#198 At Christmas Time

You can find today’s 1884 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/198.html


This is a depressing Christmas/News Year themed story. Chekhov writes two scenes illustrating abuse of power. The first is with an illiterate, uneducated mother in the country. Vasilisa thinks constantly about her daughter who went away to Petersburg after her marriage. Saddled with poverty and a lack of education she falls vulnerable to a scam. At first I didn’t see it that way as I felt Yegor’s frustration at Vasilisa inability to collect her thoughts cohesively so she could tell him what to write to her daughter. Perhaps I take it for granted that by learning to write in elementary school I was able to structure my brain in such a way to express linear thoughts in a narrative form. Both Vasilisa and her husband are nonplussed on what they should say. Yegor, contracted for 15 kopecks to write the letter, scribbles out a nonsensical rules about the military. I found this funny at first, but then sad as I realized the old couple were unable to communicate in any basic way to their daughter. Their money is wasted. The second abuse comes on New Years day as we find the daughter, Yefimya, living with her husband in a “hydropathic establishment” in Petersburg. Like Vasilisa, we know nothing about the daughter’s condition and it is shocking when we see it. She has children and lives the life of an abused prisoner. She pretends to read the letter, describing the idyllic country to her children. “The snow lies heaped up under the roofs now . . . the trees are as white as white. The boys slide on little sledges . . . and dear old bald grandfather is on the stove . . . and there is a little yellow dog.” All fabricated lies, but it is for her and her children as well as her husband, a man who frightens her. Chekhov reveals from Yefimya’s husband’s point of view that his wife has written letters to her family, but “some important business had always prevented him; he had not sent them, and the letters somehow got lost.” This is a sad, bleak tale where the meek and the poor lose to arrogant men abusing their small power.

Rating: 5


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