Find today’s 1593 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/114.html
I like this story a lot, even if it isn’t a great one as it pushes lines of absurdity and questions faith. If anything can be said of actual Civil Councilor Navagin, it is that when he takes on a project, he commits to it wholeheartedly. The mystery of the title is the signature of Fedyukov that keeps appearing in the guest list at Navagin’s home over the past thirteen years on Easter and Christmas. Like a ghost story, nobody has seen a man who identifies himself by that name. “Neither Navagin, his wife, nor his house porter knew who he was, where he came from or what he was like.” The story goes full throttle into the supernatural as Navagin “overcame his sceptical vanity” asking his spiritualist wife to help him call the ghost of Fedyukov. She had said earlier, “...there is a great deal in the world that is supernatural, which our feeble intellect can never grasp. I am convinced that this Fedyukov is a spirit who has a sympathy for you…” It is interesting that Navagin has a conversation with a saucer and cardboard that hosts the spirit of Fedyukov. Chekhov does not make it clear how he has a conversation with him or Napoleon and the others. But it’s more than enough to make a convert and apostle out of Navagin. When Fedyukov is revealed at the end, I wonder if Chekhov is intentionally making a comment about how people interact with church officials in 19th century Russia. (Similar to how I felt about yesterday’s In Passion Week.) It is interesting that Fedyukov’s name was never known for over 13 years and the clergy were never expected to sign the sheet. It is like they were either beneath being recognized as people or conversely, too elevated to deign a scribble on an earthly sheet of paper. I imagine it is the former as the sacristan seem overly accommodating to Navagin’s earlier requests. The story works well as a narrative as we watch Navagin go from skeptic to an extreme convert only to have cold water thrown on his face and a subsequent mental break down. Another reason I liked the story is that it is an examination of faith and how the human brain can see and believe things that are not there.