Chekhov, “Un portier intelligent” (1883)

A doorman daily lectures the help in a mansion, calling them good for nothing, demeaning them. That day, it’s about “instruction.” He berates them for not reading. Extols the virtues of books, where all sorts of worlds await. He picks up a ratty old book and goes to work, reads a few pages, falls asleep. He dreams of a world where everyone is intelligent, well read, where everyone, god forbid, is French (Des Francais, des tas de Francais”!) He’s then shaken awake by one of his masters and dragged to the police station for dereliction of duty. Returning to the mansion, he sees the help following his advice, one among them reading to the rest. “Laisse ça!” he yells at him. Not the direction I thought the story would take. Sartre would have turned a world of intelligent French into an inescapable hell.

The Spectator, No. 16, 1883