Find today’s 1692 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/077.html
Today’s story has the title “Talent,” but I feel it is being used facetiously. After living in Los Angeles for several years and being a writer myself, I have known many Yegors (and possibly might have been one myself) who thinks of the rewards of being a successful artist, but has not done the intense groundwork for it. Yegor is definitely the opposite of Krikunov from yesterday’s story, The First-Class Passenger, who worked hard for fame. (Malcolm Gladwell argues in Outliers that one need to spend a minimum 10,000 hours to be a master of anything.) “[Yegor] could not imagine his future works but he could see distinctly how the papers would talk of him, how the shops would sell his photographs, with what envy his friends would look after him.” This reminds me of an actress several years ago who never had a major project, but she already knew the demands she was going to make on the set a soon as she landed a major role. While Yegor may or may not have talent, (he isn’t practicing much as his only project is unfinished “in a frame covered with dust and spider webs.“), he has a devout believer, Katya. Although she is the throes of love, blinded from reality. He has the arguments of why he shouldn’t marry her. “[A] painter, and in fact any man who lives for art, marriage is out of the question. An artist must be free.” I feel like the truth is closer to Groucho Marx‘s line: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” It should be noted that Chekhov didn’t marry until the end of his life. He is critical of Yegor and his artist friends who come over to drink, judging them in the following: “To listen to them it would seem they had the future, fame, money, in their hands. And it never occurred to either of them that time was passing, that every day life was nearing its close, that they had lived at other people’s expense a great deal and nothing yet was accomplished; that they were all bound by the inexorable law by which of a hundred promising beginners only two or three rise to any position and all the others draw blanks in the lottery, perish playing the part of flesh for the cannon…“ Chekhov is right on. Time is fleeting and to be on top of the arts you have to strive and work to get there. I remember a writer who told me his father was a flying instructor who always knew who would be a pilot and who wouldn’t graduate. Those who talked about what colors they would paint their planes never made it because they were in love with the dream of being a pilot, not of flying. Yegor is in love with the idea of being a renowned painter and not much more, whereas an artist must create.
Today we are introduced to Yegor, an aspiring artist, who lives rent-free under a widow landlord who happens to have an available and admiring daughter named Katya. The story opens with Yegor bemoaning the onset of fall and preparing for his inevitable move to town the following day. The widow is out procuring items to facilitate the move while Katya sits in Yegor’s room, awestruck by her artist and with much to say. Yegor cuts her off with the proclamation that he cannot marry her “because for a painter, and in fact any man who lives for art, marriage is out of the question. The artist must be free.” His rationale rests on the claim that “famous authors and painters have never married.” Katya reaffirms her belief that Yegor will indeed be famous but he is not interested. Following the return of the widow, who lives up to her reputation set out in the beginning of being abusive, Yegor eats dinner and initially sets out for his ritual postprandial nap. Here we are introduced to 2 artist friends who wake him up to have a discussion late into the night about the inevitability of their future fame. Of course there is no reason to believe that any of them actually have the talent or ambition necessary for fame. In fact, one of Yegor’s friends, himself only an amateur artist, openly criticizes the only work of art Yegor seems to have started. Under the influence of alcohol the three of them carry on as if “they had the future, fame, money, in their hands.” Here Chekhov breaks from the narrative for the moral of the story:
“And it never occurred to either of them that time was passing, that every day life was nearing its close, that they had lived at other people’s expense a great deal and nothing yet was accomplished; that they were all bound by the inexorable law by which of a hundred promising beginners only two or three rise to any position and all the others draw blanks in the lottery, perish playing the part of flesh for the cannon…”
The story could have stopped here but Chekhov takes one last look at Katya who is up waiting on her artist in the kitchen. She is likely the only admirer that Yegor will ever attract in his life let alone the only model he could convince to pose for poor art’s sake. She remains confident of his future fame right to the end wherein she will “keep dreaming and dreaming…” The title of the story is similar to another one we have reviewed (c.f. “Art“) and I thought it interesting that Chekhov chose “Talent” here… The only talent that the 3 artists in today’s story have is a talent for mediocrity and self-importance. Unlike Seryozhka in “Art”, Yegor does not seem to posses the creativity necessary to produce art. Of course so long as he remains delusional about his prospects of future creativity, and has the friend network to support him in this endeavor, why invest in the present? The major unanswered question in today’s story was why Yegor is moving? I like to think the widow kicked him out but more likely his move is an extension of his delusion wherein he believes that by moving to “town” fame will come to him.