We’ve hit 25 stories so far. This one is 1598 words. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/025.html
What is interesting about this story is that the main character, Vaxin, has freaked himself out by obsessing about spirits of the dead after an evening where “Vaxin himself had asked for a saucer and shown the young ladies how to converse with spirits.” This came off as a contradiction to me. Had he just been a guest listening to a conversation about ghosts or if somebody had read his palms read with an ominous or freaky predictions, the nerves might have felt more justified. Instead he asked his dead uncle a question and received an answer. Seems like he should be familiar with the results and proud of his success, instead of becoming an obsessed Edgar Allan Poe character with an overactive imagination. Parts of this reads like a ghost story and others like a farcical bedroom comedy. Chekhov leaves the story without a true ending, not telling us the wife’s reaction (or Vaxin or the German governess) by saying “…I leave to others to describe. It is beyond my powers.” Kind of cowardly and very modern short story ending. We know it probably won’t end well, but I would have loved to have seen the governess’s greatest fears have come true.
Everyone loves a good ghost story…so long as it is not right before bed. In today’s story, Chekhov plays with the theme of self-imposed terror. Vaxin, an architect, has just returned to his cottage after a long night of “terrifying conversation” at a spiritualistic séance. His wife is away at an all-night “service” although we never learn the details. As he reflects on the nights events, he is overcome with fear and cannot sleep. I like to think that terror is born at the fringes of our imagination where reason breaks down and emotion sets in. Vaxin is not scared of ghosts per se or the dead…it’s the “unknown that’s so horrible.” Vaxin tries to comfort himself with the proclamation that ghosts are “the offspring of undeveloped intelligence.” Nevertheless, he cannot shake the thoughts of the dead which is made worse by his surroundings. There’s the Poe-esque “tick…tick…tick…” of the clock. There’s the painting of the dead uncle, who after being cajoled from eternal slumber just moments before at the séance, now seems intent on crawling out of the painting to hover in the imagination over the blankets of Vaxin. He can bear it no more and calls upon the German governess who oversees his cottage. Realizing how ridiculous he might sound admitting fear, he tries in vain to conjure an excuse for the call. She is not amused and instead accuses him of flattery and being a “naughty man” intent on igniting an affair while his wife is away. The story ends with continued fright on the part of Vaxin who lies curled up on a chest in the governess’s room whereupon his wife discovers him the next morning. I personally thought this is where the story should have begun–what was his wife doing out all night anyway? Instead, Chekhov takes a bow and claims he is incapable of describing what transpired next. So…I’ll take his lead and adopt the modern approach by refusing to describe the half-a-dozen better endings I could have summoned if put to the task. Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, the story wasn’t particularly great although I can certainly relate to scaring myself enough through imagination to do something as crazy as Vaxin.