‘But the fact is, all these confounded questions are settled so much more easily at school or in a court than at home. Here, at home, one has to do with people whom one unreasoningly love, and love is exacting and complicates things. If this child were my pupil or prisoner at the bar, instead of being my son, I would not be such a coward and my thoughts would not wander as they now do.’
This collection of short stories took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions: terror, melancholy, euphoria, resignation, and confusion. I was most taken by Chekhov’s observations of human behaviour and, whilst he claims to be objective, one detects a firm sense of morality weaving through each tale. His subtle ridicule of the quasi-pious; dismantling of gender norms (which are still, unfortunately, strongly maintained in Russia); the innocence of childhood; and the greed of man, speak to modern times just as they did to 19th century Russia. This joyfully ensures Chekhov’s lasting literary appeal, whilst his cautionary tales remain relevant (because we simply will not learn!). His writing is delicate yet powerful, and the endings are often most unexpected. I felt grief-stricken when I finished The Trousseau, laughed out loud at the conclusion of Without A Title and felt truly afraid after reading Champagne. A real rollercoaster!
A somewhat daunting goal stemming from this book is to read Chekhov’s At Home (Дома) in Russian. I felt overcome with emotion as I read the tale of little Seriozha and his beloved papa. I wept at the purity and innocence of their relationship, and a reminder that not everything is as it seems. The father’s dubiety as he confronts the realities of parenthood to Seriozha’s adoration of his father are so wholesome, and much needed in this dark world. Highly recommended.