Belkin’s Hidden Heartbreak: Gaps and Clues in The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin

Victoria Sevastianova, Dartmouth College

The central conflicts of the short stories included in The Tales are quite diverse: the duel postponed, the married strangers separated, the undertaker visited by his clients, the prodigal daughter who makes it in the big city, and the couple in love separated by their families’ feud. However, two of these stories are quite similar if one isolates the basic plot – in “The Blizzard” and “The Squire’s Daughter” both, the principal characters believe that they cannot be together when in fact they can.

Obviously, the plot involving would-be star-crossed lovers signals an area of concern for Belkin – if he returns to this storyline, while other traditional romantic scenarios receive a single treatment. What was it about love, moreover, doomed love, that fascinated Belkin? From the introduction, we find out that he was shy with the ladies, yet the only specific bit of information that his neighbor volunteers is omitted by “the editor” – Pushkin himself, - who has initially promised to reproduce the letter without any omissions.

However, the remarks that survive the “editing” provide the reader with enough clues to locate certain parallels and similarities between proper names in the preface and both stories. For example, the name of Ivan Petrovich Berestov is suspiciously too close to Belkin’s own. Is it Belkin’s own story that is being told in two different ways? Or is the author trying to work out a particularly painful scenario and provide it with a happy resolution?

Gregg and Bethea addressed the issue of the underdog in The Tales, and it seems that Belkin is one as well. He functions as the perfect “other” for Pushkin – he has no amorous conquests, and he is unsuccessful as a writer. His manuscripts are used for window stuffing, and his work, filled with romantic clichés, is published posthumously. It seems that Belkin casts himself as an unfortunate hero, while a lucky rival wins, no matter how the author Belkin rewrites the plot and how many obstacles he mounts for his characters.

By analyzing several clues and textual gaps in this collection, I propose to take a closer look at the author/character Belkin himself and at the ultimate Belkin tale – the omitted story of his own doomed love.

Selected bibliography:

Bethea, David M. and Sergei Davydov. “Pushkin’s Saturnine Cupid: The Poetics of Parody in The Tales of Belkin.” PMLA 96.1 (Jan 1981): 8-21.

Gregg, Richard A. “A Scapegoat for All Seasons: The Unity and Shape of The Tales of Belkin.” Slavic Review 30 (1971): 748-761.

Shevarov, Dmitrii. “P'ero Belkin.” Novyi mir 4 (Apr 1999): 170-175.