My favorite short story writer is Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was born into a rather large family in 1860, in the Russian town of Taganrog. Though the family had been rather well off, Chekov’s father eventually fell into debt and the family moved to Moscow, where they lived in poverty – a teenage Chekhov was left behind in Taganrog to sell off the family assets in order to pay the debts. Chekhov was already attending a university and was studying to become a doctor; in order to pay for this tuition he took various jobs, including selling birds, tutoring, and writing. Though Chekhov has written some well-known dramatic plays, such as The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard, it is his short stories that have gained him notoriety as a writer.
Since Chekhov was a doctor by profession, he was trained to look at patients and their illnesses, and subsequent emotions clinically, without asserting his own emotions into the situation. However, because Chekhov was a life-long sufferer of tuberculosis, he had to deal with all the tremendous physical and emotional states of consciousness that is typical of the manifestations of that disease. It was because Chekhov himself suffered, that he understood human emotion and shared the same states of despair as many of his patients – this connection is apparent in many of his short stories; Misery, To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief and The Bet, are but two stories that demonstrate this ability.
Misery, To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief, allows the reader to look into a small window of the life of a lonely man named Iona Potapov. Iona and his horse are hauling a sledge containing packages during a bitter winter day, dropping them of at various addresses. At each address, Iona has managed small conversations, and tells several different persons that his son has died; however, no one seems to care or acknowledges the fact. It seems that everyone is indifferent to his misery and perhaps it is only this way because everyone else seems to be suffering themselves in one way or another, and cannot, or is unwilling to console Iona. In the end, Iona has no one to share his grief with but his horse. In The Bet, an argument between a middle-aged banker and young lawyer ensues over the immorality between capital punishment and life in prison. The lawyer states that he’d rather be imprisoned for life – that any life is life. The banker challenges the lawyer to stay in a cell for five years, for two millions (rubles?); however the lawyer says that he will stay for fifteen, and the bet is made. The lawyer has no contact with the outside world and is provided with only books and music for entertainment. During the lawyer’s imprisonment, the banker becomes nearly bankrupt, except for the two millions to be paid to the lawyer upon his release – thus, he surmises to kill the lawyer in order to keep the money; however, the lawyer purposely forfeits the agreement by leaving the cell a few minutes early and has left a letter for the banker – the lawyer no longer wants the money because he despises the false sense of truth, importance, security that money brings. Because of all the knowledge of the books and music that he has retained, he sees truth and wisdom in reality, no matter how beautiful or ugly.
Chekhov’s stories give the reader no resolve to the grief experienced by the characters – he is willing to show human nature for what it often is: sometimes people are cold and unfeeling, unwilling to acknowledge the struggles of those around them, and others are oftentimes so consumed with their despair, that they cannot recognize the same in others. Chekhov lets us know, on no uncertain terms, that grief is a lonely place. Perhaps his stories were written to help humankind change its selfish ways by forcing us to look upon ourselves and how we treat others and to know though we all suffer, we are all united by the very same emotional detachments that separate our consciousness from reality – tragedy and loss. Chekhov died from tuberculosis in 1904, at the age of forty-four, and his wife was left live out all the disparaging, unresolved, and incommunicable emotions played out in so many of Chekhov’s stories.
You can read Misery, To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief, and The Bet inThe Modern Tradition: An Anthology of Short Stories, Howard, Daniel F., Third Edition, 1976. Little, Brown, & Company, Canada.
More history of Chekhov referenced from notablebiographies.com, at the URL listed below: http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ch-Co/Chekhov-Anton.html