Relatively short story today at 884 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/019.html
I saw this as a cautionary tale told from a graveyard. In one case, a person in the narrator’s party stumbles and catches himself on a titular counselor’s grave marker cross. The man had died in an accident, “a victim to his habits of observation.” Like he couldn’t help himself from spying through the keyhole that led to a deadly concussion. Next comes a man looking for a deceased actor who lured the man into acting. He hates the actor because of poverty he’s endured in pursuing a thankless career as well as hating the “feethinking and nonsense” the actor put into his head. It felt like another Chekhov stab at reprobate actors, similar to A Tragic Actor. Yet the man, after all the condemnation, wants to “drink to the rest of his soul! Though I don’t like him and though he’s dead, he was the only one I had in the world, the only one.” The man is a dying alcoholic and like the titular counselor, does not practice moderation. I found the story bittersweet, mostly funny with a twinge of sadness.
I really enjoyed this story and saw it as a marked departure from the recurrent themes we have seen to-date in Chekhov’s works. The setting is implied by the title (a graveyard) and the story is told from a unique first-person plural point-of-view. It is not clear what brought our narrator to the graveyard or how many were in his party. I can only assume it was what draws anyone to a graveyard who is not in mourning. There is a story in every life that is occasionally reflected in what marks us in death–whether that is an inscription on a tombstone or the artifacts of the faithful mourner. The story had a bit of social commentary about a buried councillor who “detested verses” but whose tombstone overflowed with them. But, we are quickly introduced to the centerpiece of the story…another actor. This time our actor is searching for the grave of “Mushkin” (a fellow actor who died 2 years previously). The narrator and his party helped search for the grave and found it to be in terrible shape. The inscription was worn by time and now “reflected the falsehood of man” as it proclaimed “…forgotten friend Mushkin” with the wind and rain having erased the preceding “never”. We learn of how his “friends” had taken up an offering to buy a proper monument but had wasted it on drink. My favorite line however was when the actor revealed himself to be an “enemy” of Mushkin. Chekhov has the actor proclaim a harsh reality of human behavior, “Those to whom he was dear have forgotten him, but those to whom he did harm remember him.” So what harm has been done to cause such a late night visitation to the grave of a dead actor? Mushkin was a distant role-model for our actor…and he blames Mushkin for his lost youth, sobriety, and wealth as he was apparently unsuccessful in this profession. They share a drink with the actor and undoubtedly hear more of a story than a tombstone could ever tell. They leave him to converse with the dead and proceed to exit the graveyard only to be confronted with the third funeral procession they have witnessed during their visit. However, having had their fill with Mushkin, they retire to their homes rather than pursue another story.