Find today’s 5553 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/055.html
Today’s story has a similar Chekhov theme of people misunderstanding each other. In this case it is between Kunin, a well off and ambitious permanent Rural Board member and a shabby, young priest in the district. This story is only seen through Kunin’s eyes as he judges the impoverished and unrefined priest. The priest has the name Yakov Smirnov which is similar to a Russian-American comedian, but there is no humor in this story. This story of perception and eventual truth didn’t have impact that I think Chekhov intended. Yes, Kunin feels sorry with the “overwhelming shame before his inner self…” when Yakov’s poverty and hunger is revealed, but 5500 is a long way to get there. The scenes of the impoverished church limping through a service, the first impression Kunin has when the two men met, and Yakov asking for a job are well written scenes, but I’m ranking this story lower than average. Not only because it felt familiar, but something about Yakov’s choices that seem neither wise nor sincere. It is Yakov’s pride that prevented him from telling Kunin of his situation, but it seems like he hasn’t been working on a solution to his problems. Perhaps the area might be better served by a new priest like Kunin had originally believed.
Most of the preceding stories by Chekhov have spoiled me into believing that what defines a short-story is the ability to imply a novel in under 3000 words. Today’s story was a bit long for my newly acquired taste for the shorter narrative. We are introduced to Kunin, a 30 year-old prominent member of the community who calls upon the priest, Father Yakov (ironically the name of the husband in our previous story–Agafya), to discuss the business of opening the school. This is their first meeting despite Kunin’s presence in the town for over a year and from the beginning Kunin despises him. He privately insults his youth, his appearance and all manners of his character. I initially felt as if Father Yakov was being humble and challenging his self-absorbed host when reiterating statements about the need for money to open the school. I did get the sense that something else was going on and half expected Kunin to wake up at any moment given the title. Instead, Kunin continues to think assume the worst of Yakov until, in classic Chekhov style, we realize the folly of his ways. I wanted to go back to the previous negativity and see if I any of the insults could be applied to the younger Kunin and half hoped that Chekhov would take me there. Instead the story meandered and despite Kunin’s late attempt to reverse the consequences of his false-assumptions he is unable to recover an insulting letter sent to the bishop regarding Yakov. What I found interesting is how Chekhov ended the story:
“So had begun and had ended a sincere effort to be of public service…”
Are we to assume that Kunin made no further attempt to undo the wrong he inflicted on Yakov? Will he follow-through with his desire to help the others Yakov mentioned? Perhaps the true nightmare is that Kunin exists.