A.P. Chekhov - Hush!
IVAN YEGORITCH KRASNYHIN, a fourth-rate journalist, returns home
late at night, grave and careworn, with a peculiar air of
concentration. He looks like a man expecting a police-raid or
contemplating suicide. Pacing about his rooms he halts abruptly,
ruffles up his hair, and says in the tone in which Laertes
announces his intention of avenging his sister:
"Shattered, soul-weary, a sick load of misery on the heart . . .
and then to sit down and write. And this is called life! How is
it nobody has described the agonizing discord in the soul of a
writer who has to amuse the crowd when his heart is heavy or to
shed tears at the word of command when his heart is light? I
must be playful, coldly unconcerned, witty, but what if I am
weighed down with misery, what if I am ill, or my child is dying
or my wife in anguish!"
He says this, brandishing his fists and rolling his eyes. . . .
Then he goes into the bedroom and wakes his wife.
"Nadya," he says, "I am sitting down to write. . . . Please
don't let anyone interrupt me. I can't write with children
crying or cooks snoring. . . . See, too, that there's tea and .
. . steak or something. . . . You know that I can't write
without tea. . . . Tea is the one thing that gives me the energy
for my work."
Returning to his room he takes off his coat, waistcoat, and
boots. He does this very slowly; then, assuming an expression of
injured innocence, he sits down to his table.
There is nothing casual, nothing ordinary on his writing-table,
down to the veriest trifle everything bears the stamp of a
stern, deliberately planned programme. Little busts and
photographs of distinguished writers, heaps of rough
manuscripts, a volume of Byelinsky with a page turned down, part
of a skull by way of an ash-tray, a sheet of newspaper folded
carelessly, but so that a passage is uppermost, boldly marked in
blue pencil with the word "disgraceful." There are a dozen
sharply-pointed pencils and several penholders fitted with new
nibs, put in readiness that no accidental breaking of a pen may
for a single second interrupt the flight of his creative fancy.
Ivan Yegoritch throws himself back in his chair, and closing his
eyes concentrates himself on his subject. He hears his wife
shuffling about in her slippers and splitting shavings to heat
the samovar. She is hardly awake, that is apparent from the way
the knife and the lid of the samovar keep dropping from her
hands. Soon the hissing of the samovar and the spluttering of
the frying meat reaches him. His wife is still splitting
shavings and rattling with the doors and blowers of the stove.
All at once Ivan Yegoritch starts, opens frightened eyes, and
begins to sniff the air.
"Heavens! the stove is smoking!" he groans, grimacing with a
face of agony. "Smoking! That insufferable woman makes a point
of trying to poison me! How, in God's Name, am I to write in
such surroundings, kindly tell me that?"
He rushes into the kitchen and breaks into a theatrical wail.
When a little later, his wife, stepping cautiously on tiptoe,
brings him in a glass of tea, he is sitting in an easy chair as
before with his eyes closed, absorbed in his article. He does
not stir, drums lightly on his forehead with two fingers, and
pretends he is not aware of his wife's presence. . . . His face
wears an expression of injured innocence.
Like a girl who has been presented with a costly fan, he spends
a long time coquetting, grimacing, and posing to himself before
he writes the title. . . . He presses his temples, he wriggles,
and draws his legs up under his chair as though he were in pain,
or half closes his eyes languidly like a cat on the sofa. At
last, not without hesitation, he stretches out his hand towards
the inkstand, and with an expression as though he were signing a
death-warrant, writes the title. . . .
"Mammy, give me some water!" he hears his son's voice.
"Hush!" says his mother. "Daddy's writing! Hush!"
Daddy writes very, very quickly, without corrections or pauses,
he has scarcely time to turn over the pages. The busts and
portraits of celebrated authors look at his swiftly racing pen
and, keeping stock still, seem to be thinking: "Oh my, how you
are going it!"
"Sh!" squeaks the pen.
"Sh!" whisper the authors, when his knee jolts the table and
they are set trembling.
All at once Krasnyhin draws himself up, lays down his pen and
listens. . . . He hears an even monotonous whispering. . . . It
is Foma Nikolaevitch, the lodger in the next room, saying his
"I say!" cries Krasnyhin. "Couldn't you, please, say your
prayers more quietly? You prevent me from writing!"
"Very sorry. . . ." Foma Nikolaevitch answers timidly.
After covering five pages, Krasnyhin stretches and looks at his
"Goodness, three o'clock already," he moans. "Other people are
asleep while I . . . I alone must work!"
Shattered and exhausted he goes, with his head on one side, to
the bedroom to wake his wife, and says in a languid voice:
"Nadya, get me some more tea! I . . . feel weak."
He writes till four o'clock and would readily have written till
six if his subject had not been exhausted. Coquetting and posing
to himself and the inanimate objects about him, far from any
indiscreet, critical eye, tyrannizing and domineering over the
little anthill that fate has put in his power are the honey and
the salt of his existence. And how different is this despot here
at home from the humble, meek, dull-witted little man we are
accustomed to see in the editor's offices!
"I am so exhausted that I am afraid I shan't sleep . . ." he
says as he gets into bed. "Our work, this cursed, ungrateful
hard labour, exhausts the soul even more than the body. . . . I
had better take some bromide. . . . God knows, if it were not
for my family I'd throw up the work. . . . To write to order! It
He sleeps till twelve or one o'clock in the day, sleeps a sound,
healthy sleep. . . . Ah! how he would sleep, what dreams he
would have, how he would spread himself if he were to become a
well-known writer, an editor, or even a sub-editor!
"He has been writing all night," whispers his wife with a scared
expression on her face. "Sh!"
No one dares to speak or move or make a sound. His sleep is
something sacred, and the culprit who offends against it will
pay dearly for his fault.
"Hush!" floats over the flat. "Hush!"
Laertes: Hamlet, V, i
Byelinsky: Vissarion G. Belinsky (1811-1848) was a Russian
literary critic and journalist; he was interested in making
Russian literature more realistic, with the aim of encouraging
bromide: bromide of potassium was used in the 19th century as a