Tag: chekhov

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

Chekhov, “Chez le barbier” (“At the Barber’s,” 1883)

Makar Blyostken is a poor barber keeping a shabby shop. East Ivanitch Yagodov is his godfather. He gets his haircuts free. He walks in after an illness, when his hair fell out unevenly. He wants his hair shaved. Maker begins. They chat. Catch up. The barber asks about Anna, Yagodov’s daughter. Yagodov wonders why Maker did’t come to her engagement party. Maker is stunned. He was in love with Anna, thought he and she had agreed to marry, he’d spoken to his aunt, she’d agreed to the marriage. Yagodov, without a hint of compassion, is dismissive, tells him he’s not worthy of his daughter, he has a poor trade, tells him it’s done, tells him he can find another fiancee—one lost, ten found. Maker is crushed. He can’t keep cutting. He cries. Yagodov says he’ll return the next day and leaves, his head half cut. When he returns, Maker tells him he’ll have to pay for the job to be finished. Yagodov walks out. He considers paying for haircuts a luxury. He goes to his own daughter’s wedding with his head half shaved: the man of means, stomping on his own relation, reinforcing his poverty.

Chekhov, “Le miroir déformant” (1883)

The first story in the Pleiade edition, not incliuded in the Constance Garnette edition. An immediately vivid scene-setting–the dread, the dankness, the age of the hall of paintings of the narrator’s ancestors), the rain on the window panes, the way the paintings seem to address the narrator for breaching their long isolation (“Tu mérites une correction, mon petit !”) and that brilliant image of the echoing cough: “Nos pas résonnaient dans toute la maison. Le même écho qui répondait jadis à mes aïeux renvoyait le bruit de ma toux.” The husband points out a deforming mirror to his wife, the same mirror that one of his ancestors would never go without. It shows him grotesquely deformed. But when she holds it, she screams, faints, and becomes ill for days until he finally relents to her pleas to have the mirror again. Once she does, she rejoices: the mirror deforms all her ugliness into beauty. They both stare at the mirror, because he can finally see his wife as a beauty.

Spectator, 1883, Nr. 2

Chekhov, “Une grande joie” (“Joy,” 1883)


Chekhov, by Bazaroff.

One of my favorite Chekhov stories. Brings back memories of working the blotter at the Beckley paper. The overwhelming joy of Mitia Kouldarov, a young clerk who sees his name in print–in the police blotter, after falling drunk outside of a bar and getting struck by a carriage. He can’t contain his joy with his perplexed parents, the mother constantly crossing herself. Now they know me all over Russia, he says happily.

The Spectator, 1883, Nr. 3