Today’s story is 1349 words and can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/059.html
It is interesting that Chekhov went with the title, “Ladies”, instead of something like “Backdoor Politics” or “Sneak” as job seeker and strategist Polzuhin is called. Fyodor Petrovitch, the director of elementary schools, has a job opening that will save a family man and a teacher of fourteen years who has lost his voice and his career. Oddly enough the teacher lost his voice by drinking “cold beer when I was in a perspiration.” Since Chekhov was a physician, I take it that he encountered this before or heard of such a case. That situation led me to believe this was going to be a comedy. And it had it’s moments with unending pleas by women on behalf of Polzuhin, son of a well off landowner. I saw Petrovitch like a college admissions officer at a private college where alumni and donor’s children have preference over more qualified candidates. (See a historical example here.) Chekhov has a punchline like in his early writings: after Petrovitch disdainfully gives Polzuhin the secretarial position when he produces a letter from the governor, another politically connected woman pleads on the Polzuhin’s behalf. A younger Chekhov might have finished the story there, but he let’s us watch Petrovitch renege on his offer to the school teacher in an abrupt, harsh manner. I enjoyed this story of political influence carried out by women on behalf of a man and I’m hoping that Petrovitch can find another vacancy for the teacher soon.
Today’s story reminds me of a line from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where Toula’s mom says “…the man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.” It’s a bit of a different context but the thought in today’s story is the same. A “just and generous” director of elementary schools, Fyodor Petrovitch, has just promised a position within his home to an unfortunate schoolmaster, Vremensky, who can no longer continue teaching because of an unexpected health problem. He is very pleased with himself until his wife informs him of another “applicant” for the position. Polzuhin was recommended to Fyodor’s wife by one of her friends. Despite having a negative memory of Polzuhin, Fyodor is unable to overcome the tide of recommendations that follow from the Mayor’s wife, the Superintendent of the Treasury’s wife, and other women of importance. The final recommendation comes from a testimonial signed by the Governor but we are led to believe it was signed unread, “simply to get rid of some importunate lady.” Fyodor reluctantly agrees to hire Polzuhin under the pressure and now must face Vremensky. Despite feelings to the contrary, Fyodor cannot bring himself to admit his defeat at the hands of a few ladies. He dismisses Vremensky with his fist pounding on the table and we can only imagine the stunned look that must have been on his face. The story is short but makes a point that should be recognizable to any happily married man.