Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Imagining Chekhov - three short stories by Alison MacLeod from her collection, All The Beloved Ghosts - 2017

Imagining Chekhov - three short stories by Alison MacLeod from her collection, All The Beloved Ghosts - 2017

“Woman With Little Pug”

“Chekhov’s Telescope”

“The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov”

Anton  Chekhov

January 29, 1860. Taganrog, Russia

July 15, 1904. Badweller, Germany

“Lady with a Dog” by Anton Chekhov - 1899

I first read Anton Chekhov’s “Lady With a Dog” very long ago, in days before the fall of Atlantis.  I just read it again.  It id a very acute account of the motivations for and perils of adultery.  We see how, at least in 1898, adultery was very different for men versus  women. (I wonder if the current pandemic is lowering rates of adultery, it certainly makes intimate contact with near strangers not  a good idea.). The man in Chekhov’s story is a serial philander.  He is skilled at finding vulnerable women and in past has avoided emotional entanglements. Chekhov shows us what happens when he loses control.  In the process we learn about the privlidged
lives of affluent late Romanov Era Russians”

“Woman With a Pug” is set in modern Brighton, a seaside resort in England.  Never having been there, i believe Brighton would be preceived as a bit tacky and downscale if the man and woman from   Chekhov’s story were to visit there as Ghosts.  Like the lady in Chekhov’s story, the woman in this story has (maybe?) a little pug.  Pursuing the theme of down scaling, she won a week in the hotel where she meets her lover.  In 1898 it meant considerable to call a woman a lady, this is also now a ghost of the past.  We learn about the life of both parties, like the man in Chekhov’s story, he is motivated as much by boredom as sexual need.  Something very perplexing happens with her dog.  Certainly we are provided with a mystery.

As I read this story, and if I had not read Chekhov’s just before i read MacLeod’s my focus would have been different but I was haunted by the ghost of Chekhov.

“Chekhov’s Telescope”

Olga Knipper - married to Anton Chekhov from 1901 to 1904, when he dies of Tuberculosis.

Born 1868 in Glaszov, Russia

Died 1959 in Moscow

She was a very succesful actress, preforming in three of Chekhov’s plays, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard.  She met Chekhov while in The Cherry Orchard.

“Chekhov’s Telescope” begins on a passenger yacht headed for Yalta.  Russia’s most famous literary writer and a celebrated actress  , Olga Knipperare, they are not yet married but very much in love are heading for a visit to a  resort.  The water is choppy
as Chekhov tells Olga to look through his Telescope at Yalta.  His return to Yalta is being covered by the media.  A reporter has been told to get details on the famous writer and the actress.  They do stay in different hotels to avoid scandal.  The reporter has been told, as modern tabloid writer might be,to get “The Goods” on the famous couple, even in 1898 scandal sales papers.

He shows Olga in the Telescope the reporter who is stalking them,
“Sergei Rogov had a ruthless eye, long legs and his quarry in view.”

In the conversation of Olga and Chekhov she teases him about other women attracted to a famous writer.  Chekhov enjoys the clean air of Yalta over Moscow.

The reporter resents the good life of the couple, compared to his edge of starvation existence:

“He followed the Great Writer, first to the genteel home of Dr Sredin, where Chekhov had arranged lodgings for Olga, so that she, an actress, might appear respectable during her stay in Yalta. Such hypocrisy, thought Sergei. Nearby, Chekhov booked himself into a balcony room on the third floor of the Hotel Marino. The youth had waited on a bench opposite the hotel for five hours, sustaining himself on cured sturgeon and day-old bread, when his efforts were at last rewarded. A carriage drew up and Olga stepped out, her head bowed. Oh, the elaborate ruses of the middle-aged, thought Sergei, spitting out his crusts.”

It was great fun to listen in on the conversations of Olga and Chekhov.  Olga makes a prediction of the great story he will be inspired to write.  We get a look at Life of Chekhov, MacLeod’s desciption of a visit to The Imperial Palace was a wonderful interlude.  We also get to read letters exchanged between Olga and Chekhov, copied by reporter who bribed a courier to read them.

There is a foreshadowing the closing lines of the story:

“And when Chekhov doubled over in Olga’s arms, racked with coughing, Sergei felt too the shock of it: of the wide world telescoping into a blot of blood on the white beach.”

“The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov”

This story is told in the first person by Anton Chekhov.  It truly is a story of a beloved Ghost, a masterful work, chilling.

Olga and Chekhov, now married,  are checking into the very grand (and still open) Hotel Römerbad. It is  just a 5 minutes’ walk from the Spa Park in Bad Salzuflen, Germany where on the advise of his
doctor, Chekhov will be treated in hopes it will defeat the tuberculois  that Chekhov himself knows will soon kill him.

Chekhov begins to see Ghosts from this youth:

“But Olga and my physician agree a German spa is what I need, not the wilderness of the Steppe – and I suppose I am no longer fit for sleeping in gullies or in the lee of ancient burial mounds. When I was fifteen, my brother and I spent one last summer there, lodging with the family of a long-standing tenant of my father’s. They were Cossacks and owned a ranch, and were as wild and uncouth as my family were pious and fearful. The floor was earthen, the roof was made of straw, their goat shared the rug on which we slept and the walls of the house were covered in sabres, pistols and whips.”

The hotel tells Olga that she and her husband must leave, his coughing and sickly appearance are bad for business.

As his illness increases so does his love for and dependence on Olga:

“In the mornings, Olga finds me the Russian papers, and translates the German ones. In the afternoon, I play patience, and she narrates the daily dramas that unfold outside the Badenweiler post office. I tell her that Germany is incapable of drama. Everyone is far too well-behaved. But she assures me that a man is hurriedly posting a letter, that a dog truly does lift its leg against a lamp post and that a child falls down and scrapes its knee. I tell her the tedium of Badenweiler will kill me even if the TB does not. How I long for the dirt and commotion of Moscow. Later, we sit in the park until the sun goes down. Then, in our room, Olga injects me with morphia and rubs my feet. Sometimes I sleep.”

The relationship of Olga and Chekhov is just so real, it reminded me a bit of that of my wife and I.  I see from this how lucky I am.

We see how Russians in 1904 viewed Germans.

I do not want to tell more of this story.  It takes an artist of great skill to speak in voice of a master, MacLeod stunned me with this work.

There was recently a BBC production based on these stories. I am geographically blocked from The BBC so I do not know if it is still online.

Alison MacLeod is a novelist and short story writer. Her most recent book, the story collection 'All the Beloved Ghosts', was shortlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Prize for best story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was a 'Best Book of 2017' for the Guardian, and a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Her website has a detailed bio.

Mel u

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

This is a collection I really admired too. She captures so much. (I can't access the BBC programs either; I can reach the site, but they no longer seem to be available.)