Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chekhov Short Stories - fourth installment

The story starts describing a young man called Savka whose 'favourite state is one of concentrated immobility'. He is also handsome, clever and powerful but because he cannot bring himself to work, lived like a vagabond - and is consequently sent by the commune to take an old man's place as a watchman and scarecrow. When the narrator visits him they are caught up with a conversation about nightingales, which goes on into the evening, until Savka remarks that Agatha is about to visit. It is only then that the most important facet of this young man's personality slips in: he is a adulterer and, like the young medical student in the previous story, treats women with contempt.

Agatha comes, but the young man is distracted chasing after a bird, and Agatha, lulled by vodka and promises of his company, stays after nightfall - even though she knows that her liaison will soon be discovered. The story end with her walk, the next morning, back to her husband who is waiting for her. The way in which Agatha makes that final walk - striding boldly and then stopping, looking back, sinking, before finally finding the courage to continue, is interspersed with comments about what both parties must be feeling, and is extremely memorable.

Grisha is two years and eight months old and is making his first journey into the outside and 'every inch of his awkward little figure...bespoke a boundless perplexity'. The day is full of incident - ordinary things made mysterious because they are being experienced for the first time. Some of it is funny and poor Grisha ends the day being fed castor oil because the outing seems not to have agreed with his stomach and has given him fever.

A Gentleman Friend (1886)
Vanda, a party girl, has fallen on hard times. All we know is that she has just left hospital and the only money she has is a rouble from the sale of her only jewelry: a turquoise ring. She feels shabby and in order to re-enter her previous world she needs a little money to buy a hat and shoes. Her shabbiness affects her outlook, her confidence and her character. At last she finds the courage to visit a gentleman friend - a dentist - whom she thinks will help. But he (of course) doesn't recognise her in her servant's clothing and her new more humble demeanor. She also sees him in a different light; in the light of everyday he seems ugly. Vanda has her tooth needlessly extracted for which she pays her only rouble. The story ends on a happy note: the next Evening Vanda, clad somehow in hat and shoes, is back partying in her club.

I like the way this story doesn't try to explain the changes in Vanda's life. All that seems to be of interest to Chekhov is the effect this temporary poverty on Vanda. I think it is a metaphorical piece on life in general; how success attracts, and how quickly a downturn in fortune can cause a person to feel alone.

Style Tip
The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

e.g. The message of this story - like all of Chekhov's stories I have read so far - is survival.
or...One of the best writers in Russia who are translated into English.

New Word.
gadfly = a fly that bites livestock or, figuratively, an annoying person, especially one who provokes other into action by criticism.


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