Today’s story is 1760 words and can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/079.html
Yvegeny Podzharov is a confident and cocky “elegant young man.” Besides being a top actor he is also ladykiller. When a guest, Klimov, comes to the party who “lived in the very town in which the jeune premier had acted for two seasons in succession,” I suspected that there would be a conflict between them over a past event. That didn’t happen, but when Yvegeny began bragging about the women in the town, the path to offending Klimov was clear. I was excited that a duel was announced and wondered what Chekhov would do with this. In the very first story we read, A Living Chattel, a husband sit across from a man he caught cheating with his wife, but they agonizingly talk about the theater instead of fighting. I felt that Yvegeny’s youthful pride would cause him to not back down. But he eventually does back down and it is because of pride. The twist is that duel doesn’t scare him, but that word would get out about his boast of having an affair with Klimov’s niece… “…the trouble is the other fellows will hear of it, and they know perfectly well it was a yarn. It’s abominable! I shall be disgraced all over Russia….” He admits the lie to Klimov, while trying “…to appear unconcerned, to smile, to stand erect, but his body would not obey him, his voice trembled, his eyes blinked guiltily, and his head drooped.” Like Steve says below, he probably didn’t learn much from as half an hour later he “was already in excellent spirits.” But he answers his own question at the beginning of the story when he says, “I don’t understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with local families. Why is it?” Because you might shot or humiliated, jerk.
In today’s story we find another actor caught up in a lie. As the title suggests, the jeune premier (“young actor”), is naive in youth and in his profession. Caught up in the idea of having a “moral influence on society” and feeling obligated to make the acquaintance of the leading families in a new town, Yevgeny Podzharov, attends a party in the hope of showing-off his intellect. He is introduced by the host to an older gentleman from a neighboring town who used to be an actor. As it turns out, Podzharov is familiar with the town and the two men begin to reminiscence of past acquaintances and old stomping grounds. Podzharov gets a bit too comfortable and begins to tell a story of an encounter he had with a particular young woman of the town. After bragging about a romance that begin with a lustful encounter and lasted 2 months, the gentleman whom he just met became instantly offended. As might be predicted, the woman in Podzharov’s story was known to the gentleman (his niece) and he is not pleased or convinced by the tale. Podzharov feels obligated to leave after the gentleman challenges him to a duel unless he takes back his story and admits it to be a lie. Upon further reflection however, Podzharov returns to the party near its end to confront the gentleman as he leaves. Therein lies the punchline. Podzharov admits privately what he said was a lie but was worried about his reputation should he either admit to the falsehood or have the story be known by the news of a duel. After a short lecture from the gentleman (“Nothing degrades a man like lying.”), Podzharov returns home satisfied by the outcome. I was disappointed in the ending in that I doubt Podzharov learned his lesson. I wanted the duel to happen because even if he won, he would eventually have to face the reality of the consequences of his actions. But no…he will sleep soundly having served a penance in receiving a lecture, the lesson lasting only as long as his time in this particular town.