Today’s story is a short one…only 645 words! http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/043.html
We have four characters in today’s flash story: a pair of scheming parents, their daughter, and a writing teacher. The story seems like a scene in bedroom farce play. Like Steve mentions below, there are a lot of references to writers and writing. When the daughter taunts the teacher’s poor penmanship, saying it looks like it was “written by a spider,” he blows it off the insult. He claims that “the great thing in writing lessons is not the hand one writes, but keeping the boys in order. You hit one on the head with a ruler, make another kneel down. . . ” This is in line with other stories about Russian education we’ve read, like A Classical Student. When the parents try to force a marriage by interrupting the instructor mid-hand kiss, they are comically foiled by holding up the image of a writer instead instead of an ikon. Almost as if the spirit of Russian writer Ivan Lazhechnikov does a favor for the younger writer (like a writer bro/wingman coming to the rescue), allowing the instructor to escape and keep his freedom until his next comic mishap.
I found it interesting that today’s story featured several writers and yet is one of the shortest stories we’ve read so far. One of the main characters is a writing teacher and two other figures who have a major role in the narrative are famous Russian authors (Nikolay Nekrasov and Ivan Lazhechnikov). Ultimately, this is a story about over-zealous parents trying to capture the moment of their daughters wedding proposal. A writing teacher, Shchupkin (which ironically suggests “to grope”), is having what he believes to be a private intimate conversation with his lover Natashenka. Unbeknownst to both of them, Natashenka’s parents are listening at the door waiting for the opportune moment to spring into action, spiritual ikon in hand, to sacredly bind the couple in future matrimony. This is apparently a binding act that the parents can enforce. Admittedly, I remain in the dark about the details of what I presume to be a Russian Orthodox tradition of presenting the family ikon to consecrate a marriage. Nevertheless, the parents overhear bits of the intimate conversation wherein Shchupkin is slowly making his way to a first kiss by the promise of poems. They interpret this as the first step in a proposal and hastily enter the room. However, based on the reaction of the daughter and the actions of Shchupkin, I suspect the conversation had little to do with an expectation of a proposal and more to do with fulfillment of consensual lustful pursuits. This is supported by Shchupkin’s reaction when the parents eventually barge through the door shouting blessings of marriage. His first thought is along the lines of “I’m done for, I’m caught”. Fortunately for Shchupkin, in their attempt to surprise the young couple, the mother inadvertently grabs a portrait of Lazhechnikov instead of the ikon. This blunder results in embarrassment and anger as the parent’s hope of binding the couple in marriage rapidly fades. Taking advantage of the situation, Shchupkin slips through the door to make a hasty exit. I must admit that part of me believes I’ve gotten this story all wrong…that I’ve made a blunder. This is ironic, not just because of the title, but because this was such a short story. I wonder how many blunders are being made in the span of 645 words? How many did I potentially miss? The blunder of the parents seems too obvious. There is a suggestion in the beginning that perhaps the daughter has mistaken letters received from someone else as coming from Shchupkin. Shchupkin appears to have other motives that are not entirely clear and his sense of being “caught” suggests he has “blundered” at something undiscovered. The fact that my review is almost as long as the story suggests a blunder in my role as critic. So…for Chekhov having instilled a feeling of personal inadequacy in my review of such a short story, a feeling that I as reader and critic have blundered, I’ll promote the rating to a “6”…