The Schoolmistress and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov Book Review

Considered by some as the greatest short story teller, Chekov in the Schoolmistress and Other Stories tells of narratives that have deep realism, and highlight the life in Russia during the author’s time. The short stories take one to the very heart of ordinary human beings, who seem to suffer as they undergo their daily lives, yet profit as they solve their undertakings in the very end.

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Most of the stories are set in winter, where the characters are presented with huge challenges that make one to sympathize with them. One thing I loved about the book is the ability of the writer to vividly bring out the personality of the characters, developing them all round to a larger extent of making the reader visualise the plot and the setting of the stories. However, the translator of the book seems to have done a not so good job, as there are several typing errors and odd sentencing here and there, and this brings down the quality of a rather extraordinary work.

Overview of the Schoolmistress and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

There are 21 stories in the book, and the Schoolmistress is the first story. Marya Vassilyevna is a schoolmistress, who has been in the vocation for 13 years. Her parents, who died when she was ten years, are from Moscow, but she now lives and works in Vyazovye, a small town in Russia.

She is on her way in a cart driven by Semyon, to collect her salary. Along the way, she talks to her neighbor Hanov, who was an examiner in her school some years back, but has long since retired. She thinks of him as handsome, and fancies being his wife, for he lives alone in his big house. She wonders why such a handsome man is living in such a small ugly town that has nasty roads, when he has an option of living in Petersburg, or even abroad.

At length they ride together on the muddy roads that are covered with snow, as Marya contemplates about her school. They reach a small town, where they stop to have some tea, and then later on continue with the journey. All through Marya contemplates about many things including her background, family, love, and finally her future as a schoolmistress. In the end when she reaches Vyazovye, and parts with Hanov, she recovers from her reverie and stares at the small town, and wonders whether she had been dreaming, or this was her life after all.

downloadRealism versus Hardships in Schoolmistress and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

If one was to argue out that Chekhov characters seems to suffer, and that his realism is a bit of a stretch, one would be justified in thinking so, for most of the stories in the Schoolmistress seem to take the characters through a stream of adversity and challenges, that they seem to think that they are wasting their life.

A good example of this is the story Nervous Breakdown, where Vassilyev, a law student undergoes psychological trauma when he observes how prostitutes, or what Chekhov likes to call ‘Fallen Women’ live. Unlike his two friends Mayer, a medical student and Rybnikov, an art student, who neither see anything wrong with how prostitutes live nor having a tête-à-tête with them for a fee, Vassilyev on the other hand is profoundly disturbed by their lifestyle, and wonders how the two, as every other man, can comfortably go on with life as if nothing is wrong.

The fact that the women make a living from sleeping with men troubles him, and he ponders deeply on how he can help them to stop their vice. He conjures many ideas, save he is overwhelmed by the number of these women, who are selling their body for money. He suffers terribly to an extent of locking himself up into his room for two days, until in the end he is diagnosed into a hospital with a nervous breakdown.

Most of Chekhov characters seems to undergo hardships, and this begs the question whether this is something that can occur to a normal person in real life or not. One great example of this is in the story of Misery, where Iona Potapov a sledge-driver, has lost his son, but he does not have anyone to share his grieve with. Whenever he tries to talk to his customers, some call him names, as they shout orders at him in their merry voices as they look to go to a pub to enjoy themselves, while others ignore him and order him to shut up lest he bores them to death with his dearth wretched stories. Forlorn and dejected, the old man ends up sharing his loss with his horse.

One of the roles of the writer in my opinion is to make sure that the characters neither suffer too much, to have exceedingly ugliness in their lives to an extent of making them wallow in depression or worse commit suicide, nor become awfully happy and everything seem to work in their favor: they should be balanced.download (1)

Love as an Illusion in Schoolmistress and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

Turning our attention to love in the schoolmistress and other stories, Chekhov brings it out like a fantasy. The characters, who themselves are unable to act on their love, portray it as nothing more but an idea which is not worth sacrificing for. For instance in Champagne: A Wayfarer’s Story, the main character, who is anonymous, says he does not love his wife; he only married her because he was young and stupid. He feels his life is wasting away like a useless cigarette end. Even though it is New Year, he is bored stiff as he drinks Champagne with his wife.

As he takes a stroll from the railway station, he wonders what worse thing can happen to his life, after all his youth has been wasted away. To him, his wife is silly and talks too much. He abhors her, and does not feel a soul for her. She presents a hideous image in his life, to which he observes is of no use. He dejectedly thinks about her, and his career, and he feels he has been a failure in life, and when he comes from his walk, and returns to the station, he meets a young lady waiting for her, who is an aunt to his wife. He is captivated by her look, but he does not see any prospects of loving her either.images

It seems that love in the stories is a farfetched concept, and the characters themselves suffer in silence about their feelings. A clear example of this is in the A Lady’s Story, where Natalya Vladimirovna loves Pyotr Sergeyitch, a deputy prosecutor. She neither confides her feelings to him, nor allows him to have his way with her, for she reckons that she is young, beautiful, and comes from a rich family, while Pyotr is older and comes from poor background. Natalya feels her social and economic position does not allow her to be with a poor man like Pyotr, and she suffers in her pride and ego. Yet years afterwards when she is old and unattractive, she regrets that her social class, ego and pride did not allow her to confess her feelings to Pyotr. She feels disconsolate, sad, and ugly when she meets Pyotr again after so long.

 

One Response to “The Schoolmistress and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov Book Review”

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for your comment. You are welcome.

    Cheers,
    Ndiritu.

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