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Forty Stories

By Fred Ramirez,2014-11-04 17:37
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ReviewI long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, to plow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on the ocean -- wherever my imagination ranges." -- Anton Chekhov If any one writer can be said to have invented the modem short story, it is Anton Chekhov. It is not just that Chekhov democratized this art form; more than that, he changed the thrust of short fiction from relating to revealing. And what marvelous and unbearable things are revealed in these Forty Stories. The abashed happiness of a woman in the presence of the husband who abandoned her years before. The obsequious terror of the officia Published by Vintage on 1991/03/06

First Vintage Classics Edition, March 1991

    Copyright ? 1963 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

    All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published inthe United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, andsimultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published underthe title The Image of Chekhov

     in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1963.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich, 1860–1904.

    [Short stories. English. Selections]

    Forty stories / by Anton Chekhov; translated and with an

    introduction by Robert Payne.—1st Vintage classics ed.

p. cm.—(Vintage classics)

    Originally published: The image of Chekhov, New York:

    Knopf, 1963. eISBN: 978-0-307-77853-6

    1. Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich. 1860–1904—

    Translations, English.

    1. Payne, Robert, 1911–??. II. Title. III. Series.

    PG3456.A13P39???1991891.73’3—dc20??????90-50473

    v3.1

FOR

    Patricia

    Contents

    Cover

    Title Page

    Copyright

    Dedication

    Introduction by Robert Payne

    Translator’s Note

    1880??????The Little Apples

    1881??????St. Peter’s Day

    1882??????Green Scythe

    1883??????Joy

    The Ninny

    The Highest Heights

    Death of a Government Clerk

    At the Post Office

    1884??????Surgery

    In the Cemetery

    Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

    1885??????A Report

    The Threat

    The Huntsman

    The Malefactor

    A Dead Body

    Sergeant Prishibeyev

    1886??????A Blunder

    Heartache

    Anyuta

    The Proposal

    Vanka

    Who Is to Blame?

    1887??????Typhus

1888??????Sleepyhead

    1889??????The Princess

    1890??????Gusev

    1891??????The Peasant Women

    1892??????After the Theater

    A Fragment

    In Exile

    1893??????Big Volodya and Little Volodya

    1894??????The Student

    1895??????Anna Round the Neck

    1896??????The House with the Mezzanine

    1897??????In the Horsecart

    1898??????On Love

    1899??????The Lady with the Pet Dog

    1902??????The Bishop

    1903??????The Bride

    About the Author

    Introduction

    I

    WE KNOW this image well, for it is usually reproduced as a frontispiece to his works or stampedon the bindings—the image of a solemn, elderly man with lines of weariness deeply etched onhis thin face, which is very pale. The accusing eyes are nearly hidden by pince-nez, the beardis limp, the lips pursed in pain. It is the image of an old scholar or the forbidding familydoctor who has brought too many children into the world.

    We know him well, but what we know bears little resemblance to the real Chekhov. This portraitof Chekhov is based on a painting made by an obscure artist called Joseph Braz in 1898, whenChekhov was already suffering from consumption. He was restless while sitting for his portrait,and had little confidence in the artist’s gifts, and the best he could say of the portrait wasthat the tie and the general configuration of the features were perhaps accurate, but the wholewas deadly wrong. “It smells of horse-radish,” he said. Five years later, when the portraitwas solemnly hung on the walls of the Moscow Art Theater, he wrote to his wife that he wouldhave done everything in his power to prevent the painting from being hung there. He would havepreferred to have a photograph hanging in the Moscow Art Theater—anything but thatabomination. “There is something in it which is not me, and something that is me is missing,”he wrote, but that was one of his milder criticisms. His rage against the portrait increasedas time went on. It became “that ghastly picture,” and he would lie awake thinking about theharm it would do. The painting has a fairly academic quality: he may have guessed thatposterity would take it to its heart.

    Chekhov had good reason to hate the picture, for he knew himself well and possessed a perfectlynormal vanity. In his youth and middle age he was quite astonishingly handsome. The writerVladimir Korolenko, who met Chekhov in 1887, speaks of his clean-cut regular features which hadnot lost their characteristically youthful contours. His eyes were brilliant and deep-set,thoughtful and artless by turns, and his whole expression suggested a man filled with the joyof life. His face was never still, and he was always joking. Even in his later years, when hewas afflicted with blindness and hemorrhoids and consumption, and perhaps half a dozen otherdiseases, he continued to crack jokes like a schoolboy. There are still a few people living whocan remember the sound of his infectious laughter.

    Let us imagine Chekhov entering a room about the year 1889, when he was nearly thirty and hadalready written most of the stories he would ever write. “A Dead Body,” “Heartache,”“Anyuta,” “Vanka,” “Sleepyhead,” and countless others are already behind him, and he isat the height of his fame. He has received the Pushkin Prize from the Imperial Academy ofSciences, and he has been elected a member of the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature. Heis already aware that he is a great writer with a certain place in Russian literature, and heis dressed accordingly in a silk shirt with a necktie made of colored strings and a fawn-colored coat which offsets the ruddy color of his face. He is over six feet tall, but thenarrow shoulders make him seem even taller. He wears a thin beard pointed in the Elizabethanmanner, and there is something of the Elizabethan in his calm assumption of power, in hiselegance and the nervous quickness of his movements. His thick brown hair is brushed straightback from a clear forehead. He has thick brown eyebrows, and his eyes too are brown, thoughthey grow darker or brighter according to his mood, and the iris of one eye is always a littlelighter than the other, giving him sometimes an expression of absent-mindedness when he is infact all attention. His eyelids are a little too heavy, and sometimes they droop in afashionable artistocratic manner, but the real explanation is that he works through the nightand sleeps little. He is nearly always smiling or breaking out into huge peals of laughter.Only his hands trouble him: they are the hands of a peasant, large, dry and hot, and he doesnot always know what to do with them. Excessively handsome, slender and elegant, he knew hispower over people and drew them to him like a magnet.

    This young and handsome giant was without any trace of arrogance. He treated his gifts with akind of careless disdain. “Do you know how I write my stories?” he said once to Korolenko.“Look!” His eyes moved across the table until they fixed upon an ash tray. “There’s thestory,” he said. “Tomorrow shall I bring you a story called ‘The Ash Tray’?” Korolenko hadthe curious feeling that vague images were already swarming over the ash tray, and alreadysituations and adventures were beginning to shape themselves, while the light of Chekhov’shumor was already playing on the absurdities and ironies of an ash tray’s existence. When theveteran writer Dmitry Grigorovich, the friend and mentor of Dostoyevsky, complimented him onthe classical perfection of his short story “The Huntsman,” Chekhov was genuinely surprised,and wrote back that he had written the story to pass away the time in a bathhouse and hadthought nothing more of it. He could write under any conditions, but he seems to have writtenbest when he was surrounded by his friends.

    He was tireless in his attention to his friends—nothing was too good for them. He had apassion for entertaining them, and his hospitality was princely. The severe, accusing doctor ofthe Braz portrait vanishes in the actor, the mimic, the clown, who would amuse himself by goingto a hotel with a friend, pretending to be a valet, and proclaiming in a loud voice all thesecret vices of his master, until the whole hotel was in an uproar. He adored buffoonery. Heliked putting on disguises. He would throw a Bokhara robe round his shoulders and wrap a turbanround his head and pretend to be some visiting emir from the mysterious lands of the East. On atrain journey he was in his element. If he was traveling with his mother he would pretend shewas a countess and himself a very unimportant servant in her employ, and he would watch thebehavior of the other passengers toward the bewildered countess with wide-eyed wonder anddelight. He had a trick of making a walk in the country an adventure in high drama. Everythingexcited him. He was fascinated by the shapes of clouds, the colors of the sky, the texture offields, and it amazed him that each person walking along a country path contained so manyimprobable miracles in his soul. The world abounded in miracles, and he rejoiced in all of themwith an unself-conscious and devouring eagerness.

    Even in his last years Chekhov bore very little resemblance to the Braz portrait. No one couldguess from looking at that portrait that this was a man who was always laughing and joking, whowas gay and carefree and confident of his powers, who was kind and gentle and generous and veryhuman. What distinguished him from other people was precisely what the portrait left out—theflame of eagerness in the eyes, the wild appetite for experience, the sense of sheer enjoymentwhich accompanied him everywhere. Men felt doubly men in his presence, and women were

    continually falling in love with him. There was nothing of the puritan in him. He yearned foronly one thing—that people should live in the utmost freedom, perhaps because very early inhis own life he had acquired all the freedom he wanted.

    By the time he was thirty Chekhov had traveled across the whole length of Russia, visited HongKong, Singapore, and Ceylon, and half the great cities of Europe. He makes one of hischaracters say: “I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible toman. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, toplow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on theocean—wherever my imagination ranges?…” “I want to go to Spain and Africa,” he wrote atanother time. “I have a craving for life.” He imagined himself leading great caravans of hisfriends across the whole world, and since this was impossible he was always inviting them tocome and stay with him, so that his various houses in the country came to resemble circuseswith all the visitors assigned to play out their comic roles. He wrote to the vaudeville writerBilibin: “I tell you what: get married and come down here, wife and all, for a week or two. Iassure you it’ll do you all a world of good, and you’ll go away marvelously stupid.” Thevenerable Grigorovich came to stay with him, and some time later, remembering the strangethings that had happened to him, he lifted his arms in mock horror and exclaimed: “If you onlyknew what went on at the Chekhovs’! A saturnalia, a regular saturnalia, I tell you!”

    What went on, of course, was nothing more than an experiment in furious good humor, withChekhov playing his usual conspiratorial role. The wonder is that he was able to write so manystories in a life given over to so many friendships. He never stinted his friends, and gavemoney away recklessly. At those famous house parties there would be poets and novelists andmusicians, some high officials, an ecclesiastical dignitary or two, a handful of circus folk,but there were also other people who were not so easily categorized, and these would turn outto be horse thieves, ex-convicts, piano tuners, or prostitutes, anyone in fact that he had metin the course of his travels. He had an especial fondness for pretty young women and homelypriests, and he loved all animals except cats, which he abominated. What he sought for inpeople was that eagerness for life and experience which he regarded as man’s birthright, andhis hatred of poverty arose from the despairing knowledge that poverty saps unendurably athuman vitality. He had no liking for the government, and he had even less liking for therevolutionaries attempting to overthrow the government. He loved life, and regarded politics asdeath.

    Chekhov was l’homme moyen sensuel raised to the level of genius. He worked prodigiously hardat his medical practice and over his stories and plays, but even at the moments of greatesttension good humor kept creeping in. Everything about him was phenomenal—his charm, hiscourage, his capacity for work, his thirst for experience—but what he prized most was hisordinary humanity. He enjoyed and often celebrated the animal pleasures of life, and he wassomething of a connoisseur of wine and women. He had his first sexual experience at thirteen,and this love affair was followed by countless others. The legend of the remote, detachedanalyst of the human soul with a faintly ironical smile dies hard, and is not yet dead. TheBraz portrait and some of the later photographs showing him in the throes of consumption, whiteas a sheet, with his coat buttoned to the neck, have helped to give credence to the legend. Butthose who knew him best remember his stupendous gaiety.

    Even today, nearly sixty years after his death, there are still a handful of people who canremember him. A Russian now living in New York remembers meeting him as a boy in Yalta.“Chekhov was always cracking jokes,” he said recently. “He was an actor, a clown. He wouldsweep off his pince-nez and gaze at you with a quizzical expression, telling you some perfectlyimpossible story with a straight face. He had a habit of walking with one arm curled round hisback, pretending to be very old and tired, and very sad, and then he would straighten up andhowl with laughter. In those days he was very ill, and his voice was the hoarse voice of aconsumptive, but you soon forgot his illness. And what an actor he was! He could do the mostextraordinary things with his pince-nez. He used them as actors use props. He was alwayssweeping them on and sweeping them off. He looked so young without them, and so old when they

    were on, that it was like seeing two different people. He would look down on me from hisimmense height, and I had the feeling that all his attention, all his humor, all his kindness,were being given to me.”

    In the hot summer of 1904 Chekhov, accompanied by his actress wife, arrived in the Germanwatering place of Badenweiler. He was already dying, but he was in good spirits. He sent offgay messages to his friends, telling them how delighted he was with the small villa where hewas staying, and how he was looking forward to a trip to Italy, a country he had loved eversince he had journeyed through it after his return from the Far East. And then after Italythere would be a leisurely cruise through the Mediterranean, and so to the Black Sea and hishouse in Yalta. At seven o’clock on the evening of July 1 the dinner bell rang, but for somereason neither Chekhov nor his wife heard it. A few minutes later, when they realized theirmistake, Chekhov characteristically invented a story on the theme of the unheard dinner bell.

    The story he told concerned a fashionable watering place full of fat, well-fed bankers andruddy-faced Englishmen and Americans, all of them hurrying back to dinner from their sight-seeing expeditions in the country, all of them exuding animal vigor and thinking only of theirstomachs. But when they arrived at the hotel, there was no dinner bell, for there was nosupper—the cook had fled. Then, gaily and happily, Chekhov went on to describe all thosepampered visitors as they confronted the awful fact that there would be no supper. He describedtheir horror, their stratagems, their mounting impatience, and he told the story kindly, as hehad told so many similar stories in the past. His wife sat curled up on a sofa, laughing as onecomic invention followed on another. He died shortly after midnight, falling suddenly on hisside, and it was observed that in death he looked very young, contented, and almost happy.Through the wide windows the wind brought the scent of new-mown hay, and later into theterrible stillness of the night there came, like a messenger from another world, a huge blackmoth which burst into the room like a whirlwind and kept beating its wings madly against theelectric lights.

    The funeral took place a week later in Moscow. Gorky and others have related the strangecircumstances of the funeral, usually with bitterness. They tell how the body arrived in Moscowin a freight train labeled with the words FOR OYSTERS in large letters, and how part of thecrowd waiting for Chekhov followed the coffin of General Keller, who had been brought fromManchuria, and they were a little surprised that Chekhov was being buried with full militaryhonors. When the confusion was straightened out, a sad little procession of about a hundredpeople accompanied Chekhov’s coffin to the Novodevichy Cemetery through the heat and dust of aMoscow summer. “I recall particularly two lawyers,” wrote Gorky. “They were both wearing newboots and spotted neckties, and I heard one of them discoursing on the intelligence of dogs andthe other on the comforts of his country home and the beauty of the landscape all round it.Then there was a lady in a lilac dress with a lace-fringed umbrella who was trying to convincean old gentleman in large spectacles about the merits of the deceased. ‘Ah, he was sowonderfully charming, and so witty,’ she said, while the old gentleman coughed incredulously.At the head of the procession a big, fat policeman rode majestically on a fat white horse. Itall seemed cruelly common and vulgar, and quite incompatible with the memory of a great andsubtle artist.”

    But was it so incompatible? Chekhov laughed gaily throughout his life, and he would havelaughed at the human absurdities which accompanied his funeral. FOR OYSTERS would have pleasedhim, and it would have delighted him that he should have been mistaken for General Keller, andhe would have listened entranced to all the inane conversations of the people following thecoffin, and it would have rejoiced his heart to see the fat policeman on the fat horse. Hewould have swept off his pince-nez, thrown back his head, and hooted with joy when hediscovered that he was being buried next to “the Cossack widow Olga Kookaretnikov,” a name asimprobable as any he invented in his stories. Chekhov loved the absurd, and he loved all thesplendors and inanities of the human condition.

    II

    Chekhov was born on January 16, 1860, a year before the freeing of the serfs. He was the son ofa man born into slavery, and would himself have been born a serf if it had not been that hisgrandfather, who managed the vast Chertkov estates, was able to buy his freedom for 3,500rubles. Chekhov’s father was a heavy-set, deeply religious man, with a talent for paintingicons and violin playing, who made his living as a grocer in the small seaport town ofTaganrog. At home the father was gruff and unbending, a stern disciplinarian, loving hischildren but keeping at a distance from them. Chekhov’s mother was the daughter of a clothmerchant, a quiet, beautiful woman, very gentle with the six children, five boys and a girl,born of the marriage. She made all the children’s clothes, and she liked to tell them storiesof the days when she traveled with her father in a carriage over the length and breadth ofRussia. She had a deep feeling for the Russian countryside, and for people. Chekhov inheritedfrom her his tenderness and sweetness of character, and from his father he inherited hisartistic gifts and a formidable capacity for hard work and a kind of stubbornness which enabledhim to overcome any obstacles in his path. He had his father’s forehead and eyes, and hismother’s mouth and chin. And they said that in his way of walking and talking he was most likehis grandfather, the estate manager who pulled himself out of slavery.

    In later years Chekhov would often talk of his childhood, which was neither happy nor unhappy,but curiously somber. Life revolved around the shop and the church. Outside the shop a signannounced in gold letters: “Tea, coffee, soap, sausage, and other colonial products are soldhere.” The “colonial products” referred to imports from Turkey—Turkish delight, halva, anddried currants—but in fact the shop sold very nearly every kind of grocery: herbs, dried fish,macaroni, olive oil, vodka, wine, beer, small packets of tea: everything in fact exceptlivestock. Herring swam in barrels of pickling brine. In summer there were flies everywhere,and in winter it was strangely dark and menacing. As soon as he could walk Chekhov had to helpout. He hated the long hours and the beatings he received from his father when he wasinattentive, but it was in this dark and squalid room, with its overwhelming smell of fish,with strings of peppers and sweetmeats hanging from the roof, with the sacks of flour and mealcrowding the wall, and the religious medallions sold to pilgrims glinting in the candlelight,that Chekhov came in contact with men and women of all classes, seeing them pass in an endlessprocession through the shop as later they were to pass through his stories. He came to knowtheir faces, their smells, the way they dressed and quarreled and haggled and got drunk, andvery early in his life, employing the defense mechanism of sensitive children everywhere, helearned to mimic them. Deeply impressed on his imagination were the faces and characters of twoor three hundred Russian types.

    There was a Greek colony in Taganrog, and for some reason he was sent to the local Greekschool, where he learned Latin and ancient Greek, and modern Greek well enough to speak it, buthe showed no particular brilliance in his studies. There was talk of sending him later toAthens University, but nothing came of it. Chekhov’s father seems to have had little businesssense, and when the family finances became increasingly precarious, there occurred a markedchange in the character of the shopkeeper. He became more obsequious to the Greek merchants andbegan writing begging letters to important dignitaries; and from being a father he became atoadying, wheedling shopkeeper with a reverence for uniforms and an incapacity to think ofanything except money. With disgust and fury Chekhov watched his father decline into a kind ofsenility.

    Meanwhile the boy was developing his gifts of mimicry and acting. One day, dressed as a beggar,he walked through the streets of Taganrog and entered the house of his uncle Mitrofan, whofailed to penetrate his disguise and gave him three kopecks. This success elated him.Thereafter he began to think seriously of a life as an actor, or perhaps as a clown in one ofthe traveling circuses. He wrote sketches and plays and acted them out in a barn with hisbrothers and his sister, taking the part of a bishop or a pompous official or a beardedprofessor delivering a ludicrous and incomprehensible lecture. He adored false beards andmustaches, and he fell hopelessly in love with the stage when he was thirteen and attended a

    La Belle Hélène at the local theater. He was also developing as aproduction of Offenbach’s

    writer, and stories written when he was twelve show him already in full command of the Russianlanguage, with a style as direct and simple as the works of his maturity. He edited the familymagazine, which he characteristically called The Stammerer. Many of the stories and sketches

    written in his early teens were later reworked—“Surgery,” one of the most famous of hisearly stories, was a reworking of some clownish nonsense performed when he was scarcely morethan ten years old, with Chekhov himself playing the role of a dentist extracting with a pairof tongs an enormous tooth, made of cork, from his brother’s mouth.

    , which can be traced back to the eventsMany of Chekhov’s stories are quips, jokes, boutades

    of his childhood and the days when he was studying medicine. When the stories were printed inbook form, he usually omitted the slighter anecdotes, but a surprisingly large amount of purelyanecdotal material was retained, perhaps because these casual stories represented an importantelement in his character. He was happy in his impudence. He reveled in telling stories whichare not very far removed from “shaggy dog” stories, and he especially enjoyed farce. He wouldtell a story about a visit to a graveyard, joking prodigiously, and while still laughing hewould suddenly unfold a landscape where the laughter mysteriously changes, becomes frozen, dieson a clap of thunder, but before the story was over he would be laughing again. The greatcomedians laugh tragedy, and Chekhov was of their number. How he would havefor the sake of

    laughed at Charlie Chaplin!

    True comedians can usually be recognized by their tragic air, but there was nothing in theleast tragic about Chekhov’s life until he contracted tuberculosis. Though he raged againsthis father, and remembered with painful accuracy every whipping he received, his childhood wasimmensely satisfying. He grew up tall and straight, handsome and popular, with a gift fortelling stories to admiring schoolboys and schoolgirls. He enjoyed a succession of loveaffairs, including one with the wife of a teacher, and he remembered later that these loveaffairs were all “happy and gay.” He was growing quickly, too quickly for his strength. Oncehe dived into the sea and cut his head on a rock, and the scar remained for the rest of hislife. He was fifteen when he caught a chill while bathing, and peritonitis set in. For a fewdays his life was despaired of. A German doctor who attended him during his convalescence toldhim about a doctor’s life; and from wanting to be a clown he changed direction and determinedto be a doctor. A few words from an obscure German doctor changed his whole life.

    In the following year his father’s business, which had been failing for many years, suddenlycollapsed, and the father fled to Moscow to escape a debtors’ prison. The two older brotherswere already in Moscow before the collapse. Chekhov remained in Taganrog to finish hisschooling. He was perfectly cheerful, and perhaps glad to be alone. Earning a pittance fromtutoring, he sent every ruble he could spare to Moscow, and with the money went letters full ofjokes to keep them amused. He made some extra money by capturing goldfinches and selling themin the market. Soon he was making money by selling short sketches to the newspapers. Longbefore he left school and enrolled in the faculty of medicine at Moscow University, his writingcareer had begun.

    Most of the early sketches are lost, hidden in obscure newspapers under a baffling array ofpseudonyms. He continued to write as a medical student, and he continued to invent more andmore pseudonyms depending on his mood at the moment. A teacher in Taganrog had given him thename of Antosha Chekhonte, and this name with its variations (A. Ch-te, Anche, A. Chekhonte)was largely reserved for the stories which gave him the greatest pleasure. He signed lesserstories with sardonic descriptions of himself—Blockhead, A Man Without a Spleen, My Brother’sBrother, A Quick-Tempered Man, A Prosaic Poet, A Doctor Without Patients, Ulysses, Starling.About thirty pseudonyms are known, and there are perhaps thirty more which remain to bediscovered. He was writing stories nearly every day to pay for his tuition fees and to providefor his family, which soon came to accept him as its perennial benefactor, and since Chekhovwas the soul of generosity, he accepted the burden of providing for them with astonishinggaiety.

    He matured quickly, and his early full-length stories published in Moscow while he wasstruggling with the first year of his medical course have the gay, sardonic, impudent,passionately human quality of the stories he wrote in the last years of his life. There isalways the sharp cutting edge, like the bright gleam of a plow breaking through the soil. Thereis always laughter, and the trace of melancholy. He sets his scenes in the cloudy afternoons,or in the evenings when the lights are coming up, or in the dead of night when his charactersare warming themselves over a fire. After spending the day in the anatomy laboratory, he wouldspend his evenings writing about the quiet villages of southern Russia and the country estateswhere he sometimes spent his holidays during the last years of his schooling. Gaiety andimpudence keep creeping in. “The Little Apples,” written in 1880, when he was twenty,describes a landlord and a farm bailiff who discover two young peasant lovers stealing applesin an orchard; to punish them the landlord makes the boy flog the girl and the girl flog theboy. The story is not in the least sadistic. Chekhov is amused, and only a little horrified,for the young lovers can do no harm to each other, and the landlord is a grotesque vaudevillecharacter blundering among the windfalls. “St. Peter’s Day,” written in the following year,is an excursion into the wilder shores of lunacy, with the author bubbling with good humor ashe describes a perfectly ridiculous shooting party, where nothing happens as the hunters expectit to happen, and everyone is at odds with everyone else. “Green Scythe,” written in 1882, isa more serious matter, for though it deals with the lighthearted escapades of a group of youngpeople staying on the estate of a Georgian princess of impeccable ancestry, Chekhov for thefirst time created characters in three dimensions: the bullying matriarchal princess, the youngand beautiful Olya, and Lieutenant Yegorov are all completely credible, and these characters,or characters very similar to them, will appear again and again in his stories. There is asense in which “Green Scythe” is the first of his stories of character, and in its backgroundand development it is oddly similar to “The Bride,” the story Chekhov was writing in the lastyear of his life. Once more we see the bullying matriarch and the beautiful daughter and theyoung suitors vying for her hand, but now the chill of winter has set in, the gardens arefading, and there is very little laughter.

    Chekhov put himself into “Green Scythe,” and indeed he put himself into most of his stories.He is present in a surprisingly large number of them, perhaps all the more present because hewas so determined to be absent. He is the boy in the shop, the keeper of goldfinches, thepeasant wandering across the plain, the family doctor, the dying bishop. We see him in hisvarious disguises, and more often than not the disguise is transparent. Very few of the currenttranslations of Chekhov give the stories in their proper order. Once they are printed in theorder of development, we become aware of the autobiographical thread running through them. Farfrom being the neutral observer, Chekhov was a man who portrayed himself endlessly.

    But while Chekhov is abundantly present in the stories, so that we can nearly always detect oneperson who wanders through the story like a representative of the author, taking the author’spart, he never insists upon himself. Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy continually portrayed themselvesand gave themselves the more important roles. Chekhov gives himself comparatively unimportantroles. Very often he is content to watch, delighting in the people of his invention, his witblending with his profound sympathy for his fellow men, without rancor and without remorse,hating only obsequiousness and human indignity. Early in 1879 his brother Mikhail wrote aletter which he signed: “Your worthless and insignificant little brother.” In cold furyChekhov replied: “Do you know where you should be conscious of your worthlessness? Before God,if you please, before the human intellect, beauty, and nature, but not before people. Amongpeople one must be conscious of one’s human dignity. You are not a swindler, but an honestfellow! Then respect the honest fellow in yourself and remember that no honest man is everinsignificant.” So he wrote when he was nineteen, and nine years later he announced his credoto his friend the poet Alexey Pleshchev: “My Holy of Holies are the human body, health,intelligence, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom from violence and lying inwhatever forms they may manifest themselves.” Against human indignity, and against those whowould build walls around human freedom, he waged implacable war.

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