19th century Russian literature has a certain timelessness that makes old stories relevant even today. One example of this can be found in Pushkin’s “The Stationmaster.” It is originally found in the collection entitled “The Tales of Belkin,” but let’s face it, writing about all five tales long enough to do any of them justice would be more than a single blog post (either that, or I just get really long-winded when talking about dead Russians).
“The Stationmaster” is a short story that begins with the narrator visiting an inn in the Russian countryside that is run by a father and his daughter Dunya. One can tell that the father loves his daughter, but relies on her as he would have relied on his wife if she still lived. He is very protective of her, and won’t let her grow up. The narrator returns to the inn years later to find the daughter gone. The father, after a few cups of booze, tells how a young hussar came to visit the inn. The man faked an illness so that he and the daughter could plan to elope and run away to St. Petersburg. The father visits Petersburg to try to get his daughter back, not really believing that she freely consented. He makes several attempts to see Dunya, at which point her husband is forced to kick him out. The narrator again returns to the inn, to discover that the father drank himself to death, and that Dunya visited the grave in mourning. The story is framed as a reinterpretation of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.
Even in 19th century Russia, there was a generation gap. Helicopter parents aren’t really as new as we like to think that they are. I feel a great deal of pity for both Dunya and her father. The father loved Dunya, but he stifled her. Dunya loved her father, but needed independence.
In any case, if the father and daughter had been able to actually communicate and listen to each other, they could have come to a less extreme compromise. If Dunya had been around in the 1960s, she could have simply gone to Woodstock. If she were around in the 80s or 90s, she could have died her hair blue and joined a band. In 19th century Russia, running away with a soldier was a pretty close equivalent.