Find today’s 30,510 word novella here http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/168.html
This story feels like a 19th century French bildungsroman with Chekhov’s touch. In 18 chapters we follow a would-be revolutionary hampered with consumption who takes on the job of a manservant for the son of a hated government official. He watches as his master who has means and intelligence, but lives a disengaged life, treating everything of importance with irony. (Much of like the cynical critics of today who tear down things without offering alternatives.) This is in direct contrast the protagonist Vladimir Ivanitch who “…was becoming a dreamer, and, like a dreamer, I did not know exactly what I wanted.” Everything changes when Zinaida Fyodorovna, a married woman arrives at doorstep, throwing away her marriage and reputation to be with uncaring Olav. It was moments like this and when Vladimir and Zinaida eventually run off together that made me wonder if this was a serialized story, perhaps told in three or four publications. As I mentioned above, this felt like a French novel and it felt Chekhov gave nod to that influence when Père Goriot is mentioned in the story after the locations change from the stuffy environs of a Petersberg apartment to Paris and Venice when a young man absconds with a woman of society. It also felt like Chekhov created a character based on his own experience with tuberculous. Vladimir wants so much to live, but he is slowly dying and is painfully aware of it. There were many great lines, but this line concerning Polya, the maid: “She gave me no reply, but simply made a contemptuous grimace, and, looking that time at her cold eyes and over-fed expression, I realised that for her complete and finished personality no God, no conscience, no laws existed, and that if I had had to set fire to the house, to murder or to rob, I could not have hired a better accomplice.” The story had more twists and turns than Chekhov’s usual fare. Hope and despair interchanged every few chapters. Alas, this tale is Russian and Chekhov is behind the pen. His line “A living man cannot help being troubled and reduced to despair when he sees that he himself is going to ruin and others are going to ruin round him” made me feel like Chekhov was measuring out his remaining years and he was not impressed with those who would survive him.