Today’s 4075 word story can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/081.html
If you strip away the background of the penniless prince and the details of bird hunting, this becomes the story of a man and a woman with a history together who are now too shy/embarrassed to talk to each other. I feel like we’ve a had a good string of stories recently, but this one felt flat to me. At 4000+ words this story felt overwritten and the scenes that mattered were not engaging enough. I would hope that this would not be the first story anybody would read of Chekhov’s as it would propel the stereotype that nothing happening in his stories. On a final note, I felt sorry for the prince and hoped that the narrator who be his defender and give wise council, but he seems more interested in hunting than anything else.
A trivial incident for a trivial story. Today we are introduced to a Russian prince named Sergey Ivanitch who is on a hunting trip with the narrator. The narrator feels compelled to give a detailed description of the prince which he describes as poor, solitary, and having “virtues which, in the eyes of the general public, are equivalent to a certificate of being a nonentity and a poor creature.” He inherited quite a bit of money but on account of his good nature, he loaned most of it out and eventually went into debt himself. With the lengthy description out of the way, the narrator turns to the hunt. Having traveled over 10 miles they are about to set out into the forest when a man identifying himself as Grontovsky, the head clerk for Madame Kandurin’s estate, jumps up from behind a fir tree to let them know they are not permitted to hunt there. Apparently he was collecting mushrooms… The power that Grontovsky’s position gives him over the two men is a recurrent theme in Chekhov’s story and “afforded him the greatest gratification.” The decide to visit Madam Kandurin who has a history with the prince although the details are lacking. Apparently, “she was ugly, uninteresting, and as insignificant as anybody, and was only distinguished from the ordinary ladies of the district by her immense wealth.” Chekhov offers the first of three nice quotes that serve as pearls for an otherwise desolate story: “It has always seemed to me that wealth is felt, and that the rich must have special feelings unknown to the poor.” We are told she “whiled away her dreary days in petty philanthropy” and apparently had strong feelings for the prince in their youth. The prince too was perhaps taken by her in the past despite his rejection as Chekhov gives us another wonderful observation: “Apparently he was in that mood of irritation and sadness when women weep quietly for no reason, and men feel a craving to complain of themselves, of life, of God…” They decide it would be best if the narrator goes alone so as not to provoke emotional memories of rejected love. The narrator nevertheless uses the fact that she can see the prince from her window to get her to eventually concede to letting them hunt. But not before she protests openly about her desire to preserve the wildlife and protect the birds from hunters. Chekhov offers one more nice pearl to describe her attitude toward hunting: “A solitary life, immured within four walls, with its indoor twilight and heavy smell of decaying furniture, disposes people to sentimentality.” Despite the quaint Chekhovian observations, I too found this story a bit long and lacking in depth. I suspect the story would have been better had it focused on what Grontovsky was going to do with those mushrooms…