Today’s story is a mere 1510 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/021.html
This story felt like an Irish wake once the men started sneaking off to the cloak room to get a nip of booze in a teetotaler’s house. The result reminded me of The Pogues’ Body of An American, especially how song’s opening somber notes pick up after the first taste of whiskey. I found funny/interesting word choices when at the great feast prepared by the marshall’s widow after the funeral, the guests “hesitatingly attack the pie” as “evidently something is wanting.” And later when a man returns from the vestibule with glistening eyes and “at once attacks the pie with relish.” Yes, a proper pie attack! The story centers on the men making excuses to leave the table and get a drink, but only in the final paragraph do we see how they behaved that day, through the eyes of the widow. Comedy comes both from the men’s drunken behavior and how the widow mistakes it for pure sober sorrow. Not a classic, but highly enjoyable.
In today’s story we are entertained by the naïveté of the Marshal’s widow, Madame Zavzyatov, as she hosts a requiem service and feast for the townsfolk in honor of her late husband. Having sworn to temperance following the demise of her husband to the sins of alcohol, she serves everything “that the country can furnish” except alcohol. Having staved off boredom during the requiem, where they were more inclined to whisper about cards than partake in the service, the guests proceed to invent novel excuses to introduce alcohol into the feast. This comical portrayal of a town’s inventive means to quench their thirst was entertaining but not destined to be a Chekhov classic. The widow was naive to the end as she writes to a friend about the evenings events and recounts how overcome with emotion many of her guests were when in fact they were drunk. In place of obvious drunkenness, she sees devotion. It made me wonder if it works in reverse. Could it be that her husband was actually spiritually devoted and not a drunk at all?