Today’s story is 1104 words long and can be found here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/089.html
Today’s story is a great example of a man in love with the concept of being a writer, while everybody around him suffers (including himself) for his passion. This story reminded me of a combination of two previous passionate Chekhov characters who considered themselves artists. In Art, Seryozhka is a tyrant when he sets about making his yearly Jordan, but he has the talent to back up his bluster, whereas Yegor from Talent loves calling himself a painter, but he wastes his time talking about future accomplishments without honing his skills. Ivan Krasnyhin sits between the two extreme men. He is employed as a writer, although he is a “fourth-rate journalist.” He is suffers for his art much like Seryozhka as “He looks like a man expecting a police-raid or contemplating suicide.” And he bears similarity to Yegor in that he has the perfected writer’s dream room:
“There is nothing casual, nothing ordinary on his writing-table, down to the veriest trifle everything bears the stamp of a stern, deliberately planned programme. Little busts and photographs of distinguished writers, heaps of rough manuscripts, a volume of Byelinsky with a page turned down, part of a skull by way of an ash-tray, a sheet of newspaper folded carelessly, but so that a passage is uppermost, boldly marked in blue pencil with the word “disgraceful.” There are a dozen sharply-pointed pencils and several penholders fitted with new nibs, put in readiness that no accidental breaking of a pen may for a single second interrupt the flight of his creative fancy.”
Forgive me that I quoted an entire paragraph, but I love every absurd word of it. Writer’s rooms have been celebrated and Ivan clearly strives for the perfect one. (To be fair I recently placed a picture of Chekhov behind my desk that Steve drew for me years ago.)
Of course a room is only superficial inspiration, whereas writing is tough. Ivan hits instant writers’ block and finds every little sound annoying as he becomes a tyrant, terrorizing his wife, children and even a neighbor next door. In another funny, melodramatic scene after what seemed like hours, Ivan painstakingly writes his first words: “At last, not without hesitation, he stretches out his hand towards the inkstand, and with an expression as though he were signing a death-warrant, writes the title. . . .”
I was impressed that after such a laborious warm-up, Ivan actually writes several pages before stopping from exhaustion. He rewards himself with a long sleep through the day while the rest of the house walks on pins and needles (hush!), hoping not to disturb their cankerous breadwinner. As a writer, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, laughing at Ivan’s absurdity and feeling bad for his family. I feel like we’ve all met people like this before and we may also share similar pretentious elements as well. I want to rate this story an 8 based on personal connections, more than literary quality, but I’ll relent to this rating below for now.
Today we meet Ivan Krasnyhin, a “fourth-rate journalist” who despite his tyrannical rule at home is apparently a “humble, meek, dull-witted little man” at the office. He comes home late one night (from where we can only assume) to write an article which he has been assigned. Waking his wife and demanding tea and food to fuel his creative powers, he sits down at his desk which is adorned with busts and photographs of famous writers. I would have loved to have seen the title of the story he was writing and can imagine it was trivial despite staying up until four o’clock in the morning to finish it. Prior to sitting down to pen his latest masterpiece he bemoans his status as a creative writer. In a bit of irony, Chekhov has his author reflect on “how it is nobody has described the agonizing discord in the soul of a writer who has to amuse the crowd when his heart is heavy or to shed tears at the word of command when his heart is light.” I found this particularly humorous as well as the double use of “injured innocence” to describe the expression on the face of the author in thought. The content of his writing was never revealed as if to point out that this was inconsequential compared to the preparation and execution of harboring and delivering the story. Having young kids to provide the excuse for the next reference, I’m reminded of a great SpongeBob episode where he has to write an essay. Or if you prefer a Ron Burgundy reference, there’s always “Panda Watch“. Perhaps most appropriate is Bill Murray’s final delivery in “Groundhog Day” (complete with a Chekhov reference). Ivan’s diligence and commitment to the craft of reporting would have continued long into the morning “if his subject had not been exhausted.” I found this story amusing and, ashamedly, recognizable in parts. I couldn’t help but wonder if Chekhov was struggling to find a story and decided to embellish his own situation. Nevertheless, this was a pleasant departure from recent stories and forced me to reminisce about my own attempts at writing in the past.