Author: A. I. (Aleksandr Ivanovich) Kuprin
Title: The duel
Publisher: London : George Allen & Unwin
Subject (keywords, tags): The Duel
`The Duel` (1905) is Russian author Aleksandr Kuprin's realist masterpiece, wining him
Contributor: University of California Libraries
Size: 543 kb
||`The Duel` (1905) is Russian author Aleksandr Kuprin's realist masterpiece, wining him literary fame and friendship with Anton Chekov, Maxim Gorky, Leonid Andreyev, Nobel Prize-winning Ivan Bunin and Leo Tolstoy. Kuprin was a born storyteller and has been compared with Kipling and Jack London. Like London, however, Kuprin "degenerated" later in life with the vices of women (prostitutes) and drink and his works similarly became sensational, like with the lurid account of prostitutes in `The Pit` (1915). But he reached a pinnacle of high art with `The Duel`.
`The Duel` explores "honor" in its many permutations. Honor in career, love, and the hypocrisy inherit. The main character, Romashov, is a 21 year old military officer in training in a backwater provincial town where everyone knows everyone and gossip spreads quickly. Kuprin's realistic portrayal of the horrors of Russian military life is a wonderfully rich portrait of an "odious and wanton liaison [of] gambling, drinking, soul-killing, monotonous regimental routine, with never a single inspiring word, never a ray of light in the black, hopeless darkness."
Romashov experiences a number of setbacks in his career and his romantic notions of being a hero to the Czar are shattered by cruel realities - on the brink of suicide (a common occurrence in his regiment) he undergoes a change when he discovers salvation through empathizing with the sufferings of others: "it was clear to [Romashov] at once how petty and insignificant was his own sorrow in comparison with [his friends] cruel fate." By rising above soul-crushing military doctrine of honor and violence, and finding instead sympathy with others, he finds freedom, "a proud, triumphant feeling of malicious joy and defiance."
To this end Romashov then discovers that most professions are based on "mistrust of the honor and morality of mankind.. supervisors and official, policemen, book-keepers, priests, etc.." and there are only two careers that are truly noble, science/art. and manual labor. Thus Romashov navigates his way through the world of honor in the sphere of his career, but he has a fatal flaw and that is love. In the end he is tricked by honor in love (or lack thereof) and it is his undoing. Kuprin was not entirely happy with the novels ending, and I tend to agree that its sensationalism mires it in the 19th century. It could have been a modernist novel had Romashov's duel ended in a different way, such as the alternative path suggested by his friend Nasanski. However it is still dramatic and satisfying.
[STB 08-2008, 12]
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