‘The Tryst’ by Ivan Turgenev

The Tryst by Ivan Turgenev, 1853

The magic trick:

Showing how the story’s events affect the narrator, cueing the reader to feel similarly

We’re off to Russia this week.

This is the story of what the narrator observed one day in the woods and how what he observed affected him. Which probably sounds pretty simple. It certainly reads very easily. But it’s actually kind of a complex thing if you really think about it.

The reader focuses on what the narrator observes – that is the meeting of a woman and a man in the woods. They talk. He’s callous. She’s upset. For many authors, that would be story enough. But here, we get that extra layer of the narrator. He is taken with the woman and touched by the scene. His reactions color the reader’s feelings about the scene. It’s a neat way for the author to manipulate the reader. We care more because the narrator cares. And that’s quite a trick on Turgenev’s part.

The selection:

Viktor languidly held out his hand, took the flowers, carelessly sniffed at them, and began twirling them in his fingers, looking upwards. Akulina watched him…. In her mournful eyes there was such tender devotion, adoring submission and love. She was afraid of him, and did not dare to cry, and was saying good-bye to him and admiring him for the last time; while he lay, lolling like a sultan, and with magnanimous patience and condescension put up with her adoration. I must own, I glared indignantly at his red face, on which, under the affectation of scornful indifference, one could discern vanity soothed and satisfied. Akulina was so sweet at that instant; her whole soul was confidingly and passionately laid bare before him, full of longing and caressing tenderness, while he… he dropped the corn-flowers on the grass, pulled out of the side pocket of his coat a round eye-glass set in a brass rim, and began sticking it in his eye; but however much he tried to hold it with his frowning eyebrow, his pursed-up cheek and nose, the eye-glass kept tumbling out and falling into his hand.


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