Short story: “A Christmas Tree and a Wedding”

by look i have opinions

“A Christmas Tree and a Wedding” or “The Christmas Tree and the Wedding” (“Ёлка и свадьба”), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; the translation I read is by Constance Garnett

Collected in White Nights and Other Stories, on Gutenberg.org here; here‘s another version by an unknown translator

3,030 words

I have the impression that first person minor has gone out of style, that readers now tend to find it distracting and pointless. But would this story be so effectively horrible if it were told in the third person? The narrator’s ironic detachment (“It was a good stroke of business, though!”), coupled with his obvious sensitivity and perceptiveness, makes the young woman’s fate seem a little colder. Besides, I’m not sure if I could trust an objective or quasi-objective third-person narrator quite as much as I trust a bored, friendless party guest.

The Brothers Karamazov is in first person minor too, but it’s much stranger in that book, since the narrator tells us all about the inner lives of so many different people, even though he doesn’t seem to be a friend of the Karamazovs or any other major characters. Then again, Pushkin claims to be friends with Onegin, and he knows everything young Tatyana and Lensky are thinking. Maybe Russians are just strange.

Or maybe it’s that storytelling itself is strange, when you consciously consider all the devices and conventions on which it depends. Today, we find close third person perfectly acceptable, though in fact it’s just as inexplicable as first person minor—possibly more so, since by pushing the narrator into the background, it makes him or her seem like a ghost haunting a character’s mind, rather than a nosy, imaginative would-be journalist. Fashion is capricious.

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