My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I feel that the three stories warrant separate reviews. Also, because the point of these stories is not the twist at the end, I will not be censoring details. However, if you’re allergic to spoilers, I would advise you to stop here.
I think I loved this story most of all. It tells of an awkward officer’s first experience of a woman’s kiss and how it consumes his life for a couple of months. There is definitely an element of the “epiphany” here, in which there is a moment of striking revelation when the character, Ryabovich is suddenly awakened to the true nature of the kiss and his daydreaming. I couldn’t help feeling terribly sorry for the poor man, unlucky in life and in love, but I felt even worse knowing that he’d had dreams of an imaginary lover and a life with her, and that they were shattered in the end as he realised how stupid he was for cherishing those ideas, because he’d known deep down that it was not possible for him to ever live that sort of life.
The Two Volodyas
Sophia Lvovna lives in denial, telling herself that she loves her husband, Big Volodya, while she secretly desires the love of her childhood friend, Little Volodya. When she meets old-friend-turned-nun, Olga, she is frightened by the idea that salvation from a horrendously meaningless life is only possible through troika rides and through religion. However, towards, the end, Chekhov reveals the true nature of Olga’s practice, and we realise how there really is no escape from the suffering we all call life.
This story is mainly an old man’s angst-filled rant about his brother’s pursuit of a peaceful pastoral life. I think it would especially resonate with modern society because we’re stuck trying to better our lives and leave the noise and bustle of city life. In contrast with the old days in which the rich could afford to live in town, nowadays, it’s the poor who are unable to escape. Ivan Ivanych condemns his brother’s way of life, especially with regards to the gooseberries Nikolay so desired to be planted in his estate. He thought the gooseberries hard and sour even as Nikolay lauded their taste. Ivan realises that society is a big illusion of tranquility and happiness. We only feel peace and quiet because those who are suffering to make things work for us do not or are unable to speak up. Even as Ivan criticises this practice, the narrator lets slip a subtle remark that the men’s “wide, cool beds” had been made by Alyokhin’s beautiful servant, Pelageya. Their comfort inevitably came at the expense of another’s labour.
To read or not to read?
Yes, if you enjoy James Joyce’s The Dubliners (which I did). However, Chekhov’s characters are a lot more distanced from us compared to Joyce’s. It’s hard to find someone you can completely sympathise with, but the characters are as human as could possibly be, and Chekhov, who, according to my professor, loves all his characters, depicts them in all their glory (and craziness).