I am into Russian literature mood. Most specifically into Russian literature from the 19th century mood. After the historical The Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin I turned to a rather different topic – the short stories of the master Chekhov. Until now I had read just a few, mostly in literature classes, where I needed to analyze them endlessly. For the first time now, though, I read 10 short stories in a row and I loved all of them.
Chekhov’s stories follow the daily life of ordinary Russian people from the 19th century. The author is not concerned with the rich and the wealthy; he finds the simple people: the peasants, the poor, the beggars, the sufferers more interesting, more challenging, more revealing. The Russian genius portrays the depths of human joy, confusion, dissatisfaction, and sorrow. Using irony and satire, he condemns human characteristics such as greed, avarice, stupidity, jealousy, and egocentrism. His protagonists are not absolute people in absolute situations; they are common ones who suffer common problems – lack of money, unhappy love, separation, marriage problems, etc. Reading Chekhov I could relate his personages not only to 19th century people but also to contemporary ones. The author ingeniously captures the anguish of the human soul, the clash between what the heart wants and what the heart needs, and the controversies that shape our everyday life. It is easy to recognize yourself in one or more of Chekhov’s short stories. They are written to be understood, to be felt, to be studied, and to learned from.
Personal favorites of mine? Well, more or less I loved all of them but I was mostly fond of the ones, which featured a lot of irony and sarcasm towards the human being and its place in society. For example Anna on the Neck – a beautiful young girl who marries a much older man for his money. In the beginning she is still attached to her poor relatives but as the glamour and luxury of the high society surrounds her, she becomes detached from her previous life and she is ashamed of her family. Or The Lady with the Dog, a short story that focuses on our almost painful need for love and understanding. The lady with the dog is a 30-something unhappily married woman. Gurov is older than her, also unhappy with his wife, who however constantly seeks escape in the form of numerous affairs. When they finally meet each other, they realize the destroying need for love and affection.
And probably one of the most famous short stories by Chekhov – The Man in a Case. The story is about a Greek-language school teacher, who is obsessed with rules and regulations. He fears change, possibilities, and freedom. Prohibitions are safe for him as they clearly state what shouldn’t be done. Freedom, on the other hand, is endless and uncontrollable and it can take numerous directions that Belikov cannot control. Thus he surrounds his whole life in a case – to protect himself not only from trouble but also from happiness and enjoyment. Certainly, Chekhov meant Belikov as a figure of ridicule. Still, the author remains objective and doesn’t judge; he leaves this pleasure to the readers.
The magic of Chekhov’s short stories is that seemingly they are mostly about nothing. Trivial situations, ordinary people, banal feelings. But if you let character, observation, and mood into your heart, you will definitely see that almost no other author has captured so deeply the happiness, joy, suffering, and love of the human being with so much detail, sympathy, and pity. Because even though Chekhov laughs at his characters, we can still feel he is not a judge of human imperfections; he understands, accepts, and forgives.