Find today’s 2263 word story, the first from 1887. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/097.html
Today’s story has both a title and a subtitle which Chekhov rarely has done. The story, told in first person, delves into an area of superstition I had never heard of before: dropping a bottle of champagne on New Year’s eve brings bad luck for the following year. What is interesting about this story is the way that it is structured. We see the wayfarer’s boring life when he worked at a railway station on the Steppe, the dropping of the champagne bottle, a long self-reflective walk where he wallows in self-pity at his youth being wasted with a belief that nothing worse could happen in his life, and then the visit from his aunt-in-law “a young, beautiful, and dissolute creature,” and then the story skips to present day with the narrator in the “dark street.” I couldn’t help but at the end of the story think about Steve Martin’s opening and finale of The Jerk when Navin is in an alley. Chekhov chooses to skip the narrator’s downfall, summing it up in three vague sentences that also includes the death of his loving wife and the temptress aunt. “Everything went head over heels to the devil… It lasted a long while, and swept from the face of the earth my wife and my aunt herself and my strength.” While readers get to imagine what happened, I would’ve loved a little more insight, considering how much detail had been given to random things such as a “popular covered in hoar frost”, “two little clouds” and even the Veuve Clicquot champagne. Like yesterday’s story, On The Road, this one has a man living in regret and who has become a widower by his own actions.
Today we find an unnamed man who works at a train station in an unnamed town reflecting back on the moment his life “went head over heels to the devil.” Chekhov spent considerable time having the man reflect on his past transgressions and misery when on New Year’s Eve he inadvertently dropped a bottle of champagne which is apparently a mark of future bad luck. When we were first introduced to him, he reflected on his isolation noting the lack of women and a decent tavern. I was therefore surprised to learn he was married but not surprised to hear he didn’t love her. After dropping the champagne bottle he goes for a long walk wherein he almost dares fate to follow-through with the superstition: “What evil can happen to us?” I half-expected the approaching train to jump the track or for his foot to get caught in the rail. When we learn of the arrival of his wife’s aunt, the only person who is named in the story, I expected trouble. Regrettably we never learn what befell the unnamed man…or his wife…or the aunt. I assume he fell in love with the aunt based on the lines of the song he recounts: “It was an evil hour, when first I met you.” I agree with Travis in that it would have been nice to have a bit more details but Chekhov leaves it to the reader to finish the story. He has a done a far better job of this in the past making the reader want to finish the story. I found myself more interested in the deaf telegrapher than the plight of the unknown man.
“You know people who are vain and not very cleaver have moments when the consciousness that they are miserable affords them positive satisfaction.”
“What further harm can you do a fish which has been caught and fried and served up with sauce?”