Today’s 200th story is 6468 words. You can find it here: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/200.htm
This is a very slow, meditative story about the final days of a bishop’s life. It feels like Chekhov is writing about his own mortality in this tale. The doctor and man of letters was slowly succumbing to tuberculosis and perhaps he was wondering if all he had done, the writing and the health care, was worth it, much like the bishop. Bishop Pytor’s story kicks off with him seeing his mother during a Palm Sunday service. I double-checked and Chekhov’s mother was alive at that time of Chekhov’s death. It is through her that Pytor is able to find out about what has happened to his family (whereas Chekhov had constant correspondence with his family). It is interesting that one of the last stories in Chekhov’s short story cannon was written about a man with faith in God written by a man who admitted to being an atheist. While Pytor’s faith was challenged throughout his life by his parishioners’ pettiness and other incidents, he maintained his faith. Like Chekhov, the bishop is humble, believing he never deserved the position. “I ought not to be a bishop… I ought to have been a village priest, a deacon… or simply a monk… All this oppresses me … oppresses me.” He also hates that nobody is honest with him and only treats him too much ceremony as witnessed when he begs Father Sisosy to stay a bit longer. “I should like to talk to you. . . . I can’t find the time… I don’t know anything or anybody here...” Sisosy is interesting in his inability to be satisfied and stay in one place. He is the exact opposite of Bishop Pytor who did what was asked of him and rose up the ranks. The two men provide a contrast of characterstics. “…listening to [Sisosy] it was difficult to understand where his home was, whether he cared for anyone or anything, whether he believed in God. . . . He did not know himself why he was a monk, and, indeed, he did not think about it, and the time when he had become a monk had long passed out of his memory; it seemed as though he had been born a monk.” Whereas Pytor’s had a long lineage of religious men in his family, Sisosy doesn’t. Sisosy’s chaos might represent the other side of Chekhov who wrote continuously, perhaps without knowing exactly when became a writer and seemed to have had restless nature, causing him to finish a story and move on. When Pytor officiates his last service, it feels like it is his last and Chekhov makes a note about the continuous cycle of humanity, “…he could not see the people, and it seemed as though these were all the same people as had been round him in those days, in his childhood and his youth; that they would always be the same every year and till such time as God only knew.” It is as if Chekhov knows after his passing life will continue without him. Chekhov believed his works would be forgotten in about seven years after his death. In this tale, the well regarded bishop is forgotten about shortly after his death. “A month later a new suffragan bishop was appointed, and no one thought anything more of Bishop Pyotr, and afterwards he was completely forgotten.” Fortunately Chekhov was completely wrong about himself and I’m grateful we have his stories today.