Saturday, February 16, 2013

Short Stories of Anton Chekhov ― Feb 14, 2013

 Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov, master-storyteller and dramatist, keen observer of human behaviour, and professional physician, has left an enormous number of short stories which seem ageless.


Many of them have no point to make; they are descriptions of mundane things that happen to ordinary people, without any dramatic element, or surprising revelation at the end. Others like Ward No. 6 have the plot lines of a novel. The inversion of fortunes at the end makes one wonder how easily a person may be passed off as insane.

Arundhaty reads from Chekhov's play 'The Three Sisters'

As numerous, however, are the carefully plotted gems, such as A Work of Art.  Humour, surprise, the small deceits of human beings, and sense of fate coming full circle, contribute to its masterly hold on the reader.

 Priya ponders a point

Salman Rushdie hid his identity during the fatwa period under a name composed of two of his favourite authors, the first being Anton Chekhov. The surprisingly graceful translations available in the public domain do great credit to Chekhov.

 Gopa learns Kindle e-reader techniques from Priya, as Thommo and KumKum watch

Here are the readers assembled before the reading:

 Talitha, Priya, Thommo, Gopa, KumKum, Mathew, Sunil, & Joe
Zakia & Arundhaty came later

Click below to read more ...

The Short Stories of Anton Chekhov
Reading on Feb 14, 2013

Gopa, KumKum, Priya, & Thommo exchange pleasantries

Present: Priya, Talitha, KumKum, Zakia, Thommo, Joe, Sunil, Mathew, Gopa
Absent: Bobby, , Sivaram (last minute decision giving preference to a chef over Chekhov), Kavita (ayah problem)
Guest: Arundhaty Nayar

The next session is Poetry, on Mar 8, 2013. Then The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy on Apr 12, 2013 and Poetry again on May 10, 2013.

This being a session on Valentine’s Day, Joe gave voice to a passionate 19-line poem he composed for the ladies of KRG, which began
If women are objects,
Then men be their willing subjects;

It ended by promising
Your honour to preserve,
Your love to deserve,
And never once to swerve!

 Joe declaims his Valentine's Day poem dedicated to the KRG ladies

Talitha was going to demonstrate later on at the “One Billion Rising” campaign in Kochi at Durbar Hall.  The readers couldn’t account for Bobby’s mysterious absence.

KumKum chose the short stories for our reading by judiciously selecting what critics considered his best. She was determined to avoid a novel like Tristram Shandy (selected by Joe) with its absurdities and digressions, and taking half a novel for the hero to be born into the world. “An alarm goes off!” as Sunil remembered and the group had a good laugh. Yet the novel had something to make you go and read it again to resolve its uncertainties.

The twelve stories KumKum assigned were ―
01. The Lady With The Dog
02. At a Summer Villa
03. Ward No. 6
04. A Work of Art
05. The Black Monk
06. After The Theatre
07. Gooseberries
08. The Bet
09. The Murder
10. Neighbours
11. Love
12. Betrothed

A fairly complete collection of Anton Chekhov’s short stories translated into English is available online at

An account of his prolific love-life, and early death at age 44 from consumption, is recounted in an article by William Boyd:

Anton Chekhov (1860 - 1904)  (AC for short) was a physician by profession, and a short-story writer par excellence in Russian. His skill is amply manifested in his plays as well. Chekhov's stories remain quite popular the world over, because they are tales of human emotions: love, hatred, sorrow, stories of everyday life, and sad cases of dementia. KumKum considered that AC was like a psychiatrist, but the new-fangled ideas of Sigmund Freud had not been delivered to the world when AC was alive. Sunil entertained the notion that AC was bipolar. Is there any evidence for this?

KumKum wanted to read at first from the The Black Monk that deals with a man who becomes the victim of hallucinations, and descends so completely into that world that he is lost to those around him.  But Sivaram announced he would read from it, so she deferred to him. Instead, Kumkum read from the short story, Love.  A young man of poetical nature falls in love with a face, not the very ordinary girl behind it, and pens a delicious love letter. This and the act of posting it, Joe remembers well from his own youth. Thank goodness he did not marry an ordinary girl, though! Gopa too was taken by the story and she interrupted to ask leave to read the last paragraph:

But I forgive that difference just as the low forehead and moving lips are forgiven. I remember in my old Lovelace days I have cast off women for a stain on their stockings, or for one foolish word, or for not cleaning their teeth, and now I forgive everything: the munching, the muddling about after the corkscrew, the slovenliness, the long talking about nothing that matters; I forgive it all almost unconsciously, with no effort of will, as though Sasha's mistakes were my mistakes, and many things which would have made me wince in old days move me to tenderness and even rapture. The explanation of this forgiveness of everything lies in my love for Sasha, but what is the explanation of the love itself, I really don't know.

Gopa noted that those of us who are married sympathise with the final thought; everyone laughed, leaving it ambiguous whether Gopa meant the man, or the woman, or both (most likely) descend into commonplace mediocrity. Joe is reminded of an analogous idea of Ellen Parr;
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

KumKum continued with her reading and announced her satisfaction at the happy ending: Sasha is loved in spite of her lapsing into coarseness as the years pass.

 Zakia, Gopa, and KumKum

Lady with the Dog was her choice of short story to read from. Gurov and Sergeyna  are to meet. The affair is casual at first, and then becomes intense. The man is puzzled by the age difference, and the fact that he is still attractive to a younger woman. “ … and at that moment he saw himself in the looking-glass. His hair was already beginning to turn grey.” He refers to woman as the “lower race:”
“had been unfaithful to her [his wife] often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the lower race.” “

Mathew suggests Gurov thus far was accustomed to treating woman as a predator would. Yet Gurov has a special feeling for Sergeyna:
Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends.

They could not understand why life had left him with a legacy wife, and her with a legacy husband. Love changed them. Initially Sergeyna was quite ashamed to be involved in the extramarital affair, but that aversion slowly left her.

 KumKum, Priya, Thommo, and Talitha

Thommo read from The Black Monk. Gopa said there is a popular quote, “Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them.” Joe at first thought The Black Monk belonged to the genre of fairy tales, which is known as “magical realism” in modern times. The story indeed starts by narrating a legend from Saudi Arabia about a black monk. He was depressed to learn from KumKum that Kovrin was really a mental case of hallucination. From seeing a vision once, he gradually comes to believe in the reality of it, and dies in a state of near ecstasy, “too weak to utter a word, but an unspeakable, infinite happiness flooded his whole being.”

The Bet is a powerful story of a man growing distant from the world after accepting a bet that he will willingly stay confined in his rooms for 15 years for a wager of 2 million roubles. The banker who made the offer was willing for 5 years, but the young man with bravado said, why 5, make it 15 years. The issue that provoked the bet was capital punishment vs. life imprisonment, and the banker says, “Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly.” The young man replies that "The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all."

 The Bet by Anton Chekhov

The ending is surprising and demonstrates the young man was not after money. The solitary confinement led him to pursue knowledge as an end in itself, having books bought for him by the banker on all manner of subjects. It must have been a drain on the banker, and perhaps ruined him, thought Joe; but it was stock investments going sour that ruined the banker, whose fear of the man surviving 15 years, as the term neared, made him nervous. Thommo enlightened us by saying the British East India Company was the first joint stock company in the world, while the Dutch venture of the same name was the second, formed only two years later.

Joe opined that the man, no longer young, had floated off into the next world; perhaps the solitary confinement had made him loony. Sunil thought it was a normal evolution of a man’s life! Talitha said this story was prescribed for the 10th standard in India. Sunil wondered if the story would evoke any interest among modern children.

Valentine’s Day dictated Gopa’s choice of a passage for reading from After The Theatre. A girl is intoxicated by the idea of being in love with so many young men. She reflects: “To be unloved and unhappy -- how interesting that was. There is something beautiful, touching, and poetical about it when one loves and the other is indifferent.” There was general laughter at this fantastic notion.

Not exactly a Happy Valentine’s wish, but then young girls are often in love with the idea of love.  As Gopa read this sentence, “at first the joy was small, and rolled in her bosom like an india-rubber ball; then it became more massive, bigger, and rushed like a wave,” a merry laugh resounded in the room from all the readers, why precisely no one could say.

Joe upon analysis hazards a guess: it was the juxtaposition of the image of pneumatic rubber balls with the image of bosoms heaving, and that of a rushing wave, that made it quite hilarious, probably intended thus by Chekhov.

“Her shoulders quivered with subdued laughter, the table and the lamp chimney shook, too, and tears from her eyes splashed on the letter.” The girl had got into a flutter and finds release in tears, which quite poetically flow onto the letter she is writing. KumKum asserted that “We weren’t like that.” But who can say? Can one imagine at a withered senior age how foolish were the thoughts imagined scores of years ago? As Housman courageously admits,
But I was one-and-twenty,       
  No use to talk to me.

Here’s a 16 year-old yet to undergo the experiences of life, speaking as an old man might who has enjoyed women all his life, and learns in the end about love.

 Guest reader, Arundhaty Nayar, with Zakia, Gopa, KumKum, and Priya

In Gooseberries a man achieves at the age of forty what he has desired all his life: to buy a farm, leave the city, and pursue his devotion to gooseberries. Which let it be clear, is not the tart amla we know in India (‘Dabur Amla Kes Tel’), but the Cape Gooseberry, which looks like a small tomatillo:

Priya suggested it was Chekhov’s idea of happiness. Joe quickly pointed out that Chekhov is writing fiction and imagining hundreds of characters to people his stories, some fantastic, some real enough to be believed but yet a bit preposterous, some a pastiche of several people he might have encountered. Chekhov is the observer of his characters, who gave them life and then let them behave as they would, probably not in his control even. His characters think as they must to fit the slot Chekhov devised for them, but it is hardly likely this or that character embodies opinions that Chekhov held in his personal life.

A quotation from Pushkin is used to illustrate how the brother grew fat and contented on the farm:
'Dearer to us the falsehood that exalts
Than hosts of baser truths.'

What Ivan wanted is not defined. Ivan’s brother has convinced himself he is happy because he has a gooseberry crop. Sunil stated that nobody is satisfied with what he has; yet this guy is. KumKum claimed she is happy in her seniority (‘old age’). Joe wondered whether vodka, the classic Russian drink, can be made with gooseberries. Mathew, sharp as usual, said, “One man’s gooseberry is another man’s vodka.” Perhaps cheap vodka can be made with gooseberries, someone suggested. Indeed here is a potent recipe for the same:

Arundhaty came out with a nugget about how amla retains its Vitamin C, no matter how you process it or what you make out of it. 

Priya later commented as follows. 
I can to a great extent identify with Nikolai's joy in growing gooseberries. I am one for farming. Impressed by a story on terrace gardens and vegetables grown in them, I ventured and met up with the VFPCK (Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council, Kerala) and enlisted for a scheme that gave me 25 pots with start-up seedlings and know-how. The tomatoes did well. They bloomed in ones and twos giving me exquisite joy. They were never cooked but placed in a small bowl in the drawing room as a center piece. My family excused my quirk for replacing flowers with tomatoes, and later with brinjals. But when brinjals, the small purple variety, and white ones became the center piece, they thought I had grown mad. 

But the tomatoes and brinjals gave me great thrill and joy. Really those days I was happier than at other times, and I think it was because of the tomatoes and brinjals. There were green chilies too, which I left on the plants to turn red. They looked insidiously charming. But the gourds were a let-down and the pests got more than I did from them. 

Soon small and big holes appeared on the leaves. They began to turn brown at the edges. I did not use pesticides but neem extract, which did not help. The plants wilted and withered and then died. My veg garden patch came to an end. But like Nikolai's gooseberries, the tomatoes and brinjals filled my heart with joy. Like Andreas's joy it grew and grew and held me while it flourished.

Happiness is things you like to do. 

Priya's hobby tomatoes

 Sunil watches as Mathew reads a passage from 'Betrothed' on his iPad

Betrothed was the choice of Mathew, since everyone was talking of Valentine’s. It’s full of word-pictures. In the ordinary course it is men who are accused of having contempt for women. Here it’s the reverse. It’s a story about a girl’s liberation by the influence of a young dying man, from her impending wedding to a priest’s son.

The scenes in the story prefigure what’s to happen in Russia in the next decades of the Revolution, said Mathew. He read three passages from the story.

The question may be asked: what is the nature of Sasha’s relationship and influence over the young girl, Nadya? For KumKum romance does not enter into this relationship. It’s more of an elder brother type of deference she has. Mathew saw something hidden below the surface. It is barely hinted at in what happens when they go to Moscow and meet there. Someone else with platonic love in mind said “all deep relationships between the opposite sexes need not be romantic.” That’s true, isn’t it? But an over-sexualised modern society may not think that possible. ‘Liberator’ is a word Priya used to define what Sasha was for Nadya, and she added that “lovers can’t be liberators.” In which case we must hold out the hope they don’t turn into the opposite …

Choosing Ward No. 6, the longest story in our assigned reading would be natural. It has the largest variety of characters, and in some ways the inmates seem more interesting than the ‘sane’ people.  How individual and resourceful they are! Joe observed that many of the inmates lead harmless lives, not a danger to others or to themselves. Why keep them in loony bins? Is it their relatives who want to put away people incapable of earning their living, so that they then become charges of the state?

 KRG meets in the Cochin Yacht Club Library

The surprise ending is almost expected. We see that the dreamers, the innocent,  the harmless, and the slightly eccentric, are all locked up; and the scheming, the cruel and the indolent are all outside. Is it any wonder that the good doctor is thrown out of work without a pension, and ends up inside merely because he converses with a locked up inmate? The story may be fiction, but it seems based on a close understanding of conditions inside asylums for the mentally handicapped in those times in Russia; and a close observation of mental cases.

Arundhaty was good enough to read from a play of Chekhov, The Three Sisters. This was her first session, a testing of waters to see if she wished to join the KRG. Instead of just listening, she participated and also read a passage. 

 The Three Sisters performed by the Yale Repertory

Anton Chekhov wrote short stories as easily as people dash off a haiku in 2 minutes. Some stories are short, a few pages, and it is remarkable how much he packs into them. As you can expect from his large body of work, the genius may always be there, but the quality of the execution varies greatly. Many stories have no point at all; they are just descriptions of mundane things that happen to ordinary people, without any dramatic element, or surprising revelation at the end. Others like Ward No. 6 have the plot lines of a novel, and the inversion of fortunes at the end makes one wonder how easily a person may be passed off as insane. The description of the different types of inmates in the asylum owes its clarity to the precision of a professional physician, and the pathos of a master of story-telling. KumKum told Joe that Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist who wrote masterly case-studies of his patients, considered some of the Chekhov pieces as extremely revelatory of mental states. Joe thought of The Black Monk as Magical Realism, but KumKum told him it’s a clinical description of hallucination. How depressing!

Since the two passages selected by Joe were used by others, he chose to pass and instead noted the ample notes on nature that sprinkle Chekhov’s stories, providing examples in two short readings .

Thommo, himself a short-story writer, said At a Summer Villa and A Work of Art are true short stories. Priya suggested at the end that a story like A Work of Art could be turned into a skit, acted by the KRG readers. But it can’t be done in the CYC Library or people would think we are bonkers!

Two Exercises for the Diligent Reader
1. State your own criteria for assessing the twelve short stories, and select one or two you consider best, and say why.

2. Write the outline of an original short story in 500 words or less. The outline should contain some at least of these elements:
the main character and hiser foil
summary description of these characters
the sequence of major events (plot)
the problem to be solved
the climax
the resolution

You may also consider
the narrative method (first person, third person, etc.)
the location
and how to inject humour, irony, or whatever other ingredients


THREE o'clock in the morning. The soft April night is looking in at my windows and caressingly winking at me with its stars. I can't sleep, I am so happy!

"My whole being from head to heels is bursting with a strange, incomprehensible feeling. I can't analyse it just now -- I haven't the time, I'm too lazy, and there -- hang analysis! Why, is a man likely to interpret his sensations when he is flying head foremost from a belfry, or has just learned that he has won two hundred thousand? Is he in a state to do it?"

This was more or less how I began my love-letter to Sasha, a girl of nineteen with whom I had fallen in love. I began it five times, and as often tore up the sheets, scratched out whole pages, and copied it all over again. I spent as long over the letter as if it had been a novel I had to write to order. And it was not because I tried to make it longer, more elaborate, and more fervent, but because I wanted endlessly to prolong the process of this writing, when one sits in the stillness of one's study and communes with one's own day-dreams while the spring night looks in at one's window. Between the lines I saw a beloved image, and it seemed to me that there were, sitting at the same table writing with me, spirits as naïvely happy, as foolish, and as blissfully smiling as I. I wrote continually, looking at my hand, which still ached deliciously where hers had lately pressed it, and if I turned my eyes away I had a vision of the green trellis of the little gate. Through that trellis Sasha gazed at me after I had said goodbye to her. When I was saying good-bye to Sasha I was thinking of nothing and was simply admiring her figure as every decent man admires a pretty woman; when I saw through the trellis two big eyes, I suddenly, as though by inspiration, knew that I was in love, that it was all settled between us, and fully decided already, that I had nothing left to do but to carry out certain formalities.

It is a great delight also to seal up a love-letter, and, slowly putting on one's hat and coat, to go softly out of the house and to carry the treasure to the post. There are no stars in the sky now: in their place there is a long whitish streak in the east, broken here and there by clouds above the roofs of the dingy houses; from that streak the whole sky is flooded with pale light. The town is asleep, but already the water-carts have come out, and somewhere in a far-away factory a whistle sounds to wake up the workpeople.

Lady and the Dog
And why are there no thunderstorms in the winter, father?"

He explained that, too. He talked, thinking all the while that he was going to see her, and no living soul knew of it, and probably never would know. He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth -- such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his "lower race," his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities -- all that was open. And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, and always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilised man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.

The Black Monk, section VII
One long winter night Kovrin was lying in bed, reading a French novel. Poor Tanya, who had headaches in the evenings from living in town, to which she was not accustomed, had been asleep a long while, and, from time to time, articulated some incoherent phrase in her restless dreams.

It struck three o'clock. Kovrin put out the light and lay down to sleep, lay for a long time with his eyes closed, but could not get to sleep because, as he fancied, the room was very hot and Tanya talked in her sleep. At half-past four he lighted the candle again, and this time he saw the black monk sitting in an arm-chair near the bed.

"Good-morning," said the monk, and after a brief pause he asked: "What are you thinking of now?"

"Of fame," answered Kovrin. "In the French novel I have just been reading, there is a description of a young savant, who does silly things and pines away through worrying about fame. I can't understand such anxiety."

"Because you are wise. Your attitude towards fame is one of indifference, as towards a toy which no longer interests you."

"Yes, that is true."

"Renown does not allure you now. What is there flattering, amusing, or edifying in their carving your name on a tombstone, then time rubbing off the inscription together with the gilding? Moreover, happily there are too many of you for the weak memory of mankind to be able to retain your names."

"Of course," assented Kovrin. "Besides, why should they be remembered? But let us talk of something else. Of happiness, for instance. What is happiness?'

When the clock struck five, he was sitting on the bed, dangling his feet to the carpet, talking to the monk:

"In ancient times a happy man grew at last frightened of his happiness -- it was so great! -- and to propitiate the gods he brought as a sacrifice his favourite ring. Do you know, I, too, like Polykrates, begin to be uneasy of my happiness. It seems strange to me that from morning to night I feel nothing but joy; it fills my whole being and smothers all other feelings. I don't know what sadness, grief, or boredom is. Here I am not asleep; I suffer from sleeplessness, but I am not dull. I say it in earnest; I begin to feel perplexed."

"But why?" the monk asked in wonder. "Is joy a supernatural feeling? Ought it not to be the normal state of man? The more highly a man is developed on the intellectual and moral side, the more independent he is, the more pleasure life gives him. Socrates, Diogenes, and Marcus Aurelius, were joyful, not sorrowful. And the Apostle tells us: 'Rejoice continually'; 'Rejoice and be glad.' "

"But will the gods be suddenly wrathful?" Kovrin jested; and he laughed. "If they take from me comfort and make me go cold and hungry, it won't be very much to my taste."

Meanwhile Tanya woke up and looked with amazement and horror at her husband. He was talking, addressing the arm-chair, laughing and gesticulating; his eyes were gleaming, and there was something strange in his laugh.

"Andryusha, whom are you talking to?" she asked, clutching the hand he stretched out to the monk. "Andryusha! Whom?"

"Oh! Whom?" said Kovrin in confusion. "Why, to him. . . . He is sitting here," he said, pointing to the black monk.

"There is no one here . . . no one! Andryusha, you are ill!"

Tanya put her arm round her husband and held him tight, as though protecting him from the apparition, and put her hand over his eyes.

"You are ill!" she sobbed, trembling all over. "Forgive me, my precious, my dear one, but I have noticed for a long time that your mind is clouded in some way. . . . You are mentally ill, Andryusha. . . ."


Reading 1
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp cutting wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the trees no rest. The banker strained his eyes, but could see neither the earth nor the white statues, nor the lodge, nor the trees. Going to the spot where the lodge stood, he twice called the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep somewhere either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse.
"If I had the pluck to carry out my intention," thought the old man, "Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman."

Reading 2
At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He was a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones, with long curls like a woman's and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow with an earthy tint in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long and narrow, and the hand on which his shaggy head was propped was so thin and delicate that it was dreadful to look at it. His hair was already streaked with silver, and seeing his emaciated, aged-looking face, no one would have believed that he was only forty. He was asleep.... In front of his bowed head there lay on the table a sheet of paper on which there was something written in fine handwriting. 

"Poor creature!" thought the banker, "he is asleep and most likely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow, and the most conscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death. But let us first read what he has written here...."
The banker took the page from the table and read as follows: 

"To-morrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right to associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see the sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world. 

"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women.... Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds' pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God.... In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms.... 

"Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you. 

"And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe. 

"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don't want to understand you.
"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two millions of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the compact...." 

When the banker had read this he laid the page on the table, kissed the strange man on the head, and went out of the lodge, weeping. At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.

After the Theatre
NADYA ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre where she had seen a performance of "Yevgeny Onyegin." As soon as she reached her own room she threw off her dress, let down her hair, and in her petticoat and white dressing-jacket hastily sat down to the table to write a letter like Tatyana's.

"I love you," she wrote, "but you do not love me, do not love me!"

She wrote it and laughed.

She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that an officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved her, but now after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of their love. To be unloved and unhappy -- how interesting that was. There is something beautiful, touching, and poetical about it when one loves and the other is indifferent. Onyegin was interesting because he was not in love at all, and Tatyana was fascinating because she was so much in love; but if they had been equally in love with each other and had been happy, they would perhaps have seemed dull.

"Leave off declaring that you love me," Nadya went on writing, thinking of Gorny. "I cannot believe it. You are very clever, cultivated, serious, you have immense talent, and perhaps a brilliant future awaits you, while I am an uninteresting girl of no importance, and you know very well that I should be only a hindrance in your life. It is true that you were attracted by me and thought you had found your ideal in me, but that was a mistake, and now you are asking yourself in despair: 'Why did I meet that girl?' And only your goodness of heart prevents you from owning it to yourself. . . ."

Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on:

"It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I should take a nun's veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you would be left free and would love another. Oh, if I were dead! "

She could not make out what she had written through her tears; little rainbows were quivering on the table, on the floor, on the ceiling, as though she were looking through a prism. She could not write, she sank back in her easy-chair and fell to thinking of Gorny.

My God! how interesting, how fascinating men were! Nadya recalled the fine expression, ingratiating, guilty, and soft, which came into the officer's face when one argued about music with him, and the effort he made to prevent his voice from betraying his passion. In a society where cold haughtiness and indifference are regarded as signs of good breeding and gentlemanly bearing, one must conceal one's passions. And he did try to conceal them, but he did not succeed, and everyone knew very well that he had a passionate love of music. The endless discussions about music and the bold criticisms of people who knew nothing about it kept him always on the strain; he was frightened, timid, and silent. He played the piano magnificently, like a professional pianist, and if he had not been in the army he would certainly have been a famous musician.

The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny had declared his love at a Symphony concert, and again downstairs by the hatstand where there was a tremendous draught blowing in all directions.

"I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance of Gruzdev, our student friend," she went on writing. "He is a very clever man, and you will be sure to like him. He came to see us yesterday and stayed till two o'clock. We were all delighted with him, and I regretted that you had not come. He said a great deal that was remarkable."

Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on them, and her hair covered the letter. She recalled that the student, too, loved her, and that he had as much right to a letter from her as Gorny. Wouldn't it be better after all to write to Gruzdev? There was a stir of joy in her bosom for no reason whatever; at first the joy was small, and rolled in her bosom like an india-rubber ball; then it became more massive, bigger, and rushed like a wave. Nadya forgot Gorny and Gruzdev; her thoughts were in a tangle and her joy grew and grew; from her bosom it passed into her arms and legs, and it seemed as though a light, cool breeze were breathing on her head and ruffling her hair. Her shoulders quivered with subdued laughter, the table and the lamp chimney shook, too, and tears from her eyes splashed on the letter.

" 'How delicious!'

"And he ate them greedily, continually repeating, 'Ah, how delicious! Do taste them!'

"They were sour and unripe, but, as Pushkin says:
" 'Dearer to us the falsehood that exalts
Than hosts of baser truths.'

"I saw a happy man whose cherished dream was so obviously fulfilled, who had attained his object in life, who had gained what he wanted, who was satisfied with his fate and himself. There is always, for some reason, an element of sadness mingled with my thoughts of human happiness, and, on this occasion, at the sight of a happy man I was overcome by an oppressive feeling that was close upon despair. It was particularly oppressive at night. A bed was made up for me in the room next to my brother's bedroom, and I could hear that he was awake, and that he kept getting up and going to the plate of gooseberries and taking one. I reflected how many satisfied, happy people there really are! 'What a suffocating force it is! You look at life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, incredible poverty all about us, overcrowding, degeneration, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lying. . . . Yet all is calm and stillness in the houses and in the streets; of the fifty thousand living in a town, there is not one who would cry out, who would give vent to his indignation aloud. We see the people going to market for provisions, eating by day, sleeping by night, talking their silly nonsense, getting married, growing old, serenely escorting their dead to the cemetery; but we do not see and we do not hear those who suffer, and what is terrible in life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. . . . Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition. . . . And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It's a case of general hypnotism. There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man someone standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him -- disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree -- and all goes well.

"That night I realized that I, too, was happy and contented," Ivan Ivanovitch went on, getting up. "I, too, at dinner and at the hunt liked to lay down the law on life and religion, and the way to manage the peasantry. I, too, used to say that science was light, that culture was essential, but for the simple people reading and writing was enough for the time. Freedom is a blessing, I used to say; we can no more do without it than without air, but we must wait a little. Yes, I used to talk like that, and now I ask, 'For what reason are we to wait?' " asked Ivan Ivanovitch, looking angrily at Burkin. "Why wait, I ask you? What grounds have we for waiting? I shall be told, it can't be done all at once; every idea takes shape in life gradually, in its due time. But who is it says that? Where is the proof that it's right? You will fall back upon the natural order of things, the uniformity of phenomena; but is there order and uniformity in the fact that I, a living, thinking man, stand over a chasm and wait for it to close of itself, or to fill up with mud at the very time when perhaps I might leap over it or build a bridge across it? And again, wait for the sake of what? Wait till there's no strength to live? And meanwhile one must live, and one wants to live!

"I went away from my brother's early in the morning, and ever since then it has been unbearable for me to be in town. I am oppressed by its peace and quiet; I am afraid to look at the windows, for there is no spectacle more painful to me now than the sight of a happy family sitting round the table drinking tea. I am old and am not fit for the struggle; I am not even capable of hatred; I can only grieve inwardly, feel irritated and vexed; but at night my head is hot from the rush of ideas, and I cannot sleep. . . . Ah, if I were young!"

Reading 1
IT was ten o'clock in the evening and the full moon was shining over the garden. In the Shumins' house an evening service celebrated at the request of the grandmother, Marfa Mihalovna, was just over, and now Nadya -- she had gone into the garden for a minute -- could see the table being laid for supper in the dining-room, and her grandmother bustling about in her gorgeous silk dress; Father Andrey, a chief priest of the cathedral, was talking to Nadya's mother, Nina Ivanovna, and now in the evening light through the window her mother for some reason looked very young; Andrey Andreitch, Father Andrey's son, was standing by listening attentively.

It was still and cool in the garden, and dark peaceful shadows lay on the ground. There was a sound of frogs croaking, far, far away beyond the town. There was a feeling of May, sweet May! One drew deep breaths and longed to fancy that not here but far away under the sky, above the trees, far away in the open country, in the fields and the woods, the life of spring was unfolding now, mysterious, lovely, rich and holy beyond the understanding of weak, sinful man. And for some reason one wanted to cry.

She, Nadya, was already twenty-three. Ever since she was sixteen she had been passionately dreaming of marriage and at last she was engaged to Andrey Andreitch, the young man who was standing on the other side of the window; she liked him, the wedding was already fixed for July 7, and yet there was no joy in her heart, she was sleeping badly, her spirits drooped. . . . She could hear from the open windows of the basement where the kitchen was the hurrying servants, the clatter of knives, the banging of the swing door; there was a smell of roast turkey and pickled cherries, and for some reason it seemed to her that it would be like that all her life, with no change, no end to it.

Someone came out of the house and stood on the steps; it was Alexandr Timofeitch, or, as he was always called, Sasha, who had come from Moscow ten days before and was staying with them. Years ago a distant relation of the grandmother, a gentleman's widow called Marya Petrovna, a thin, sickly little woman who had sunk into poverty, used to come to the house to ask for assistance. She had a son Sasha. It used for some reason to be said that he had talent as an artist, and when his mother died Nadya's grandmother had, for the salvation of her soul, sent him to the Komissarovsky school in Moscow; two years later he went into the school of painting, spent nearly fifteen years there, and only just managed to scrape through the leaving examination in the section of architecture. He did not set up as an architect, however, but took a job at a lithographer's. He used to come almost every year, usually very ill, to stay with Nadya's grandmother to rest and recover.

He was wearing now a frock-coat buttoned up, and shabby canvas trousers, crumpled into creases at the bottom. And his shirt had not been ironed and he had somehow all over a look of not being fresh. He was very thin, with big eyes, long thin fingers and a swarthy bearded face, and all the same he was handsome. With the Shumins he was like one of the family, and in their house felt he was at home. And the room in which he lived when he was there had for years been called Sasha's room.

Reading 2
As Sasha talked, he used to stretch out two long wasted fingers before the listener's face.

"It all seems somehow strange to me here, now I am out of the habit of it," he went on. "There is no making it out. Nobody ever does anything. Your mother spends the whole day walking about like a duchess, Granny does nothing either, nor you either. And your Andrey Andreitch never does anything either."

Nadya had heard this the year before and, she fancied, the year before that too, and she knew that Sasha could not make any other criticism, and in old days this had amused her, but now for some reason she felt annoyed.

"That's all stale, and I have been sick of it for ages," she said and got up. "You should think of something a little newer."

Reading 3
 May passed; June came. Nadya had grown used to being at home. Granny busied herself about the samovar, heaving deep sighs. Nina Ivanovna talked in the evenings about her philosophy; she still lived in the house like a poor relation, and had to go to Granny for every farthing. There were lots of flies in the house, and the ceilings seemed to become lower and lower. Granny and Nina Ivanovna did not go out in the streets for fear of meeting Father Andrey and Andrey Andreitch. Nadya walked about the garden and the streets, looked at the grey fences, and it seemed to her that everything in the town had grown old, was out of date and was only waiting either for the end, or for the beginning of something young and fresh. Oh, if only that new, bright life would come more quickly -- that life in which one will be able to face one's fate boldly and directly, to know that one is right, to be light-hearted and free! And sooner or later such a life will come. The time will come when of Granny's house, where things are so arranged that the four servants can only live in one room in filth in the basement -- the time will come when of that house not a trace will remain, and it will be forgotten, no one will remember it. And Nadya's only entertainment was from the boys next door; when she walked about the garden they knocked on the fence and shouted in mockery: "Betrothed! Betrothed!"

A letter from Sasha arrived from Saratov. In his gay dancing handwriting he told them that his journey on the Volga had been a complete success, but that he had been taken rather ill in Saratov, had lost his voice, and had been for the last fortnight in the hospital. She knew what that meant, and she was overwhelmed with a foreboding that was like a conviction. And it vexed her that this foreboding and the thought of Sasha did not distress her so much as before. She had a passionate desire for life, longed to be in Petersburg, and her friendship with Sasha seemed now sweet but something far, far away! She did not sleep all night, and in the morning sat at the window, listening. And she did in fact hear voices below; Granny, greatly agitated, was asking questions rapidly. Then someone began crying. . . . When Nadya went downstairs Granny was standing in the corner, praying before the ikon and her face was tearful. A telegram lay on the table.

For some time Nadya walked up and down the room, listening to Granny's weeping; then she picked up the telegram and read it.

Ward No. 6
Reading 1
The door into the ward was open. Ivan Dmitritch, lying propped on his elbow on the bed, listened in alarm to the unfamiliar voice, and suddenly recognized the doctor. He trembled all over with anger, jumped up, and with a red and wrathful face, with his eyes starting out of his head, ran out into the middle of the road.

"The doctor has come!" he shouted, and broke into a laugh. "At last! Gentlemen, I congratulate you. The doctor is honouring us with a visit! Cursed reptile!" he shrieked, and stamped in a frenzy such as had never been seen in the ward before. "Kill the reptile! No, killing's too good. Drown him in the midden-pit!"

Andrey Yefimitch, hearing this, looked into the ward from the entry and asked gently: "What for?"

"What for?" shouted Ivan Dmitritch, going up to him with a menacing air and convulsively wrapping himself in his dressing-gown. "What for? Thief!" he said with a look of repulsion, moving his lips as though he would spit at him. "Quack! hangman!"

"Calm yourself," said Andrey Yefimitch, smiling guiltily. "I assure you I have never stolen anything; and as to the rest, most likely you greatly exaggerate. I see you are angry with me. Calm yourself, I beg, if you can, and tell me coolly what are you angry for?"

"What are you keeping me here for?"

"Because you are ill."

"Yes, I am ill. But you know dozens, hundreds of madmen are walking about in freedom because your ignorance is incapable of distinguishing them from the sane. Why am I and these poor wretches to be shut up here like scapegoats for all the rest? You, your assistant, the superintendent, and all your hospital rabble, are immeasurably inferior to every one of us morally; why then are we shut up and you not? Where's the logic of it?"
"Morality and logic don't come in, it all depends on chance. If anyone is shut up he has to stay, and if anyone is not shut up he can walk about, that's all. There is neither morality nor logic in my being a doctor and your being a mental patient, there is nothing but idle chance."

Reading 2
"Let me out," said Ivan Dmitritch, and his voice quivered.

"I cannot."

"But why, why?"

"Because it is not in my power. Think, what use will it be to you if I do let you out? Go. The townspeople or the police will detain you or bring you back."

"Yes, yes, that's true," said Ivan Dmitritch, and he rubbed his forehead. "It's awful! But what am I to do, what?"

Andrey Yefimitch liked Ivan Dmitritch's voice and his intelligent young face with its grimaces. He longed to be kind to the young man and soothe him; he sat down on the bed beside him, thought, and said:

"You ask me what to do. The very best thing in your position would be to run away. But, unhappily, that is useless. You would be taken up. When society protects itself from the criminal, mentally deranged, or otherwise inconvenient people, it is invincible. There is only one thing left for you: to resign yourself to the thought that your presence here is inevitable."

"It is no use to anyone."

"So long as prisons and madhouses exist someone must be shut up in them. If not you, I. If not I, some third person. Wait till in the distant future prisons and madhouses no longer exist, and there will be neither bars on the windows nor hospital gowns. Of course, that time will come sooner or later."

Ivan Dmitritch smiled ironically.

"You are jesting," he said, screwing up his eyes. "Such gentlemen as you and your assistant Nikita have nothing to do with the future, but you may be sure, sir, better days will come! I may express myself cheaply, you may laugh, but the dawn of a new life is at hand; truth and justice will triumph, and -- our turn will come! I shall not live to see it, I shall perish, but some people's great-grandsons will see it. I greet them with all my heart and rejoice, rejoice with them! Onward! God be your help, friends!"

Reading 3
"What an agreeable young man!" thought Andrey Yefimitch, going back to his flat. "In all the years I have been living here I do believe he is the first I have met with whom one can talk. He is capable of reasoning and is interested in just the right things."

While he was reading, and afterwards, while he was going to bed, he kept thinking about Ivan Dmitritch, and when he woke next morning he remembered that he had the day before made the acquaintance of an intelligent and interesting man, and determined to visit him again as soon as possible.

Chekhov introduces sunny notes about nature in his stories, e.g., in Betrothed:
It was still and cool in the garden, and dark peaceful shadows lay on the ground. There was a sound of frogs croaking, far, far away beyond the town. There was a feeling of May, sweet May! One drew deep breaths and longed to fancy that not here but far away under the sky, above the trees, far away in the open country, in the fields and the woods, the life of spring was unfolding now, mysterious, lovely, rich and holy beyond the understanding of weak, sinful man. And for some reason one wanted to cry.
The birds were twittering under the windows and the mist had disappeared from the garden. Everything was lighted up by the spring sunshine as by a smile. Soon the whole garden, warm and caressed by the sun, returned to life, and dewdrops like diamonds glittered on the leaves and the old neglected garden on that morning looked young and gaily decked.

The Three Sisters

Act I

In the house of the PROZOROVS. A drawing-room with columns beyond which a large room is visible. Mid-day; it is bright and sunny. The table in the farther room is being laid for lunch.

OLGA, in the dark blue uniform of a high-school teacher, is correcting exercise books, at times standing still and then walking up and down; MASHA, in a black dress, with her hat on her knee, is reading a book; IRINA, in a white dress, is standing plunged in thought.

OLGA. Father died just a year ago, on this very day -- the fifth of May, your name-day, Irina. It was very cold, snow was falling. I felt as though I should not live through it; you lay fainting as though you were dead. But now a year has passed and we can think of it calmly; you are already in a white dress, your face is radiant. [The clock strikes twelve.] The clock was striking then too [a pause]. I remember the band playing and the firing at the cemetery as they carried the coffin. Though he was a general in command of a brigade, yet there weren't many people there. It was raining, though. Heavy rain and snow.

IRINA. Why recall it!

[BARON TUZENBAKH, CHEBUTYKIN and SOLYONY appear near the table in the dining-room, beyond the columns.]

OLGA. It is warm today, we can have the windows open, but the birches are not in leaf yet. Father was given his brigade and came here with us from Moscow eleven years ago and I remember distinctly that in Moscow at this time, at the beginning of May, everything was already in flower; it was warm, and everything was bathed in sunshine. It's eleven years ago, and yet I remember it all as though we had left it yesterday. Oh, dear! I woke up this morning, I saw a blaze of sunshine. I saw the spring, and joy stirred in my heart. I had a passionate longing to be back at home again!

CHEBUTYKIN. The devil it is!

TUZENBAKH. Of course, it's nonsense.

[MASHA, brooding over a book, softly whistles a song.]

OLGA. Don't whistle, Masha. How can you! [a pause] Being all day in school and then at my lessons till the evening gives me a perpetual headache and thoughts as gloomy as though I were old. And really these four years that I have been at the high-school I have felt my strength and my youth oozing away from me every day. And only one yearning grows stronger and stronger. . . .

IRINA. To go back to Moscow. To sell the house, to make an end of everything here, and off to Moscow. . . .

OLGA. Yes! To Moscow, and quickly.


IRINA. Andrey will probably be a professor, he will not live here anyhow. The only difficulty is poor Masha.

OLGA. Masha will come and spend the whole summer in Moscow every year.

[MASHA softly whistles a tune.]

IRINA. Please God it will all be managed. [Looking out of window] How fine it is today. I don't know why I feel so light-hearted! I remembered this morning that it was my name-day and at once I felt joyful and thought of my childhood when mother was living. And I was thrilled by such wonderful thoughts, such thoughts!

OLGA. You are radiant today and looking lovelier than usual. And Masha is lovely too. Andrey would be nice-looking, but he has grown too fat and that does not suit him. And I've grown older and ever so much thinner. I suppose it's because I get so cross with the girls at school. Today now I am free, I'm at home, and my head doesn't ache, and I feel younger than yesterday. I'm only twenty-eight. . . . It's all quite right, it's all from God, but it seems to me that if I were married and sitting at home all day, it would be better [a pause]. I would love my husband.

TUZENBAKH [to SOLYONY]. You talk such nonsense, I'm tired of listening to you. [Coming into the drawing-room] I forgot to tell you, you will receive a visit today from Vershinin, the new commander of our battery [sits down to the piano].

OLGA. Well, I'll be delighted.

IRINA. Is he old?

TUZENBAKH. No, not particularly. . . . Forty or forty-five at the most [softly plays the piano]. He seems to be a nice fellow. He's not stupid, that's certain. Only he talks a lot.

IRINA. Is he interesting?

TUZENBAKH. Yes, he's all right, only he has a wife, a mother-in-law and two little girls. And it's his second wife too. He is paying calls and telling everyone that he has a wife and two little girls. He'll tell you so too. His wife seems a bit crazy, with her hair in a long braid like a girl's, always talks in a high-flown style, makes philosophical reflections and frequently attempts to commit suicide, evidently to annoy her husband. I should have left a woman like that years ago, but he puts up with her and merely complains.

SOLYONY [coming into the drawing-room with CHEBUTYKIN]. With one hand I can only lift up half a hundredweight, but with both hands I can lift up two or even two-and-a-half hundredweight. From that I conclude that two men are not only twice but three times as strong as one man, or even more. . . .

CHEBUTYKIN [reading the newspaper as he comes in]. For hair falling out. . . two ounces of naphthaline in half a bottle of alcohol. ., to be dissolved and used daily. . . [puts it down in his note-book]. Let's make a note of it! No, I don't want it. . . [scratches it out]. It doesn't matter.

IRINA. Ivan Romanitch, dear Ivan Romanitch!

CHEBUTYKIN. What is it, my child, my joy?

IRINA. Tell me, why is it I am so happy today? As though I were sailing with the great blue sky above me and big white birds flying over it. Why is it? Why?

CHEBUTYKIN [kissing both her hands, tenderly]. My white bird. . . .

1 comment:

Priya said...

I can to a great extent identify with Nikolai's joy in growing gooseberries. I am one for farming. Impressed by a story on terrace gardens and vegetables grown in pots I ventured and met up with the VFPCK (Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council, Kerala) and enlisted for a scheme that gave me 25 pots and start up seedlings and know how. The tomatoes did well. They bloomed in ones and twos giving me exquiste joy. They were never cooked but placed in a small bowl in the drawing room as center peice. My family excused my quirk for replacing flowers with tomatoes and later brinjals. But when brinjals, small purple, white ones became the center piece they thought I had grown mad.
But the tomatoes and brinjals gave me great thrill and joy. Really thsoe days I was happier than any other day and I think it was because of the tomatoes and brinjals. There were green chilies which i left on the plants to turn red. They looked insidiously charming. The gourds were a let down and the pests had the better off them.
Soon small and big holes appeared on the leaves. They began to turn at the edges. I did not use pesticides but neem extract, which did not help. The plants wilted and withered and then died. My veg garden patch came to an end. But like Nikolai's gooseberries the tomatoes and brinjals filled my heart with joy. Like Andreas's joy it grew and grew and held me till it was there.
Happiness is things you like to do.