#063 A Privy Councillor

Today’s story is relatively long at 6971 words:  http://www.eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/063.htm

Travis Review:

Today’s story is told from a man looking back at his childhood when an uncle came to visit his family for a summer. His uncle is no ordinary man, but a privy councillor with a general rank, putting him in the top class of Russian power. The story is broken into five distinct scenes. 1.) Preparation for the uncle. 2.) The uncle’s arrival and Andrusha, the narrator, moving to the Fyodor, the bailiff’s (estate manager) house. 3.) The uncle, Ivan, leaving his work behind and staying up late with the tutor (Pobyedimsky), Fyodor’s wife (Tatyana) and occasionally Fyodor. 4.) An unannounced visit from the governor. 5.) The uncle leaving at great, but necessary expense. Filtered though a young boy’s eyes, Chekhov sets up expectations, only to have other realities occur. For instance, Andrusha expects a battle hardened, war-weary general for an uncle, but finds a foppish, impulsive gray haired man who is so wrapped up in his own world that he is oblivious to social cues. Another example is the scene when the uncle impotently leaves Fyodor’s house after unsuccessfully trying to seduce Tatyana. My thoughts, based on Andrusha’s mother’s comments that the uncle was ill, was that he would either die or be an invalid for the rest of the story like many other Chekhov tales after a character is humiliated. Instead a police escort rushes to the estate. At first I thought perhaps there had been a murder or as Andrusha was thinking, Fyodor might be arrested. Instead the governor has a meeting with Uncle Ivan. Although we don’t know why, I believe the uncle called it in order to show his political strength to everybody at the estate, causing chaos and heartache for his sister and nephew. One of my favorite lines was “For the sake of some wretched sauce a pair of valuable pigeons, as dear to me as the gander was to mother, were sacrificed. It was a long while before I could forgive the governor their death.” This story had a lot of details than usual. Some could be argued as unnecessary, like the 500 words about the tailor who never appears again after making the too-tight garments or the uncle’s footman, Pytor, who makes a brief appearance and is never seen again, although he is in the house. Also, before the uncle emerges from his work, there is a section about the long silences of countryside living as Andursha, Tatyana, and the tutor “[sit] on the steps of the lodge. We did not talk till it grew quite dusk. And, indeed, what is one to talk of when every subject has been talked over already?” Overall I felt the story was uneven. Great in some parts, and overwritten in others.  

Rating: 6

 

Steve Review:

Chekhov introduces us to a privy councillor named Ivan who is visiting his sister for the summer on account of liver problems that prevent him from staying in Petersburg.  The story is told through the eyes of Ivan’s nephew, Andrusha, who during the intense preparation for his uncle’s arrival imagines him to be the stereotype of a war hardened general–for which he would predictably be disappointed.  The story was uncharacteristically long and permitted the development of a few additional characters including a tailor named Spiridon, a tutor named Pobyedimsky, a ‘bailiff’ (grounds-keeper?) named Fyodor and his wife Tatyana.  It is Tatyana, a “plump little woman of twenty”, that catches the eye of Ivan. As the weeks pass, Ivan transitions from being “glued to his table” in his room to conversing and singing with the tutor, the baliff, and Tatyana.  The tension mounts as Ivan carelessly admires and compliments Tatyana to the point of open flirtation in front of Fyodor.  I questioned this assumption as it felt like he was using her as an object for his own amusement in a very condescending manner.  At one point, he even jokes about putting her “under a glass case” on his work table in Petersburg to “admire her and show her to other people.”  The last straw was his attempt to kiss her hand in front of everyone which prompts an outburst not only from Fyodor but from the tutor, Pobyedimsky, as well.  Pobyedimsky’s own emotions, long concealed from Fyodor, emerge and result in an eventual altercation and his disappearance from the story.  The story then turns to an unexpected visit from the governor which causes even more chaos in the house, particularly for Andrusha’s mother who was in the midst of a migraine already.  Despite bending over backwards to accommodate the unannounced guest and despite slaughtering nearly every winged beast they own, the brother is not happy following the departure of the governor.  Most of the story was about the uncle having an apparent awakening to his false perception of the simpler life of peasants and the fact that he wasted his youth in pursuit of his profession.  Of course the chaos produced by his arrival and the sacrifices that were made on his account were unknown as were the heightened state of anxiety and stress caused by the governor’s visit.  Expressing disgust for the way the governor was treated (for God sakes his sister didn’t even shake hands!) Ivan returns to what we must assume is his baseline self-important state.  Although he has no money to leave, his sister willingly collects the necessary funds to hasten his departure abroad and away from the family.  Despite having spent most nights in the presence of Andrusha, he doesn’t even recognize him as he leaves.  In the beginning of the story, we are told that the sister had four brothers including Ivan.  One died as a baby, one died in war…and the other, “without offence to him be it said” was an actor.  If given the choice, I would have much preferred a visit by the actor.  The story started early and ended late which violates one of Chekhov’s rules for a good short story.  Overall, it was not one of his better stories despite the additional character development.

Rating:  4

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