Monday, February 18, 2008

Chekhov Short Stories - fifth Installment

The Chorus Girl (1886)
A 'chorus girl' seems to be a euphemism for a prostitute in Chekhov's time. I guess the chorus girls were really part of a chorus but part of the work was also to take gentlemen friends back to their boudoirs. This tale concerns one chorus girl called Pasha and her lover, Nikolai. Unfortunately for them Nikolai's young and beautiful wife discovers their liaison and calls upon them unexpectedly. Pasha's anfractuous conversation with her (while Nikolai hides) and the way Nikolai's wife extracts what she wants from the chorus girl (money or something of value) is very impressively written.

Dreams (1886)
Two soldiers are escorting a prisoner. One soldier is short and talkative, the other tall and stern; while the prisoner is small and weak. This is just a shortened description - Chekhov's, of course, is wonderfully vivid. Gradually, through their conversations the history of the prisoner is revealed. Although he is weak and puny, the prisoner's dreams have a powerful effect on all three men. The guards seem to become imprisoned by them, especially the shorter guard - and after they have heard them they continue to walk on in silence.

Vanka (1886)
This story is based on the writing of a letter: a boy of nine gradually reveals both the life to which he would like to return, and the wretched life that he leads now as a servant to a cobbler in Moscow. It ends poignantly with the boy happily thinking of his grandfather receiving his letter - even though the letter carries just his grandfather's name and no stamp and therefore, presumably, will never get there.

At Home (1887)
This story describes a father's attempt to discourage his seven year old son to stop smoking, but of course there is much more to the tale than this. It is also a study on how the mind of a child works, the differing relationship between parents and children, the morals of explaining what is right and wrong using stories and persuasion, and also the power of story telling (since it is this that finally persuades the child).

Meanwhile there is someone pacing on the floor upstairs, and someone monotonously practising scales on a piano. Both these noises are important and although the piano players eventually give up, the person on the floor above continues to pace. This seems to me to emphasise that the father's problems will always be there and, like most problems, they will always recur even when they are thought to be solved.

I particularly liked this passage: 'And thoughts such as these came floating into Bykovski's head; light evanescent thoughts such as only enter weary, resting brains. One knows not whence they are nor why they come; they stay but a short while and seem to spread across the surface of the brain without ever sinking very far into its depths.'

It is a very affectionate portrait; the father succeeds by telling the boy a parable: the prince in a story who smokes dies young and thereby destroys his father and his father's kingdom. This clearly affects the boy and he says he will no longer smoke. The son loves his father just as much as the father loves the son.


Anonymous Alan Davis Drake said...

I enjoyed your brief comments on Chekhov and hope to read more. It was refreshing to read your discoveries. Every writer should read Chekhov. And the great thing is that the stories appear endless —a veritable cornucopia. Because of this there is always something to learn, even if it is to compare two or more stories to each other. Thank you.

What about "A Lady and the Dog" and the wonderful "Little Trilogy"? And the longer stories, novella?

Human suffering and the lack of fullfilment... is there is an story more human than a Chekhov story?

Happy adventuring.

Sun Aug 30, 04:19:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks for your comments Alan Davis Drake. Yes, I've read both of those, I think - certainly 'A Lady with the Dog'. As you say there is much to learn.

I haven't yet read any of the novellas, and really have not heard as much about them. Are they a good, I wonder.

Mon Aug 31, 11:46:00 am  

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