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The Daughter of the Commandant

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(1836)


Translated by Mrs. Milne Home



Pyotr Andreevich has come to an age where he must serve in the army. A little bit against his own will and his mothers', he is sent off to an old acquaintance of his father with a recommendation letter and an old servant Savelich who is supposed to keep an eye on the boy and the money. Pyotr arrives safe at the quarters of the old acquaintance and is sent to a fortress some miles away in the middle of the Russian steppe where rebellious troops continuously attempt to weaken the rule of Empress Catherine the Great. After a snowstorm and a lucky meeting with a man who knows the steppe very well, they eventually reach the fortress that is commanded by a man Mironov, whose wife Vasilia Egorovna and daughter Masha make up the full women populace. God has always watched over the fortress, or that is what Mironov believes (and should hope will continue, given the state of his troops). Pyotr befriends Shvabrin, another younger member of the troops and, like him, an officer of noble descent. Slowly but surely, Masha and Pyotr fall in love. At some point it comes to a duel between the two men, but why? Shortly after Pyotr has recovered from the wounds sustained in the duel, the fortress is sacked by the rebellious army of Pugachev--Mironov and his wife are brutally murdered; Masha disappears. Pyotr narrowly escapes Pugachev’s evil judgment, and enters somewhat unwillingly into favour with the latter...at the cost of his own honour. He will eventually discover why Masha disappeared and will be in real danger. Until Masha does something that only women can do. The novella proves that great leadership does not need to belong only to the winner in history. As ever, the greatest historic figure is not the main concern. As far as the story goes, it is wonderful.--Submitted by kiki1982

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A review

Well, a book called The Queen of Spades and other Stories was given to my husband by a colleague with the message 'your wife will like it'. I had had a bad Dutchspeaking experience with Dostoevsky years ago and I renounced Russian literature forever. However, after looking at this book's cover for quite a while and looking at its first page, Pushkin grew on me. The last story was The Commandant's Daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I have never ever read short-stories for pleasure,because I have never come across them realy, but this (and The Queen of Spades) I did enjoy tremendously. Why? Pushkin has that over him which Dumas has over him: he writes historic novels and trough that makes history accesible, particularly the history behind the history... Peter the Great, f.e., did feature in The Negro of Peter the Great but did not make up the greater part of it, or not his political escapdes at any rate. When reading Pushkin, one gains knowledge about Russian society (they used to lock their wives up until Peter the Great, as sultans in the east...). Now more about The Commandant's Daughter: It gives an insight in rebellion in the farer districts of the empire, and how well defended (or not) those fortresses were. But, more to the point, I believe that Pushkin made a point towards how a good leader should be. Pugachev in his rebelious nature, does decide, against the advise of his more bloodthirsty companions, to let Piotr Andreich live, because he helped him out once. It shows magnanimity. Not even when Andreich refuses to co-operate (albeit with very logical reasons) he turns sour. When Andreich returns to claim Masha, he shows true leadership an fareness and lets her go. Whether he had let her go if he knew she was the commandant's daughter, is another question, but he rules in favour of one who is definitely not on his side, who could stab him in the back or who could be a spy at that. It is not so when Andreich is arrested through the stories of Shvabrin who likes to see the back of Andreich. Even when Andreic gives plausible reasons, they refuse to listen, because they like the saucy stories more. Not willing to implicate Masha, he does not mention her although she is the only reason for co-operationwith Pugachev if there was any. We should rather call it 'co-operation from Pugachev' and not the other way around. When Masha then in the end guesses the problem and endeavors herself to go and solve the problem, she encounters a sweet lady in the park who later appears to be Catherine the Great herself. Catherine in the beginning shows no mercy, but sees sense once she has heard the whole story. She too, as a great empress, shows magnanimity (because can she be really sure that Andreich is no rebel? She has only Maria Ivanovna's word) and decides to free him, contrary to her advisors too. Pugachev as the would-be tsar, and Catherine II as the tsarina stand on the same height as to leadership although the one had to step aside for the other. But had Catherine herself not committed a coup d'état to get to the throne? Although better for Russia than her weak-minded husband, she did not have a right to the throne and seized it with the army. So in a certain sense Pugachev and Catherine are very similar, only for her it worked, for him it did not. A great read.

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