“The Station Master”
The Station Master is a story of a station master who had a beautiful charming daughter that he lost to a traveler and never got back.
Pushkin starts the story by first trying to relate to the reader, admitting that everyone, in a time of anger, has had found fault in a station master and has grown annoyed or upset with one. He goes on to describe how difficult the life of a station master can be, and how much disrespect and grueling labor they must deal with.
One day the narrator meets a station master with a beautiful young daughter named Dunya. She was charming and refined, and she made his parting very difficult. A couple years later he returned to the same area and met again the same station master, Samson Vyrin, though he had aged considerably. He asked Vyrin how his Dunya was, to which Vyrin began the story.
Dunya was the most lovely, perfect daughter. The anger of any traveling gentleman would instantly subside upon talking to her. One day a traveler came and as he was about to have supper, fell very ill. The doctor came and told the tenants that the traveler needed a few days rest and then he could be on his way again. By that Sunday, he felt well enough and was ready to part. He offered Dunya a ride to the church, as she was en route to attending mass. Her father encouraged her to go on ahead, but instantly regretted it afterwards. He ran off to mass and of course Dunya was nowhere to be seen. Vyrin went on to the next station master who told him what he feared, that Dunya had gone home with the hussar.
Vyrin fell temporarily ill and saw the same doctor that had been brought to treat the hussar, who admitted that the hussar was healthy the entire time. The station master instantly took leave to find his daughter. He found that Captain Minsky, the abductor, was going to Petersburg and lived at Demoute’s Inn. Upon his arrival he got a meeting with Minsky who instantly recognized him and sent him off without letting him see his daughter, telling him Dunya would no longer be accustomed to her old way of life.
The station master followed Minsky home though and succeeded in getting one last look at his daughter. She was beautiful and magnificent, and was admiring Minsky when Vyrin caught a glimpse of her. Minsky kicked him out one final time and that was the last he saw of his daughter.
The main narrator later returned to the station master, but only found that he had died of drinking. He resolved to see his grave, and a young boy lead him there. The boy unknowingly revealed that Dunya had visited the cemetery the year before, and had stooped near her father’s grave for a long time.
Similar to Poor Liza by Karazmin, a great deal of the conflict arises from the different classes in Russian society. The station master cannot take his daughter back, as the hussar is a much higher rank than himself. The narrator himself can see this discrepancy, and says so at the start of the story, wondering what would happen if instead of using “let rank honor rank”, they used “let intelligence honor intelligence”.
“The Queen of Spades”
The Queen of Spades describes one German man’s hopes to ascertain an old noble woman’s secret of gambling success and the subsequent destruction his obsession brings to the lives around him, as well as his own.
Pushkin’s opening scene describes an evening of gambling and cards at calvary officer Narumov’s estate ending to a late supper and discussions of various winnings and losses. One of the gamblers, Tomsky, shares the story of his grandmother, the Countess Anna Fedotovna, who inexplicably acquired a vast amount of wealth in a card game against the Duke of Orleans by playing three unknown cards in sequence. One man in attendance of the discussion, a German engineer named Hermann, later finds himself fascinated by the miraculous secret of the Countess, and vows to discover the trick for himself.
Pushkin alternates between accounts of Hermanns growing obsession and the life of young Lizaveta Ivanova, the ward of the advanced Countess Anna Fedotovna. Her grace, polite mannerisms, and loyalty to the Countess lead her to become the embodiment of innocence and purity throughout the story, similar to the symbolism of Liza in Poor Liza. Pushkin uses this emanating purity to develop and symbolize every character that comes in contact with Lizaveta. For example, while the Countess is not inherently evil, her constant demands and control over Lizaveta highlight the repression of Lizaveta’s young passions and even further the old, aristocratic view of the civilized Enlightenment that wages war on the nubile, fiery emotions of Romanticism, qualities that blossom in a secret and cautious relationship between Lizaveta and Hermann.
In their correspondence, Hermann is genuinely taken by Lizaveta and presents sincere feelings toward her. However, when the opportunity arises for him to confront the Countess and demand she share her gambling secret, his obsession draws his gun and inspires threats on the Countess’s life. She dies of fright, and the rouse of Hermann’s love for Lizaveta is shattered, revealing the true characterization of Hermann as a guilty but still obsessed man, corrupted by monetary greed. His wishes are presumably answered when the ghost of the Countess visits him and reveals her gambling secret.
The climax of the story culminates in Hermann’s attempt to utilize the secret to gain his fortune in a card game. However the secret turns out to be a last act of revenge from the Countess; Hermann loses and falls to insanity while Lizaveta marries another suitor.
Once the Countess, also potentially seen as the embodiment of Enlightened ideals, is dead, we see an overrunning of emotion, especially in the form of Hermann’s obsession with the Countess’s secret gambling method. As revenge for his romantic passions killing the Countess, her spirit robs him of his rationality and his reason, perhaps suggesting a continuing need for logic in an increasingly impassioned society.
9 thoughts on “Pushkin”
In regards to The Queens of Spades analysis (by Alexander Fowler):
I think your summary was a very well-written description of what took place in the short-story, and I agree with your interpretation of the symbolism in the story. Similarly to Poor Liza, Lizaveta Ivanovna certainly seems to represent innocence and purity, which is taken advantage of by Hermann for his monetary motives. Nonetheless, I don’t think that this necessarily represents any “aristocratic view of the civilized Enlightenment that wages war on… Romanticism,” simply because the aristocrats in these stories seem equally guilty of romanticizing their lives (for example the hussar in the Station Master, or Erast in Poor Liza). However, it is certainly possible this sort of “war” exists, and the nobles simply fight it as hypocrites to their own desires, in which case your analysis proves correct again.
– Marina Kiseleva
Does anyone have any thoughts on similarities or differences between poor Liza in Karamzin’s tale and Dunia in Pushkin’s “The Station Master”? Do these heroines have similar desires or motives? Or are they completely different in their outlooks?
Perhaps I’m missing something, but I find it difficult to see much similarity between Liza and Dunia. They are in obviously similar situations–taking care of an aging single parent who would fall apart without their help; they both desire love, of course. Liza’s character is just so unrealistic compared to Dunia. Since the one story is a parody of the other, and we are tied to Dunia in the “Prodigal Daughter” role, we expect her suicide like Liza or otherwise unhappy return to her father (especially since the account of what happened is though a drunken retelling from her father to the narrator), but instead Dunia plots and abandons her father (and in doing so finds happiness and success), whereas Liza is committed to sacrificing her personal life for her mother, viewing that simply as her duty. She says “God gave me hands to work,” and that her mother had raised her when she was a baby, so it was her duty to return the favor.
The difficulty in drawing comparisons between Liza and Dunya is due to Dunya not being a focal point for the reader’s point of view, as Katherine pointed out. The goal of the story is to take one or more societal customs and analyze their effect on an individual’s emotional well being, thus implying suggestions for alternate practices. The emotional state being analyzed in this regard is the Station Master’s, not Dunya’s. Dunya is more a common archetype amongst many of the stories we are discussing; the depiction of innocence and purity embodied in a caring and selfless young girl.
Jason–I think you bring up a solid point here; Liza and Dunya do choose different paths despite their similar beginnings. Liza is driven by love in her actions, both her love for her mother and her love for Erast. However, I can only really see Dunya’s love for her father. She is not as strong as Liza as she does not stay with her parent when she glimpses an opportunity for a better life, but I imagine that when she was riding with the hussar, her intention, at least at first, was not to abandon her father. But, after living large, she decided to stay in this life of luxury.
Dunya is not as, well… driven to emotional upheaval as Liza when their plans go awry.
Now that I think about it, I just assumed that Dunya was kidnapped, but I think it’s also possible that she went willingly. The story is told by her father and not by her; it’s been some time since I read the story, but I don’t recall the father talking to his daughter after she was gone. His story might not be accurate.
The Queen of Spades:
The appearance of the deceased woman’s ghost could be interpreted not as the old woman’s revenge on the protagonist, but the downfall of Hermann due to the flaws in his character.
In another story of Pushkin, The Coffin-Maker, the protagonist of that story supposedly wakes up when it’s still dark, just like Hermann does. What supposedly happens next is that all of the coffinmaker’s former (dead) customers shows up at his house. One even shows up as a full on skeleton. To make a short story even shorter, in the end, the coffin maker wakes up. It is not until he wakes up does the reader realize that this was all a dream.
The old woman’s ghost could also just be a dream. The narrator repeatedly states that Hermann is superstitous and that he is prone to being fixed or obsessed on an idea. Put these two flaws together and you get his downfall. (That was my interpretation anyway)
I like your interpretation. I suppose when I’m reading these stories I hope for the supernatural to occur. But the obsessed hallucinations of a man deranged and corrupted by guilt and greed are more exciting. With that perspective the story also completes its thesis on the dangers of obsession for material gain at the cost of tormenting others’ emotions.
I agree what you said about the Old Countess’s sprit taking away his rationality and reason. But I think it also has to do with the theme we talked about for Karamzin’s work “Poor Liza”- the evil nature of human. He had no intention of killing her during the process, because it didn’t seem to bother him to use other people like Lizaveta to get closer to the Old Countess shows how he doesn’t mind hurting others to get what he wants.