Temperaments by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

Scamps, Ramp Scallions and ne’er-do-wells are all of sanguine temperament. It is not recommended to sleep in the same room with anyone who is a sanguine: He’ll tell you jokes all night, and if he does not know any jokes, he will criticize his relatives or else tell lies. He will die of a disease of the digestive system and premature burnout.

It sounds like a section from your newspaper’s Astrology section, which has a zodiac feel to it, doesn’t it?. Prepare to be surprised by Chekhov’s humorous take on human temperaments in his short story The Temperaments. First published in September 1881 in the Journal The Spectator, it is now available as part of a short story collection called ‘Prank’ published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Temperaments: Quotes from the story

Chekhov has divided human temperaments into four major categories – Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, and Melancholic – further bifurcated into male and female varieties. The result is a hilarious account of all sorts of personalities.

Here are a few excerpts from his classifications-

Sanguine male, for example, is constant in his inconstancy. He is rude to teachers, doesn’t get haircuts, doesn’t shave, wears glasses, and scribbles on walls. He gets married by accident.

Sanguine females are the most bearable of the women, at least when not stupid.

Choleric Male is bilious with a yellow-gray face. The nose is crooked, and the eyes go around in the sockets like hungry wolves in their narrow cage. He is easily annoyed. If the howling of a cat disturbs him, he orders a servant to climb on the roof and strangle the creature, come hell or high water. He will die of consumption or of liver disease.

A Choleric female is a devil in a skirt.

Phlegmatic males think that it’s a pity that children aren’t beaten at school and don’t mind administering a good beating themselves. Only when selected for jury duty, does he fall sick.

Phlegmatic female looks like a sack of flour and is born to become a mother-in-law. That’s her life’s ambition.

A Male melancholic is ever ready to shed a tear. He is prone to hypochondria. Long ago, he decided that the doctors didn’t understand him. He suspects every dog of having rabies. He groans and moans day and night; that’s why sharing a room with him is not recommended.

A Melancholic female is an impossible restless creature.

Temperaments: Review and My Thoughts

Now you might have a go at the story (and I highly recommend that you do), and think it is a load of baloney. 

You would be right, most of it is, but you would probably be surprised to know that there is a proto-psychological theory of Four Temperaments, which is what seems to be an inspiration for this little nugget. 

Funnily enough, to cast a funny shadow on it, Chekhov even called his story The Temperaments (based on the latest scientific findings). A clever writer that he is, he used plenty of other elements to keep the account interesting. 

For example, his account of male personalities is considerably longer than the female ones. Now, why would that be?

Female humans are an enigma; why even pretend to understand, eh? 

Full confession: in my teen years (it seems like it was centuries ago now!), I had my fair share of obsessing over the Horoscope section. 

After all, how could I face the brave new world without knowing what my lucky numbers or lucky colors were? Won’t it be a great skill to know that Leos are to be feared for their anger and Cancerians are to be confided in? 

Thankfully, I grew out of my fixation with it, but I do catch myself casting sideways glances on the horoscope section now and then. This story just drilled it further in my being- the ridiculousness of it all. 

Humans tend to generalize things to aid speedy learning, but generalizing to ridiculous proportions does just the opposite.

Our very unique temperaments are a testimony to that.

A Sinner from Toledo by Anton Chekhov: Review and Analysis

A Sinner from Toledo, the short story from Anton Chekhov, was first published in late 1881 in an illustrated literary, art and humor magazine called the Spectator. It is now available as part of a short story collection called Prank published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

A Sinner from Toledo: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with a proclamation signed by the Bishop of Barcelona asking for the people to report the whereabouts of a witch called Maria Spalanzo, the reward for which would be absolution for their past sins. All of Barcelona, having read the proclamation, initiated a hunt for Maria, but she was nowhere to be found.

Maria Spalanzo happened to be the daughter of a successful Barcelona merchant of French origins and a Spanish mother. She inherited the best qualities of her father and mother – a cheerful temperament and a perfect figure. 

She married a sailor – handsome and supposedly learned- at the age of twenty. They loved each other and lived happily for about two days before fate struck a blow.

On her way to meet her mother, Maria asked a monk for directions. Her beauty in the moonlight was captivating, and the monk immediately thought her a witch and said so. 

Maria laughed it off and carried on her way before she was accosted by him and three other men all the way home. Archbishop Augustine was convinced that the woman was a witch. 

A few days later, Maria’s husband Spalanzo was summoned for an audience with the archbishop. The archbishop declared his wife to be a witch and ordered Spalanzo to turn his wife over. 

Convinced that she was not a witch but not happy about the chances of his argument given any weight vs Archbishop’s, he asked Maria to flee. 

Maria, who had never shed a tear before in her life, cried. 

Spalanzo devised a plan to hide his wife in his brother’s ship until the world moved past their superstition about witches.

Maria, heartbroken about her new fate, soon got used to her life hiding in the ship. Spalanzo came to meet her daily and brought her things that she needed. Everything seemed to be fine until one day, the poster landed in his hands, the poster offering absolution from all sins upon turning in the witch. His resolve to not turn in his wife shook.

He loved his wife – he loved her very much. If not for that love, a weakness despised by monks and Toledan doctors too, he would probably have spoken.

He showed his brother the proclamation and expressed his reservations about giving up all chances of absolution not turning in his witch wife. His brother liked the prospect of absolution very much but didn’t quite want to turn in such a beautiful woman. 

Spalanzo couldn’t turn her in alive, being her husband. So he decided to do what he thought was the next best thing – poisoning his wife to trick those fools into absolving him of all his sins. 

He was forgiven for healing people and studying chemistry and was even given a copy of a book that the archbishop had authored.

In it, the learned bishop explained that it’s because demons are black that demons so often possess black-haired women.

The Archbishop was a very learned man, and he derived the word femina from two words: fe and minus, because incontestably, a woman had less faith than a man.

All Barcelona would be convinced. Every last person! Fools will fall for a falsehood, and the people of Barcelona were fools to a man.

A Sinner from Toledo: Review and My Thoughts

I found the story more disturbing than funny. But then when is the herd mentality not scary? The archbishop concluded that the beautiful and festive Maria was a witch simply looking at her hair colour. 

Maria’s husband knew that she was not a witch and, although he was protective of her and cared for her initially, he couldn’t turn away from the temptation of absolution. 

What was funny and heartbreaking – was the sins he was seeking absolution for – healing and chemistry. And how does he go about getting absolved? By murdering his wife and tricking the archbishop into doing that!

Morality and logic both seem to be missing here.

Superstitions take centuries to fade away. Given how much of it we still have left in our societies across the world- I would say there are plenty of centuries more to go before we are absolved from our superstitions.

Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

Everything in the world, and my life, in particular, is governed by chance. Only chance! And chance is a despot.

Sounds like a ‘why me?’, doesn’t it?

This is a remark by the protagonist of Chekhov’s short story called Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter. It was first published in March 1882 in Alarm Clock, and it is now available as part of a short story collection called Prank published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is written in the form of a letter where the protagonist, Makar Baldastov, a 39-year-old single man, is responding to a friend’s inquiries about why he is unmarried. He goes on to recount, at length, three specific, close encounters with women he had intended to marry.

The first one was with a lady called Olya. Makar is wholly smitten with Olya’s beauty and charm and shares his future plans sitting with her at a park. Makar seems to be experiencing bliss, just being in her company. Olya spotted a goose and started chasing after her, only to have a gander hiss at her soon after. 

Terrified, she makes a run for her life. Makar was watching it all from a distance. Seeing her in trouble, Makar hit the gander with his walking stick but not before he had already nipped part of Olya’s dress.

As soon as they are left alone, Makar remarks about Olya’s cowardice. She bursts into tears in response.

Her frightened little face was neither naive nor childlike. It was idiotic! Cowardice, ma chere, I cannot abide! Me married to a faint-hearted, cowardly woman? I couldn’t imagine it.

The second one was a woman called Zhenya. Makar loved Zhenya because she loved the writer in him, and she apparently lived and breathed his ambition. They used to do their reading and writing together, and Zhenya was a constant companion through it all. 

One fine day, as they await a response from a publisher about one of Makar’s submissions, they get a humiliating response.

You haven’t got a drop of talent. What the hell is this gobbledygook? Don’t waste stamps and leave us alone. Take up something else!

Needless to say, Makar was fuming. Zhenya, on the contrary, seems a bit indifferent; her remarks are the final nail in the coffin for their relationship.

Maybe you don’t have any talent! They should know, after all. 

Zhenya didn’t care for my writing, which meant she couldn’t care for me. That’s how it was! 

The third one was a woman called Zoya, daughter of Colonel Pepsinov. The Pepsinovs are opera enthusiasts, and Makar gets to attend operas with the family. Makar is madly in love with Zoya and is on the verge of proposing marriage. 

He chooses to declare his love for her at an opera- the first act of Faust. As he is about to propose, he hiccups but brushes it aside. Soon, the hiccups are far more frequent, making everything he is saying to Zoya, completely incomprehensible. 

He rushes to the bar, gets a few drinks, comes back, and tries again. The hiccups come back with a vengeance, and this time he makes a fool of himself not just in front of Zoya but her entire family. 

He does try to make up for the disaster by apologizing to Colonel Pepsinov, but he is not the one to give his daughter away to someone who permits himself to engage in public belching.

“Would you have given your daughter, if you had one, to a man who permits himself to engage in public belching? Well, sir?

I would.

Then you’d be making a mistake, sir!

Zoya couldn’t forget the hiccups, and Makar is done for the third time.

Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter: Review and My Thoughts

The story was hilarious! Makar is superficiality personified. The man deserves a medal, ladies and gentlemen! He wants a perfect wife- beautiful, obedient, and preferably one that doesn’t have a mind, feelings, or even a life of her own.

Human as Olya is, she has no right to be scared. Cowardice is off-putting for Makar.

As long as Zhenya is not speaking her mind and embeds her life entirely in his, she is the ideal partner. As soon as she expresses the slightest deviation from that norm, she is done for. 

After all, how could Makar not have writing talent? How dare she even think of such a thing, forget about speaking that out loud.

If I had to choose my favorite of the three, I would go with Makar and Zoya, though. 

Karma is a b*tch, isn’t it Makar?

I did notice, however, how emphatically Chekhov presented the writer Makar in Chapter two. It’s as if he was pouring out some of his own experiences being a writer. Maybe I am reading too much into it.

Calling themselves editors and publishers at the helm of the literary world, where they do everything they can to drown us writers. A pox upon them!

Vast and bountiful as the earth is, there is no place on earth for a writer. The writer remains an orphan, an outcast, a scapegoat, a helpless infant.

I divide all of mankind into two camps: writers and enviers. The former write, while the latter, racked with envy, scheme and play all sorts of dirty tricks on them. I have died many times, and I will die many more because of the envy of these enviers.

With all the due hate to enviers, Who wouldn’t envy Chekhov?

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

No, this is not a treatise on efficient goal-setting. Or is it?

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None is a short story by Anton Chekhov that was first published in May 1880 in a magazine called Dragonfly. It is available as part of a short story collection published by New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None: Summary and Plot Analysis

Major Shchelkobokov is a proud owner of thousands of acres of land and a young wife Karolina. He overhears his wife’s more-than-friendly conversation with her cousin and comes to know that his wife has no love or respect for him. 

Not only that, she considers him a mentally deranged, chronically drunk man who is no better than a peasant. 

Naturally, the major is offended, and this newfound discovery keeps him up at night while he is frantic about finding ways to seek vengeance.

He happens to have a conversation with his valet Panteley. He seems to be looking for information on whether beating someone’s wife was the right thing to do or if only people of the peasant class engaged in such behavior. 

Panteley happily answers the question, adding that he regularly beats his own wife and that this practice had nothing to do with class. 

A former Judge, where Panteley was employed earlier, used to clobber his missus and pound him too for good measure.

He is convinced that this was the right thing to do. Choosing that as his plan to avenge his pride that had been hurt by his wife’s insult, he proposes a boat ride to his wife. The wife agrees, unaware of the husband’s intention. 

As they get to the middle of the lake, the Major, seething with anger, takes the whip out to lash at her. Contrary to what he expects, though, the wife catches the whip and starts using that on her husband. 

Being bald and unable to shield his head, he loses balance and the boat topples over.

A man called Ivan, the Major’s former housekeeper, watching that incident unfold from far off, jumps into the river to save them. He soon realizes that it won’t be possible for him to save them both. Both Major and his wife try to persuade him to save one and leave the other to die. 

Major offers to marry Ivan’s sister as a return to his favor of saving his life, while Major’s wife promises to marry Ivan, if he saves her instead. 

Ivan, unable to choose from the two equally attractive offers, makes up his mind to save them both and reap the rewards.

As soon as they get to the shore, the husband and wife resume their beating of each other, while the peasant girls crowd around them to watch. 

Ivan later comes to know that he has been fired from his current job after the major pulled some strings while Ivan’s sister has been banished from Karolina’s apartment. 

Ivan’s dreams of having Karolina as a wife and the major for his brother-in-law are shattered. Exasperated, he cries on the ghastly return gift for his kind deeds.

“Oh, humankind”, Ivan Pavlovich kept repeating, as he strolled along the shore of the fateful lake, “Is this what you call gratitude?”

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None: Review and My Thoughts

The story is hilarious. The Major is seething with anger on overhearing the conversation but seeks validation from his valet. His valet seems to him a good candidate, as he represents the peasant class. The conversation is sure to tickle your funny bones.

Answer me straight, and don’t stammer! Do you beat your wife?

Every single Tuesday, Sir.

Very good. Why are you laughing? This is no joking matter.

On being asked if this was something only peasants did to their wives, Panteley happily provides him an account of the same treatment doled out to a judge’s wife.

He’d clobber his missus. He’d pound me too. Just for good measure.

Just beat them, sir! There’s no two ways around it. Take my wife, for example. There’s nothing to do except beat her.

The one below was an absolute show-stealer for me. What’s a climax without a twist?

The major’s wife snatched the whip out of his hand and was just beginning to apply it. The major was just reminded of the fact that he had no hair to cushion this scalp. And then the boat overturned.

I don’t know why, but just reading the title of the story somehow magically takes me to a mental image where I am jotting down my new year goals furiously.

Someone in their right mind would learn from their mistake. Not me. I have managed to repeat the same mistakes every new year’s eve for the last twenty years. I loved seeing the characters in the story make the same mistake as me, although to a much-diluted degree.

Misery loves company, doesn’t it?

Being a doctor and a writer, Chekhov might have got something to do with his choice of such a topic to write on. This story is one of his early creations when he was training to be a doctor AND writing at the same time.

He is known to have been a very compassionate medic and considered giving up the practice a great loss. The world knows and acknowledges his writing prowess. He is one of the most popular and prolific Russian writers ever.

Contrary to Ivan’s experience in the story, Chekhov chased AND caught both the rabbits.

St. Peter’s Day by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

The story St. Peter’s day was published in June 1881. He initially called it 29th of June and very playfully dedicated it to hunters that don’t shoot well and the ones that don’t shoot. 

This story from Chekhov’s early writing days is part of a short story collection called ‘The Prank.’ For those of you curious ones out there, back in those days, 29th June used to be considered the start of the Russian hunting season.

St. Peter’s Day: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens in a setting where eight men and two dogs are preparing for their journey to hunt quail. Just when they are all set to leave, one Mikhei Igorovich comes around throwing a huge tantrum about him being left behind. 

He immediately attacks his brother for deliberately not taking him and insists on going, creating a huge scene for that goal. After all, why was the young doctor allowed to go on the hunt if the skill of hunting was the qualifying factor? Neither of the men- Egor or the doctor knew how to hunt. 

He blames Egor for being jealous of the doctor and that he was doubtful of the doctor’s intentions for his wife. It’s apparent that the brothers don’t get along well. 

The doctor, of course, has no clue about what Egor’s thinking about taking him is and is constantly complaining about being taken with the group. All he wants is good sleep. He doesn’t want anything to do with hunting.

Eventually, the row gets settled when men from the other carriage offer Mikhei a seat to travel with them. Both groups set off. 

As they arrive, both the groups seem to be having their equal share of good hunters and the equally incompetent ones. 

Mikhei, for example, specializes in wreaking the experience of hunters in his group by constantly getting in the way. The Young doctor in the other group accomplished the same result with equal daftness, if not more. 

A very senior man and a very qualified hunter – Bolva – hunts alone but is left behind. The group leaves him behind for certain death. One man’s suggestion to begin the eating and drinking is greeted with much enthusiasm and everyone seems to agree instantly. 

The men go on to have several rounds of drinks, some going up to as much as ten. The men are completely sloshed by now, and the doctor wanders off in the forest and falls asleep there. 

Other men are continuing on with their drinking when they suddenly realize that the doctor is nowhere to be seen.

Mikhei immediately cooks up a story about having seen the doctor leave with a carriage and that he was going to visit Egor’s wife. Although denying that such a statement by Mikhei had any effect on him, Egor immediately grew restless. 

Cursing the doctor and his brother, he leaves soon after checking on his wife’s deeds. He arrives home and searches furiously for the doctor everywhere. Although the doctor is nowhere to be seen, he discovers the sexton under his wife’s bed. 

Back in the forest, when the doctor wakes up and finds himself utterly alone, being left behind by the men, he sets for the town on foot, reaches the hospital, and writes a lengthy letter to Egor demanding an explanation for his ‘unseemly conduct.’

St Peter’s Day: Review and My Thoughts

Another funny story by Chekhov; young Chekhov creations are as mesmerizing as the later, more mature ones. Beyond the apparent humor is where you would find his satirical take on class, jealousy, a general lack of trust, and alcohol abuse.

I found the spat between the brothers very amusing. I must admit, it took me back to my childhood days when such conversations between my siblings and me were a daily affair. It doesn’t look like Egor and Mikhei have matured much in that regard. 

Here is an explanation by Egor, when Mikhei asks him the reason for not taking him along:

I didn’t wake you up because there is no point in your coming. You can’t even shoot a gun. So why come? To get in the way? After all, you can’t even shoot.

And here is the response from Mikhei rubbing it in Egor’s face

Did you hear that, you shark? They have got room. I will go just to spite you!

The men bickered like kids to the extent that the General had to mediate and look what Egor says when called Mikhei’s kin.

Gentlemen, that’s enough. You are kith and kin.

He’s kith and kin to an ass, your excellency, not to me.

Although the fights between the brothers were the most amusing read for me, there were other hard-to-ignore fun moments involving other characters as well. 

For example, here is the conversation between Manzhe and the Doctor.

Manzhe : You are a skeptic, doctor.

Doctor : Really? And what does skeptic mean?

Manzhe : A people…. A people….non-lover.

Here’s another one between the doctor and the general, 

And why are you shouting? I am not intimidated by generals, Your excellency, particularly retired ones. Tone it down, if you please.

As the story closes, the doctor has learned his lesson: Never to ‘celebrate’ St. Peter’s day again. 

Me, well, I am thanking my stars that I came across it.

Papa by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

No dumpling, not a word about punishment, this is not our boy’s fault. They are all out to get him.

I don’t mean to brag here, but I can’t thank my stars enough for having a mother who specializes in overlooking all my faults. This excerpt from Chekhov’s story Papa is such a pleasant reminder of that. Thank you, Momma!

That’s where the similarities end, though. My mother never had to go as far as persuading my dad to bribe any of my teachers to help me pass. Luckily I was able to manage to pass my exam without ‘external influence’. ‘Nuff said.

On to the Chekhovian portrayal of a doting mama, a henpecked but adulterous and arm twisting Papa, a troublemaking only child and a confused teacher in a setting of shaky moral standards at best.

The short story ‘Papa’ was first published in June 1880 in an arts and humor weekly called Strekoza (the dragonfly). It is now available in a short story collection called Prank, The best of Young Chekhov

Papa: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens in Papa’s study with a conversation between Papa and Mama about their kid. Their only child, the 15-year old son, seems to have flunked third grade again, and Mama is adamant about Papa persuading the teacher into letting him pass. 

After all, there is no way their genius son doesn’t know how to do simple third-grade math.

According to her, their son is only failing because the world is out to get him, as he is so talented and handsome. Although Papa is thoroughly convinced that it is their son’s fault, Mama does not hear any of it.

Papa finally concedes defeat when threatened of an exposE on his affair with the maid and goes to meet their son’s Math teacher. The Math teacher vehemently asserts his inability to change their son’s grade. 

Their son, after all, doesn’t deserve to pass, considering he never studies and is the classic troublemaker.

It won’t be ethical on his part to let him pass. Papa is just not hearing any of it. His son is young, and what is youth expected to do if not to make trouble? Despite the teacher’s persistent denial to accommodate his request, Papa doesn’t bend.

If anything, he doubles up his efforts of tiring him into doing his bidding.

Tired and frustrated by the repeated badgering, the teacher finally agrees to let the student pass if all other teachers that had failed him did so.

Seeing the mission accomplished, Papa takes the teacher’s leave after inviting him and his wife over to their house.

Papa: Review, Quotes, and My Thoughts

Every single character in the story was corrupt. Chekhov has beautifully wrapped that corruption in his very unique humorous style. Consider the mama, for example; She knows that her husband has an affair with the maid, but since she was an intelligent wife of a civilized husband and used to Papa’s weakness, she decides to pay no attention to it. 

However, this mercy was extended only until the point where she didn’t need him to do his bidding. Bribing a teacher to let her only son pass, seems like a good opportunity for that.

The only son, although, has very little actual part in the story, manages to shine in the little blurb that Chekhov afforded him.

The boy was called for, and an explanation demanded. Junior became angry, frowned and scowled. He said he knew math better than the teacher. And it was not his fault that in this world of ours, only girls, rich kids and suck-ups got good grades. He then burst into tears.

Wow, such a range of emotions!

For me, the show-stealer had to be Papa.

Oh, the persistence and dedication! If you need lessons in wearing someone out, Papa is your guy. Man! The guy could give the best negotiators in the world a run for their money. See for yourself some snippets of his conversation with the teacher.

Papa: You have given my son a heap of Fs. Which is alright,you know. Still it is unpleasant, you know. Do you mean to say that my son really doesn’t understand math?

Teacher: It’s not that he doesn’t understand math , as such, it’s , well, you see, he doesn’t study. So no he doesn’t understand

………….

Teacher: He gets into trouble again and again.

Papa: Well, that’s youth for you, what’s to be done?

Papa: Ones who say they don’t take(bribe)- they take(bribe). And who isn’t on the take nowadays, my friend? It’s impossible not to take my friend. Not used to it yet? Come on!

After all the badgering, you would think that the teacher would hate Papa, but the reaction is quite the opposite.

“A good man! What’s on his mind is on his tongue. Simple and kind, it’s plain to see.. I like his sort!”

Of course, after his exemplary feat, he would be in mama’s good books. Papa is not the one to keep the maid very far, though.

That very evening, Mama was once again sitting on Papa’s lap(the maid’s turn came later). Papa was assuring her that “our son” would go on to the next grade. Educated types, he said, don’t require money- just a pleasant manner and polite but relentless arm twisting.

There was something about the story that made me go searching for some more background information. I was curious about what would have led Chekhov to pen this. 

Chekhov is a brilliant writer, he can bring almost anything to life, and I couldn’t imagine him to be a bad student (bias, bias, I know!) There seems to be the heavy influence of his school teacher and his free-spending missus on the characters of Papa and Mama. Interestingly, Chekhov had to repeat Grade 3 Mathematics after failing it once!

If anything, I love him more now.

Artists’ Wives by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

You know what single girls and young widows? Don’t you go marry an artist. “May tarnation strike them,” As the Ukrainians say.

This is Chekhov’s closing advice from Artists’ Wives. This short story, first published in late 1880 in St. Petersburg daily paper, was written under the pseudonym “Don Antonio Chekhonte,” 

The story, sometimes assumed to be a parody of Alphonse Daudet’s Les Femmes d’artistes, focuses mainly on the lives of Russian artists that he got to witness in his life.

Artists’ Wives: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with Alphonso Zinzaga, a novelist, returning to his home at a hotel, which houses various other artists. He comes home and finds his wife Amaranta fast asleep. 

When his efforts to wake her up don’t work as expected, he suspects that his wife may have committed suicide because of the horrible reception of his novel. His worries are replaced by angst when he realizes that she slept while reading his latest novel, published under the patronage of Count Alimonda.

Amaranta finally wakes up and is able to direct his attention from her unacceptable sleeping to his voracious hunger, Zinzaga makes up his mind to dine with Don Butronza, their Italian artist neighbor next door. 

Dining, however, was the last thing on Butronza’s mind, who was bellowing at his German wife, huddled in the corner hiding behind a statue with a huge gash in its stomach. It turns out that Don Butronza wants his wife to undress and stand by the window to be a model for his newest assignment provided by Count Alimonda to depict Susanna and Elders. 

Carolina is an absolute wreck and tormented so much by her husband’s request that she has even agreed to a divorce. Pleased that the horror story wasn’t his, aggrieved still that he still hasn’t eaten, Zinzaga leaves.

On his way home, he is intercepted by the wife of another fellow artist, an actor. It turns out that while rehearsing one of his scenes, he injured himself. His wife, who is in dire need of money to afford treatment, asks Zinzaga for help. Zinzaga, who has used up the last of his money for the realms of paper for his novel, respectfully bows out.

Before he can make it home, he is stopped yet another time. This time it is the wife of his singer-musician friend, and her request from Zinzaga is to make his friend stop singing. He sees his friend singing in a fury, stomping his foot, accompanied by yelps and squeaks of his little one, lying in his cradle nearby. Zinzaga politely asks his friend to get some rest, but his friend is adamant not to do so. 

After all, the rehearsal is pivotal for the glory of Portugal and maybe even that of the entire world.

When finally back to his apartment, he gets to know from his wife that a neighbor’s wife committed suicide after accidentally breaking the statue that her husband was building for Count Alimonda. 

Zinzaga immediately considers that a splendid idea for a novel, which he wants his wife to listen to, right away. Amaranta tries to avoid doing that but finally succumbs to her husband’s persistent demands. 

Later, mistaking a stupid novel authored by her husband as someone else’s, he ends up offending her husband. The husband, feeling utterly insulted, storms out.

Amaranta, having witnessed such an outburst on numerous occasions before, is convinced that her husband will return before long. After all, who else will do his free copying for him, if not her? In the meantime, she consoles herself after reading random news articles in a paper stashed away for such occasions. When finished reading the story, she considers herself fortunate that at least her husband does not starve her like the American Mr. Tanner.

Sure enough, Zinzaga comes back home as expected, in a joyful mood, asking Amaranta to get ready to go to her mother where they can ask her for money. An unhappy Amaranta faints, Zinzaga kisses her forehead.

The author closes with a piece of friendly advice for young women and widows to never marry artists.

Artists’ Wives: Review and My Thoughts

I will be honest; this didn’t feel like a Chekhov story to me initially, primarily because I was only exposed to his work in the latter part of his writing career in all my reading so far. Young Chekhov seems to have had quite a playful streak about him. The humor is refreshing. 

Consider the banters of his artists when in conversations with their respective wives.

Weep you miserable overcooked German sausage! Your husband is an artist, not a lousy shopkeeper! Weep, beer bottle!

You can not be my wife if you can not sacrifice yourself for art! Diablo!

For the sake of art Donna, you must forsake not only modesty, you must forsake all your feelings.

The protagonist Zinzaga seems so full of himself, thinking himself to be a man of ‘real talent’ and ‘great promise’. He doesn’t have the money to either put the food on the table or to support his wife, but that doesn’t deter him one bit as he doesn’t feel any shame asking his mother-in-law for money. His ideas about hunger are hilarious here:

He felt the strongest urge to convince himself that hunger was really nothing other than the lack of willpower, that man was created to battle nature, that to be an artist was to go hungry, etc.

And here Zinzaga said something that even a very clever person would be unable to catch or paraphrase. Something perfectly proper but completely unintelligible.

How she sleeps! What the hell? Could she have taken poison? The disappointing reception of my last novel may have affected her deeply.

Of course, the whole world revolves around him. Every time his wife is unhappy or tired, it’s because of the stress she feels on Zinzaga not doing well with his novels. That his writing talent that can put people to sleep never even crossed his mind. Especially since poor Amaranta was his only reader.

I find Amaranta’s pastime amusing. Convinced that her husband would return to her, as there was nowhere else for him to go, she was never rude to him. 

Instead, she tried to find solace in her circumstances, comparing her life to Poor Mrs. Tanner, whose husband starved her. Amaranta’s husband was so much better than Mr.Tanner, after all. Another thing that grabbed my attention was Mr.Tanner’s prescribed portions of food for his wife. Is it even possible that he could have been an early dietitian? The statements below make no sense to me otherwise, but make me laugh all the same!

“Namely during the course of 24 hours, she will ingest the following amounts of nourishing substances:

1 g of salts, 5 g of protein, 2 g of water, 7 of water distilled…”

That Chekhov’s wife was an artist makes me wonder: could Chekhov ever have been a Zinzaga? 😛

Dreams by Anton Chekhov: Summary, Analysis and Review

“The peasants called up a picture of a free life such as they had never lived; whether they vaguely recalled the images of stories heard long ago or whether notions of a free life had been handed down to them with their flesh and blood from far-off free ancestors, God knows!

Isn’t it funny that our dreams don’t care for the time of the day to sneak in on us- as though they are just lurking in the shadows nearby? 

Yet they seem so far-fetched as soon as the light – of what we think the reality is – shines upon us? The same dreams that give hope and purpose to life can cruelly take it away, as the dangers of them being quashed are ever so real.

Dreams, a short story by Anton Chekhov written back in 1886, touches the raw dreamy nerve.

Dreams by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens in Eastern Siberia, where two soldiers named Andrey and Nikandr are escorting a male in his early thirties. This unnamed guy doesn’t seem to have any remarkable trait except that he seems to have forgotten his last name. This man is an enigma to both the guards, mainly because he neither fits a peasant nor the nobility’s description. 

One of the guards seems fixated on finding out more about him and strikes a conversation in that attempt.

It turns out that the unnamed man’s mother was of a peasant family but served as a maid in the house of an aristocrat. As a result, He grew up in a comfortable setting, unlike a kid’s upbringing in a peasant family. 

He is well-mannered and can hold a conversation with the gentry. When asked about his father, he confesses to not knowing his identity and suspects that he might have been an illegitimate son of his mother’s – and that he could have had noble blood in him.

It turns out that the tramp was convicted for the murder of his master- that resulted from him handing over a glass of drink to his master. One he thought was soda and acid but was arsenic instead. 

Although he thinks his mother to be a pious lady, he seems to have suspicions with regard to her motivations for doing such a thing. 

Apparently, the master had taken on to another servant in the house, and that didn’t sit well with his mother. He and his mother were both tried – his mother condemned to penal servitude of 20 years, while he was given seven – on account of his youth.

The man ran away with a few other folks and chose not to remember his name, so he doesn’t get recognized and be sent back to penal servitude – a punishment that he deems unfit for a man in delicate health such as his. 

The hardships that he faced do not deter him from dreaming of a spectacular future – one replete with a house, land, living in a bountiful nature where rivers aren’t as bad as the ones in the city and are full of all sorts of fish and fowl. His daydreaming brings to his face a smile that persists. 

Andrey, the more talkative one, fell silent for a while, and so did Nikandr, as they were infected by the tramp’s dreams, thinking of their own. They snap out of it soon enough but not without bringing the tramp down with them. 

After all, he was no more than skin and bones, and he will soon die.

The reader is left with the feeling that the guards are as much prisoners of their circumstances as the tramp. Their freedom is ironic.

Dreams by Anton Chekhov: Review and My Thoughts

Let’s start with Chekhov’s description of the tramp-

His eyebrows were scanty, his expression mild and submissive; he had scarcely a trace of a moustache, though he was over thirty.

This seems like an attempt to establish that this man doesn’t have anything remarkable about him; he could be anybody. Maybe an attempt to say that dreamers are ubiquitous. (It also reminded me of one of my friends struggling with lack of facial hair back in college, the struggle is real, my friends! But I digress..)

When the tramp reminisces of incidents from his past life, there is a certain air of sophistication about his recollections. He does seem to want to stand apart from the peasant class; he doesn’t consider him crass, unrefined as that lot, and wants to be treated that way. 

After all , how many peasant children can eat real food and sleep in a real bed? Even as a grownup, he feels he is better, as he likes reading books and fancies fishing rather than vodka and lewd talk, which is the norm in an adult peasant class. 

She petted and spoiled me, and did her best to take me out of my humble class and make a gentleman of me. I slept in bed, every day I ate a real dinner.

Another man will take no pleasure in anything but vodka and lewd talk, but when I have time I sit in a corner and read a book. I read and I weep and weep.

Maybe I am only a peasant by class, but in nature a noble gentleman.

And I am not fit for penal servitude! I am a refined man in delicate health.

The guards find it unsettling not being able to clearly label the man.

“God knows what to make of you. Peasant you are not, gentleman you are not, but some sort of a thing in between.”

But it is the man’s dreams that got to me. Here is a man, helpless and in a very fragile state who knows not how many days he has got left to live, but comes the opportunity to dream up a world where all of his problems miraculously go away, he forgets all his misery. In the process, he also infects his companions – who seem to be conjuring up their own little heavenly lives, daydreaming.

There is no end of fish; and all sorts of wildfowl. And my greatest pleasure, brothers, is fishing. Give me no bread to eat, but let me sit with a fishhook.

The peasants called up a picture of a free life such as they had never lived; whether they vaguely recalled the images of stories heard long ago or whether notions of a free life had been handed down to them with their flesh and blood from far-off free ancestors, God knows!

The peasants were racking their brains in an effort to grasp their imagination of what can be grasped by none but God- that is, the vast expanse dividing them from the land of freedom.

Realizing that their dreams are as ridiculous as the tramp’s, who is on the verge of death, they shut their dreams out of their mind and force the tramp to do the same, reminding him cruelly of his impending fate. 

How could you? Before you’d gone two hundred miles, you’d give up your soul to God. Just look at what a weakling you are! Here you’ve hardly gone five miles, and you can’t get your breath.

It’s better and practical to live in reality and keep the dreams at bay, the dreams that give them the feeling of fleeting bliss only to leave them thoroughly dissatisfied for much longer, knowing that they may never be able to realize them.

Although the story was heartbreaking, I seek solace in Chekhov’s words:

“We should show life neither as it is, nor as it should be, but as we see it in our dreams.”

The New Villa by Anton Chekhov: Summary, Analysis and Review

We treat you humanely, repay us in the same coin.

What comes to mind when you read this? Who do you think would have said this in a conversation between a rich and a poor man?

Enter Anton Chekhov’s The New Villa.

This is a short story Chekhov wrote way back in 1899. It is split into five parts and centered around the shaken moral grounds from which the peasants operate.

The New Villa: Summary and Plot Analysis

Kutcherov is an engineer in charge of building a bridge across the river two miles away from the village of Obrutchanovo. He is an honest and diligent man and treats the workers humanely. 

His wife comes to visit him from Moscow and finds the village air comforting. They decide to purchase a parcel of land and build a home there. 

Being the engineer he is, he builds a beautiful house adorned with stones and a fountain to greet visitors. This house soon begins to be called the New Villa. 

The engineer and his wife are kind-hearted people and do their best to be good neighbors to the villagers. They attempt to befriend the local people, but the villagers continually complain about their poverty and misuse the newcomers’ goodwill.

Some villagers, influenced and led by the village blacksmith’s son Volodka, even let animals loose to graze around in the villa. Some village girls went and picked mushrooms from the engineer’s gardens, a few others disassembled the engineer’s cart and replaced the new wheels with the old ones, and some mistreat the engineer’s wife. 

In their mind, building a bridge that they did not want was equivalent to the government meddling in their affairs. After all, they had lived without a bridge all their lives; why did things need to change now? What was the need?

Not all the villagers were thankless. Some villagers, represented by Rodion, advise the Kutcherovs to be patient. In time, the villagers will accept them and their idea of building the bridge and the school for them. 

“You must work and work until you overcome them.”

Kutcherov’s patience wears out after repeated acts of vandalism, and the family moves to Moscow shortly after. The new villa, now inhabited by an important-looking but indifferent government clerk, isn’t the focal point of villagers’ wrath anymore.

The New Villa: Review and My Thoughts

This story brings strong memories of a movie I had seen recently called ‘The Parasite’. For the longest time, growing up, I would always assume that the rich treat the poor horribly and that poor people neither have a choice nor the voice to oppose their mistreatment. 

I don’t know why that was. Maybe it was the kind of movies I saw, or the books and newspaper articles that I read. In short, poor people were virtuous and pure. They could do no wrong.

Along comes Chekhov and starts casting doubt on that long-held notion. You would think that born into a family of serfs, he would probably glorify that notion even more. But No! He was not the one to be swayed by the oft-quoted ‘nobility in poverty’ idea widely held in his time. Poor people can be as harsh to the rich as rich are to them. 

See what the engineer’s kind family gets back from the villagers they treat so nicely? – Vandalised property, incessant bickering and whining over bridge being built, mistreatment of the family members.

The villagers’ high morals seem to apply only to their group; the ones outside them, the engineer’s family, for example, were fair game.

The peasants are typically scared of landowners because they know that they have the power to hurt them. Learning from the outset that the engineer and his family are nice and kind people who would never do such a thing, the villagers wield all the power, harassing the family for no specific reason. 

You would expect a God-fearing folk to be kind to their neighbor but only to be mistaken. Their politeness is interpreted to be a weakness, and it seems like the so-called ‘weak’ poor would not waste a moment to be brutes to a well-meaning fellow human a few notches above them in financial standing.

Consider Volodka’s constant rant, for example.

“We got on all right without a bridge, we did not ask for it. What do we want a bridge for ? We don’t want it!”

The bridge is making the villagers’ life easy, the engineer has even promised to build a school that would make their children’s lives easier, but the villagers simply won’t have it. The fact that the villagers follow his mindless rant, in general, speaks to a broader societal issue.

Now, these poor villagers are the same ones that don’t shy away from accepting money from the engineer’s wife, citing their misfortunes – not only in their current state but also in their afterlife. 

Speaking about their troubles brings them a weird joy – playing the victim is comforting to these folk –

“Dear lady”, the rich men will be alright in the next world, too. The rich put up candles, pay for the services; give to the beggars, but what can the poor man do? He has no time to make the sign of the cross. He is the beggar of beggars himself; how can he think of his soul? And many sins come from poverty; from trouble we snarl at each other like dogs… We have no luck in this world nor the next. All the luck has fallen to the rich.

She spoked gaily; she was evidently used to talking of her hard life. And Rodion smiled too; he was pleased that his old woman was so clever, so ready of speech.

The list doesn’t just end there, unfortunately.

The same people who were horrible to the kind engineer family were completely docile in front of the new owner, who never responded to their greetings and had an air of indifference about him. Since the new owner did nothing to help the villagers, why would they direct their wrath towards him? Care about them and they bite you in response, don’t give a damn about them and they leave you alone. Sounds insane, doesn’t it?

Chekhov’s story is unsettling and haunting.

But nothing you haven’t seen Chekhov do with his stories before.

The Post by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

Have you ever been in a one-sided conversation with someone?

You might have been the enthusiastic participant or the disinterested one. I apologize in advance if it brought back memories of such a misfortune striking you on a date night!

Let me grab my scattered thoughts and try to paint a better picture for you.

Oh wait, why should I even try? Chekhov does it in an infinitely better style with The Post. Published way back in the late 1880s, this short story is one of my favorites.

“I can fancy what adventures you must have had in eleven years! I expect it must be terrible driving? Asks  the student

How fond are you of talking, upon my word! Can’t you keep quiet when you are travelling? Asks the postman”

If I had to summarize the whole story in just a dialogue, I would choose the above excerpt, but why say Yes to a penny when you can have a pound?

The Post: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story begins in the early morning hours at a Post office in a Russian town. The Postmaster asks the postman Ignatyev to take the post and with it, his nephew who is a student.

Taking a person with the mail cart is not allowed but the postmaster does that to avoid paying for a carriage for his nephew’s commute. The postman takes him on, in what appears to be a half-hearted manner. The student is too excited to notice the postman’s reservations.

Now the student, trying to be affable to the postman, attempts to strike a conversation with him, to which he doesn’t receive any response.

Further attempts meet the same fate. The student soon gets distracted by the ruckus created by one of the horses pulling the carriage in a completely dark forest route.

The student gets bashed against the cart repeatedly, sometimes hanging on to the postman or to the driver’s belt. It all culminates into a mail bag as well as the postman thrown off it.

The situation finally calms down.

The student has had a few bruises but hasn’t lost his sense of adventure yet and still feels excited about his journey ahead. In a spirit to share the same sense of adventure, the student tries to strike the conversation again.

This time however, he does get a response, albeit the one asking him to be silent.

The student, taken aback, concedes to the postman’s demand and decides to stay silent for the rest of the journey. He is later surprised when the postman starts complaining about having to bring the student along in the mail cart against his wishes.

The student, puzzled, asks the postman the reason for not expressing his reservations before, to which he is greeted with silence again.

The Post: Review and My Thoughts

I read the story twice, and needless to say, I loved it!

The story is short but is packed with moments that would make you laugh , ruminate over motivations behind human behavior all the time marvelling at the writer’s excellent penmanship.

Some quotes from The Post

Chekhov can even bring the cart and the bells to life. Excellent personification! Check this out : 

The cart squeaked, moved. The big bell lamented, the little bells laughed.

Wheels and hoofs knocked against huge roots and the mail cart swayed from side to side as though it were drunk.

The cart suddenly bounded as though in the throes of a convulsion, began trembling, and, with a creak, lurched heavily first to the right and then to the left, and at a fearful pace dashed along the forest track.

My visualization skills are mediocre at best, but I had so much fun imagining a drunk cart zig-zagging !

The comic setting is hard to ignore as well, Consider these for example:

Prickly pine branches were continually hitting the student on his cap and a spider’s web settled on his face.

The student, violently shaken, bent forward and tried to find something to catch hold of so as to keep his balance and save himself from being thrown out, but the leather bags were slippery, and the driver, whose belt the student tried to catch at, was himself tossed up and down and seemed every moment on the point of flying out.

The student fell and bruised his forehead against the driver’s seat, but was at once tossed back again and knocked his spine violently against the back of the cart.

The student definitely would have been in a bad shape after such an ordeal, but I, selfishly, laughed to my heart’s content. Trying to keep from falling off a cart by holding someone’s belt, for god’s sake!

There was also a scene in the story where the postman goes looking for the sword and the mailbag that gets thrown off the cart. Sword ! Really? What fun days carrying the post!

It won’t be a Chekhovian tale, if it does not make you think. This one’s no exception. Consider this conversation for example:

I can fancy what adventures you must have had in eleven years! I expect it must be terrible driving?

How fond are you of talking, upon my word! Can’t you keep quiet when you are travelling?

The student, although having just had a harrowing experience in the forest, is still thrilled by the anticipation of adventure and strikes a conversation. He is excited at the prospect of hearing stories from the postman.

However, as soon as he is snubbed by him, he seems to embrace a certain melancholy attitude himself. Does a little part of the student become the postman? That being the case, how long before he fully becomes him? Is monotony of daily adult life ,a catalyst in this transition?

The chill of the morning and the surliness of the postman gradually infected the student. He looked apathetically at the country around him, waited for the warmth of the sun, and thought of nothing but how dreadful and horrible it must be for the poor grass and trees to endure the cold nights.

It’s not long after that the postman makes his disappointment known openly. 

It’s against the regulation to take anyone with the post. I do not wish it( to take anyone with the post)

Why didn’t you say so before, if you don’t like it?

The postman made no answer but still had an unfriendly, angry expression.

The clueless student is left wondering-

With whom was he angry? Was it with people, with poverty? With the autumn nights?

Now, I will be honest. I did judge the postman in my first read of the story. How mean! All the poor boy was trying to do was to strike a polite conversation. The postman chose to either shrink deeper into his coat or decided to completely ignore him.

He even reminded me of one of my colleagues back when I was fresh out of college and had just started working.

Of course, I felt bad for the boy because, well, he reminded me of me.

What all these years in the company of good patient friends has taught me, is that you have to give the villain a chance. So a chance is what I gave to the postman and read the story a second time, keeping the postman’s perspective in mind.

I could still not agree with his behavior towards the boy but I did end up having a better appreciation for why he did what he did.

With whom was he angry? Was it with people, with poverty? With the autumn nights?

As to finding the answer to this question, well, I have had no luck but I have strong suspicion that the search for it  is going to lead me in front of a mirror with a head full of grey hair.