Next up is another short short (830+ words), An Enigmatic Nature. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/004.html
A writer and a rich young widow meet on the train. She wants him to write about her, because she believes her life is full of dramatic misery as she invokes Dostoyevsky’s name. She chose to marry a rich old general instead of her true love. Now that she is free, having (presumably) buried her husband, she is miserable once again. The author asks why. I know that I should be calling her answer a twist, but it really comes off like a punchline, kind of like “At The Barber’s”. My first impression was that the story was forgettable, but re-reading it makes me think of compression. The entire story takes place in a single scene. One moment in time on a train written in 832 words. Yet what she asks for, a book about her life, could very well be blown up into a melodramatic European novel of that time tipping the scales of 500+ pages.
Two passengers on a train are all that are necessary for Chekhov to demonstrate the simplicity of human nature and avarice. The main character is a “pretty lady” who remains unnamed perhaps to better signify a stereotype. Sitting opposite her is an author prone to verbosity and writing about “high life” in the local paper. He is apparently quite adept at deciphering elements of human character and consumes the lady’s every word whilst looking upon her with the “eyes of a connoisseur.” She recounts every element of a typical upbringing amid suffering and the “consciousness of insignificance.” Her story turns when she marries an old general in the hope of capitalizing on his wealth upon his death. Ah, but alas, rather than reap the reward for which a widow gold-digger is due, she turns once more in pursuit of wealth through yet another old general. The story illustrates that sometimes the things we desire most we deserve least and our nature has a way of rewarding us in kind.
I enjoyed this story because of its simultaneous brevity and depth. I’m still not sure I understood the theme Chekhov hoped to convey. Perhaps it is good enough to recognize that the addictive pursuit of wealth over happiness can be more emblematic of human nature than enigmatic.