"Gusev" is by the Russian short story writer, dramatist, and novelist Anton Chekhov. Checkhov is widely considered to be a master of the modern short story. "Gusev" was first published singly in the St. Petersburg daily newspaper Novoe Vremia (New Times) in 1890. It was subsequently published in 1893 by A. S. Suvorin in the short story collection Palata No. 6 (i drugie rasskazy). As of 2007, the story is available in The Steppe and Other Stories, which was published in 1998.
Chekhov gained the inspiration for "Gusev" from the experiences he gathered on a voyage he made in 1890 to the prison island of Sakhalin, a remote Russian territory in the North Pacific. The story is set in a ship's sick-bay, which is filled with sick and injured soldiers and sailors who are returning to Russia after serving in the Far East. It contrasts the approaches to human suffering displayed by two sick men, the discharged soldier Gusev, who is from the peasant class, and Paul Ivanovich, a revolutionary member of the intelligentsia (in Russia, this term was applied to the intellectual elite). The story is told from a humane, compassionate, and non-judgmental point of view (which is typical of Chekhov's work), and exemplifies the author's ability to evoke realistic situations and emotion through close observation of detail.
Anton Chekhov was born in the South Russian seaport of Taganrog on January 29, 1860. (Some
sources give his birth date as January 16.) This is because until 1918, Russia followed the Julian calendar, which was several days behind the Gregorian calendar used in Europe and America (and still used today). The Julian calendar dates are often referred to as Old Style and the Gregorian calendar dates as New Style. (Dates given here are New Style.) Chekhov grew up surrounded by peasant life but became a member of the intelligentsia, and his writings reflected this dual viewpoint.
Chekhov's father went bankrupt in 1876. The Chekhovs moved to Moscow, leaving Anton in Taganrog to finish his schooling. In 1879, Chekhov earned a scholarship to Moscow University to study medicine, and went to live with his family in their damp and crowded basement apartment. He wrote pieces for the popular press for money, and soon overtook his father's earnings as breadwinner for the family.
After graduating in 1884, Chekhov went into medical practice in Moscow. The experiences that Chekhov gained while practicing medicine found their way into his writings. Also in 1884, he began to show symptoms of tuberculosis, which afflicted him for the rest of his life.
Between 1883 and 1885, Chekhov published numerous short stories, including "Smert chinovnika" ("The Death of a Government Official," 1883), and "Ustritsy" ("Oysters," 1884). He also published his only attempt at a novel, Drama na okhote (The Shooting Party, 1884). In 1884, Chekhov published his first collection of stories, Skazki Melpomeny (Tales of Melpomene), under the pseudonym of Antosha Chekhonte. These works introduce the major themes of Chekhov's fiction: the petty tyranny of government officials, the sufferings of the poor, the unpredictability of human emotion, and the ironic misunderstandings, disappointments, and cross-purposes that make up the human comedy.
As Chekhov's literary reputation grew, he cut down on his medical duties. He published a short story collection V sumerkakh: Ocherki i rasskazy (In the Twilight: Sketches and Stories) in 1887, and it won the Pushkin Prize. Also in 1887, his play Ivanov was published and performed in Moscow. It was well received by audiences. The following year his short story, "Step" ("The Steppe,") was published in the literary journal, Severny vestnik (the Northern Herald).
From 1888 to 1893, Chekhov was influenced by Leo Tolstoy's Christian-derived beliefs based on simplicity, pacifism, and nonviolent resistance to evil. He first met Tolstoy in 1895.
In June 1889, Chekhov nursed his brother Nikolai, who was ill with tuberculosis. When Nikolai died, Chekhov's brother Aleksandr reported that Anton was the only family member who had not cried. Chekhov's mother and his sister later claimed that he never cried in his life.
In 1890, Chekhov made a trip to the Russian penal colony on the island of Sakhalin in the North Pacific, having obtained official permission to conduct a survey of the island. His experiences in this period inspired several stories, including "Gusev" (first published in the Novoe vremia [New Times] in 1890 and then in the collection Palata No. 6 (i drugie rasskazy) in 1893). Other stories written at this time are "V ssylke" ("In Exile," 1892), and "Palata No. 6" ("Ward No. 6," 1892). He published his book on Sakhalin, Ostrov Sakhalin (Sakhalin Island, 1895) serially in Russkaia mysl (Russian Thought), though it suffered censorship.
Chekhov returned to Russia via Hong Kong, Singapore, and Ceylon. In 1891, he traveled to western Europe, visiting Italy and France. By the end of that year he was raising funds to assist peasant victims of famine. It was an act of philanthropy characteristic of Chekhov, who frequently gave medical treatment to the poor for no payment. In 1892, for the sake of his failing health and to avoid the expense of Moscow, he bought the country estate of Melikhovo, fifty miles south of Moscow, and moved there with his extended family.
While Chekhov's stories were popular, he lacked confidence in his ability to please the public with his plays. His fear was borne out when his play Chaika (The Seagull, 1896) was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1896, but was hissed off the stage.
In 1898, Chekhov was persuaded, against his initial inclinations, to allow Chaika to be performed at the new Moscow Art Theater. The theater was set up by the innovative directors Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Constantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski, who pioneered a new realistic approach to drama that explored character and action from both psychological and physical angles. This time, the play met with success.
During the same year, Chekhov's father died. Chekhov built a house in Yalta and the family moved there in 1899. Chekhov continued his collaboration with the Moscow Art Theatre, where his play Diadia Vania (Uncle Vanya) was performed in 1899 with moderate success. Between 1899 and 1901, the first collected edition of his works, Sochineniia, was published in six volumes.
In 1901, Chekhov's play Tri sestry (Three Sisters) was first performed. In the same year, Chekhov married Olga Knipper, an actress with the Moscow Art Theater. Although there appears to have been genuine affection between the two, Chekhov was uncomfortable with her constant presence and organized trips alone.
The last years of Chekhov's life brought official recognition for his literary and philanthropic work. In 1888, he was awarded the Pushkin Prize of the Division of Russian Language and Letters of the Academy of Sciences for his collection of stories V sumerkakh (In the Twilight). He was elected an Honorary Academician of the Pushkin Section of Belles Lettres of the Academy of Sciences in 1899. In the same year, he was awarded the Order of St. Stanislav for work in education. In 1902, he won the Griboyedov Prize of the Society of Dramatic Writers and Opera Composers for Tri syostry (Three Sisters).
The year 1904 saw the first performance of Chekhov's last play, Vishnyovy Sad (The Cherry Orchard, 1904), at the Moscow Art Theater. Chekhov died of a heart attack at the German spa of Badenweiler on July 15, 1904 (or on July 2, according to the Julian calendar).
"Gusev" opens in the sick-bay of a ship returning home to Russia from the Far East. The sick-bay is populated by sick and injured soldiers and sailors who have been discharged from service. It is growing dark. Two of the men are conversing: Gusev, a discharged soldier from a peasant background, and Paul Ivanovich, an intellectual. Gusev displays his superstitious peasant's attitudes as he tells Paul Ivanovich that he has heard of a ship that collided with "a great fish … and "broke her bottom." As the weather worsens, Gusev says that the wind has "broken loose from its chain." Paul Ivanovich replies irritably to what he sees as Gusev's ignorant theories about how the world works, telling him that he should use his reason. Gusev, however, thinks his beliefs are perfectly logical.
Gusev's mind drifts to memories of his home in a village. He sees a snow-covered pond and a nearby pottery with black smoke coming from the chimney. In his mind's eye, his brother Alexis drives a sledge, with his son Vanka and daughter Akulka sitting close to him. Gusev worries that the children are not wrapped up warmly enough. Then he says a prayer, asking God to "grant them reason," but not to make them "cleverer than their mum and dad."
An image breaks into Gusev's thoughts: he sees a large bull's head without eyes, and the horse and sledge carrying his extended family seem to spin in a cloud of black smoke. Gusev joyfully gives thanks to God that he has seen his family. Gusev is delirious with fever, and the same flow of images continues to flood into his mind until daybreak.
As it grows light, Gusev gazes at Paul Ivanovich, who is lying in the next bunk. Paul Ivanovich is growing thin from the consumption (tuberculosis) that afflicts both men. He has to sleep sitting up because lying down makes him choke. Paul Ivanovich tells Gusev of his theory concerning seriously ill soldiers like Gusev. Paul Ivanovich thinks that such cases should be kept somewhere quiet, not put on a hot steamship where everything makes the condition worse. Paul Ivanovich believes that doctors put men like Gusev onto such ships to get rid of them, in the knowledge that they will not survive the journey, so that they do not spoil the doctors' statistics by dying under their care. He thinks that such treatment is a poor return for years of loyal service.
Gusev does not properly understand what Paul Ivanovich is saying. While the other men play cards, Paul Ivanovich questions Gusev and learns that he was an orderly, a soldier who performs menial duties for an army officer. Paul Ivanovich is indignant at the injustice of uprooting a man from his family, giving him tuberculosis, and expecting him to serve an officer. Gusev replies that it is not a bad life, provided that you obey orders, and says that he was only struck once, for beating up some Chinese men. Paul Ivanovich is contemptuous of Gusev's passivity.
As Gusev lies on his bunk, the same images of his brother's children in the sledge, the eyeless bull's head, and the smoke, run through his mind. He sees some neighbors trading a hare for a piece of soap. Gusev is brought back into the present by the sound of someone dragging something on the deck. Suddenly, one of the card player muddles the score, drops his cards, and falls to the floor. The soldiers try to revive him, but Gusev scornfully tells them he is dead.
The weather has calmed down, and Paul Ivanovich is in a boastful mood. He tells the other men that he is going to visit a writer friend on his return to Russia. He plans to tell his friend about the "verminous bipeds" he has met during his time abroad so that the friend can write about them. He goes on to tell Gusev how he fooled the officials in charge of the boat. There are two classes on the boat, first and third, and only peasants are allowed to travel third class. If a man looks like a gentleman, he has to pay for an expensive first class ticket. Paul Ivanovich, an educated but impoverished man, impersonated a lower class man, and got a cheap ticket.
Paul Ivanovich is proud of the fact that he always speaks out fearlessly. He says: "I am protest incarnate." He adds that even if he were imprisoned, he would starve himself to death in order to burden the consciences of his gaolers. He glories in his reputation as an "insufferable" person.
Gusev is not listening. He looks through the porthole, and sees some Chinese men holding up cages of canaries for sale. They are shouting: "Sing, sing." Another boat passes, containing a fat Chinese man. Gusev feels an impulse to hit him.
Two days later, Paul Ivanovich is too weak to sit up, but he feels that he is better, as he can lie down now without choking. He does not trust medicines, and feels sorry for the other men, whom he believes know less than he does.
Gusev is thinking about his homeland again. Though it is uncomfortably hot on the boat, he joyfully imagines that he is sledging through the snow on a cold day, until the sledge overturns and he lands in a snowdrift. His daydream is broken by Paul Ivanovich, who asks him if his commanding officer stole. Gusev replies that he would not know, and slips back into his reverie. He is brought back into the present by a soldier commenting on the death of Paul Ivanovich, whose body has just been carried up onto the deck. Gusev believes that Paul Ivanovich will go to heaven, because he suffered so long and because the prayers of his relatives will save him. The soldier tells Gusev that he, Gusev, will also not live to see his homeland again. Gusev feels driven by an unidentifiable urge, and suffocated, so the soldier helps him onto the deck. There appears to be no one in charge of the ship, which seems to be sailing where it wants. The soldier tells Gusev that Paul Ivanovich's body will be buried at sea, by throwing it overboard. Bullocks and a pony are tethered on the deck. Gusev goes to stroke the pony, but it tries to bite him.
Gusev and the soldier stand on the deck, and look up at the peaceful, quiet sky, and down at the darkness and disorder of the waves. Both the ship and the sea seem to show the same indifference and mindless cruelty towards humanity. Gusev reflects that the sea does not frighten him, and says if an officer told him to lower a dinghy into the water and travel sixty miles, he would go. He tells the soldier that he is only frightened of dying because he fears what will happen to his family. His brother drinks and beats his wife, and does not respect his (and Gusev's) aged parents. Gusev thinks that the family will be ruined without him, and his parents will be forced to beg.
Gusev returns to his bunk, still disturbed by the vague urge. He sleeps for two days, and dies at noon on the third day. Soldiers sew him up in sailcloth and carry him onto the deck. The priest conducts a funeral ceremony and Gusev's body is tipped into the sea. The body does a somersault in the air before vanishing under the waves. A shark plays with the body and cautiously rips open the sailcloth. In the sky, clouds are massing in the form of a triumphal arch, a lion, and a pair of scissors. Different colored rays burst through the clouds in a glorious display. The ocean initially "scowls" at the beauty of the sky, but then it too takes on joyful colors that cannot be described in speech.
The two characters in "Gusev" act as foils to each other. They have contrasting characteristics and respond to life and its sufferings in opposite ways. They also represent the two classes that were involved in the struggle for social justice in nineteenth-century Russia, the peasants and the intelligentsia.
Gusev is a discharged soldier from the peasant class. He has been serving as an orderly to a military officer but has been sent home to Russia because he is dying of tuberculosis. He is a simple and uneducated man who has superstitious beliefs about how things work. He believes that a ship that sank "ran into a great fish … and broke her bottom" and that when the wind rises, it has "broken loose from its chain," as if it were an escaped animal.
Gusev is delirious with fever resulting from tuberculosis, so his mind slips in and out of the present reality in the course of the story. His thoughts repeatedly drift back to his life in his village and his extended family there. Through these reveries, he is temporarily able to escape the discomfort of the ship's sick-bay. This shows Gusev's tendency to passively accept injustice and suffering: rather than confront problems or protest about them, he merely thinks about something else. The method is successful within the limits of Gusev's narrow awareness. Instead of listening to Paul Ivanovich's bitter and contemptuous comments, Gusev daydreams about "the folks at home," with the result that "His happiness takes his breath away." In addition, he is able to distract himself from the sweltering heat on the ship by imagining sledging through the snow in his homeland and being thrown into a snowdrift.
Gusev has no interest in the wider considerations of social injustice that captivate Paul Ivanovich. During his time as an orderly, Gusev stolidly did his job without thinking about whether it is fair, as Paul Ivanovich rails, to "Uproot a man from home, drag him 10,000 miles, give him tuberculosis," and make him the servant of some officer. While the fact that Gusev was struck by his superior strikes Paul Ivanovich as an outrage, Gusev thinks that he deserved it for being "a bit too ready with my fists." In fact, he believes that he is fortunate in that he was struck "not more than once." Gusev unquestioningly accepts the authority of his superior in rank.
Gusev's concerns are not political, neither do they extend to society in general. He does not think about such matters, and when Paul Ivanovich repeatedly tries to alert him to injustice, Gusev does not entirely understand what he is saying. Gusev's world is his extended family and his village. He worries about his brother, who drinks too much, beats his wife, and fails to respect his (and Gusev's) parents. He worries about his brother's daughter, Akulka, sticking her legs out on the family sledge and getting frostbitten. He also worries about what will happen to the family after his death: he fears that the family home will "go to rack and ruin" and that his parents will be reduced to begging.
Gusev's narrow range of interests draws attention to the wider problem of how social injustice could continue unabated in Russia at a time when the majority of the population were people like Gusev: simple, uneducated, passive, and unintelligent. Gusev is capable of decisive action, but it takes the form of mindless violence. He describes an occasion when he beat up some Chinese men merely for coming into his yard. He does not know why he hit them. The same impulse occurs when he looks through the porthole of the ship and sees a fat Chinese man in a boat. Gusev thinks, for no good reason, "that greasy one needs a good clout on the neck." Paul Ivanovich expresses disgust at Gusev's passive acceptance of punishment from the officer for beating up the Chinese men, but it is tempting to conclude not only that Gusev needs to be governed by an authority figure, but also that he deserved his punishment.
Paul Ivanovich is a discharged soldier who has served for three years in the Far East. Like Gusev, he has been discharged because he is dying of tuberculosis. He feels superior to the other men in the sick-bay, whom he dismisses as "a blind, benighted, down-trodden lot." He is an intellectual who is confident that he sees the truth of humanity's lot: "I see everything as an eagle or hawk sees it, soaring above the earth." He is also intensely proud of his tendency to speak fearlessly about his convictions. An angry man, he sees injustice everywhere, and he repeatedly tries to provoke the placid Gusev to feel a sense of unfairness about the class system and the way he is treated by his superiors. Paul treats Gusev with utter contempt, as he is irritated by Gusev's placidity and lack of comprehension of what he is saying. Gusev's failure to understand does not stop Paul Ivanovich attempting to convince Gusev that he too should be angry. There is an insensitivity and lack of humanity, even a cruelty, in Paul Ivanovich's constantly forcing his anger and views onto the simple and complacent Gusev. Indeed, Paul Ivanovich delights in his reputation as an "insufferable" person, declaring: "I am protest incarnate." Even if he were walled up in a cellar, he says, he would not be silenced.
Paul Ivanovich may see political injustices acutely, but when it comes to his own condition, he is deluded. When his health declines to the point whereby he can no longer sit up, he announces, "my lungs are all right, this is only a stomach cough." He boasts of his "critical attitude to my illness and medicines," in contrast to the ignorance of the other "benighted people." However, even if he does know more than others about his illness, it is of no use to him, as just hours later, he is dead.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Research the topic of Russian society in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Trace the social, political, and economic conditions that led up to Russia's two great revolutions, the Decembrist Revolt of 1825 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Identify the parts played by the intelligentsia and the peasant majority. Write an essay on your findings.
- Research the history of tuberculosis (consumption) from the early nineteenth century to the present day. Consider its causes, conditions in which it thrives and spreads, symptoms, and treatment. Identify the persons most at risk, both in the nineteenth century and today. Suggest reasons why the disease is making a comeback today. Give a class presentation or write a report on your findings, using visual aids and charts as appropriate.
- Read "Gusev" along with "The Steppe," another short story by Chekhov. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast Chekhov's treatment of the relationship between human existence and the natural world in the two stories.
- Read Leo Tolstoy's collection of stories Tales of Sevastopol (1855-1856), which details the author's experience of military service in the Crimean War. How does Tolstoy's depiction of military life and men compare with Chekhov's? Write an essay on the topic.
Different Responses to Human Suffering and Injustice
"Gusev" is a character study, the main theme of which is the contrasting ways in which Gusev and Paul Ivanovich respond to human suffering and injustice. Paul Ivanovich is an activist who is angry about many forms of social injustice. Describing himself as "protest incarnate," he believes it is his duty to speak out against tyranny and hypocrisy. He vents his fury to Gusev at the practice of the military of uprooting men from their families to serve some perhaps undeserving officer, subjecting them to unhealthy conditions that make them ill, and dumping them on hot, crowded ships in the knowledge that they will probably not survive the journey home. But the uneducated and simple-minded peasant Gusev barely even notices injustice. He humbly accepts his lot, and his attitude to authority is one of passive obedience. The one time his superior struck him, an act that evokes Paul Ivanovich's indignant anger, Gusev feels that he deserved the punishment, as he was behaving violently towards strangers for no good reason. Indeed, Chekhov seems to be raising the question of whether the peasant class should be completely free, or whether they need strong leadership.
While Paul Ivanovich's way of dealing with suffering and injustice is to criticize it mercilessly, Gusev's—on the rare occasion that he notices it—is to escape into reveries about his homeland and family. While Paul Ivanovich peers into every social and political abuse he can find, Gusev's concerns are more concrete and immediate. A distinction is drawn between Paul Ivanovich's concern for humanity as a whole, and Gusev's more limited interest, which only extends to his own family and village. Gusev worries about what will happen to his family when he is dead, about his brother's drinking and violence towards his wife, and about the possibility that his aged parents will be reduced to begging in order to survive. Implicit in this contrast is an acknowledgement of the difficulty of achieving social and political reform in a society in which nearly eighty percent of the population were uneducated peasants like Gusev. These peasants had pressing concerns about the welfare and survival of their families, and were unlikely to have the leisure to devote their lives to ending injustice, even assuming that they understood the issues.
There is a seemingly unbreachable gulf between Paul Ivanovich's and Gusev's attitudes to suffering, which mirrors the gulf in nineteenth century Russian society between the intelligentsia and the peasants. Paul Ivanovich makes no attempt to couch his arguments in terms that might be understood by the placid Gusev, and Gusev does not listen to much of what Paul Ivanovich says. When Gusev does listen, he misunderstands. Paul Ivanovich's impassioned diatribes are shown as fruitless, not only because Gusev is an unsuitable audience, but because shortly after Paul Ivanovich's final assault, on military officers who steal, he dies. This juxtaposition of events suggests the futility of the angry activism exemplified by Paul Ivanovich. It is impossible to know whether Paul Ivanovich is capable of transforming any of his irritable thoughts and words into positive action. The one reference he makes to taking practical action in the world that he so despises is when he announces that he will visit a literary friend and tell him of his experiences so that the friend can use them as literary material. It is typical of Paul Ivanovich, however, that the material he has to offer is not constructive ideas for reform but tirades against the "verminous bipeds" he has encountered during his service in the Far East.
The Inconsequence of Human Activity and the Transcendence of Nature
While Paul Ivanovich rails against social injustice and Gusev worries about his family, the rest of nature carries on its business, indifferent to human suffering. The ship that carries the men "cares for nothing," and the sea on which they travel "has no sense, no pity." Indeed, there is a sense in which human suffering and death are transmuted into the joy of life that permeates nature. Both Paul Ivanovich's bitter rantings and Gusev's humble concerns are rendered insignificant by the fact that they die soon after expressing them, and by the implied contrast with the vastness and majesty of the natural world into which their dead bodies are thrown. When Gusev's body is tipped into the ocean and a shark begins to investigate it, "the pilot-fish are delighted" by the unfolding drama. The story ends with a glorious display of the sunset, with clouds massing "like a triumphal arch." Nature is shown as possessing positive human characteristics that are absent from the grim and debased human life portrayed in "Gusev": joy, delight, and celebration.
Minimal Plot and Action
In his stories as in his plays, Chekhov rejected the long-standing tradition of emphasizing action and plot, in favor of foregrounding situation, mood, and internal psychological states. Very little action takes place in "Gusev." The action that does occur consists of low-key activities: Gusev and Paul Ivanovich's less than successful attempts to hold meaningful conversations; Gusev's reveries; Paul Ivanovich's diatribes; and both men's decline through sickness into death, followed by their burial at sea. A more traditional story would have taken the characters' aspirations and made drama out of their fulfillment or frustration. Gusev thinks of his family, and Paul Ivanovich thinks of visiting a literary friend and telling him of the people he has met abroad. Neither man fulfills these plans, and no particular emotion surrounds their non-fulfillment. The plans simply die along with the men. In terms of plot, this is deliberately anti-climactic. There is a climax of sorts in "Gusev," but it consists in the transcendence of nature in the final sunset scene, and Gusev's joyful somersault into the natural world. The overall effect of the story is to document the friction and disorder of the human activity on the ship, and then finally to shift the reader's awareness to a level on which such friction and disorder is irrelevant.
Symbolism and Dramatic Irony
Chekhov uses subtle symbolism combined with dramatic irony (when the reader understands a level of meaning that the characters do not) in order to comment on his characters. The image of the eyeless bull's head that repeatedly enters Gusev's reverie symbolizes Gusev's somewhat primitive and animalistic nature, and its eyelessness suggests his lack of vision and comprehension of the world around him. The black smoke and clouds that drift into his awareness is similarly suggestive of a fogginess of vision. The fact that the horse and sledge that plays such an important part in Gusev's reveries "no longer move ahead" when enveloped in the black smoke suggests the stagnation of the peasantry. Chekhov's skill in using symbolism is evident in the fact that both bull's heads and black smoke would be familiar sights in Gusev's village (real black smoke comes from a pottery chimney near his family home). Therefore the images have a naturalistic tone as well as symbolic value.
Sometimes, the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events is used symbolically to comment on the characters. When Gusev is helped up onto the deck, he sees bullocks and a pony tethered there. The bullocks recall the bull's head image, which is already associated in the reader's mind with Gusev. Gusev stretches out his hand to stroke the pony, which bites him, and Gusev responds with an angry curse. The incident humorously comments on Gusev's own tendency to lash out violently at innocent people.
Chekhov's even-handed treatment of his characters is shown in his use of a similar juxtaposition of events to comment ironically on Paul Ivanovich. After Paul Ivanovich's long boast about being "protest incarnate," to which Gusev does not listen, Gusev looks out through the porthole and sees some Chinesemen in a boat. They hold up cages of canaries, which they are selling, and shouting "sing, sing." Just as the canaries sing in their cages, Paul Ivanovich rants ineffectually in the ship's sick-bay. In a further irony, Paul Ivanovich's topic of the moment is how he would continue to protest even if he were imprisoned in a cellar—which, in a sense, he is, as the ship's sick-bay is a type of prison—but he is wasting his breath. His words vanish into the air, as superfluous and meaningless as the canaries' songs. This implication is reinforced by both men's deaths shortly afterwards.
Chekhov's use of symbolism and dramatic irony to make subtle and suggestive commentaries on the action constitutes a subtext, meaning an underlying or implicit meaning. The work of Chekhov is considered to have originated the concept of literary subtext. Often, Chekhov's subtexts are ironic, but critics disagree about when, and about whom, he is being ironic.
A typically problematical example of what is possibly Chekhovian irony is Paul Ivanovich's stated plan to visit a "literary man" he knows and offer him material about the "verminous bipeds" he has met on his travels. Paul Ivanovich says he will advise his friend to drop his more traditional subject matter "about female amours and the beauties of nature." Clearly, the tone here is mocking, but at whom is the mockery directed? Paul Ivanovich, for his part, is mocking writers who keep to safe, commercially successful subject matters of romance and sentimental descriptions of nature. Paul Ivanovich thinks his writer friend should engage with more politically and socially relevant topics. At first glance, writers' commitments to political and social issues may seem a worthy cause that Chekhov might espouse; in other words, Chekhov might be agreeing with Paul Ivanovich. There is even a possibility that in writing this passage, Chekhov remembered how he had been dismissed by V. M. Lavrov as an unprincipled writer. But undermining the reader's sympathy for Paul Ivanovich's point of view is the fact that the reader has seen him in the activity of exposing "verminous bipeds," and it appears to be a life-denying, inhumane, and futile activity, without any constructive purpose. In this interpretation, a subtext comes into play. The reader, in an instance of dramatic irony, is standing apart from, and mocking, Paul Ivanovich.
In a further subtextual meaning, readers are aware that Chekhov, the author of the story they are reading, is just such a "literary man" who is telling Paul Ivanovich's story and giving expression to his anger. This does not mean, of course, that Chekhov espouses or faithfully expresses Paul Ivanovich's point of view. Therefore, the implications of "Gusev" may be far from those intended by Paul Ivanovich. This subtextual layer seems to point to the unreliability and elusiveness of literature in communicating any political or social message.
Chekhov and Sakhalin
During his stay in 1890 at the penal colony on the island of Sakhalin and on the journeys there and back, Chekhov witnessed scenes of human degradation and suffering that are reflected in the scenes on the ship in "Gusev." In addition, on his return from Sakhalin to Russia, Chekhov (cited in Chekhov: A Life in Letters, translated and edited by Gordon McVay) witnessed two corpses "somersaulting into the water" as they were cast into the sea. While sailing across the Indian Ocean, according to Ronald Hingley in Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study, Chekhov bathed in the sea and was observed by a shark. Both scenes made their way into "Gusev," which Chekhov began to write in the city of Colombo in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon. Chekhov described Ceylon in a letter (cited in McVay, Chekhov: A Life in Letters as "the original paradise." In stark contrast, Chekhov described Sakhalin in a letter (cited in McVay) to his friend and publisher A. S. Suvorin as "an absolute hell." These two extremes are portrayed in "Gusev" in the form of the sweltering heat and prison-like atmosphere of the ship's sick-bay and the final vision of nature's beauty and harmony in the sunset.
Realism and Symbolism
Chekhov's literary career is widely considered to mark the end of the age of realism in Russian literature, as exemplified in the work of nineteenth-century writers such as Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy. Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), cited by Finke in "Anton Pavlovich Chekhov," told Chekhov that he was "killing realism," as it was impossible for anyone to go further down that path than Chekhov had been. Indeed, many of Chekhov's plays and stories, including "Gusev," are filled with symbolist undercurrents. Symbolism as a literary genre originated in mid-nineteenth-century French poetry. Symbolists rejected realism in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams, to which they ascribed a capacity for communicating otherwise inexpressible visions of reality. They also endowed images or objects with symbolic meaning, on the basis that through a system of correspondences, outer events reflected inner states, and vice versa.
"Gusev" has strong elements of realism, as in the descriptions of conditions in the sick-bay and in the non-idealized portrayal of the characters. However, it is also an example of symbolism. This can be seen in Gusev's surrealistic reveries, which contain images with symbolic significance. It is also evident in Chekhov's use of outer events to comment on inner states, such as Gusev's corpse's somersault into the ocean, which underscores his innate capacity for joy.
The Intelligentsia and the Peasants in Russian Revolutionary Politics
The intelligentsia is a Russian word that has passed into English. In Russia, the term emerged in the early 1900s to describe the intellectual elite of the nation, including writers, artists, teachers, and intellectuals. However, the class that the term described originally emerged 100 years earlier. In the early 1800s, an educated group of Russian liberals, many of them nobles, began to import reformist and revolutionary ideas from Western Europe in opposition to repressive policies of the Russian monarchy and conservative nobility. The Decembrist Revolt of December 1825, led by liberal-minded army officers who were largely from the nobility, was the first challenge by the intelligentsia to autocratic rule (an autocracy is a government in which one person, in Russia's case the Tsar, has unlimited authority over others). It was brutally suppressed by Tsar Nicholas I.
The second intelligentsia-led challenge to the monarchy was the Russian Revolution of 1917. The 1917 revolution succeeded where the 1825 one had failed, chiefly because it had the active support of the lower social class that made up the vast majority of the Russian population. This was possible because of two major events in nineteenth-century Russia. The first was the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, a liberal reform effected during the reign of Tsar Alexander II. Serfdom was a form of bondage or slavery entailing the enforced labor of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to grow food on their leased fields. The second event was the rapid industrialization of Russian cities, chiefly St. Petersburg and Moscow, during the second half of the nineteenth century. Former serfs were now free to relocate in search of work, and hundreds of thousands of them moved into the cities to work in the new factories. In the cities, the new working class was exposed for the first time to a large influx of material goods, which had the effect of raising their expectations of what was possible in life. In addition, they were exposed to liberal and revolutionary ideas from contact with the intelligentsia. As a result of these factors, the working class and peasants were the first to establish political parties. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, a revolutionary socialist Russian political party, was founded in 1898 by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who came to be known simply as Lenin.
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1890s: In Russia, poor living and working conditions, combined with the rising political awareness of the rural peasant and urban working classes, give rise to riots and strikes.
Today: Socioeconomic conditions in Russia are much improved since the extreme poverty and shortages that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country's oil and gas reserves drive rapid economic growth.
- 1890s: The 1891-1892 famine in the Volga region of Russia affects fourteen to twenty million people, and 375,000 to 400,000 people die of disease and malnutrition. Causes include bad weather, poor distribution of existing food, and government economic policies that favor the export of grain over sufficient domestic food supply. In addition, following the 1861 emancipation of the serfs and the punitive policies forced on freed peasants, the population has little incentive to manage land intelligently.
Today: After years of food shortages (though generally not famines) in the Soviet period, the adoption in Russia of the free market system and improved distribution networks have led to a reliable supply of food.
- 1890s: Chekhov's plays and stories build on the existing tradition of Russian realism and combine it with subtle use of symbolism, resulting in a poetic portrayal of realistic scenarios.
Today: Much modern fiction, drama, and film owes a huge debt to Chekhov, both in terms of presentation and choice of themes, as well as character development, point of view, and symbolism.
- 1890s: Tuberculosis is a common cause of death among the urban poor in Russia and Europe. The infected poor are sent to sanatoria (institutions for the treatment of chronic diseases) that resemble prisons, while the infected wealthy enter better quality sanatoria in mountainous or rural areas in order to gain exposure to clean air.
Today: According to the World Health Organization's fact sheet on tuberculosis, it is estimated that 1.6 million deaths resulted from the disease in 2005. Both the highest number of deaths and the highest mortality per capita are in Africa. Strains of tuberculosis resistant to all major anti-tuberculosis drugs have emerged.
During the 1890s and early 1900s, poor living and working conditions, combined with the rising political awareness of the peasant and working classes, gave rise to strikes and agrarian riots. In rural areas, a particular source of rancor was the fact that emancipated serfs who wanted to claim holdings of land they had farmed were forced to pay the landowner for their allocation of land in a series of redemption payments, to which interest was added. The redemption payments were due to be paid over a period of forty-nine years, and were only cancelled in 1907. Many reform-minded
peasants opposed redemption payments, and troops had to be called in to suppress rural riots against these payments.
During the Russian Revolution of 1917, a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party known as the Bolsheviks seized power, exterminated the royal family, and founded the communist Soviet Union.
Paul Ivanovich and Gusev are representatives, respectively, of the intelligentsia and rural peasant classes. Their mutual misunderstanding underscores the breach between the educated urban class and the rural peasant class in Russia. No resolution of this class division is put forward in "Gusev." This may have been foresight on Chekhov's part, as following the establishment after the 1917 revolution of Lenin's Provisional Government, Bolshevik policy toward its detractors, and particularly toward articulate, intellectual criticism, hardened. Suppression of newspapers, initially described as a temporary measure, became a permanent policy. Lenin declared members of the intelligentsia enemies of the new state and had them arrested and/or sent to prison colonies in Siberia. The attacks on the intelligentsia extended to scientists and philosophers and continued until after the death of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953.
The History of Tuberculosis
While tuberculosis, or consumption, has existed in various forms since antiquity, it became particularly prevalent in the nineteenth century, when it spread rapidly among the urban poor. The disease was favored by such conditions as overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate nutrition. Another contributing factor was air pollution from the factories that proliferated in the industrial revolution. Industrialization reached its height in Europe in the nineteenth century. The spread of the disease frequently followed mass movements of people, such as those that occurred in the industrial revolution with the migration of rural people into the cities, and also the migration of people that occurred during and after war. When military forces were deployed in distant countries, they often fell victim to tuberculosis and other diseases, partly because of poor living conditions and overcrowding, but also because of exposure to unfamiliar strains of the disease. When they later returned home, they brought the diseases back with them.
Tuberculosis was romanticized in the nineteenth century. This was due in part to its tendency to attack young people in the prime of their life, who would die young and thus, in people's memories, acquire the romanticized aura of those who do not live to grow old (a similar aura surrounds celebrities who died young in a later era, such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean). Doctors observed that the disease produced feelings of euphoria referred to as spes phthisica or hope of the consumptive. It was believed that tuberculosis sufferers who were artists or writers experienced increased creativity as the disease progressed. It was also believed that sufferers acquired a final burst of energy just before they died which made them more beautiful and creative. The theory of increased beauty may be due to the pale complexion and red cheeks that were characteristic both of the consumptive and of the ideal of feminine beauty. The theory of increased creativity may be a result of the restlessness and unspecified longings that afflict consumptives.
As a doctor and a sufferer of tuberculosis, Chekhov was familiar with its symptoms, which are accurately represented in "Gusev." For example, Paul Ivanovich believes he is better, and Gusev experiences vague longings, just before each dies.
Public and critical responses to Chekhov's work varied widely in his lifetime, although no contemporary records are available concerning the response to "Gusev" in particular. In Russia, however, his stories and plays were published in the popular press, so it is certain that they enjoyed a wide readership.
When Chekhov's stories first appeared in English translation in the early 1900s, they were viewed chiefly as providing welcome relief from the sentimental melodramas and ironic pieces that characterized short stories of the time. In this vein, in 1899, the American novelist Abraham Cahan (cited by Charles E. May in Style) said that one of the most striking features of Chekhov's stories is their "naturalness" and that his genius was best seen in stories that are so "absolutely storyless that there is not enough even to fill a nutshell." May writes that the British novelist E. M. Forster has noted that Chekhov's highest gift was negative in that he did not write stories with the conventional snap ending. Charles W. Meister, writing in the American Slavic and East European Review, paraphrases Forster's view thusly: "the imaginative fullness of Chekhov's world was not to be experienced this side of poetry, and that Chekhov's artistic arrangement of the common events of life made them flow on, ‘noble, imaginative, profound.’" All these comments could accurately be applied to "Gusev," though the first English translation of that story did not appear until 1918. It was part of a collection of Chekhov's stories titled The Witch and Other Stories.
The sense of class struggle and the growing socialist movement in the decades following World War II in Europe led to an upsurge in political criticism of literature. In 1966, Thomas Winner, in his book Chekhov and His Prose, comments on Chekhov's increased interest in social criticism after his visit to Sakhalin. Winner notes that Chekhov's "observation of the sharp cleavages in Russian society brought about his final disenchantment with the Tolstoyan idealization of peasant life which had briefly attracted him." Winner also lists "Gusev" as one of several stories Chekhov published between 1890 and 1892 that reveal his "strengthened interest in social problems."
Eileen Baldeshweiler, in her 1969 essay in Studies in Short Fiction, calls Chekhov a practitioner of "the lyric story" (lyric, when applied to literature, means a spontaneous outpouring of the writers' thoughts and feelings). Baldeshweiler explains this categorization by noting that it "concentrates on internal changes, moods, and feelings," employs structural patterns dictated by the shape of the emotion, relies on the open ending, and uses the "condensed, evocative, often figured language of the poem." As a practitioner of the lyric story, Chekhov, Baldeshweiler writes in a comment that could apply to "Gusev," devotes "almost his entire attention to reporting small, emotionally laden situations from the point of view of two or three characters." Baldeshweiler then points out that "Gusev" is among several of Chekhov's stories that rise above the limitations of naturalism and "rise to the level of truly poetic utterance." Baldeshweiler also notes that the rapid alteration of scenes in the sick-bay with dream sequences and idyllic interludes such as the scenes glimpsed through the porthole creates "an extremely vivid, surrealistic effect."
Milton A. Mays, in his 1972 essay in Southern Humanities Review, focuses on Paul Ivanovich as an example of a distinct breed of Chekhovian character that might be called the "‘irritated man’—idealists, all, no doubt, but finally unbalanced." Mays notes Paul Ivanovich's main emotion is a "rancorous hatred of life, fundamentally abstractive and life-denying." By the 1990s, the spiritual aspects of Chekhov's stories were gaining critical attention. Ronald L. Johnson, in his discussion of the story "A Lady with a Dog" in Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction, likens its "mystical dimension" to the last section of "Gusev."
As of the early years of the twenty-first century, Chekhov's stories continue to gain the highest critical acclaim for their mastery of tone, elusive viewpoint, insight into human nature, and economy of expression. There can be few modern plays, novels, short stories, and films that do not owe a debt to his work.
Robinson has an M.A. in English. She is a teacher of English literature and creative writing, and she is also a freelance writer and editor. In the following essay, Robinson explores how Chekhov creates and maintains a detached authorial stance in "Gusev."
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Chekhov published "Palata No. 6" ("Ward No. 6") in 1892. The story is available in Stories of Anton Chekhov (2000). Considered to be one of his masterpieces, the story tells the tale of a physician who turns a blind eye to the corruption and human suffering in his hospital. It has been read as a critique of Leo Tolstoy's philosophy of nonviolent resistance to evil, and as a critique of Russia.
- The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (1999), translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, brings together some of Gogol's most notable stories written between 1830 and 1842, including "The Overcoat" and "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich." Like Chekhov, Gogol spanned the genres of realism and symbolism. His entertaining stories employ elements of surrealism and the supernatural, and take inspiration from folk tales in an attempt to capture the essence of Russia.
- Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You was written in 1893. The book expounds Tolstoy's belief in nonviolent resistance and introduced the concept to important twentieth-century figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Chekhov's character Gusev is often viewed as a critique of Tolstoy's beliefs.
- Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2003), by Orlando Figes, offers a sweeping overview of Russian culture and history. Its central theme is the country's cultural division between the European cultural ideals of the aristocracy in St. Petersburg and the authentic Russianness ascribed to the peasantry and the country.
Chekhov's refusal overtly to address political and social questions in his writing led to an attack on him in the journal Russian Thought (March 1890 edition) by Vukol M. Lavrov, the journal's publisher and editor. Lavrov accused Chekhov of being one of the "high priests of unprincipled writing" (cited by Chekhov in a letter reproduced in Chekhov: A Life in Letters). It was ironic that at this time, Chekhov was preparing for his trip to the penal colony of Sakhalin, driven partly by concerns of social injustice. He wrote an indignant letter to Lavrov (reproduced Chekhov: A Life in Letters), defending himself against the charge. Later, in his 1895 book Ostrov Sakhalin (Sakhalin Island), Chekhov wrote with anger against the failure of the Russian people and their government to take action to end the pointless suffering and abuses of the penal colony on Sakhalin. The book became an important text in prison reform.
Despite Chekhov's practical commitment to social justice, however, his presentation of the two main characters in "Gusev," the angry activist Paul Ivanovich and the placid peasant Gusev, epitomizes his detached authorial stance.
Chekhov undoubtedly sympathized with many of Paul Ivanovich's criticisms of social injustice. This is made clear by the authentic detail and reasonableness of his complaints. For example, Paul Ivanovich draws attention to the military's practice of putting terminally ill discharged soldiers on a ship and subjecting them to the very conditions guaranteed to exacerbate their illness, in the knowledge that they cannot survive the journey. The practice seems illogical, until Paul Ivanovich points out that the military's logic is perfect: it makes life easier for the doctors by getting rid of hopeless cases, and improves their patient outcome statistics. As a doctor and philanthropist, Chekhov would have been sensitive to such inhumane acts. He presents no arguments defending the military against Paul Ivanovich's accusation, thereby appearing to confirm its validity.
However, Chekhov presents Paul Ivanovich's protests as ineffectual. He appears never to have converted his convictions into constructive action; he would rather indulge in ceaseless complaints. They fall on the unreceptive ears of Gusev, and shortly afterwards, both men die, emphasizing the futility of Paul Ivanovich's fury.
In addition, Paul Ivanovich comes across as inhumane, cruel, and misanthropic. He condemns Gusev and his class as "blind, benighted, downtrodden," "cattle," and "savages." Paul Ivanovich's attitudes recall those of a philanthropic but misanthropic doctor in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Bratia Karamazovy (The Brothers Karamazov, 1879), as quoted by the wise elder Zosima, who, in contrast with the doctor, is a genuine lover of humanity and of individuals. Zosima quotes the doctor as saying: "I love humanity … but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular." Like Dostoevsky's doctor, Chekhov's Paul Ivanovich is an avowed humanitarian who appears to hate people.
All these factors undermine Paul Ivanovich's credibility as a spokesperson for Chekhov or even for the moral high ground. A possible alternative is put forward in the character of Gusev.
Gusev, in his placid acceptance of his lot, owes something to the heroes of Leo Tolstoy's fiction. Tolstoy became convinced that the only proper response to injustice was a Christian-derived attitude of turning the other cheek. Certainly, Gusev, as a peasant from rural Russia, is shown as being closer to nature than the sophisticated Paul Ivanovich. When the ship grows uncomfortably hot, for example, he is able to escape in a reverie about the sledge horses bolting through the refreshingly cold snow, the sledge overturning, and tipping him into a snowdrift. What is more, he derives a visceral joy from such memories: "And what joy when the sledge overturns." Gusev's capacity for spontaneous joy sets him apart from Paul Ivanovich, who, in the unlikely event that he would find himself in a sledge pulled by bolting horses, would certainly not derive any delight from the experience.
Gusev's joy in life is summed up in the image of his dead body somersaulting in the air in an ecstatic reconnection with the elements. This quality connects him with the final, transcendent scenes of nature, which emphasize the delight of the pilot-fish, the triumph of the cloud formations, and the "tender, joyous, ardent hues" of the sky which succeed in transforming even the turbulent and disorderly ocean into a vision of harmony and beauty.
No such moment of joy or unity surrounds Paul Ivanovich's death. A soldier reflects on his restlessness, and hopes that he will at last rest in peace; Gusev, with his simple peasant's faith, thinks he will go to heaven, chiefly because "he suffered so long." As the soldiers discuss Paul Ivanovich's burial at sea, one reflects that it is better to be buried at home, so that "your mother will come and cry over your grave." The effect of these comments is to present Paul Ivanovich as unhappy, bound up in suffering, and lonely. He seems bereft of the family members whose laughter and affection seem to embrace Gusev, even though he is far from home.
Gusev partakes of the joy of nature and feels constantly bonded to his family and neighbours. However, his authority as a spokesman for Chekhov or a representative of the moral high ground is fatally undermined by two factors: his failure to comprehend anything outside his narrow sphere of interest, and his streak of mindless violence.
On one occasion, Gusev's simplicity results in an unintentionally humorous and profound comment on Paul Ivanovich's attitudes. After Paul Ivanovich has delivered a diatribe against Gusev's ignorance and peasant superstitions, Gusev slips off into reverie about his family. He says a prayer for his little nephew and niece: "‘O Lord,’ he whispers, ‘grant them reason and the sense to honour their parents, and not be cleverer than their mum and dad.’" Gusev fears that the children will feel themselves superior to their parents and cease to respect them. The implication, of which Gusev is almost certainly unaware, is that Paul Ivanovich, out of a sense of superiority about his cleverness, does not respect Gusev, or, in all probability, any of the downtrodden human beings whose rights he purports to champion. Because Gusev is probably not conscious of how his thought comments on Paul Ivanovich, the moment is an example of dramatic irony, a literary technique in which the reader or audience knows more than the characters, lending a secondary meaning to their words or actions. Chekhov showed himself to be a master of dramatic irony in "Gusev," and other works.
While both characters in "Gusev," are limited in outlook, Gusev has the edge on Paul Ivanovich in terms of the simple gift of happiness, which he experiences viscerally. In merely being able to remember his family, "his happiness takes his breath away. It ripples, tingling, over his whole body, quivers in his fingers." Paul Ivanovich, on the other hand, seems incapable of happiness. He is unable to move beyond his intellect and the uncomfortable realities that occupy it. Gusev, on the other hand, in his glorious final somersault into the sunset-illumined sea, is sufficiently unencumbered to become part of the joy that flows through nature. In death, he leaves behind his unclear intellect, streak of mad violence, and concerns about his brother's drinking, and enters into the play and dance of the fish and shark that greet his body.
Ultimately, both Paul Ivanovich and Gusev are shown to be flawed and incomplete human beings. Neither is able to provide a satisfactory guide to living. Instead, the fullness of life is presented in the transcendental aspect of nature, which is characterized by joyous play and harmonious beauty. The story seems to confirm Chekhov's words in an 1890 letter to his friend and publisher A. S. Suvorin in which he contrasts the "absolute hell" of Sakhalin with the "original paradise" of Ceylon. This hell and paradise are reflected in "Gusev," in the terrible conditions on board the ship and in the final scene of the sunset, respectively. The crucial difference between the visions of hell and heaven in "Gusev" is the dominance of man. The hell of the ship's sick-bay is man-made; the heaven of the sunset belongs to nature. Man's only role in the sunset scene is to merge with the play and display of nature and to become food for fishes. In Chekhov's letter to Suvorin, immediately following his description of the hell of Sakhalin and the paradise of Ceylon, he comments that "God's world is good. Only one thing in it is not good: we humans. How little justice and humility we have, and how poorly we understand patriotism!" These lines could be taken as an apt comment on "Gusev." The lack of justice in life underlies the events of the story. Paul Ivanovich lacks humility, and Gusev has a poor understanding of patriotism, with his narrow loyalties and penchant for attacking innocent foreigners.
Chekhov's letter continues with criticisms of his countrymen: "Instead of knowledge—effrontery and arrogance … instead of hard work—indolence and swinishness." Again, the first criticism could apply to Paul Ivanovich, the accusation of "swinishness" to the bullish and animalistic Gusev, and the accusation of "indolence" to Gusev's drunken brother. In a reference to the lack of justice in life in general and lack of ethics in the military in particular, Chekhov adds: "There is no justice, the concept of honour extends no further than ‘honour for one's uniform.’" Similarly, in "Gusev," injustice prevails, and the military does not behave with honour towards its men.
Chekhov concludes his diatribe with a recipe for restoring harmony to society: "The main thing is to be just, and everything else will follow." While in "Gusev," justice is singularly lacking in the man-made world, harmony is represented in nature. The sunset succeeds in uniting the disorderly, scowling ocean with the "tender, joyous, ardent hues" of the sky, "for which human speech hardly has a name." Here again, the human world falls short of nature in not even being able to name this vision of beauty and harmony. In his final joyful somersault up into the sky and then down into the ocean, Gusev has at last escaped the suffering of man's world and become one with the eternal play of creation.
Source: Claire Robinson, Critical Essay on "Gusev," in Short Stories for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008.
In the following excerpt, McConkey explores Chekhov's notion of freedom as a basic human need. In so doing, he looks at both the author's writings, including "Gusev," and the travels that informed them.
At various moments in my life, both difficult and happy ones, I have thought of Anton Chekhov, finding in his stories, plays, and letters the kind of mirror that enables me to see my inner rather than my outer image.
In a much-quoted 1888 letter he wrote to an acquaintance—a letter written with obvious emotion, the expression of a credo from one normally silent on matters of personal belief—Chekhov says of himself:
I am neither liberal, nor conservative, nor gradualist, nor monk, nor indifferentist … Pharisaism, dull wittedness and tyranny reign not only in merchants' homes and police stations. I see them in science, in literature, among the younger generation … I look upon tags and labels as prejudices. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom imaginable, freedom from violence and lies, no matter what form the latter two take.
Despite his protestations, most of Chekhov's biographers have tagged him as a liberal, basing their judgment on such grounds as his active concern for the health and education of the poor; his opposition to brutal governmental repression, including the treatment of convicts; the protests he makes (if indirectly, through his characters) against the ruthless leveling of forests as well as other environmental degradations; and his admiration of the French writer Émile Zola for that writer's vigorous championing of Alfred Dreyfus, the French officer whose secret court-martial and imprisonment, defended by conservatives in Russia as well as France, was an anti-Semitic frame-up.
Anybody like me (that is, anybody who so admires Chekhov's stories and plays that he or she has gone on to read everything else by or about him available in English—his longest work, the non-fictional Sakhalin Island; the various collections of his letters; and nearly all the biographies devoted to him) is aware, though, that his nature contains conservative as well as liberal elements. For that matter, one could write a persuasive essay demonstrating how certain shadings of such labels as "gradualist," "monk," and "indifferentist" can also be applied to him; he believed in the eventual progress of humanity, he evaded marriage until his last years, and even his closest friends complained of an elusive detachment or remove in him.
… Whatever his own mixtures, Chekhov has remained of inestimable service to me over the decades because of his unobtrusive insistence upon a freedom beyond our political and religious institutions. Freedom, I judge from reading him, is a basic human need, underlying our selfish as well as altruistic desires, and sometimes entangling both desires at once. That need seems innate for Chekhov. Among other matters, it accounts for the appeal that vast natural vistas—whether of mountains or steppes—have for him. (In "Daydreams," a story he wrote in 1886, a narrator indistinguishable from the author muses upon the yearning of his characters—two rural constables and a convict recaptured after his escape—for an unobtainable freedom. He finds such longings to be either inexplicable or an expression of our genetic memories, of the life within an unbounded nature known to our distant ancestors.) Whether expressed or simply implied in his work and letters, his view that all of us want a happiness and freedom obviously beyond attainment is crucial both to his seeming objectivity (the detachment that led critics on both the right and left to denounce him) and to the compassion (a quality that his biographers attribute to his liberalism) that lies within his depiction of even some characters who strike the reader as largely responsible for their own sufferings. In Chekhov's play Three Sisters, the reiterated cry for "Moscow!" is a manifestation of what all of us want but cannot possess.
As I have aged, I have increasingly come to realize that my own nature is best understood as a tension between body and soul, the old antithesis that today seems to be accepted without embarrassment only by those who are particularly devout. I have also come to believe that the separation that Christianity and other religions make between body and soul probably predates any specific religion, constituting an ancient awareness of the antithesis contained within each of us—the necessary concern for self-interest and the equally necessary concern for all that lies outside the self that possibly can justify our individual existence and provide us an encompassing meaning. For me (as well as for many others today) the first of these venerable terms has everything to do with being, the second with becoming, a reversal of Plato's position in the Republic that equates being with absolute (and hence timeless) forms, and becoming with our actual, time-bound human existence.
Chekhov himself was anything but a believer in absolute forms, whether provided by philosophy or religion. In reading Chekhov, I am aware of the applicability of the antithesis between physical and spiritual needs and desires to the comic as well as tragic confusions, contradictions, and aspirations of his characters. His personal desire "for the most absolute freedom imaginable" is, of course, spiritual in nature, the desire allied with becoming; but we most assuredly exist as bodies—as a practicing physician, Chekhov would be especially aware of that simple fact—and so possess physical as well as spiritual yearnings. The former, unlike the latter, are capable of fulfillment: Chekhov's "holy of holies," after all, includes the healthy human body. Nevertheless, his awareness of a freedom beyond attainment gives to his writings the sense we have of a moral basis in this rigorously nonjudgmental writer. That is to say, our self-deceptions, our petty resentments and other entrapments of the ego, our expedient hypocritical performances, the brutalities and social injustices of any given society, the hurt and violence we inflict on others—all these can be perceived as obstacles preventing the limited (but no less precious) freedom that is available to any one of us.
In only one story I know, "Gusev," does Chekhov offer us a glimpse into an apparently immutable truth, the truth that for him must lie within or beyond our longings. "Gusev" was written while Chekhov was aboard the ship returning him to Russia following his quite extraordinary overland trip across Siberia to investigate the prison colony on Sakhalin Island. It was a therapeutic experience for a writer who for a number of reasons had been depressed, suffering from an alienation so severe that (according to his biographers) he was in danger of a breakdown. The story depends on his observation at sea of two of his fellow passengers, both so ill that they died during the voyage, who are transferred by Chekhov's imagination into antithetical characters who bear some analogy to the oppositions of his own nature. (It is not his only story to do so: "Gooseberries" is an equally marvelous example. But more than with "Gooseberries" or other stories that occur to me, "Gusev" approaches parable or allegory in that the two characters are so sharply drown as opposing qualities.)
Except for his irrational dislike of all Chinese, the title character, a simple peasant, is representative of the nature of the soul by his longings and acceptance; to his opposite, an embittered radical, Chekhov gives much of his own recent alienation. (That radical malcontent, so ostensibly concerned with social justice, is as self-centered and as concerned—his envy and hubris reveal it—with his own status as anybody could possibly be. Does such an ironic awareness come from Chekhov's earlier view of student radicals as well as his detached insight into his own recent emotional disturbance with all of its resentments?) Both characters die; both are dumped after brief ceremonies into the sea.
As the title indicates, Chekhov is more interested in his peasant. The end of the story employs a double vision; the narrator follows Gusev's descent—he continues to call him by name, for Gusev remains a presence to him, not a corpse—as he sinks ever deeper and is attacked by a shark; but that narrator also is watching the sun as it sets above the water. I know of no other depiction, in fiction or poetry or essay, that so well manages to convey simultaneously the transcendent glory of the natural world and its complete indifference to the death and dissolution of its individual inhabitants, destined as they are to return to their origins within that world. We are presented with the sublimity, the terrifying beauty, of the merger of water and sky at sunset (I don't think it too fanciful to consider it, in human terms, a fusion of body and soul), a moment of such splendor and union that "it is hard to find a name" for it, as the final line says. "in the language of man." Is this vision prophetic of the destiny that underlies the human search for happiness and pure freedom? I imagine so, and can accept it as such. And Walt Whitman, that most American, that most democratic of writers, shares something with Chekhov here, in his view of death as returning us to the unity of our natural origins in sea and grass.
… I share Chekhov's distrust of labels. A tag on the toe of a stiffened body in a morgue may give that body a name, but it tells us little about the mixtures that constituted the living person's nature. Because, like Chekhov, we contain both liberal and conservative inclinations, Americans, at least in times of peace, tend toward compromise and moderation. Politicians in both our major parties support their personal positions on a given issue by saying it is what the people want or demand. I have no idea what an abstraction like "the people" actually want. War and perceived threats tend to unify people in all nations, of course. Equally obvious is the fact that the closeness of the last two major elections in the United States reflects a deep and continuing division among those who voted, despite this unifying impulse in the most recent election. Polls might provide the statistics that I can only guess at: the number of Americans in both parties who have been made uneasy by their perception that the current conservative ideology has distorted their religious and political beliefs into an orthodoxy unfamiliar to them.
Such a situation inevitably breeds both resentment and alienation, those feelings that Chekhov, at a critical moment in his life, must have despised himself for having, as impediments to his wish for a freedom that always lay beyond his grasp. According to biographical evidence, those feelings help to account for his decision to leave Russia "perhaps never to return"—or so he wrote in justification of the unusually bitter tone of his letter to the editor of a journal that had just named him as one of "the high priests of unprincipled writing." Was it a conscious or unconscious act of therapy on Chekhov's part to undertake a solitary, arduous, and sometimes life-threatening journey across Siberia—a journey in which he traversed a quarter of the world's circumference—to investigate the prison colony on the remote island of Sakhalin, where climate, poor soil, and rugged terrain contributed to the misery of convicts exiled from their homeland for the rest of their lives? (Upon completing the terms of their punishment, the former convicts became colonizers forever forbidden to return home.)
I happened to read Chekhov's Sakhalin Island—book whose impressions of what he learned there is so replete with facts and statistics that it becomes a compelling documentary—during the Vietnam War, a time of such personal and national crisis that I doubted the integrity of my own beliefs. My reading of that book was as therapeutic for me as his far more venturesome trip turned out to be for him. Chekhov's journey became enough of a paradigm for me, as well as a possible model for others in times of crisis, that years ago I wrote a book about it, To a Distant Island. Near the end of my book is a passage that connects Chekhov's spiritual desire for a freedom beyond our mortal striving with that of the prisoners on Sakhalin:
It is tempting to search … [Chekhov's] book—God knows, I've done that more than once—for a particular encounter that could have provided him with a renewed or heightened awareness of his link with all mankind. Might it not have come as he was interviewing a convict baker, a person he admired—"a simple, openhearted and obviously good man," … [Chekhov] says of him—who managed not only to escape the island but to trudge across Siberia to his own village for a reunion with his wife and children before he was recaptured and sentenced to the inevitable flogging and longer term? Or might it not have come from his acquaintance with the "old convict woman" briefly assigned to him as a servant who found his personal possessions, including his blanket and the books she probably couldn't read, of extraordinary worth, for they recently had been in the country of her own dreaming? I doubt, though, that any single encounter had such a dramatic effect, for nearly all of the convicts he met equated a lost Russia with an ideal freedom, with the kind of happiness never to be found in any corner of the real world; and except for one—a sick and elderly man now securely fettered to his iron ball—all those he spoke with who had attempted the flight to freedom were glad they had chanced it, whatever their punishment.
Surely Chekhov's growing knowledge of these suffering people, particularly, of what he shared with them, would have been a key necessary to his release from the subjective prison of his own alienation, though his Sakhalin Island doesn't tell us this: like his more imaginative work, it aspires to objectivity. But what he learned on that island obviously underlies the spiritual depth of "Gusev." During the 14 years remaining to him—he was only 44 when tuberculosis ended his life—he wrote all of the other work on which his reputation is most firmly based.
Like other Americans, and like Chekhov, I may be more optimistic about the future than present evidence warrants. But it seems inevitable to me that we, again, like Chekhov, will regain a balance that currently has gone askew. I should add, though, that I have been aware throughout this essay of the hazard that confronts all readers of Chekhov who find in him a mirror of their inner selves. This danger has much to do with mirrors—the possibility that the writer we admire is but a reflection of the ideal we posit for ourselves. If that's the case, don't we merge with all the characters whose illusions he exposes so brilliantly, whether they consider themselves radicals, conservatives, or liberals? He once said that the duty of the writer is to provide questions; readers must provide the answers, for they are the jury. But if the answers provided by this jury member unwittingly reflect his ideal self, they at least permit his conscious awareness of what that ideal consists of. I can't imagine a more useful service for a writer to provide, at this or any other moment in our history.
Source: James McConkey, "Chekhov's Journey: A Writer Discovers the Ideal of Freedom in a Rugged Prison Colony," in American Scholar, Vol. 74, No. 4, Autumn 2005, pp. 84-93.
Valentine T. Bill
In the following excerpt, Bill compares the view of nature that Chekhov expresses in "Gusev" and other stories with the views of his contemporaries Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
Source: Valentine T. Bill, "Nature in Chekhov's Fiction," in Russian Review, Vol. 33, No. 2, April 1974, pp. 153-66.
Milton A. Mays
In the following article, Mays points out the similarities between the characters of Ivan Ivanych in Chekhov's story "Gooseberries" and Pavel in "Gusev." He identifies both figures as being one of Chekhov's common types: the "irritated man."
The readings of Chekhov's "Gooseberries" all seem to run one way: Ivan Ivanych, who tells the "story within a story," and who points its moral, speaks for the author. "‘Man needs not six feet of earth, not a farm, but the whole globe, all of Nature, where unhindered he can display all the capacities and peculiarities of his free spirit,’" says Ivan, passing judgment on the sordid life of his brother Nikolay, who has sacrificed everything for the country estate with the symbolic gooseberry bush. Professor Ernest J. Simmons, in his excellent life of Chekhov [Chekhov, 1962], says of this pronouncement "Here is expressed Chekhov's own unquenchable thirst for all of life, for everything accessible to man." It seems to me that this reading much oversimplifies "Gooseberries," one of Chekhov's finest stories, and one which is central to an important thematic pattern in the author's work as a whole.
If the meaning of "Gooseberries" is reducible to the moral Ivan Ivanych draws from his brother's story, we may ask why Chekhov has elaborated the circumstances with such care. Why Burkin and Ivan Ivanych's walk over the plain, the rainstorm, the refuge at Alyohin's, the bathing, and the tea upstairs with the "pretty Pelageya, stepping noiselessly across the carpet and smiling softly"? Why does Ivan Ivanych's story satisfy neither Burkin nor Alyohin? And why, finally, does Burkin, unable to sleep, notice an "unpleasant odor" in the room he shares with Ivan Ivanych—an odor that comes form his roommate's pipe? None of these circumstances receive much attention from Chekhov's critics. But the tendency of Chekhov's work is toward great economy of means—we recall the dictum about the gun on the wall in Act One which must be discharged before the play is over. "Gooseberries" is devised as a story within a story, and neither "envelope" nor "contents" alone can peak for the whole. The issue is not whether Ivan's views are "true" (who can quarrel with abstractions like "the meaning of life is to do good," as such?)—nor even whether they might be Chekhov's. It is rather that Ivan's story exists in a dramatic context which crucially modifies its meaning.
Since the whole situation is significant, a recapitulation will be useful. Burkin and Ivan Ivanych, two old hunting companions, are trudging wearily through the fields on a dull day when it begins to rain; by the time they have reached the estate of a nearby acquaintance, Alyohin, they are soaked. In a glum mood they arrive at Alyohin's mill, with its noise, vibration, wet horses standing about, and peasants running here and there with sacks over their heads. "It was damp, muddy, dreary; and the water looked cold and unkind. Ivan Ivanych and Burkin felt cold and messy and uncomfortable through and through; their feet were heavy with mud and when, having crossed the dam, they climbed up to the barns, they were silent as though they were cross with each other." But Alyohin greets them with pleasure, and invites them to bathe with him in his bathhouse on the millstream before changing. Later, all three men sit upstairs in Alyohin's best parlor "savoring the warmth, the cleanliness, the dry clothes and the light footwear," while Pelageya, the chambermaid—"a young woman so beautiful that both [Burkin and Ivan] … glanced at each other"—brings in the tea. In a mood of perfect physical content after fatigue and discomfort Alyohin and Burkin listen to Ivan's story of his brother Nikolay.
Nikolay's life-long dream of a country estate has co-existed with a sordid reality of avarice, cruelty, and self-delusion; indeed in a sense the dream has entailed this reality. As he tells his story, Ivan gets more and more worked up, ending with a diatribe against all contentment, and a pathetic plea to Alyohin to "do good" while he has his youth and strength. But "Ivan Ivanych's story satisfied neither Burkin nor Alyohin"; and the reasons for this are crucial to an understanding of "Gooseberries." Chekhov could be saying that Ivan's listeners are examples of that very complacency he is inveighing against. But this is not so: both the tone and the sense we get of their character in the other two stories of the group ("The Man in a Shell" and "About Love") prevent our thinking of Burkin or Alyohin as insensitive men. It is rather that Ivan has told the wrong story, in the wrong situation, and, especially, in the wrong tone. Certainly Nikolay has led a degraded life, and his happiness is disturbing: he has killed his own soul to acquire the property that is his dream; and he has also killed the woman he married for her money. Nikolay's contentment is swinish; he is a pompous, opinionated, snobbish ass eating sour gooseberries beside a polluted stream amid his equally swinish servants. In all this one agrees with Ivan; but we must be very careful about condemning "illusion" in Chekhov's world, for in too many stories (see "Daydreams" and "The Kiss," for instance) he suggests, like Ibsen in The Wild Duck, that illusion underlies much of life, perhaps most of its happiness—and that "truth-saying" is often destructive.
But in any case the conclusion Ivan Ivanych draws from his brother's experience is an ethical non-sequitur: because Nikolay's happiness is disgusting, it does not follow that all happiness everywhere is guilty or illusory. "‘Behind the door of every contented, happy man,’" holds Ivan, "‘there ought to be someone standing with a little hammer and continually reminding him with a knock that there are unhappy people, and that however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show him its claws…’" For Ivan, "‘there is no happiness, and there should be none,’" and the purpose of life is to feel guilt and do good. Ivan has ironed the rich texture of life out to a liberal platitude; but the very scene into which he introduces his story, like a bad smell, proves him wrong. Ivan, Burkin, and Alyohin are sitting in a luxurious drawing room, dressed in "silk dressing gowns and warm slippers," savoring the physical ease after a long, fatiguing, wet day. "With the ladies and generals looking down from the golden frames, seeming alive in the dim light, it was tedious to listen to the story of the poor devil of a clerk who ate gooseberries. One felt like talking about elegant people, about women." And finally, "the fact that lovely Pelageya was noiselessly moving about—that was better than any story." As life is better than any, even the best, abstractions. The reality of the moment is caught in the concreteness of Chekhov's prose: we are made to feel the circumstances, sense the well-being, respond to the splendid woman. Only Ivan is a discord. No authorial statement of this is necessary, not even conveyed through the minds of Alyohin and Burkin, for the whole situation is expressive.
Even worse than Ivan's "moral" is his tone—querulous, strained, even obsessive. Ivan is prone to extremes, it seems—lacking in a certain saving balance or humor. His "man needs not six feet of earth, not a farm, but the whole globe …" is a piece of flatulence of the kind 19th century Russian liberals are famous for, than which nothing could be further from the personal tone of Chekhov. It reminds us of Trofimov, the student radical in The Cherry Orchard (for whom the orchard represents a load of guilt that must be atoned for by suffering and work) when he says "All of Russia is our orchard." As Ivan Ivanych gets more carried away he confronts Burkin "wrathfully," and pleads "with a pitiful imploring smile" for Alyohin to "do good" while he has still his youth. Ludicrously excessive is Ivan's "‘There is nothing that pains me more than the spectacle of a happy family sitting at table having tea.’" As for himself, Ivan Ivanych admits "‘I can only grieve inwardly, get irritated, worked up, and at night my head is ablaze with the rush of ideas and I cannot sleep.’"
Ivan belongs, in fact, to a fairly distinct breed of Chekhovian character that might be called the "irritated man"—idealists, all, no doubt, but finally unbalanced. Ivan shares with his brother Nikolay a kind of "excessiveness"—he is the manic phase of which Nikolay is the depressive, so to speak. Ivan, with his oppression, irritation, and wrath, is akin to Pavel Ivanych, perhaps Chekhov's most interesting example of the type, in "Gusey." Pavel and Gusev are both dying in the sick-bay of a troop ship on its way back to Russia from the Far East. But if Gusev seems sane in his acceptance of life, for all his peasant simplicity, Pavel's is a rancorous hatred of life, fundamentally abstractive and life-denying. "Joy" is associated with Gusev—even if it comes only in the delirium in which he thinks he sees his family back in the village; and it is a joy reflected by nature as his body is received by the waters. Payel, that "uneasy chap" with a "boastful, challenging, mocking expression," prides himself on being a truth-seer and a truth-sayer, whatever the consequences: "‘I always tell people the truth to their faces … My mind is clear. I see it all plainly like a hawk or an eagle when it hovers over the earth and I understand everything. I am protest personified. I see tyranny—I protest. I see a hypocrite—I protest, I see a triumphant swine—I protest.’" Nothing can shut him up; he is Ivan Ivanych's man with a hammer. But "‘all my acquaintances say to me: "You are a most insufferable person, Pavel Ivanych." I am proud of such a reputation… That's life as I understand it. That's what one can call life.’"
Chekhov's comment on life as Pavel Ivanych sees it is made quite concretely: "Gusev is not listening; he is looking at the porthole. A junk, flooded with dazzling hot sunshine, is swaying on the transparent turquoise water. In it stand naked Chinamen, holding up cages with canaries in them and calling out: ‘It sings, it sings!’" Gusev sees a fat Chinaman in a boat and thinks "‘Would be fine to give that fat fellow one in the neck,’" yawning as he watches. This is life as Chekhov sees it—a close weave of beauty, love, and joy, with brutality, ugliness, and meaninglessness, no single strand of which is to be reveled out as "Truth."
Ivan Ivanych's story is a "bad smell" in the context in which he tells it, and his "truth" traduces reality. Similarly, ideologically-bound critics traduce literature in trying to reduce it to statement. Ivan is in such a state that he is insensitive to the social circumstances; one might call his diatribe an expression of "bad form," an offense against taste. When Trofimov has his comic-pathetic encounter with Madame Ranevskaya in Act III of The Cherry Orchard it is again an encounter between abstractive ideology and rich, if muddled, life-involvement. "You must deceive yourself. For once you must look the truth straight in the face," says Trofimov. Madame Ranevskaya replies "What truth? You know what truth is and what it isn't… You're able to solve all your problems so decisively—but tell me … isn't it because … life is still hidden from your young eyes?" She asks for sympathy, not a moralistic lecture, but when Trofimov says "You know I sympathize with you from the bottom of my heart" Ranevskaya replies in a way also appropriate to Burkin and Alyohin's response to the gooseberries tale: "But you should say it differently … differently." Image and tone suggest Chekhov's meaning in the conclusion to "Gusev": as Gusev's canvas-shrouded body sinks into the sea, there is a shark waiting, but there is also a magnificent sunset; as Burkin lies in the cool bed "which had been made by the lovely Pelageya" and "gave off a pleasant smell of clean linen" Ivan Ivanych's pipe with its unpleasant odor keeps him awake for a long time, but "the rain beat against the window panes all night."
The pipe with the bad smell may seem the only crude touch in this story; but we see what Chekhov's intention is, and it cannot be ignored, because his endings are carefully contrived. "My instinct tells me," Chekhov has said, "that at the end of a novel or story I must artfully concentrate for the reader an impression of the entire work." The endings of "Gusev" and "Gooseberries" project a sense of resolution, of a truth beyond "Truths," something for which (as Chekhov puts it at the end of "Gusev") "it is hard to find a name in the language of man."
Source: Milton A. Mays, "‘Gooseberries’ and Chekhov's Concreteness," in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, Winter 1972, pp. 63-67.
Baldeshweiler, Eileen, "The Lyric Short Story: The Sketch of a History," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 6, No. 4, Summer 1969, pp. 443-53.
Chekhov, Anton, "Gusev," in The Steppe and Other Stories, translated by Ronald Hingley, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 134-45.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Brothers Karamazov, Vol. 1, translated by Constance Garnett, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1957, p. 53.
Finke, Michael, "Anton Pavlovich Chekhov," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 277: Russian Literature in the Age of Realism, edited by Alyssa Dinega Gillespie, Thomson Gale, 2003, pp. 54-79.
Hingley, Ronald, Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study, George Allen & Unwin, 1950, p. 122.
Johnson, Ronald L., "The Master, 1895-1903," in Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction, pp. 76-103.
May, Charles E., "Reality in the Modern Short Story—The Short Story: Theory and Practice," in Style, Vol. 27, No. 3, September 22, 1993, pp. 377-78.
Mays, Milton A., "‘Gooseberries’ and Chekhov's Concreteness," in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, Winter 1972, pp. 63-67.
McVay, Gordon, ed., Chekhov: A Life in Letters, Folio Society, 1994, pp. 89, 90, 98-99.
Meister, Charles W., "Chekhov's Reception in England and America," in American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, February, 1953, p. 114.
"Tuberculosis," Fact Sheet No. 104, World Health Organization, Revised March 2007, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/print.html (accessed October 20, 2007).
Winner, Thomas, "Early Social Stories," in Chekhov and His Prose, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966, p. 81.
Blum, Jerome, Lord and Peasant in Russia, Princeton University Press, 1961.
This critically acclaimed book provides an interesting exploration of the evolution of Russia's rural population and the relationships between feudal lords and serfs before the 1861 emancipation.
Chekhov, Anton, Chekhov: The Essential Plays, Modern Library, 2003.
This collection includes Chekhov's best-known plays: The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard. The plays are recommended reading for any serious student of Chekhov or of theater.
Dormandy, Thomas, The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis, New York University Press, 2000.
This book provides an accessible history of tuberculosis. Significant events covered include the discovery in 1882, by German physician Robert Koch, of the tubercle bacillus. Dormandy discusses the nineteenth-century sanatorium movement, the romantic aura associated with the disease, and the post-World War II discovery of antibiotics, which offered a temporary solution.
Gottlieb, Vera, and Paul Allain, The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
This volume of new essays focuses on Chekhov's life and on critical examinations of his plays, though one chapter also deals with the stories. The book explores the original productions of his plays at the Moscow Art Theatre, as well as later film versions and stagings, with insights offered by notable actors.
Pipes, Richard, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, Vintage, 1996.
This book is a readable history of the seventy-year period from the Russian Revolution to the modern communist regime. Pipes shows how the seeds of destruction of the communist regime were sown at its inception in 1917.
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