Iron Coat (Bunin)

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Iron Coat
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A man narrates his tragic tale of his wife's suicide on their wedding night, after he forced himself on her, leading him to a life of wandering and repentance.

A man, who was not a monk but a servant of God, described his homeland in the north of Russia. He painted a vivid picture of the remote, ancient land with its forests, marshes, lakes, and sparse settlements. He spoke of the abundant wildlife, including the big-eared eagle owl, the big-nosed elk, and the splendid deer. He also mentioned the harsh winters and the presence of wolves and bears.

The Narrator — narrator; a wandering pilgrim in his sixties; remorseful and repentant for his past actions.

The man then spoke of the local folklore, particularly about a bear known as Iron Coat and a wood demon known as the Forest. According to the tales, these creatures were known to seduce women, resulting in unexpected pregnancies. The women would claim to have been overpowered by these creatures, but the man suggested that some women might have willingly given in to their desires.

There isn’t a single power in the world stronger than lust – whether in a man or in a reptile, in a beast, in a bird, but most of all in a bear and in a wood demon!

The man then shared his personal tragedy. He was married to a beautiful young woman from a wealthy peasant family.

The Wife — young, beautiful, and innocent; committed suicide on her wedding night; had a transparent face, whiter than the first snow, and azure eyes.

However, on their wedding night, she refused to consummate their marriage, claiming she had vowed to remain pure for her sins.

But then, on the very first night of our marriage, she threw herself out of my embrace and onto the floor below the icons in the bedchamber, saying to me: ‘Will you really dare take my body beneath a holy icon case and unctuous icon lamps?

Overcome by passion and alcohol, the man forced himself on her. He later realized that she was not a virgin. After their encounter, the woman ran into the forest and hanged herself. When her body was found, a large bear was sitting by her feet. The man spent the following days mourning her death in the forest.