#201 The Betrothed

Please find the final Chekhov short story interpreted by the amazing Constance Garrett: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/201.htm It is a 7588 long story.

Travis review

Like the last story, The Bishop, there is a character whose days are limited due to an illness. More than the bishop, I’d venture to say the character Alexandr Timofeitch (aka Sasha) represents Chekhov as he sees himself. Sasha also reminds me a little of Vladmir in An Anonymous Story who also is slowly dying and desperately wants to make an impact in the world. Sasha is not the protagonist of the story, but he is a powerful voice urging the betrothed Nadya to seek more out of life than the pampered, sedentary privilege that will be cemented after her marriage to the unambitious Andrey Andreitch. It is as if Chekhov is urging the reader to dig deeper within themselves. Nadya is already fraught with anxiety and melancholy a month away from her wedding before Sasha does his prodding. While Sasha illuminates Nadya to the truth of the worthless life her family lives, Chekhov painstaking documents it with the boring evenings and listless afternoons with Granny and her mother, Nina. It is interesting that Sasha’s influence even causes Andrey Andreitch to call out his own idleness: “O Mother Russia! What a burden of idle and useless people you still carry! How many like me are upon you, long-suffering Mother!” Even Nina reveals her sorrow, breaking her contented façade. “You and your grandmother torment me… I want to live! …Let me be free! I am still young, I want to live, and you have made me an old woman between you!” Sasha’s influence saved Nadya from her mother’s fate when by “turning [her] life upside down.” And then, as if completing the Herculean task of getting Nadya to Petersberg, Sasha’s value is lost as he fades away in Moscow and later the Volga. Upon returning home, Nadya knows that she never will again as in “her mind rose the vista of a new, wide, spacious life, and that life, still obscure and full of mysteries, beckoned her and attracted her.” Sasha succeeded with altering Nadya’s life trajectory, and I’m sure Chekhov would be happy if we altered ours, reaching further for self-improvement, always discontented with idleness.

Rating: 8

 

#200 The Bishop

Today’s 200th story is 6468 words. You can find it here: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/200.htm

Travis review:

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.

Rating: 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#199 In The Ravine

You can find today’s 16,430 word novelette here: http://www.eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/199.htm

Travis review:

This noirish story feels complete even though it is open ended with life continuing in spite of tragedies and upheavals to a certain family. It is interesting that Chekhov’s kicks off this story with the tale of Ukleevo, the village known for “the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral.” This local legend only comes up once more in chapter 5 (out of 9) and it is to identify the town. I wonder if the introduction of the town is made that way because even after all the scandalous chaos that happens to the Tybukin family, the town will still be known for the caviar eating deacon because in the grand scheme of things, the wealthy thieving merchants, although they directly impact the villagers, don’t really matter. (“…what happened in Tsybukin’s house and yard three years ago is almost forgotten…”)

This story has a great many characters and details. The return and marriage of the prodigal son, Anisim, is the catalyst all that happens. So much is made of Anisim by his father and stepmother, though he seems uninterested everything except his friend, Samorodov. I couldn’t help but think that Anisim is a closeted homosexual. Both with his meticulous, elegant style (Anisim arrived… rigged out in new clothes from top to toe. He had dazzling india-rubber goloshes, and instead of a cravat wore a red cord with little balls on it, and over his shoulder he had hung an overcoat, also new, without putting his arms into the sleeves…) as well his complete indifference to his feeble and frightened peasant bride, Lipa. I wonder if Chekhov involved Aninisim in the counterfeiting scheme to show that he is living a duplicate lifestyle.

It seems that the pinnacle of old Tsybukin’s life comes at the moment when an old laborer says “Yes,indeed, your daughters-in-law, Grigory Petrovitch, are a blessing from God… Not women, but treasures!” From that moment on, as if those words were a hidden curse, things go from bad to worse for the merchant. While in the end he is a victim, he sort of had it coming after years of ripping off the villagers. The true victim is Lipa who never adjusted to the upper class lifestyle and never wanted to marry Anisim. Her lines to her baby says so much: “You will grow ever so big, ever so big. You will be a peasant, we’ll go out to work together.” It is as if she knew danger would happen in the house if they were to stay. Unfortunately she did. The other daughter-in-law, Aksinya, comes off as a villain who gains power and wealth through infanticide. It’s not the first time Chekhov has killed a baby (Sleepy), but I don’t think I’ve seen such unrepentant behavior from one of his characters either. She is a sociopathic capitalist witch who will stop at nothing to accumulate more and more.

As I said in the beginning, I like this story because it felt complete even with a total change in the lives almost all the characters, and that their lives continue.

Rating: 7.5

 

#198 At Christmas Time

You can find today’s 1884 word story here: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/198.htm

Travis 

This is a depressing Christmas/News Year themed story. Chekhov writes two scenes illustrating abuse of power. The first is with an illiterate, uneducated mother in the country. Vasilisa thinks constantly about her daughter who went away to Petersburg after her marriage. Saddled with poverty and a lack of education she falls vulnerable to a scam. At first I didn’t see it that way as I felt Yegor’s frustration at Vasilisa inability to collect her thoughts cohesively so she could tell him what to write to her daughter. Perhaps I take it for granted that by learning to write in elementary school I was able to structure my brain in such a way to express linear thoughts in a narrative form. Both Vasilisa and her husband are nonplussed on what they should say. Yegor, contracted for 15 kopecks to write the letter, scribbles out a nonsensical rules about the military. I found this funny at first, but then sad as I realized the old couple were unable to communicate in any basic way to their daughter. Their money is wasted. The second abuse comes on New Years day as we find the daughter, Yefimya, living with her husband in a “hydropathic establishment” in Petersburg. Like Vasilisa, we know nothing about the daughter’s condition and it is shocking when we see it. She has children and lives the life of an abused prisoner. She pretends to read the letter, describing the idyllic country to her children. “The snow lies heaped up under the roofs now . . . the trees are as white as white. The boys slide on little sledges . . . and dear old bald grandfather is on the stove . . . and there is a little yellow dog.” All fabricated lies, but it is for her and her children as well as her husband, a man who frightens her. Chekhov reveals from Yefimya’s husband’s point of view that his wife has written letters to her family, but “some important business had always prevented him; he had not sent them, and the letters somehow got lost.” This is a sad, bleak tale where the meek and the poor lose to arrogant men abusing their small power.

Rating: 5

 

#197 A Woman With A Dog

Find today’s 6381 word story here: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/197.htm

Travis review:

I’m not sure why this story is considered one of the best in Chekhov’s canon. It is a good, solid story about a philanderer falling love for the first time with a conquest. Both adulterers are racked with emotions, yet it seems that Anna has more guilt and misery than Gurov. Yet Gurov has more to lose as the last chapter shows him walking with his daughter to school and discussing weather with her while he is on his way to a secret rendezvous with Anna. There are powerful internal scenes like Gurov seeing Anna as “…his sorrow and his joy…” and Anna looking at Gurov “….with dread, with entreaty, with love; she looked at him intently, to keep his features more distinctly in her memory.” Chekhov leaves the story open ended with the “…pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages” committing to each other and presumably willing to travel the hard road of divorce and scandal. In previous stories such as The Duel, where a young man has made off with a married woman, or An Anonymous Story, where a married woman crashes in her lover’s apartment unannounced, we see the debilitating effects of the choice to leave one’s partner and carry on a new life. Chekhov ends where the real story begins. “A Woman with A Dog” is a set up for a larger story that doesn’t happen. I’m not a fan of the “artistic” choice to leave a story open without a true conclusion. Writing full endings takes courage. There are ways to write an open end where the reader knows that things will end up horrible or happy. We know things will be tough for Gurov and Anna, but we don’t know whether they’ll be able to stick together through all the turbulence that is coming. While superbly executed, I find this story lacks for not crossing the finish line.

Rating: 6

#196 On Official Duty

Find today’s 6647 word story here:  http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/196.htm

Travis review:

I found today’s story about officials traveling to investigate a suicide and the distractions that follow interesting from the standpoint of naming schemes. There are 3 L prominent names: Loshadin (the village constable), Lesnitsky (the dead insurance agent) and Lyzhin (the examining magistrate who the reader follows). Although the story starts with the examining magistrate and doctor getting lost in a snowstorm on the way to Symya, we learn the names of the dead man and the drunken constable first. It isn’t until 15 paragraphs in that we get the doctor’s (Startchenko) and the magistrate (Lyzhin). The story revolves mostly around Lyzhin and yet he is the last to be named. I don’t believe that Chekhov has waited that long for a story written in the third person to name his protagonist and I’m not sure why did it here. Another in interesting thing is the way the story shifted. I believed the story would be a psychological and eerie tale about Lyzhin spending the night in the Zelstvo with a dead man in the next room. But instead the story changes from the dreary setting to an upbeat one of happiness and warmth tinged with guilt from making witness wait an extra day with the body. One of the arrogant lines that the doctor says stood out to me. “And in the next room the doctor began talking of the rigorous climate and its influence on the character of the Russian, of the long winters which, by preventing movement from place to place, hinder the intellectual development of the people…” I don’t know if Chekhov is making the statement or the doctor is doing it on his own. It does call into question the ability of society to grow if it stays insular (The Peasants and The New Villa come to mind.) To follow up on this idea, Loshadin is always moving, going from place to place rambling nonsensically and drunk. He doesn’t impart wisdom, but annoys. Perhaps those who do travel in the “rigorous climate” are not the best ambassadors of lofty ideals.

Rating: 6

#195 The New Villa

Please find today’s 5781 word story here: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/195.htm

Travis review:

I liked this story because it got under my skin. It the story of wealthy, well-intentioned people building a house in a small village and dealing with the petty and belligerent peasants. Unlike My Life, which had the peasants acting in selfish and horrible ways to the horror of Misail’s wife, Chekhov goes into the peasants’ homes in this tale and spends times with the different characters and their different points of view regarding the engineer’s family. It is sad to see Elena, who genuinely wants to help the ignorant, short sighted peasants, lose her health from stress they cause. If she had died in this story, I would have hoped that the engineer would have become an avenging widower and burnt down the village. But of course that isn’t Chekhov. The misplaced hate the peasants have is incurable. No amount of logic could have swayed them from their indignant lines: “What do we want a bridge for? We don’t want it.” Of course later, long after the bridge is built and they couldn’t imagine life without it, they wonder why they had treated the family so harshly. I’m glad that Chekhov added the last section to show the peasants’ ignorance and idiocy as well as a moment of guilty reflection.

Rating: 8

#194 The Darling

Find today’s 4,956 word story here: http://www.eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/194.htm

Travis review:

Olenka is a woman of empathetic obsession. She is a blank slate with neither desire or even logical thoughts until she meets a man (two husbands, one companion, and a child) from whom she can live vicariously. Chekhov writes Olenka almost a caricature. At first, the empathetic obsession is more hidden with Olenka’s first husband, who’s sour demeanor contrasts with her positive outlook as she voiced strong opinions about the theater being “…the chief and most important thing in life and that it was only through the drama that one could derive true enjoyment and become cultivated and humane.” The pattern sets when she marries Pustovalov and her dreams and conversations are all about the lumber business. It is only after the veterinary surgeon leaves, that the tone of the story changes from comical to a sad tale of neurosis as the vacancy of Olenka’s life and mind alters her into a pathetic, aged woman with “the same emptiness in her brain and in her heart as there was in her yard outside.” It is this shift from comical obsession to sad, loneliness that makes the story memorable instead of a forgettable tale about woman who couldn’t think without men. Chekhov pulls this off because Olenka has so much enthusiastic gusto for the men in her life and their occupations, that to see her so utterly vacant and feeble is heartbreaking. When the veterinary surgeon shows up again, this time with his child, I was happy for Olenka more than I have been for many other Chekhov characters. Happy that she has new obsession to live for. (Sidenote: I like the following simple line that illustrates the passing of time. “Little by little the town grew in all directions.”)

Rating: 7

#193 A Doctor’s Visit

Find today’s 4529 word short story here: http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/193.htm

Travis review:

It today’s story Korolyov, a doctor from Moscow, comes out to a small factory town to look at an ailing heiress. He rides into town with extreme prejudice and irritation. He sees the peasant class workers leading drunken, pointless lives. Korolyov hates the factory’s owner’s house, critiquing the “senseless and haphazard” luxury inside of it. And when he meets the invalid daughter, he sees her as “ugly like her mother, with the same little eyes and disproportionate breadth of the lower part of the face… she made upon Korolyov at the first minute the impression of a poor, destitute creature, sheltered and cared for here out of charity, and he could hardly believe that this was the heiress of the five huge buildings.” At this point I expected Korolyov to be a terrible human being who only wants to get paid for his diagnosis and leave immediately (especially after reading yesterday’s spiteful doctor in Ionitch). Instead Chekhov changes the doctor’s perspective the moment Liza sobs. “He saw a soft, suffering expression which was intelligent and touching: she seemed to him altogether graceful, feminine, and simple; and he longed to soothe her, not with drugs, not with advice, but with simple, kindly words.”  This is an unusual about-face for Chekhov. Changes often happen at a slower pace for his characters. It is also interesting that in the 190+ stories that Chekhov has written (many with doctors), this is the first time a title like “A Doctor’s Visit” is used. It is like the doctor needed to visit a foreign place, far removed from Moscow, in order to break his prejudices down. His insomniac walk through the village later that night is like visit an apocalyptic hell. Seeing the general misery of both the rich and poor in this town, he believes only one person is benefitting from the town’s industry. “The real person, for whom everything is being done, is the devil.” With historical retrospect, the comforting speech that Korolyov gives Liza, “…Life will be good in fifty years’ time; it’s only a pity we shall not last out till then. It would be interesting to have a peep at it...” is sad because I know that Russia would become the Soviet Union, having suffered through WWII and was under a repressive Stalinist regime in the late forties. Overall, I like this story for the tone shifts and deep introspection.

 

Rating: 7

#192 Ionitch

You can find today’s 7117 word story here http://eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/192.htm

Travis review:

This story starts out comical with an introduction to the Turkins, the smartest family in a small, unnamed town. The father plays puns on words, the wife writes and reads aloud unrealistic novels “of what never happens in real life,” and the daughter pounds the keyboards of the piano with the hope of becoming a professional pianist. A district doctor moves to town and is encouraged to meet the family only to fall helplessly in love with the daughter. I love the scene where Startsev asks to meet Ekaterina alone and she gives him a note to met her at the cemetery at 11 at night. It is absurd and what I believe to be a page from one of her mother’s books. I love that Startsev sees it as absurd too. He doesn’t quite make the connection to her mother’s books. When Startsev sees Ekaterina again and he pleads at ball for her to marry him, I was upset that he did not respect her wishes. She states her case quite plainly to him: “…I want fame, success, freedom, and you want me to go on living in this town, to go on living this empty, useless life… One must strive towards a lofty, glorious goal, and married life would put me in bondage for ever…” To not respect the woman’s wishes and aspirations and to carry a wounded ego for several years shows what a petty, selfish man Startsev had always been. If he had married her, Ekaterina would have never been content and most likely bitter for never striking out on her own. Although she later looks back at this moment — not accepting Startsev proposal — as a mistake. But at that time she did not know her limitations and to live a life unfulfilled is a horrible thing to endure. Startsev transforms from the shy doctor into a greedy monster. Even his name changes to Ionitch, much like a Jekyll to Hyde. He is a ball of fury with a heart walled up to the sky. Chekhov delivers one of the funniest/scariest lines a writer can read as thought by an embittered Ionitch. “People are not stupid because they can’t write novels, but because they can’t conceal it when they do…” Brilliant and terrifying.

 

Rating: 7