Gustav Mahler, the famous Austro-Bohemian romantic composer, once said:
“Spring won’t let me stay in the house any longer. I must get out and breathe the air deeply again.”
I see myself nodding at this; I bet you do, too, in all likelihood.
But not Chekhov’s protagonist from his short story called the Spring.
This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story Spring explores the world of a writer, tormented by his demons and his struggles in carrying on with his ‘mediocre life.’ The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1886. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two stories published by Alfred A. Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Spring: Summary, Plot Analysis and Review
The story captures the portrayal of spring in terms of its impact on writers vis-a-vis ordinary folk. Every ordinary person is happy – the gardener Pantelei Petrovich, the huntsman Ivan Zakharov, even the random lady sitting at the greenhouse. But not Makar Denisych.
It is not that poverty is the reason. In fact, Makar, who happens to be a writer and a poet, is tormented by the season. He is pretty well off.
His salary is twice that of the gardener; he wears a white shirt, smokes expensive tobacco, is always well fed and well dressed.
To Makar, the world is gloomy as much as it can get and springs even more so. Everyone he meets, everything he sees, reminds him of his ‘mediocrity’. He envies the gardener, the huntsman, and literally everyone because of how at peace he thinks they are.
Sitting in his greenhouse or pottering in his garden, he has learned about the vegetable kingdom, something that no one else knows.
His soul is filled with timidity. Instead of ecstasy, joy, and hopes, spring evokes in him only some sort of vague desires, which trouble him. So he walks along, unable to figure out what he needs. In fact, what does he need?
A casual encounter with almost anyone brings him pain, of one sort or the other. No matter who he has it with, every conversation is a constant reminder of what he considers his giftlessness.
People, knowing that the writer he is, inadvertently assume that he is looking for inspiration and are eager to supply him with anecdotes he would find interesting to write on.
What a pity you weren’t at the marketplace today! If you’d seen how comically those two peasants fought, you’d certainly have written about it!
Splendid weather! Spring is here! Going for a stroll, getting inspired?
But in his eyes is written: “Giftlessness! Mediocrity!”
When the general he meets on a random stroll recounts a story written by a Frenchman that he had read earlier that day, he is quick to compare the quality of content to that of his own.
I don’t know what he found good in it. The content is banal, hackneyed… My stories are much more substantial.
He feels the world is out to get him, looking for every opportunity to insult him for being a mediocre writer. He feels offended by the slightest of comments and sometimes even references.
When people call him Mister Writer, he feels offended. He feels like everyone around is making special efforts not to ignore him, and that’s a sign of insult.
But not to notice giftless Makar, who writes mediocre poetry and stories, to pass him over in silence without saying something offensive – is impossible.
Every rejection he receives from the publishers to him is a mark of mediocrity. All the manuscripts lying in his trunk are constant reminders of lack of talent. He also feels that every single rejection he receives is the talk of the town.
If there is something wrong with his writing, they don’t try to explain why it is wrong; they simply say, “Again, that son of a bitch wrote something rubbish!“
He does seem to get a respite from the torment, maybe once every few years, coming across another misfit like himself, sharing a few laughs, and feeling light-hearted, but that doesn’t last long either. They, writers as they are, soon deny each other’s talents, do not accept each other, envy, hate, become vexed, and part as enemies.
The story is beautifully written, including portrayals of spring and emotions that go with it.
If you have ever convalesced from a grave illness, you know the blissful state when you swoon from vague presentiments and smile without any reason. Evidently, that is the state nature is experiencing now.
In that season, it feels good to drive dirty water along the gutters with a broom or a shovel, to send toy boats down the streams, or crack stubborn ice with your heels. It also feels good to drive pigeons high up into the heavens, or to climb trees and tie birdhouses in them. Everything feels good in that happy time of the year.
Description of the writer, the characteristic misfit, is so on-point. Could anyone have done more justice?
The whole district considers him a writer,a poet ; they all see something peculiar in him, say he talks differently, he walks differently, smokes differently, and once, at a general court session to which he had been summoned as a witness, he let slip inappropriately that he was occupied with literature, and blushed as deeply as if he had stolen a chicken.
This one hit hard. Makar’s internal world of torment was too real. It must be a nightmare being him. I couldn’t help but think if Chekhov ever had those emotions being the writer he was. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, being the extraordinary talent he was.
I have been told that more talented writers hold themselves to the highest standards, constantly indulging in self-ridicule when they don’t meet them. In contrast, the not-so-good ones are usually much happier. Attribute this to the Dunning Kruger effect if you want.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life”
I bet Makar agrees.