Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chekhov Short Stories - third installment

Francine Prose says that reading Chekhov makes her feel happy. I think she cannot be thinking of the story I read next with its very apt name: Misery (1886).
It is about an elderly coachman whose son has just died. He desperately needs to talk about it but no one is interested. Fare after fare treat him with disdain and contempt. It is almost unbearably sad. I read this first thing in the morning and I felt it was going to colour my whole day so I moved quickly on to the next.

Which is The Requiem (1886).
This again is about a man whose child has recently died, and this is sad too, but not in the aching way of Misery. The sadness here is because the father seems unmoved by his daughter's death, and expresses sorrow merely because she lived her life 'as a harlot'. In other words she had become an actress, and from the short snatches of his recalled conversation with her it is possible for the reader to see how much she too regrets her life and her distance from her father; and yet the man himself can do nothing but condemn her - both in life and death. It's an excellent story because so much is conveyed in very few words.

Anyuta (1886) I read going on the bus into town.
The 'heroine' of the piece is a girl who is generally taken for granted by the medical student who allows her to share his room. She is a drudge but we see her mainly from the point of view of the medical student, and he treats her coldly and without affection. After he has told her 'We must part!' her lip begins to tremble. She puts on her coat and gathers up her things, and in doing so she finds some sugar wrapped in paper and lays it on the table by the books.
'That's...your sugar....' she says softly, and turned away to conceal her tears.
'Why are you crying?' asks the medical student, and I could hardly help but feel tearful with her.

Ah, rejection is such a miserable thing - everyone experiences it at one time or another, but I think writers tend to experience it more than most.


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