The Peasant Marey
|"The Peasant Marey"|
"The Peasant Marey" (Russian: Мужик Марей), written in 1876, is both the "best-known autobiographical account" from the Writer's Diary of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and frequently anthologized as a work of fiction. This "double encoding" arises from its often self-contradictory framing as both short story, narrated by the fictional prisoner Goryanchikov, and evident reminiscences by Dostoyevsky himself, as a way to evade censorship.
"The Peasant Marey" is preoccupied mainly with a childhood memory, when the speaker was nine and living with his father in Tula province. The boy is frightened by rumors of a wolf prowling the countryside, and finds refuge with one of his father's serfs, Marey. Recollected 20 years later, the incident takes on the significance of an allegory or myth.
The story opens around the holiday season of Easter, with the narrator wandering the prison camp. After a Polish political prisoner utters his hatred for the low bred convicts (both the Pole and the narrator are nobles), the narrator heads back to the bunks to rest. As he lies in his bed, he vividly recalls a memory from his early childhood. While playing near a birch wood, he had heard the shout "Wolf! Wolf!" Panicked, the boy runs away from the wood, finally coming across the peasant Marey. Marey comforts the young Dostoyevsky, reassuring him that there are no wolves in the area. Dostoyevsky is mollified by the peasant's genuine concern, and eventually returns to playing.
Dostoyevsky's narration returns from his memory to prison, comforted by the fact that Russian peasants have such a degree of culture and understanding, while lamenting that the Polish prisoner has never seen the cultured side of Russians. Still, he is sad to imagine that the drunken peasant might be the same Marey he had encountered earlier.
- Magarshack, David, The Best Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky (New York: The Modern Library, 2005), xi-xxvi.
- '"The Peasant Marey," English translation by Kenneth Lantz, text and published version in the appendix to The House of the Dead and Poor Folk p. 425ff. and in A Writer's Diary (Northwestern University Press, 1994), introduction by Gary Saul Morson, p. 351ff.