Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chekhov Short Stories - ninth installment

White Brow (1895)
The mother wolf is hungry. She leaves her three cubs and goes in search of food. Eventually she comes across a stall containing sheep and lambs. She climbs the snowdrift to the thatched roof and falls in. However the owner of the sheep is now disturbed and gives chase and the she-wold grabs what she can. This turns out to be a very stupid puppy.

The puppy plays with the cubs, and the she-wolf is tempted to eat the puppy but it smells too doggy. The puppy eventually returns home because it is hungry and the she-wolf overtakes it and tries to catch a lamb again. The wolf is given away by the puppy. It barks joyfully at seeing the she-wolf and raises the alarm. The she-wolf escapes and the puppy is trained to enter houses through the door rather than the roof because it is so very stupid.

An amusing story with great descriptions. I kept wondering if it was allegorical, but couldn't really think how.

Anna on the Neck (1895)
Chekhov, I think, does not aim to tell a tale. He does not aim to make a point or round things off, or even give things an ending. I think his main interest is to depict what it means to be human. He does this by telling stories and slices of life that are not neatly tied up in the conventional way but end unsatisfactorily, much like life itself. There is no allegory and no deep meaning to the plot of the tale because that is not the purpose. The purpose comes from the detail and the story of Anna shows this very well.

Anna is poor and has married for money. Her mother and father are educated - her father a teacher and her mother was a governess before she married - and so Anna is educated too. But her mother has died and since that her father has become an alcoholic, almost lost his job and fallen into debt. In an attempt to remedy this she has succumbed to social pressure and married a local wealthy official who is 'elderly' (in his fifties). However she now finds herself poorer than before. The official intimidates her and she can't eat at mealtimes and then is given no money to buy food inbetween. She has to do what she is told and although he buys her jewelry it is not really hers - she cannot sell it and he makes her keep it in a drawer which he checks, and she is unable to help her alcoholic father and brothers.

Everything changes when Anna is invited to a ball. She is the belle and soon realises that she has power. This changes her husband's attitude to her and also the attitude of Anna to the world around her. It would, I suppose be a simple rags to riches story with a happy ending if it were not for this: her power makes her father and brothers feel more remote from her and feel they cannot even greet her in the street. This, I feel, takes the story to a higher (Chekhovian) level because it makes you think. Of course the reader is glad that Anna has found freedom and power, but is it worth this loss? It is a modern tale of celebrity.

Style tip (these are all from Strunk and White, BTW - my attempts at self-improvement)
A compound subject is formed when two or more nouns are joined together. It always requires a plural verb.
White Brow and Anna on the neck are two stories by Chekhov.

New Word.
Solipsism: The theory that the self is all that can be known to exist. I often think this. So does Dr. Grump. I know, because we share the same head.


Blogger Gilles said...

« Solipsism : The theory that the self is all that can be known to exist. »
Will you think that you wrote this comment to yourself ? If not, you know that somebody else exists.

Sat Feb 23, 06:37:00 am  
Anonymous Clare said...

I write everything to myself, Gilles, because nothing else exists...except Dr Grump in her stiletto shoes.

Sat Feb 23, 07:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare D. said...

I am, I am, I am... in the void there is nothing else. In this void I can do anything at all...

Hey Gilles, I notice that Madame de Staël is one of your interests - have you read the biography by Maria Fairweather? I've got it and it looks very good.

Sun Feb 24, 12:31:00 am  
Blogger Gilles said...

In my opinion, Fairweather's biography of Mᵐᵉ de Staël would be very interesting, if you'd like to read a collection of anecdotes about her friends, her lovers, etc.
I think Mᵐᵉ de Staël is important to us in the XXIᵗʰ Century because she proves that an individual can shape history, contrary to the marxist idea that class and society completely shape our ideas. Interestingly, she thought that Europe could be united, eventually forming a single nation, including England… Well, one can't foresee everything (I mean the "special relationship" with the United States, and British resistance to the euro and the SI, for instance).

Sun Feb 24, 07:52:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Yes, Gilles, I think anecdotes are interesting because quite often I guess that is all we have.

I am interested in how you think Madame de Staël shaped history...I suppose all of us do to some extent, like the draught of a butterfly's wing can cause a hurricane elsewhere, so what we all do can cause the world to overheat...but Madame de Staël, what was her most important act do you think? I have read just brief summaries about her, but she does sound very interesting.

Sun Feb 24, 08:11:00 pm  
Blogger Gilles said...

On the subject of Germaine Necker friends, a list of just a few of them reads like a Who's Who. Before her marriage : the marquis de La Fayette (back from the United States where he fought with George Washington against the British), Benjamin Constant (a life-long friend who was the father of one of her sons), the marquis of Stafford (ambassador of England), Jacques Delille (who translated Milton), Talleyrand, Mirabeau ; after the Terreur : Chateaubriand, the duke of Wellington, lord Byron, Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (the painter), the poet Wilhelm Schlegel ; after her exile from France : Schiller, Goethe, the poet Puchkin, Bernadotte (who would become king of Sweden).
As for her most important act, I would suggest three. Political : She approved of the Révolution but always worked towards the adoption of a constitutional monarchy in France, and the unification of Europe, while playing a part in the anti-napoleonic coalition (don't forget she was exiled from France twice by Napoléon). Social : Her book on the trial of Marie-Antoinette (Réflexions sur le procès de la Reine) is for the most part a denunciation of the inequal status of women. Literary : She was the first to write about the necessity for novelists to write about the here and now, and forget about mythology and idyllic love between shepherds (De la littérature dans ses rapports avec les institutions) ; she also wrote the first essay on Romanticism (De l'Allemagne).

If I may, a short essay on Mme de Staël and Europe, "Mme de Staël européene" ; by the way, she was not, by far, as ugly as some like to say !

Mon Feb 25, 01:37:00 am  
Anonymous Clare said...

I'll have to work at your essay, Gilles, since my French is not that good. I love your blog, by the way. The part I can understand (the cartoons!) are very funny. You make Madame de Staël sound quite fascinating, thank you. I am looking forward to reading more when I get the time.

Mon Feb 25, 09:51:00 pm  

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