Saturday, November 19, 2005

44. The Duel by Anton Chekhov

The Duel book pictureI'm pushing things a bit considering The Duel a book, but it's more a novella, even a very long short story, but it is published alone and is thus literally "a book". Chekhov is one of those authors that I would sort of pretend to myself that I kind of new about but would never (except perhaps when really drunk or in my 20's) have expressed this out loud. After reading The Fixer and after being quite rewarded by getting through Oblomov last year, I'm starting to find Russian literature interesting, even entertaining. They are a bizarre people, judging by their literature and the one Russian friend I had (my strongest memory of Dima, my old workmate in the Chain Division of Western Books, is him standing next to our delivery truck, holding a bag of his own puke in the air, saying "Do I look suspicious?") and I can see why a certain segment of young academics fall in love with them and go off to Russia to study.

The Duel is about a small group of the gentry in an isolated seaside town. One of them, Laevky, has fallen out of love with his mistress, but he's such a pathetic, ineffectual person that he can't do anything about it. Another character, an agressive opinionated zoologist constantly attacks Laevky verbally behind his back. The duel is almost an afterthought to the study of the two men and the people around them. In the end, everybody seems flawed but ultimately pleasant and gentle. It's a very different tone from The Fixer. The only cruelty (and even that is too extreme of a word) is more a result of the inevitable conflicts of life and society and human flaws than any deliberate malevolance.

I had thought Chekhov was more about intrigue, plotting and nasty machinations, dark studies of human conflict. This is only one story, but from the introduction, it sounds like Chekhov's books were very sympathetic to his characters. He himself sounds like an amazing person. He came out of poverty, supported his family by writing, became a doctor and wrote and treated thousands of poor people for free before dying at 41 of tuberculosis.

I'll read more Chekhov for sure.

2 comments:

Buzby said...

Bringing out the big intellectual guns close to the end...nice.

Jarrett said...

You must read "The Cherry Orchard." I can't recall exact details, which means I should read it again, but I do remember reading and thinking, "wow. this guy knows his shit." I was especially impressed, in that undergraduate way, by the plucking violin string that shows up at different parts of the play. That was before I read an Beckett. I was into the surrealist idea that a violin string would just sound in the middle of a life, scene, conversation...

Anyway. I have read others but would have to look up their titles.

Good looking, getting close to 50, here.