The Extraordinary and the Ordinary in A. S. Pushkin's "Vystrel"

Melissa J. Sokol, Brown University

A. S. Pushkin's Povesti pokojnogo Ivana Belkina has been examined in the context of Pushkin's notions regarding romanticism as well as his evolving ideas regarding literary form. In fact, it seems that within "Vystrel" the stages of romanticism, namely high romanticism and Biedermeier, are linked to the literary forms of poetry and prose. The polemic between high romanticism and Biedermeier and that between poetry and prose is brought to light in the characters of Sil'vio and the Count.

I wish to begin my presentation with a discussion of the notions of romanticism which are found or are lacking in "Vystrel". For example, ideas of death are present but there is no exotic setting, no nationalistic feelings nor any passion. The melancholy, mysterious and isolated Byronic hero found in the character Sil'vio is, in the end, debunked as Paul Debreczeny points out. Sil'vio's hesitating nature with regards to his long awaited shot at the Count is not in line with the expected actions of a Byronic hero (Paul Debreczeny. The Other Pushkin: A Study of Alexander Pushkin's Prose Fiction. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1983, pages 113-114).

I would then like to focus upon the ideas of the extraordinary and the ordinary. Romanticism can in fact be divided into two stages: high romanticism which is linked to the extraordinary and Biedermeier which is linked to the ordinary. I believe that Sil'vio is the embodiment of the extraordinary and thus high romanticism while the Count who may at first be seen as extraordinary develops into a representative of the ordinary and thus of Biedermeier. The ordinary is closely associated with the Count's picture of domestic bliss as it emerges at the end of the work.

Now that the characters of Sil'vio and the Count have been tied to the stages of romanticism, I would like to draw further links to the literary forms of poetry and prose. In Wolf Schmid's analysis of Pushkin's own thoughts on poetry and prose he asserts that Pushkin himself connected prose to the "non-poetic, the run-of-the-mill, everyday" ("Prose and Poetry in Povesti Belkina." Canadian Slavonic Papers XXIX.2&3 (1987): page 213). The idea of the ordinary is emphasized in "Vystrel" through the repetition of the adjectival form obyknovennyj and the adverbial form obyknovenno which appears ten times within the first few pages of text as well as an additional instance later in the work. Judging by the use of this word and its derivatives in Pushkin's works as a whole, it appears that this is, in fact, atypical -- this word and its derivatives occur here in marked frequency. It is possible to relate the use of obyknovennyj to Pushkin's understanding of prose as that which is ordinary, to Biedermeier and to the character of the Count in the later part of this work. At the same time the extraordinary can be tied to poetry, to high romanticism and to the character of Sil'vio. Thus an argument can be made that in this work high romanticism duels Biedermeier while poetry duels prose. A true duel is not fought between Sil'vio and the Count in much the same manner that high romanticism cannot fight a duel with Biedermeier nor can poetry fight a duel with prose. Much is shared between the dueling pairs and thus the outcome of such a duel would more closely resemble suicide than murder.