Literature Annotations


Turgenev, Ivan Sergeievich
The District Doctor


Genre Short Story (11 pp.)
KeywordsCommunication, Death and Dying, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Family Relationships, Grief, Illness and the Family, Love, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Mourning, Obsession, Professionalism, Sexuality
Summary

A traveler falls ill and is treated by the local physician, Doctor Trifon Ivanitch, who unexpectedly shares a personal and potentially embarrassing story with the stranger. Once the doctor was asked to make a house call by a woman who believed her daughter might be dying. On his arrival, the physician finds a beautiful 20 year old woman named Alexandra who is feverish and initially unconscious. Although fully aware how ill she is, he nonetheless promises everyone that she will survive.

He is immediately infatuated with the woman and spends days and nights at her home caring for this single patient. As Alexandra's condition worsens and she becomes convinced her death is imminent, she professes love for the doctor satisfying a basic need to experience love before she dies. Just before her death, the doctor lies about their relationship to Alexandra's mother. Later the doctor marries an "ill-tempered woman" who sleeps all day. Did he marry for love, convenience, money, or penance?

Commentary

Turgenev's story highlights the requirement that all people have for love no matter how imperfect or tragic. His tale also addresses three other intriguing issues--the duties and personal lives of doctors, lying, and the physician-patient relationship. Doctor Ivanitch comments early in the story that a physician's duty comes before everything else. His private life seems shallow and overshadowed by his responsibilities as a physician. He shares his feelings of inadequacy and helplessness even as members of the patient's family are demonstrating unwavering confidence in his ability.

The doctor's lying is disturbingly frequent. He lies to his patient, her mother, and possibly to himself. How accurate or even factual is the doctor's account? When is it appropriate (beneficial or at least humane) to lie to a patient or their family?

This short story explores the subject of romantic involvement between physicians and patients and raises some interesting questions about the concept of desire. The doctor's confession to a stranger reveals the vexing situations that physicians sometimes find themselves in.

SourceThe District Doctor and Other Stories of Turgenev
PublisherStory Classics
Edition1951
Place PublishedEmmaus, Pa.
MiscellaneousThe book is out of print but used copies may be available.
Annotated by Miksanek, Tony
Date of Entry 05/08/02