Anton Checkov: Rock Star
To ask why Anton Chekhov, a Russian author of the late 19th century, is enduring, is to ask why any great literature is enduring...Because, I answer, many of the same political, social, and spiritual currents that pulse through contemporary America are also present in his work, only amplified and reverberated through 75 watt Gibson speakers and played in such beautiful harmonies that it reaffirms our very existence. Chekhov was a musician. According to literature translator, Richard Pevear, although Chekhov’s “language is perhaps the plainest in Russian literature, he built his stories by musical means--curves, repetitions, modulations, intersecting tones, unexpected resolutions.” One example of this is in “The Huntsman,” linked here…www.online-literature.com/anton_chekhov/1131/
The story is set in rural russia near an unnamed village, which gives the huntsman,Yegor Vlasych’s, experience a sense of universality, as though it could happen anywhere. The day is “sultry and stifling.” “The sun-scorched earth looks bleak.” It is a kind of desert, through which, the red-faced and sweaty Yegor wanders, until like a mirage, Pelageya appears. Soon, it is clear the two have a history.
Isaac Ilyich Levitan “ The Vladimirka Road, 1892.”
“You stopped by our cottage for a drink of water on easter day, and we haven’t seen you since,” Pelageya says. “You swore at me, beat me, and left.”
My soul can’t stand living all the time in the village,” he says.
He wants a good bed, tea, delicate conversation, but also to be revered as a great hunter for his master--the rich nobleman who has boarded him. Thus, begins Yegor’s battle with his guilty conscious--who we later find out be his wife. She states his crime. He tries to maintain his dignity in an aristocratic society that has all but stripped him of it.
“It’s not a dignified way to live,” she says.
“You don’t understand, stupid,” he says and paradoxically, given the nature of his master-servant relationship to the aristocrat, adds, “Once a free spirit settles in a man, there’s no getting it out of him.” This is clearly a person who is working things out.
Call. Response. Call. Response. The theme is established. Two discordant melodies entered into conversation.The story ends with Yegor trying to pay off the debt to his conscious. He throws Pelageya a ruble and walks away while she remains standing in the scorched field--sympathetic and achingly, wholly human.
On this final note, Chekhov's style is deliberately, almost defiantly, in contrast to other writers of his time. Peaver writes, “His characters are not monumental personalities dramatically portrayed, like the heroes of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, they are sharply observed types--the darling, the explainer, the fidget, the student, the malefactor, the man in a case, the heiress, the bishop, the fiancee.”
According to historian D.S. Mirsky, they are made of “the common stuff of humanity. And in this sense, Chekhov is the most democratic of writers.” His writing shows that for better or worse everyone is affected by the dominant attitudes of their age, that, in Checkhov's own words, “tags and labels” are prejudices. And the real holy of holies is “the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and the most absolute freedom imaginable, freedom from violence and lies, no matter what form the latter two take.” Sounds like the words of a rockstar to me.
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