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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"A Doctor's Visit" by Anton Chekhov

"A Doctor's Visit" By Anton Chekhov (15 pages)-read on line at

I have recently begun to overcome my life time aversion to short stories.    My first answer as to why I do not like short stories is that they are  "too short".   By this I mean I want my reading to take me to another world sometimes and short stories did not seem able to do that by the very nature of the form.  I have found what is for me a great way to read short stories by a number of authors.   That is through   This is a very well known and highly regarded web page that provides, for free (you will need to register so they can have an E mail address) a great many literary works as well as a large number of non-fiction selections.  They will E mail you every day about 3 to 5 minutes of the work you have subscribed to (if you ask they will send the next section at once and you can also get the story in your Google Reader).   I do not really think I am inclined to read a very long work this way but it is great for short stories.   They have as one of their new selection in the short story category "Classic Shorts:  Eight Stories for the Summer".   Here are the selections

A Doctor's Visit by Anton Chekhov 

A Respectable Woman by Kate Chopin 

The Jelly-Bean by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville 

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe 

Ivan the Fool by Leo Tolstoy 

Author! by P. G. Wodehouse
Of these stories, I have recently posted on Bartleby the Scrivener.   I have so far never read anything by Kate Chopin, Charlotte Gilman, or P. G. Wodehouse .   I will be rereading and probably posting on all these stories in the near future.

"A Doctor's Visit" by Anton Chekhov (1860 to 1904) seems for sure to be a Constant Garnett Translation.   (All of her translations are now in the public domain and her translation of Chekhov -considered her best work-can all be found on line) is the story of the visit of a Doctor who lives near Moscow to see the daughter of a very well of widow who owns a huge factory employing 1000s.   The daughter has an general complaint of not feeling well.   She cannot articulate exactly what is wrong.   The Doctor finds nothing physically wrong with her.      He finds out the factory doctor is treating her and he tells the Widow there is nothing seriously wrong with her daughter and the factory doctor can handle it.    He prepares to leave and the Widow insists that he stay for the night.  (Remember this is Russia late 19th century so the request is normal).   The power in this story is in the stream of consciousness of Doctor.   

The Widow and her daughter have become very wealthy and live a life of luxury through the labors of the factory workers.   The Widow thinks the factory workers (near serfs in many cases) are quite happy as they have festivals and such for them periodically.   She can in no sense identify with the workers,  this is a marvelous bit of pure Chekhov in which the Doctor reflects on the relationship of the Widow to the factory workers

"There is something baffling in it, of course . . ." he thought, looking at the crimson windows. 

Fifteen hundred or two thousand workpeople are working without rest in unhealthy surroundings, making bad cotton goods, living on the verge of starvation, and only waking from this nightmare at rare intervals in the tavern; a hundred people act as overseers, and the whole life of that hundred is spent in imposing fines, in abuse, in injustice, and only two or three so-called owners enjoy the profits, though they don't work at all, and despise the wretched cotton. But what are the profits, and how do they enjoy them? Madame Lyalikov and her daughter are unhappy--it makes one wretched to look at them; the only one who enjoys her life is Christina Dmitryevna, a stupid, middle-aged maiden lady in pince-nez."

He comes to see the complaint  of the daughter, of marriageable age and the Doctor feels the lack of a husband may be part of her problem, as caused by her guilt over the slavery of the factory workers with the end only of enriching her and her mother.   The Doctor sees her as new generation  of rich Russian beginning to see the injustices in their society.    Chekhov is the master of the small detail and this short story does really create a world we can enter.

The theoretical focus of my blog is the literary treatment of people whose lives are at least partially centered on reading.   The daughter in this story read all the time.    The daughter tells us this about her Reading Life:

"I am lonely. I have a mother; I love her, but, all the same, I am lonely. That's how it happens to be. . . . Lonely people read a great deal, but say little and hear little. Life for them is mysterious; they are mystics and often see the devil where he is not. Lermontov's Tamara was lonely and she saw the devil."

This is something to think about.    Maybe we will agree in part at least.

Chekhov is considered one of the great master of the short story.   He also wrote some plays and novellas.  I read last year his novella My Life.   Chekhov was a medical doctor and a  number of his stories center on doctors.   He was known for giving a great deal of free medical care to the poor.


Mark David said...

Hey you're reading Chekhov too! I'm currently on a quest to read his stories but I haven't yet touched on this one :)

Suko said...

Mel, I will read this story online soon--thanks for the link. I may also add your link to my Sundry Short Stories post--thanks again.

Rebecca Reid said...

I really enjoyed reading Chekov's stories -- I don't recall reading this particular one, but I loved the ones I did read. One favorite that I haven't forgotten was called THE STUDENT. It's very short (about 3 pages) and yet it did fully engage me. Masterfully done.