As I said in Pt.1 (1/3), the first nine stories in my collection are shorter comic/commentary pieces written early in his career. I decided to split these first nine stories up into three parts, each part focusing on three stories. This second part will focus on The Malefactor (1885), Panikhida (1886), and Anyuta (1886). Due to the brevity of these works (and their difference to Chekhov’s typical output) I will not rate these but instead will suggest whether they are worth reading with: YES, Yes, Maybe, No, or NO. Finally, these are just brief notes and thoughts on the stories, not full analyses, so take it with a grain of salt!
The Malefactor Analysis:
The Malefactor (1885) seems to be working at two levels: social commentary and pure comedy. These levels are both derived from the same conflict – the seeming inability for two social classes to understand one another. Denis is a poor villager who was caught taking the nuts off of a railroad track and is now in front of a judge. His reasoning is that his village always takes the nuts off of the track in order to use them for fishing sinkers, because how else are they expected to live and to fish. But the judge believes Denis keeps going off-topic because he can’t comprehend how this theft relates to the village’s everyday life and he does not realize what it is like to struggle for food. It is a rendition of a fairly commonly told story about the wealthy class’ ignorance towards the working class’ struggle. Layered on that are the humorous moments of miscommunication and misunderstanding that are often present in Chekhov’s stories which all lead to an expected but slightly odd ending.
Recommended Reading: Maybe
In Panikhida (1886), a father is at a service for his recently deceased daughter. She had been estranged for some time and became an actress in a time when it was not considered high-brow to be one. In his commemorative note, he quotes the Bible, calling his daughter Maria a harlot. It is not meant as an insult, but to equate her to someone who was unknown and who needed help. He is scolded by the priest for bringing such vulgar language into the church and cannot comprehend why he is being chastised for using text from the Bible at a sermon. Yet he goes along with it and simply asks the priest to put on a Panikhida (a type of memorial) for his daughter. He views the rest of the procession while in a state of remembrance, seeing his daughter coming home to him and her their last conversation.
Whereas The Malefactor viewed the misunderstandings between social classes, Panikhida seemed to be exploring that same difference but between the levels of the church. In his greatest time of grief, the father has either misinterpreted the Bible or simply interpreted a line differently, yet he is yelled at by the priest instead of comforted. The church is more invested in its appearance and level of self-identified morality rather than what its main purpose is – in comforting the dying, the grieving and the afraid in their times of need. While the set-up could have been handled better to evoke more sympathy in the father, overall, it still has an impact especially due to the latter half.
Recommended Reading: Yes
Anyuta (1886) opens with a medical student living with his girlfriend, Anyuta. He uses her body to draw on with charcoal in order to better understand anatomy and then sends her off to a friend who needs a model to paint. While she is away, he decides it is time to break up with her, but when she comes back and cries at his idea, he feels some remorse and so tells her to stay, knowing he is only delaying what he really wants.
The story is commenting on how men in the period perceived women to be expendable. Anyuta is simply fulfilling her purposes in the student’s mind. She is there to please him and help him achieve his goals, to be given to his friends when needed, and then to be thrown out when he is bored with her. And Anyuta is just a silent character with her own thoughts, recalling that all of this has happened to her before and will inevitably continue. Chekhov’s creation of two fully formed characters – that both feel real as people and as cultural symbols – in as little as four pages, is truly an accomplishment.
Recommended Reading: YES
Out of these three, Anyuta is a beautiful story that is highly worth reading and Panikhida has some wonderfully tender moments in the second half that may merit it a read as well. As for The Malefactor, it feels a bit odd in its attempt to blend comedy with the intended topic, but may be worth reading if you’re interested in Chekhov’s evolution as a writer. Nonetheless, there is something to be gained from each story, and they are all so brief that you might as well check them out. The next (and final) three early stories I’ll be reading are Easter Night (1886), Vanka (1886), and Sleepy (1888).
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