, and we already looked upon our new comrade as a dead man.
Silvio did not fight. He was satisfied with a very lame explanation, and became reconciled to his assailant.
This lowered him very much in the opinion of all our young fellows. Want of courage is the last thing to be pardoned by young men, who usually look upon bravery as the chief of all human virtues, and the excuse for every possible fault.
In the above quotes, the narrator tells the story of Silvio's unprecedented actions. He emphasizes that duels are the only accepted masculine response after an obvious insult. Yet, Silvio chooses not to engage the lieutenant in a fight to the death. Because of this, the young soldiers begin to doubt Silvio's courage and masculine honor.
Interestingly, dueling was the subject of great interest to Pushkin himself. During his adult years, the author engaged in many duels. However, like Silvio, Pushkin never shot at his nemesis first.
“Exactly so: I have no right to expose myself to death. Six years ago I received a slap in the face, and my enemy still lives.”
My curiosity was greatly excited.
“Did you not fight with him?” I asked. “Circumstances probably separated you.”
“I did fight with him,” replied Silvio; “and here is a souvenir of our duel.”
“I resigned my commission and retired to this little place. Since then not a day has passed that I have not thought of revenge. And now my hour has arrived.”
Here, we receive the explanation for why Silvio chooses not to fight the young lieutenant: He wants to keep himself alive so that he can take revenge against his arch enemy. According to Silvio's story, a young military officer once insulted him. However, as he tells his story, we learn that it was actually Silvio who first harbored hatred against his fellow officer.
Silvio freely admits that he was jealous of his enemy. After all, the latter was rich, handsome, extremely intelligent, and popular with the ladies. This fellow officer seemed to best Silvio in everything. Things soon came to a head at a ball, after Silvio whispered insults into his fellow officer's ear. Immediately, the officer slapped Silvio, and preparations for a duel began.
Despite Silvio's thirst for revenge, he felt unnerved by his peer's calm demeanor. The latter didn't appear fazed by Silvio's challenge; he even ate cherries while the duel was in session. For his part, Silvio was so incensed at the officer's nonchalance that he chose not to kill him. Accordingly, Silvio wanted to wait for a more appropriate time, when circumstances would render his rival less apathetic and collected in temperament.
Interestingly, Pushkin himself harbored thoughts of revenge towards a similar rival. According to historians, Pushkin's wife, Natalya Goncharova, was said to have been an unfaithful wife. Her lover was rumored to have been none other than Baron Georges d’Anthes-Heeckeren, a wealthy and influential man in Russian society. Pushkin hated d'Anthes with a vengeance. After all, the latter was said to cut a suave figure. Appropriately, one of the themes of this story is envy. Pushkin certainly felt great envy toward d'Anthes. In the end, the two engaged in a duel, and Pushkin died of his wounds.
In the story, Silvio's nemesis does not die of his wounds. Instead, satisfied by the confusion and alarm he has caused his rival (the Count), Silvio decides to spare the latter. Interestingly, Silvio does die, but he is said to have died in a battle in Skoulana.