Monday, February 18, 2008

Chekhov Short Stories - sixth Installment.

The Siren's Song (1887)
Extremely comic piece; the judge has to write up his 'dissenting opinion' but unfortunately is attempting to do this while some other judges and the clerk are in the room. It is the clerk that is the problem: he insists on describing food and drink in such provocative and sensuous terms that one by one they are forced to leave the room. In the end the dissenting judge gives up. He has spoilt six versions, and he too leaves, and the clerk is left to gather up the papers. I imagine this scene working very well on the stage.

Sleepy (1888)
A description of how sleep deprivation can lead to infanticide. The poor maid Varka, who is just thirteen years old and has been forced by destitution into service to a tradesman, is expected to stay awake all night rocking the baby, and then function all day as a maid of all work. During the second night a hallucination, brought on by extreme exhaustion, allows her to see what is keeping her from sleeping. By the end of it the reader almost agrees with her that it is the only possible course of action.

The Grasshopper (1892)
The protagonist of the is story, Olga, is remarkably modern: ' She worshiped the famous, she was proud of them, she dreamed of them every night. She thirsted for celebrities and could never slake this thirst. Old friends disappeared and were forgotten, new ones came to take their place, but soon she grew tired of these too, or they disappointed her, and she began seeking new friends, new celebrities, and when she had found them, looking for others.'

This shallow, but rather familiar person, falls in love with a most unlikely person - the very ordinary doctor who tends her father through his final illness. At first they have a blissful existence. Soon, however, she starts an affair with an artist, and her husband innocently continues to support her and indulge her pointless life of artistic 'potential'. The affair sours but their relationship continues and the husband, even though he has by now realised the truth, continues to support her. The story ends with Olga interrupting the artist with a woman, the artist acknowledging that Olga is not an artist at all and the husband dying after catching diphtheria - so needlessly it is apparent that he had a death-wish. The final irony comes with Olga's realisation that her dead husband was, in fact, not ordinary at all. In fact he was the most extraordinary celebrity she had ever encountered in her life.

This is a story to read alongside any edition of a colour-supplement of a Sunday newspaper where people in the Arts are fêted as 'one-to-watch' and their glittering futures predicted with certainty; whereas the real celebrities, the ones that make an important difference to the world, tend to be neglected and ignored.

Style Tip:
Use a singular word form after each, either, everyone, everybody, neither, nobody, someone.
e.g. everybody in Chekhov's stories is Russian...well, more or less.

New Word:
feculent = containing dirt, sediment or waste matter.
Tabloid journalists are often on the look-out for feculent stories about celebrities.


Anonymous Libertarian Reader said...


I've the Siren's Song (full text) by Anton Chekhov on my blog, in case you are interested:

What if you lost your appetite?

Enjoy! Cheers, LR

Mon Jun 08, 11:45:00 am  

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