Chekhov's A Dreary Story
Summer comes on and life is changed.
One fine morning Liza comes in to me and says in a jesting tone:
"Come, your Excellency! We are ready."
My Excellency is conducted into the street, and seated in a cab.
As I go along, having nothing to do, I read the signboards from
right to left. The word "Traktir" reads "Ritkart"; that would
just suit some baron's family: Baroness Ritkart. Farther on I
drive through fields, by the graveyard, which makes absolutely
no impression on me, though I shall soon lie in it; then I drive
by forests and again by fields. There is nothing of interest.
After two hours of driving, my Excellency is conducted into the
lower storey of a summer villa and installed in a small, very
cheerful little room with light blue hangings.
At night there is sleeplessness as before, but in the morning I
do not put a good face upon it and listen to my wife, but lie in
bed. I do not sleep, but lie in the drowsy, half-conscious
condition in which you know you are not asleep, but dreaming. At
midday I get up and from habit sit down at my table, but I do
not work now; I amuse myself with French books in yellow covers,
sent me by Katya. Of course, it would be more patriotic to read
Russian authors, but I must confess I cherish no particular
liking for them. With the exception of two or three of the older
writers, all our literature of today strikes me as not being
literature, but a special sort of home industry, which exists
simply in order to be encouraged, though people do not readily
make use of its products. The very best of these home products
cannot be called remarkable and cannot be sincerely praised
without qualification. I must say the same of all the literary
novelties I have read during the last ten or fifteen years; not
one of them is remarkable, and not one of them can be praised
without a "but." Cleverness, a good tone, but no talent; talent,
a good tone, but no cleverness; or talent, cleverness, but not a
I don't say the French books have talent, cleverness, and a good
tone. They don't satisfy me, either. But they are not so tedious
as the Russian, and it is not unusual to find in them the chief
element of artistic creation -- the feeling of personal freedom
which is lacking in the Russian authors. I don't remember one
new book in which the author does not try from the first page to
entangle himself in all sorts of conditions and contracts with
his conscience. One is afraid to speak of the naked body;
another ties himself up hand and foot in psychological analysis;
a third must have a "warm attitude to man"; a fourth purposely
scrawls whole descriptions of nature that he may not be
suspected of writing with a purpose. . . . One is bent upon
being middle-class in his work, another must be a nobleman, and
so on. There is intentionalness, circumspection, and self-will,
but they have neither the independence nor the manliness to
write as they like, and therefore there is no creativeness.
All this applies to what is called belles-lettres.
As for serious treatises in Russian on sociology, for instance,
on art, and so on, I do not read them simply from timidity. In
my childhood and early youth I had for some reason a terror of
doorkeepers and attendants at the theatre, and that terror has
remained with me to this day. I am afraid of them even now. It
is said that we are only afraid of what we do not understand.
And, indeed, it is very difficult to understand why doorkeepers
and theatre attendants are so dignified, haughty, and
majestically rude. I feel exactly the same terror when I read
serious articles. Their extraordinary dignity, their bantering
lordly tone, their familiar manner to foreign authors, their
ability to split straws with dignity -- all that is beyond my
understanding; it is intimidating and utterly unlike the quiet,
gentlemanly tone to which I am accustomed when I read the works
of our medical and scientific writers. It oppresses me to read
not only the articles written by serious Russians, but even
works translated or edited by them. The pretentious, edifying
tone of the preface; the redundancy of remarks made by the
translator, which prevent me from concentrating my attention;
the question marks and "sic" in parenthesis scattered all over
the book or article by the liberal translator, are to my mind an
outrage on the author and on my independence as a reader.
Once I was summoned as an expert to a circuit court; in an
interval one of my fellow-experts drew my attention to the
rudeness of the public prosecutor to the defendants, among whom
there were two ladies of good education. I believe I did not
exaggerate at all when I told him that the prosecutor s manner
was no ruder than that of the authors of serious articles to one
another. Their manners are, indeed, so rude that I cannot speak
of them without distaste. They treat one another and the writers
they criticize either with superfluous respect, at the sacrifice
of their own dignity, or, on the contrary, with far more
ruthlessness than I have shown in my notes and my thoughts in
regard to my future son-in-law Gnekker. Accusations of
irrationality, of evil intentions, and, indeed, of every sort of
crime, form an habitual ornament of serious articles. And that,
as young medical men are fond of saying in their monographs, is
the ultima ratio! Such ways must infallibly have an effect on
the morals of the younger generation of writers, and so I am not
at all surprised that in the new works with which our literature
has been enriched during the last ten or fifteen years the
heroes drink too much vodka and the heroines are not
I read French books, and I look out of the window which is open;
I can see the spikes of my garden-fence, two or three scraggy
trees, and beyond the fence the road, the fields, and beyond
them a broad stretch of pine-wood. Often I admire a boy and
girl, both flaxen-headed and ragged, who clamber on the fence
and laugh at my baldness. In their shining little eyes I read,
"Go up, go up, thou baldhead!" They are almost the only people
who care nothing for my celebrity or my rank.
Visitors do not come to me every day now. I will only mention
the visits of Nikolay and Pyotr Ignatyevitch. Nikolay usually
comes to me on holidays, with some pretext of business, though
really to see me. He arrives very much exhilarated, a thing
which never occurs to him in the winter.
"What have you to tell me?" I ask, going out to him in the hall.
"Your Excellency!" he says, pressing his hand to his heart and
looking at me with the ecstasy of a lover -- "your Excellency!
God be my witness! Strike me dead on the spot! Gaudeamus egitur
And he greedily kisses me on the shoulder, on the sleeve, and on
"Is everything going well?" I ask him.
"Your Excellency! So help me God! . . ."
He persists in grovelling before me for no sort of reason, and
soon bores me, so I send him away to the kitchen, where they
give him dinner.
Pyotr Ignatyevitch comes to see me on holidays, too, with the
special object of seeing me and sharing his thoughts with me. He
usually sits down near my table, modest, neat, and reasonable,
and does not venture to cross his legs or put his elbows on the
table. All the time, in a soft, even, little voice, in rounded
bookish phrases, he tells me various, to his mind, very
interesting and piquant items of news which he has read in the
magazines and journals. They are all alike and may be reduced to
this type: "A Frenchman has made a discovery; some one else, a
German, has denounced him, proving that the discovery was made
in 1870 by some American; while a third person, also a German,
trumps them both by proving they both had made fools of
themselves, mistaking bubbles of air for dark pigment under the
microscope." Even when he wants to amuse me, Pyotr Ignatyevitch
tells me things in the same lengthy, circumstantial manner as
though he were defending a thesis, enumerating in detail the
literary sources from which he is deriving his narrative, doing
his utmost to be accurate as to the date and number of the
journals and the name of every one concerned, invariably
mentioning it in full -- Jean Jacques Petit, never simply Petit.
Sometimes he stays to dinner with us, and then during the whole
of dinner-time he goes on telling me the same sort of piquant
anecdotes, reducing every one at table to a state of dejected
boredom. If Gnekker and Liza begin talking before him of fugues
and counterpoint, Brahms and Bach, he drops his eyes modestly,
and is overcome with embarrassment; he is ashamed that such
trivial subjects should be discussed before such serious people
as him and me.
In my present state of mind five minutes of him is enough to
sicken me as though I had been seeing and hearing him for an
eternity. I hate the poor fellow. His soft, smooth voice and
bookish language exhaust me, and his stories stupefy me. . . .
He cherishes the best of feelings for me, and talks to me simply
in order to give me pleasure, and I repay him by looking at him
as though I wanted to hypnotize him, and think, "Go, go, go! . .
." But he is not amenable to thought-suggestion, and sits on and
on and on. . . .
While he is with me I can never shake off the thought, "It's
possible when I die he will be appointed to succeed me," and my
poor lecture-hall presents itself to me as an oasis in which the
spring is died up; and I am ungracious, silent, and surly with
Pyotr Ignatyevitch, as though he were to blame for such
thoughts, and not I myself. When he begins, as usual, praising
up the German savants, instead of making fun of him
good-humouredly, as I used to do, I mutter sullenly:
"Asses, your Germans! . . ."
That is like the late Professor Nikita Krylov, who once, when he
was bathing with Pirogov at Revel and vexed at the water's being
very cold, burst out with, "Scoundrels, these Germans!" I behave
badly with Pyotr Ignatyevitch, and only when he is going away,
and from the window I catch a glimpse of his grey hat behind the
garden-fence, I want to call out and say, "Forgive me, my dear
Dinner is even drearier than in the winter. Gnekker, whom now I
hate and despise, dines with us almost every day. I used to
endure his presence in silence, now I aim biting remarks at him
which make my wife and daughter blush. Carried away by evil
feeling, I often say things that are simply stupid, and I don't
know why I say them. So on one occasion it happened that I
stared a long time at Gnekker, and, a propos of nothing, I fired
"An eagle may perchance swoop down below a cock,
But never will the fowl soar upwards to the clouds. . ."
And the most vexatious thing is that the fowl Gnekker shows
himself much cleverer than the eagle professor. Knowing that my
wife and daughter are on his side, he takes up the line of
meeting my gibes with condescending silence, as though to say:
"The old chap is in his dotage; what's the use of talking to
Or he makes fun of me good-naturedly. It is wonderful how petty
a man may become! I am capable of dreaming all dinner-time of
how Gnekker will turn out to be an adventurer, how my wife and
Liza will come to see their mistake, and how I will taunt them
-- and such absurd thoughts at the time when I am standing with
one foot in the grave!
There are now, too, misunderstandings of which in the old days I
had no idea except from hearsay. Though I am ashamed of it, I
will describe one that occurred the other day after dinner.
I was sitting in my room smoking a pipe; my wife came in as
usual, sat down, and began saying what a good thing it would be
for me to go to Harkov now while it is warm and I have free
time, and there find out what sort of person our Gnekker is.
"Very good; I will go," I assented.
My wife, pleased with me, got up and was going to the door, but
turned back and said:
"By the way, I have another favour to ask of you. I know you
will be angry, but it is my duty to warn you. . . . Forgive my
saying it, Nikolay Stepanovitch, but all our neighbours and
acquaintances have begun talking about your being so often at
Katya's. She is clever and well-educated; I don't deny that her
company may be agreeable; but at your age and with your social
position it seems strange that you should find pleasure in her
society. . . . Besides, she has such a reputation that . . ."
All the blood suddenly rushed to my brain, my eyes flashed fire,
I leaped up and, clutching at my head and stamping my feet,
shouted in a voice unlike my own:
"Let me alone! let me alone! let me alone!"
Probably my face was terrible, my voice was strange, for my wife
suddenly turned pale and began shrieking aloud in a despairing
voice that was utterly unlike her own. Liza, Gnekker, then
Yegor, came running in at our shouts. . . .
"Let me alone!" I cried; "let me alone! Go away!"
My legs turned numb as though they had ceased to exist; I felt
myself falling into someone's arms; for a little while I still
heard weeping, then sank into a swoon which lasted two or three
Now about Katya; she comes to see me every day towards evening,
and of course neither the neighbours nor our acquaintances can
avoid noticing it. She comes in for a minute and carries me off
for a drive with her. She has her own horse and a new chaise
bought this summer. Altogether she lives in an expensive style;
she has taken a big detached villa with a large garden, and has
taken all her town retinue with her -- two maids, a coachman . .
. I often ask her:
"Katya, what will you live on when you have spent your father's
"Then we shall see," she answers.
"That money, my dear, deserves to be treated more seriously. It
was earned by a good man, by honest labour."
"You have told me that already. I know it."
At first we drive through the open country, then through the
pine-wood which is visible from my window. Nature seems to me as
beautiful as it always has been, though some evil spirit
whispers to me that these pines and fir trees, birds, and white
clouds on the sky, will not notice my absence when in three or
four months I am dead. Katya loves driving, and she is pleased
that it is fine weather and that I am sitting beside her. She is
in good spirits and does not say harsh things.
"You are a very good man, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she says. "You
are a rare specimen, and there isn't an actor who would
understand how to play you. Me or Mihail Fyodorovitch, for
instance, any poor actor could do, but not you. And I envy you,
I envy you horribly! Do you know what I stand for? What?"
She ponders for a minute, and then asks me:
"Nikolay Stepanovitch, I am a negative phenomenon! Yes?"
"Yes," I answer.
"H'm! what am I to do?"
What answer was I to make her? It is easy to say "work," or
"give your possessions to the poor," or "know yourself," and
because it is so easy to say that, I don't know what to answer.
My colleagues when they teach therapeutics advise "the
individual study of each separate case." One has but to obey
this advice to gain the conviction that the methods recommended
in the textbooks as the best and as providing a safe basis for
treatment turn out to be quite unsuitable in individual cases.
It is just the same in moral ailments.
But I must make some answer, and I say:
"You have too much free time, my dear; you absolutely must take
up some occupation. After all, why shouldn't you be an actress
again if it is your vocation?"
"Your tone and manner suggest that you are a victim. I don't
like that, my dear; it is your own fault. Remember, you began
with falling out with people and methods, but you have done
nothing to make either better. You did not struggle with evil,
but were cast down by it, and you are not the victim of the
struggle, but of your own impotence. Well, of course you were
young and inexperienced then; now it may all be different. Yes,
really, go on the stage. You will work, you will serve a sacred
"Don't pretend, Nikolay Stepanovitch," Katya interrupts me. "Let
us make a compact once for all; we will talk about actors,
actresses, and authors, but we will let art alone. You are a
splendid and rare person, but you don't know enough about art
sincerely to think it sacred. You have no instinct or feeling
for art. You have been hard at work all your life, and have not
had time to acquire that feeling. Altogether . . . I don't like
talk about art," she goes on nervously. "I don't like it! And,
my goodness, how they have vulgarized it!"
"Who has vulgarized it?"
"They have vulgarized it by drunkenness, the newspapers by their
familiar attitude, clever people by philosophy."
"Philosophy has nothing to do with it."
"Yes, it has. If any one philosophizes about it, it shows he
does not understand it."
To avoid bitterness I hasten to change the subject, and then sit
a long time silent. Only when we are driving out of the wood and
turning towards Katya's villa I go back to my former question,
"You have still not answered me, why you don't want to go on the
"Nikolay Stepanovitch, this is cruel!" she cries, and suddenly
flushes all over. "You want me to tell you the truth aloud? Very
well, if . . . if you like it! I have no talent! No talent and .
. . and a great deal of vanity! So there!"
After making this confession she turns her face away from me,
and to hide the trembling of her hands tugs violently at the
As we are driving towards her villa we see Mihail Fyodorovitch
walking near the gate, impatiently awaiting us.
"That Mihail Fyodorovitch again!" says Katya with vexation. "Do
rid me of him, please! I am sick and tired of him . . . bother
Mihail Fyodorovitch ought to have gone abroad long ago, but he
puts off going from week to week. Of late there have been
certain changes in him. He looks, as it were, sunken, has taken
to drinking until he is tipsy, a thing which never used to
happen to him, and his black eyebrows are beginning to turn
grey. When our chaise stops at the gate he does not conceal his
joy and his impatience. He fussily helps me and Katya out,
hurriedly asks questions, laughs, rubs his hands, and that
gentle, imploring, pure expression, which I used to notice only
in his eyes, is now suffused all over his face. He is glad and
at the same time he is ashamed of his gladness, ashamed of his
habit of spending every evening with Katya. And he thinks it
necessary to explain his visit by some obvious absurdity such
as: "I was driving by, and I thought I would just look in for a
We all three go indoors; first we drink tea, then the familiar
packs of cards, the big piece of cheese, the fruit, and the
bottle of Crimean champagne are put upon the table. The subjects
of our conversation are not new; they are just the same as in
the winter. We fall foul of the University, the students, and
literature and the theatre; the air grows thick and stifling
with evil speaking, and poisoned by the breath, not of two toads
as in the winter, but of three. Besides the velvety baritone
laugh and the giggle like the gasp of a concertina, the maid who
waits upon us hears an unpleasant cracked "He, he!" like the
chuckle of a general in a vaudeville.
Cute good morning meme here http://memesbams.com/good-morning-meme/