Find the last story from 1886 that we’ll read here: http://www.eldritchpress.org/ac/jr/096.htm It comes in at 6669 words (including a poem.)
Today’s story felt like a Dostoyevsky tale. It features Liharev, a passionate, unhappy man whose unanchored soul craves to travel, learn, and experience as much as possible even though he knows it will put him and loved one’s in peril. Brimming with self-reflection and the philosophy of the human condition, he especially mourns how women have suffered for his passions. “… if I have succeeded in communicating to them my enthusiasm, have followed me without criticism, without question, and done anything I chose…” His wife died “worn out by my reckless activity…” and his “mother has worn mourning for me all these fifteen years…” Even with these warnings, he manages to convert his audience, the commanding aristocrat Mlle. Ilovaisky. “From the tears that glittered on his eyelashes… it was clear to her that women were not a chance, not a simple subject of conversation. They were the object of his new enthusiasm. For the first time in her life she saw a man carried away, fervently believing… a feeling of such beauty in the fire of his eyes, in his words, in all the movements of his huge body.” She is practically ready to throw herself at him and admits that she would follow a man to the North Pole if she loved him. There was something in Liharev’s rapture and Ilovaisky’s conversion that reminded me of a charismatic preacher telling a long sermon. Fortunately at the end he allows the woman to leave without “another touch or two” that might have caused her to forgive him of “his failures, his age, his desolate position, and would have followed him without question or reasonings.” A couple of other notes about the story. Chekhov writes a lot about the weather raging outside which reminds me of his other stories about strangers coming together, like The Witch and A Troublesome Visitor. Liharev’s daughter’s insolence and his actions of coxing her, stands in contrast to much that he says about being so careless to women, until we realize that he may be physically putting her in danger if he takes the coal mining job. And finally, I feel that Chekhov is trying to express something by the way Mlle. Ilovaisky unwraps her bundles of coats and scarves, as if she is taking down her protective walls, allowing her to be vulnerable to the passionate charm of Liharev. Overall this story was probably longer that it needed to be, but it ended up being full and robust in the end.
Today’s story reminded me of something out of my own travels. When traveling we are often thrust among strangers for hours at a time knowing that we will likely never meet again. Some call this the “airport lottery” because you never know who will sit next to you. I wonder if the “travellers’ room” in Chekhov’s time had a similar connotation for those ‘on the road’. Liharev is a passionate traveler with many faults who has stopped on account of a storm to rest for the night with his daughter. When the aristocratic Mlle. Ilovaisky also stops for the night, Liharev engages her in predominantly one-sided conversation about his various philosophical pursuits. Initially, Mlle. Ilovaisky begins by illustrating the irresponsible nature of man through the example of her brothers. However, Liharev quickly dominates the conversation and spends much of his time talking about how he blindly followed his passions despite the ultimate demise of those around him. His language and life experiences are engaging and captivating for Mlle. Ilovaisky who ultimately succumbs to this enchantment to the point of almost leaving her own life to follow his. The irony of course is this would only serve to prove Liharev’s argument as noted by Travis. Ultimately, the story was too long for the point it was hoping to reach but I did enjoy the detailed descriptions and philosophical debate.