Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Chekhov’s sadness

From “A Woman’s Kingdom”:

“…she thought, too, that it was too late to dream of happiness, that everything was over for her, and it was impossible to go back to the life when she had slept under the same quilt with her mother, or to devise some new special sort of life.” 

From “Three Years”:

““However that may be, one has to give up all thoughts of happiness,” he said, looking out into the street. “There is none. I never have had any, and I suppose it doesn’t exist at all. I was happy once in my life, though, when I sat at night under your parasol. Do you remember how you left your parasol at Nina’s?” he asked, turning to his wife…”


“Laptev was convinced that the millions and the business which was so distasteful to him were ruining his life and would make him a complete slave. He imagined how, little by little, he would grow accustomed to his position; would, little by little, enter into the part of the head of a great firm; would begin to grow dull and old, die in the end, as the average man usually does die, in a decrepit, soured old age, making everyone about him miserable and depressed. But what hindered him from giving up those millions and that business and leaving that yard and garden which had been hateful to him from his childhood?” 

From “My Life”:

“I did not grieve for Dubechnya. I grieved for my love, which, too, was threatened with its autumn. What an immense happiness it is to love and be loved, and how awful to feel that one is slipping down from that high pinnacle!” 


“He was carried away by his subject, and no longer thought of my sister, nor of his grief, nor of me. Life was of absorbing interest to him. She has America and her ring with the inscription on it, I thought, while this fellow has his doctor’s degree and a professor’s chair to look forward to, and only my sister and I are left with the old things.” 

From “Peasants”:

“The river was crossed by a rickety little bridge of logs, and exactly below it in the clear, limpid water was a shoal of broad-headed mullets. The dew was glistening on the green bushes that looked into the water. There was a feeling of warmth; it was comforting! What a lovely morning! And how lovely life would have been in this world, in all likelihood, if it were not for poverty, horrible, hopeless poverty, from which one can find no refuge! One had only to look round at the village to remember vividly all that had happened the day before, and the illusion of happiness which seemed to surround them vanished instantly.” 


“Granny believed, but her faith was somewhat hazy; everything was mixed up in her memory, and she could scarcely begin to think of sins, of death, of the salvation of the soul, before poverty and her daily cares took possession of her mind, and she instantly forgot what she was thinking about.” 


“They lay down to sleep in silence; and the old people, troubled and excited by their reminiscences, thought how precious was youth, of which, whatever it might have been like, nothing was left in the memory but what was living, joyful, touching, and how terribly cold was death, which was not far off, better not think of it! The lamp died down. And the dusk, and the two little windows sharply defined by the moonlight, and the stillness and the creak of the cradle, reminded them for some reason that life was over, that nothing one could do would bring it back. . . . You doze off, you forget yourself, and suddenly someone touches your shoulder or breathes on your cheek—and sleep is gone; your body feels cramped, and thoughts of death keep creeping into your mind. You turn on the other side: death is forgotten, but old, dreary, sickening thoughts of poverty, of food, of how dear flour is getting, stray through the mind, and a little later again you remember that life is over and you cannot bring it back. . . .” 

All of these passages are translated by Constance Garnett. 


It’s interesting how last year I discovered many new writers and got some more favourites (Edith Wharton, Murasaki Shikibu, Soseki, Akutagawa, Cao Xueqin, etc.) but this year seems to be more like a year of rediscoveries. I read a few writers I never read before (kinda liked Marlowe, didn’t really get along with Ben Jonson, Balzac, nor Zola), but the main thing this year is that I reread Anna Karenina (again seeing it as the greatest novel of all time and the novel closest to my heart) and that I rediscovered Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Chekhov.

What is it about this year that I finally see the greatness that more or less eluded me several years ago? Or am I simply older?  


  1. I love Chekhov now but didn't get his appeal at all when I was younger. I thought "What's the big deal with Chekhov? Nothing happens!". I think it's because when we're younger we're more attuned to plot and not so much to mood or characterization.

  2. Also since you just finished Anna Karenina I would like to read your thoughts on Lady with a lapdog.

  3. Yeah. I think it was the inconclusive endings that bothered me.
    I read "Lady with a Lapdog" several years ago & remember liking it, but can't say much more than that. It's not in my current collection, but is in some others. You probably need to wait till I reread it, haha.
    What's your name?

  4. Replies
    1. Hi Brett,
      I've just reread "The Lady with the Little Dog" and love it. What do you want to talk about?


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