From Chekhov’s early gems. Vanya, a pious high school student, prepares for an exam in Greek, giving alms on the way in hops of getting a good mark. He doesn’t. He gets a 2. He remembers his mistakes. He’d put in white night after white night. Didn’t matter. When it came time to answer, he flubbed. His mother is incensed, mostly with herself for not having beaten him enough and not having the strength now to beat him some more. She implores a boarder to beat up her son for her. The boarder does. The child is then enrolled in a trade school for commerce. The story is a litany of invective as the reader is reduced to watching the demolition of promise, brutality’s misdirection of intellect by a mother too blinded by self-preservation to know patience or love. The boarder’s brutality is familiar to Chekhov, whose father was a brute.
L’abbé Vilbois, curé de Garandou, près de Toulon, “…fait pour les aventures plus que pour dire la messe,” “l’homme le mieux musclé du pays,” “il renonça à des projets de carrière quelconque pour se contenter de vivre en homme riche.” He’d been in love with a woman who cheated on him, but was pregnant. And so, “un descendant de lui était là, dans cette chair souillée, dans ce corps vil, dans cette créature immonde, un enfant de lui.” But she tells him, as he gets ready to kill her, that the baby is not his. He’s convinced that it isn’t, and let’s her go. He despairs. “La religion qui lui était apparue autrefois comme un refuge contre la vie inconnue, lui apparaissait maintenant comme un refuge contre la vie trompeuse et torturante.” He becomes a priest in a small coastal town. “Il fut un prêtre à vues étroites, mais bon, une sorte de guide religieux à tempérament de soldat, un guide de l’Église qui conduisait par force dans le droit chemin l’humanité errante, aveugle, perdue en cette forêt de la vie où tous nos instincts, nos goûts, nos désirs, sont des sentiers qui égarent. Mais beaucoup de l’homme d’autrefois restait toujours vivant en lui. Il ne cessa pas d’aimer les exercices violents, les nobles sports, les armes, et il détestait les femmes, toutes, avec une peur d’enfant devant un mystérieux danger.”
His always-suspicious and paranoid servant Marguerite tells him someone was over to see him. Of course it’s his son, bearing an image of himself when he was younger, when he was with his mistress, and when he looked exactly as his son does now. “C’était pour sauver sa vie, menacée par l’homme outragé, que la femme, la trompeuse et perfide femelle lui avait jeté ce mensonge. Et le mensonge avait réussi. Et un fils de lui était né, avait grandi, était devenu ce sordide coureur de routes, qui sentait le vice comme un bouc sent la bete.” The boy passed for his mother’s other lover’s son until he was 15, when the resemblance to the priest became too obvious. The man, a senator, rejected him. Now, he’s a vagabond, has “la figure de crapule.”
“Entre cet homme et lui, entre son fils et lui, il commençait à sentir à présent ce cloaque des saletés morales qui sont, pour certaines âmes, de mortels poisons.” What frightens the priest is his son as mirror: he is “ surpris et désolé de tout ce qu’il découvrait de bas sur cette figure qui lui ressemblait tant.” The boy tells his life story, how his mother kicked him out, how he stumbled into a life of crime out kept a prank tha5 resulted in multiple drownings. On her deathbed, his mother tells him who his father was. She dies. He takes his revenge on her lover, torturing him, marking him with a fire iron as if he were a convict, robb8ng him of 12,000 francs. He calls it aveng8ng his biological father. But the priest is disgusted with it all and banishes his son, granting him a small pension as long as he doesn’t leave his assigned place of exile. Of course the son, Philippe-Auguste, refuses. They brawl.
The servant finds them, panics, brings a posse from town: the priest’s throat is cut. The other is out cold, drunk. Everyone assumes he killed the priest. Maupassant creates more ambiguity: “ l’idée ne serait venue à personne que l’abbé Vilbois, peutêtre, avait pu se donner la mort.”
A little simplistic, a facile ending, not entirely satisfying: why would the priest kill himself? Because he sees his own brutality in his son? Why would his son kill his only means of survival? There’s more contrivance than psychology.
Le Figaro du 19 au 23 février 1890, puis dans le recueil L’Inutile Beauté.
Liz Coats is a maid at the house where Jim Gilmore lives. Jim Gilmore took over a blacksmith shop. “Liz liked Jim very much.” Her infatuation grows. She’s a simple girl, has never been in love before, or been touched. When he goes away hunting or fishing, she misses him, can;t sleep at night, imagines him. She places herself in such a way as to make sure he’s the last thing she sees before going to bed. One night he comes over to her and presses himself against her, touches her breasts, kisses her. They go for a walk. He rapes her. Not her idea of how it would go. She coves him up and returns to the house.