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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Captain's Daughter

Alexander Pushkin

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To purchase The Captain's Daughter

Title: The Captain's Daughter
Author: Alexander Pushkin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1836 (Eg. 2007)
Length: 158 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Captain's Daughter - US
The Captain's Daughter - UK
The Captain's Daughter - Canada
The Captain's Daughter - India
La Fille du capitaine - France
Die Hauptmannstochter - Deutschland
La figlia del capitano - Italia
La hija del capitán - España
  • Russian title: Капитанская дочка
  • Translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler
  • With an Introduction and two afterwords (including Coats and turncoats) by Robert Chandler
  • The original (2007) Hesperus edition of this translation came with a Foreword by Elaine Feinstein
  • There are numerous previous translations of The Captain's Daughter

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good quick fun, expertly served

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Irish Times . 14/12/2014 Eileen Battersby
The Spectator . 20/10/2007 Jonathan Mirsky

  From the Reviews:
  • "Among Pushkinís many talents is a flair for characterisation which often proves the backbone of his stories. (...) (I)t is compelling, largely due to the sustained candour of the well-intentioned narrator. (...) A masterclass in storytelling and a founding text of the 19th-century Russian novel, The Captainís Daughter is high art at its most effortless." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "Put that way one might say donít bother. But Pushkin is Pushkin and Pugachov, the wolf of the steppes. (...) Robert and Elizabeth Chandlerís translation reads wonderfully (caution: I know no Russian), and captures the plotís wildness, cruelty, and touching romance." - Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Captain's Daughter resembles many nineteenth-century novels of adventure and romance, but is short, and anything but long-winded (as many of those tended to be). Pushkin gets to the essentials, focusing on pivotal scenes and confrontations, while quickly summing up the less action-packed everyday. A great deal of information is conveniently summed up and revealed in letters sent back and forth -- with even these sometimes only presented in summary form, rather than revealed in full -- and much is easily just noted in passing, as, for example:

     I shall not describe the siege of Orenburg, which belongs to history rather than to a family chronicle.
       This 'family chronicle' is presented as a memoir by one Pyotr Andreyevich Grinyov, but it is very much an historical novel, the other dominant figure a real-life one, the Cossack Yemelyan Pugachov, who wreaked havoc for several years in late-eighteenth-century Russia, claiming to be the the deposed and assassinated Peter III (Russia has a weird history of such pretenders to royalty), while Catherine the Great has a (significant) cameo in the tale as well.
       The story begins with Pyotr amusingly describing his cosseted, dissolute youth -- his tutor teaching him rather all the wrong lessons (if, indeed, any at all). As he reaches sixteen, Pyotr's father decides it's about time for him to "see service" -- joining the military, as (of course already) an officer. Pyotr is eager for adventure -- and the excitement of the big city -- but dad has other ideas, sending him not to serve among the Guards in Petersburg, but instead to the backwater of Fort Belogorsk, twenty-five miles from Orenburg (itself still very much a backwater).
       It is, indeed, a tired, unimpressive outpost, and even there they suspect he's been sent there as punishment, because of some: "conduct unbecoming an officer of the Guards" -- as is the case with Shvabrin, who was sent here five years earlier for killing someone in a duel. At least there is a lovely captain's daughter, Maria Ivanova (Masha) -- whom Shvabrin has already proposed to, but whom Pyotr wins over after quickly getting into a duel with Shvabrin over a trivial matter.
       On the trip to Belogorsk Pyotr and his faithful servant Savelich found themselves stuck in a snowstorm, but they met a stranger who led them to lodgings for the night. Pyotr generously gave the man a coat in parting -- an act that wouldn't go unremembered by the mystery man (or by Savelich). The man was the infamous impostor, Pugachov, and their paths would cross again -- first, and dramatically, in the fortress where Pyotr is then stationed, which is eventually easily overrun by the Cossack and his band.
       Pushkin amusingly describes the hidebound Russian authorities' reaction to ruthless Pugachov's advances, the Orenburg council opting not to follow Pyotr's advice, but for: "the cautious and prudent course of action" -- which, of course, proves disastrous.
       Pyotr remains loyal to the (true) crown and fights valiantly against the impostor at every turn, but the honorable Pugachov remembers the good turn Pyotr did and repays it several times over in repeatedly not holding Pyotr to account for continuing to battle against him. With Masha trapped in Belogorsk with turncoat Shvabrin, Pyotr is compelled to try and rescue her -- and here too Pugachov shows himself to be an honorable man.
       Ultimately, Pugachov is defeated -- and it is then that Pyotr's odd relationship with the impostor comes to haunt the young hero, as it of course seems very suspect. Here then, it is his betrothed, Masha, that takes matters into her own hands and saves the day.
       Pushkin's lively novel is neatly and quickly action-packed, making for a well- (and fast-)paced read. The romance comes out somewhat the poorer for this -- Pyotr falling in love with head over heels speed may not be surprising, but Pushkin lingers rather little on what he sees (and what is to be seen in) Maria Ivanova. But Pushkin presents some neat characters otherwise, foremost among them the impressive figure of Pugachov. Enjoyably, the novel is also surprisingly humorous -- comical, even.
       The Captain's Daughter is certainly flawed in parts -- with much just grazed over at the surface, treated too casually or hurriedly, and an ending that is rather too easy-grand a way to tie things up, not quite deus ex machina, but Catherine the Great herself summoned for the task -- but it's nevertheless still quite grandly entertaining stuff. It feels a bit dashed off in the writing, but Pushkin's flair and feel for language and pace make for a very good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 December 2014

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The Captain's Daughter: Reviews: Alexander Pushkin: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Alexander Pushkin (Александр Сергеевич Пушкин) lived 1799 to 1837.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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