Tag: desperation

Chekhov, “Extraits du journal d’un aide-comptable” (“From an Assistant Book-Keeper’s Diary,” 1883)

Tuszynski: Emperor Franz Joseph on his deathbed, drawing, 1916

Tuszynski: Emperor Franz Joseph on his deathbed, drawing, 1916.

The narrator is a diary-keeping bookkeeper’s assistant who eagerly awaits his boss’ death so he can become head bookkeeper. It’s an unsatisfied vigil. The man won’t die despite illness, death, grime and barking dogs all around. When he finally does, 20 years later, the diarist is passed over: someone else gets the job. Comical yes, but so familiar. It’s Thoreau’s quiet desperation with a Russian-subtitled laugh track.

Les éclats, 18 juin 1883

Hemingway, “Old Man at the Bridge” (1938)


A two-page sketch, a 76-years-old man escaping from the advancing fascists (during the Spanish Civil War), but too exhausted to go on. All pathos, all pity. He talks of his animals that he took care of until the last minute before he was forced to leave. He thinks the cat can take care of itself, but not so much the other animals–who, it turns out, are like him: his fate is sealed. The fascists’ planes were not up. “That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old an would ever have.” The story is intended to be heartbreaking. Visualizing the old man, it is. It is a universal image: the civilian at the end of his rope, and luck. Those are his last moments, witnessed apparently by a news reporter. Unlike “Cat in the Rain,” the cats in this case are self-sufficient: it’s the old man who is reduced to the state of a kitten, shivering with uncertainty, no Hadley to save him.

Notably, the sketch was possibly intended as a news article: “It is based upon an Easter Sunday stopover at the Ebro River during his coverage of the Spanish Civil War in April 1938. Although employed by the North American Newspaper Association (NANA), Hemingway apparently decided to submit it to Ken Magazine as a short story instead of using it as a news article.”

Ken Magazine, May 19, 1938