The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin

The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin

"The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin" is a series of 5 short stories and a fictional editorial introduction by Russian author Aleksandr Pushkin. The collection is opened with the editorial, in which Pushkin pretends to be the publisher of Belkin's tales. The tales themselves are not related to one another, except that they are all said in the introduction to be stories told by various people to a recently deceased landowner, Ivan Petrovich Belkin. The introduction continues to say that Belkin was an interesting and mysterious man, even to the point that the woman he left his estate to had never met him. It is also mentioned that Belkin's favorite pastime was to collect and hear stories, several of which are to be presented to the reader.

The Shot

This story was told to Belkin by colonel I.L.P., who in the early days of his military career was stationed at a country outpost. The soldiers always visited a peculiar man named Silvio to play cards. Silvio is always practicing shooting, and the walls of his house are full with bullet holes. On one occasion the host is insulted by one of his guests, but he won't challenge his guest to a duel, as was considered proper. He is then considered to be a coward by most of the soldiers, but he is able to explain his situation: years ago he engaged in a duel, in which his opponent was eating cherries while waiting for him to shoot. He decided that as life apparently was meaningless to his opponent, and that he would not shoot, but rather asked to postpone the duel. If he were to now engage the soldier in a duel over the card game, he would most certainly have killed him, but also that the small risk of dying before being able to exact revenge was not worth it. However, Silvio soon learns that his former opponent is engaged to be married, and Silvio believes that he is now less indifferent towards life. This is the moment Silvio has been waiting for, and he leaves to get revenge.

After several years, the narrator resigns from active duty and leaves for his country estate. After a while, his neighbors arrive and the narrator visits them soon after. On the wall he notices a painting of a Swiss landscape with two bullet holes very close together. The narrator, seeing this, tells his neighbor about a man he knew in the army who was an extraordinary shot, and tells the count of Silvio. The count is overcome with fear, and informs the narrator that he was Silvio's opponent, and shortly before his wedding Silvio claimed his right to a duel. The neighbor draws the right to shoot first, but misses, and the bullet ends up in the painting. As Silvio aims to shoot, the neighbor's bride enters the room. Silvio takes pity on her and then without aiming, shoots the painting in almost the exact same spot as the count, thereby both sparing the count's life and demonstrating how easily he could have ended it.

The Blizzard

This story was told to Belkin by miss K.I.T., who herself is not involved in the story. The Blizzard, also translated as "The Snowstorm," concerns a young noblewoman, Marya Gavrilovna, and her young lover, a lieutenant named Vladimir. The reason for their relationship is not specifically given, but the story states "Marya Gavrilovna was raised on French novels and consequently was in love." Marya Gavrilovna's parents do not approve of the relationship due to the difference in social status between the two lovers, and Marya Gavrilovna and her attendant conspire with Vladimir to elope and marry in a secret midnight ceremony in a nearby village. At first, Marya Gavrilovna agrees to the plan, but as the ceremony approaches, she feels more and more anxious. On the night the ceremony is to take place, she almost doesn't go as in addition to her growing anxiety, a terrible snowstorm is occurring, but her attendant persuades her to.

Meanwhile, Vladimir sets out from his military encampment on his way to the church. However, he becomes lost in severe blizzard conditions and cannot find his way. He stops at a small hamlet to obtain directions from locals only to find that he has been going the wrong direction the entire night and is too far from the church to make it to the ceremony on time. The next morning, Marya Gavrilovna returns home and goes to sleep as if nothing has happened, but she soon grows gravely ill and becomes delirious with fever. During her semiconscious state, she mumbles many things, one of which is her plan to elope with Vladimir. Upon hearing this, Marya Gavrilovna's parents grant permission for her to marry Vladimir, but they attempt to contact him, they receive a letter from him stating that he is off with the army, and the narrator informs the reader that Vladimir is killed in the Battle of Borodino soon after.

After this, Marya Gavrilovna and her family move to a new estate, and after some time, suitors come to seek Marya Gavrilovna's hand in marriage. Marya Gavrilovna, still in love with Vladimir, turns them all away except for a hussar named Bermin. Their relationship progresses, until one day, Marya Gavrilovna is reading by a lake, and knows that when Bermin comes to visit her that day, he will ask to marry her. He proceeds to tell her that though he loves her, he cannot marry her because one night, several years ago, he was traveling during a snowstorm when he became lost. Pulling into a small town, he is met by a priest, who tells him he is late for the wedding. He is brought into the hall where Marya Gavrilovna had been awaiting Vladimir. The ceremony is carried out, but as Bermin turns to kiss the bride, Marya Gavrilovna faints. Upon concluding this story, Bermin tells Marya Gavrilovna that he still feels faithful to his wife, even though he does not know who she is. Marya Gavrilovna asks him why he does not recognize her, and each realizing the other's identity, they collapse into one another's arms.

The Undertaker

This story was told to Belkin by the shop employee B.V, who like the character who told Belkin "The Blizzard," is not involved in the story. The tale concerns an undertaker, Adrian Pokhorov, who moves to a new village. Pokhorov, who is depicted as cold and regimented, never deviating from his routine, soon sets up shop in his new village. Soon after, he becomes acquainted with his neighbors, also merchants, who come to visit him. They invite him to a dinner with all of the village's other merchants, where after a long night of card games and other entertainment, several toasts are proposed. Pokhorov is offended after someone offers toast to the health of their collective customers, and leaves suddenly, claiming that he could host a better party with own customers. Drunk, he goes to bed and has a dream where he imagines that all of his customers, now in the form of reanimated corpses, and even one, revealed to be Pokhorov's first customer, who returns as a skeleton. The corpses accuse him of cheating, overcharging, and numerous other offenses, when Pokhorov wakes up. Realizing it was all a dream, he calls for his servant to fetch his daughters and to make a cup of tea. Whether or not Pokhorov has actually changed his ways is left up to the reader.

The Station Master

This story was told to Belkin by titular counsellor A.G.N, and is a first-hand account. The story opens with the narrator complaining to the reader in a humorous fashion about collegiate registrars, the lowest of the fourteen ranks in Imperial Russian civil service, who run posting stations along the country's roads, providing such services as fresh horses, beds, and food to travelers. The narrator derides collegiate registrars as power-drunk, unreasonable, and asking the reader who hasn't cursed them, and asked to see their "vile ledger book." After this opening tirade, however, the narrator relents, and states that he will tell us a story about one particular station master he met during his extensive travels on official business.

The narrator begins by telling us of one of his travels, which brought him to an infrequently used road very far out in the country. Stopping at the local posting station, he is captivated by the station's order and decoration, among which is an illustrated version of the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. When asked by the station master if he would like some tea, as all of the horses are out and he will be required to wait for some time until new horses can be prepared, the narrator accepts and stays a while. Shortly after, the tea is brought out by the station master's daughter, Dunya, who is described as being beautiful and very adult in demeanor and mannerisms. Dunya and the narrator converse as if they were good friends, and the narrator, who initially expressed his disapproval of having to wait, is sorry to leave the posting station.

The narrator goes on his way, but the posting station where he met Dunya remains in the back of his head. Three years later, the narrator decides to visit Dunya and her father. Upon reaching the station, which is no longer on an official imperial road, he finds the station in disrepair and the old station master a broken man. When the narrator inquires as to the state of his daughter, the old station master concedes that he has no idea where she is or what condition she is in. Although the old station master will not tell the story of his daughter's disappearance at first, when the narrator offers the old station master something to drink, the old station master relents and begins to tell the story.

Some time after the narrator's first visit, an important official of the sixth rank came to the posting station, and like many other visitors, was required to wait until new horses could be prepared. The official was initially enraged that someone of his rank would be forced to wait by a fourteenth-grade civil servant, and the station master calls Dunya in to calm the man. Dunya begins to talk to the official, and just like the narrator, the official takes a great liking to her and forgets his annoyance at being forced to stay at the station. However, soon after, the official falls gravely ill and remains at the station for several days, during which time Dunya cares for him day and night. When the official gets better, as a token of gratitude he offers to take Dunya on a ride across the village in his fancy carriage. Dunya hesitates, but her father tells her that she may go, and she gets in the carriage. The official then proceeds to kidnap Dunya, who is never seen by her father again, even though he tracks the official down and even tries to barge into the official's home in Saint Petersburg. The station master is unsuccessful in his attempts to see Dunya, and he returns to his nearly defunct posting station.

Several years after having heard the old station master's story, the narrator returns to the remote village once again. The town has now been off the imperial road for several years, and upon arriving in the town, he visits the old station master's house, he learns that the old station master has died, most likely from alcoholism. The family who now lives in the house, however, offer to have one of their children show the narrator to the old post master's grave. The narrator remarks that the graveyard is the most desolate place he has ever seen, and feels that he has wasted his time and money in visiting the village another time. Shortly after, the child who brought the narrator to the graveyard tells the narrator that not long before he arrived, a woman came to the village in a fancy carriage with several children, a governess, footmen, and wearing an expensive dress. She also asked to see the postmaster's grave, but also saying that she knew the way to the graveyard and did not need to be shown. The child continues by saying that the woman bowed down on the station master's grave and wept. Realizing that Dunya returned to her father's grave, the narrator feels at peace and no longer thinks that the trip had been a waste.

The Squire's Daughter

This story was told to Belkin by miss K.I.T, who again does not play a part in the story. The story is also translated under the name "Mistress into Maid." The story involves two young people, Lizaveta Muromsky and Alexei Berestov, whose fathers are both wealthy landowners who dislike each because of the way each other runs their estate. Berestov accuses Muromsky of being an anglophile, and ignoring the traditional Russian way of doing things. Muromsky levels accusations against Berestov of not realizing how inefficient the traditional ways are.

The story opens with one of Lizaveta Muromsky's servants informing her mistress that she is going to the Berestov's estate to celebrate a name day party being held there for one of her friends, a servant on the Berestov estate. Later in the evening, Lizaveta's servant returns, and tells tales of the goings-on at the Berestov's name day festival. The servant tells Lizaveta of Alexei's behavior at the name day festival, relating how energetic and entertaining he was, even joining in the peasants' games. Lizaveta questions her servant about this further. Lizaveta already knew Alexei through society, and held a most negative opinion of him, namely because he acted in a melancholy manner, as was common among young, upper-class early 19th century Russians. Lizaveta considered this to be a shame, as she found him quite attractive. After hearing that he acted in such a manner at the name-day festival, she resolved to meet him in a peasant's costume collecting mushrooms in a forest Alexei frequents while hunting.

Lizaveta meets Alexei in the forest as planned, and begins to talk to him in the guise of the peasant girl Akulina. Berestov is enchanted with the girl, and soon teaches her to write so the two may correspond, and Berestov is amazed when Akulina learns reading and writing in two weeks. This continued for some time, until one morning, the elder Muromsky is injured in a hunting accident and is taken in by Berestov. The two reconcile their differences, and the Berestovs are invited over to the Muromsky estate for dinner. Lizaveta is terrified by this prospect and begs her father to allow her to conceal her identity during the dinner. Because Lizaveta has a reputation as a prankster, her father allows her to do so, and the dinner passes without her identity being revealed. A short time after, the Berestov family encounters financial difficulties, and Berestov commands Alexei to marry Lizaveta Muromsky, the only suitable heiress in the area. At first, he is hesitant, and runs to the Muromsky's house to explain to Lizaveta that his father wishes that they marry, but he cannot marry her because he loves the peasant girl Akulina. Alexei enters the Muromsky's kitchen, only to find Lizaveta reading one of Alexei's letters to Akulina. Realizing each other's identity simultaneously, the story ends.


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