Find today’s 2868 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/076.html
Today’s First-class passenger was also a first-class egomaniac among other things. I think it is fair to say that although the man was drunk, he was speaking from the heart. Alcohol has a way of reducing the social filters that we have in place, exposing ourselves to more honesty and emotion (which can get ugly sometimes.) Krikunov is an accomplished engineer of bridges and aqueducts as well as “the author of several special treatises” and chemist who “discovered methods of obtaining certain organic acids…” But that is not enough for Krikunov who “strove after celebrity with every fiber of my being.” He had focused all of his energies to being at the top of his field not for the good of the public, but for the public to have his name on the tips of their lips. He gives an example of how a lover and regional actress “devoid of talent, devoid of feeling…” superseded his acclaim at a bridge opening. He was only known as the engineer she lived with. The drunk continues whining, even when winning an award is not enough for him. He needs to be known by every Russian. But even if that happened, it would probably never be enough as he comes off as an insatiable malcontent. This story suffers from being too long like the drunken windbag telling it. This is because the majority of the tale is a loooong monologue. In the end, there is a punchline, as Krikunov did not know the accomplished man across from him. While I agree with Krikunov that the public has a fascination with mostly unworthy people, ignoring “men remarkable for their talent and industry, who have nevertheless died unrecognized,” he is not the best representative to tell me this. He did have a great line about writers: “Can you mention to me a single representative of our literature who would have become celebrated if the rumor had not been spread over the earth that he had been killed in a duel, gone out of his mind, been sent into exile, or had cheated at cards?” Notoriety definitely helps sell books. I believe he is talking about Pushkin regarding the duel, Gogol for the insanity, and Dostoyevsky for the exile, but I have not sure about the cards. A young Tolstoy perhaps?
Today we are introduced to Krikunov, a first-class passenger who having just filled himself with food and drink settles in to a conversation with the man across from him about the meaning of fame. He starts with a tip to his upper-class upbringing by noting how his father “used to like to have his heels tickled by peasant women after dinner.” He states that he is just like his father only that “after dinner I always like my tongue and my brains gently stimulated…I like empty talk on a full stomach.” Thus with a smirk he begins to have a philosophical conversation about the nature of fame and those who deserve it, placing himself in the center of those who deserve it. On the surface, it seems logical by his own description that he should be famous. He is an engineer having built many structures in Russia, an author of several special treatises, an amateur chemist with some repute, and a one-time civil councilor. He is certainly not an under-achiever and yet the town prostitute enjoys more fame locally and abroad than he is able to attain across a lifetime of effort. Having realized the state of fame in the eyes of the public, he grows to despise them holding them in contempt for their lack of education and culture. “Celebrity is created almost exclusively by the newspapers,” he proclaims. All of this is said to a perfect stranger who listens intently only to deliver the punch-line at the end. He too should be well-known to the public but Krikunov has never heard of him. I actually enjoyed this story immensely. I agree that perhaps he isn’t the best character to articulate the dilemma of contemporary fame vs. historical importance, but I did not see Krikunov as a drunken malcontent. On the contrary… I think he has grown wiser with age and appreciated the irony of the punchline at the end. It was during his youth that he strove after celebrity. He is obviously successful as his title of “first-class passenger” suggests despite the lack of fame. I suspect he would argue his life was meaningful despite the lack of appreciation by others. I would stop short of calling him noble as he suffers from the same sense of entitlement common in Chekhov’s upper-class characters. Nevertheless, his argument about the fascination of the public for fame over accomplishment is applicable today and made me want to listen.