Another short short with only 763 words. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/016.html
Today’s story feels like a companion piece to yesterday’s The Choristers. This time though, the point of view changes to the ruling class after a jubilee in a small town. In this case Zhmyhov (aka His Excellency, aka actual civil councillor) is genuinely driven to tears by the presentation of an album with pictures of the townsfolk. He is moved so much that in his carriage that he was hit “a flood of joyous feelings such as he had never known before, and once more he shed tears.” Returning home he is fêted again by his family and friends. He gives a speech that a political candidate might give, saying, “the public does not exist for us, but we for the public…” The story changes the moment his daughter takes the album from him. Chekhov wrote this in a time when the czars ruled. The way that the children selfishly color, cut out, and discard the pictures of the townsfolk in the album seems to be a bad omen for Russia. As if the future generation of rulers will be soulless tyrants who mock their subjects and are indulged by clueless parents.
Driven to tears through the admiration shown by his subjects on the occasion of his jubilee, the councilor Zhmyhov graciously accepts a photo album of their portraits. His subordinates express their unwavering gratitude for the “fatherly care” he has provided during his reign…and Zhmyhov almost believes it. However, it only takes his daughter and son to restore his ambivalence toward their offering and sacrifice. Perhaps this is a story of how differently the Russian working class ascribed value to objects compared to the nobility and how each passed those value assumptions along to the next generation–creating a legacy of perpetual ambivalence and false gratitude. I would like to think my reaction would have been different than our dear councilors upon having discovered the artistic modifications made by his son. The fact that I’m thinking about it at all means the story served its purpose.