Chekhov Short Stories - thirteenth (and final) installment
The Lady and the Dog (1899)
This is the one Chekhov story I had read before. Another lecturer used it in a class I was co-teaching at a university and had some quite incredible insight about the writing; but I realised as I read it again that we had only looked at the first part...and it is in the later parts that the tale fully comes into its own. I shan't try to analyse it at all here because so many others have done it so well and so much better than I ever could. I shall just remark that the story is about the illogicality and frustration of falling in love.
In summary the story is this. An indolent man, who does not love his wife and has had many affairs, is on holiday at the Crimea. A new arrival, a young woman with her dog, arrives at the scene. He is attracted to her and they end up in her hotel room together. She feels he must now not respect her, and he doesn't deny it. Over the following days they continue their affair; she continues to feel guilty and that she has lost the respect of everyone, while he unwittingly falls in love with her. The woman's husband then summons her back home and so they part, expecting not to see each other again. However he cannot get her out of his mind; and she is depressed and distraught. He eventually visits her home town and deliberately seeks her out, eventually encountering her at the theatre. Their affair starts again and they come to see, at the end of the story, that it is the first time either of them have really fallen in love and that they belong together.
The Bishop (1902)
My favourite story so far. At first it seems like nothing remarkable - just a bishop going about his daily work: he says mass, he sees his mother, and he takes tea. He is a powerful man, a celebrity of sort; someone who inspires fear in all who encounter him, even though he is mild-mannered. This attitude of other people angers him; but it is the attitude of his mother angers him the most. He hears her talking to his assistant next door in a relaxed way, but to the bishop she is reverential and unnatural. He becomes ill with typoid, and it is only when he is near the end, when he is glad to be leaving the world behind, and his mother sees him shrivelled and old, does she revert to treating him as she used to treat him when he was her 'Little Pavel'.
The bishop dies and the world goes on. Easter is celebrated and a month later a new bishop appointed and everyone forgets his Reverence Pyotr.
'Only the dead man's mother...when she goes out at sunset to meet her cow, and joins the other women on the way, tells them about her children and her grandchildren, and her boy who became a bishop.Even though no one remembers his Reverence Pyotr, many people remember and feel they know Anton Chekhov through these stories.
And when she mentions him she looks at them shyly, for she is afraid they will not believe her.
And as a matter of fact, not all of them do.'
The Betrothed (1903)
The characters are set out quickly in just a couple of pages and yet they are memorable: the girl betrothed to be married, her fiancé, her mother, her grandmother, the fiancé's father...and Sasha, an orphan - the son of a friend of the family. He is ill and comes to visit each summer for a rest. Sasha is outspoken and critical about the girl's family's, and her fiancé's way of life, which is idle. Furthermore he objects that they keep the servants in barbaric conditions. Gradually the girl realises he is right, and that her fiancé is superficial and that she doesn't love him. She then forsakes her fiancé and runs away with Sasha. Her return home a year or so later is poignant; it is clear that both her mother and grandmother have been destroyed by her action and yet they forgive her. News then arrives of Sasha's death and the story end with this:
'"Good-bye, dear Sasha," she thought. Life stretched before her, new, vast. spacious, and this life, thought still vague and mysterious, beckoned to her, drawing her onward.
She went upstairs to pack,a nd the next morning said good-bye to her family, and left the town, gay and full of spirirts - as she supposed, forever.'