Anton Chekhov – At Home
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician,
dramatist and one of the greatest short story writers
Chekhov practised as a doctor throughout most of his literary career:
“Medicine is my lawful wife”, he once said,
“and literature is my mistress.”
Anton Chekhov dealt with many poignant themes of human
existence, of love, loss, pain, joy, suffering, victory,
sorrow and death.
He came from humble beginnings, the son of a grocer
and went on to become a renowned story-teller
and compassionate medical doctor who died
at forty-four and left behind some 240 stories
and some of the most influential plays
ever to hit the world stage.
The story I would like to comment on is ‘At Home‘,
first published as ‘Doma’ in New Times on
7 March 1887. It also appeared in the collection
In The Dusk, published in St Petersburg in
1887, and in many subsequent collections.
This story attracted high praise at the time:
Tolstoy considered it to be one of Chekhov’s best.
A busy lawyer comes home and engages in an
interaction with his seven-year old son who is
purported to have been smoking (reports the governess).
The only way he is able to win his son over is through a
little impromptu, tale, which has a major
impact on Seriozha, his son.
“An ending like this seemed to Bikovsky artless and absurd, but the whole tale had made a deep impression on Seriozha. Once more sadness and something resembling terror crept into his eyes; he gazed for a minute at the dark window and said in a low voice: ‘I won’t smoke any more -‘
What I enjoyed in this powerful, short story is how
Chekhov manages to capture the psychology of the
seven-year-old boy, who had recently lost his mother.
The haphazard, simplistic thought patterns of the
child serve to provoke Eugene Bikovsky’s power of reasoning:
‘He has his own field of thought,’ the lawyer reflected. ‘He has a little world of his own in his head, and knows what, according to him, is important and what is not. One cannot cheat him of his attention and consciousness by simply aping his language, one must also be able to think in his fashion.’
The story ends where the lawyer is ‘at peace’
of a kind, by incorporating the boy’s reasoning
into his own (that of a high-powered legal, analytical mind):
‘Medicine must be sweet, truth must be beautiful; this has been man’s folly since the days of Adam. Besides, it may all be quite natural, and perhaps it is as it should be. Nature herself has many tricks of expediency and many deceptions – ‘
This exquisite, sensitively written story is a must-read for
anyone who has had ‘any dealings’ with a seven-year-old!