Camping With Chekhov

But silence is painful and terrifying only for those who have already said everything and who have nothing left to say; but to those who have not yet begun to talk, silence comes easily and simply. – Maxim Gorky, Twenty-Six Men And A Girl (210)

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I dragged my Russian authors along on our annual camping trip. The Party by Anton Chekhov was an interesting contrast. Chekhov’s descriptions of the interior worlds of the painfully superficial and emotionally stunted bourgeoisie set alongside our chaotic, boisterous little group was amusing. While we are, some of us on occasion, at a certain…comfort level with emotionally stunted, the others try to help and,  painfully superficial has never been a danger in our midst. Some fifteen people, all of whom have their own struggles and hopes can at least find solace and encouragement sitting near one another next to the hearth discussing how to pronounce the word. And if that fails we can have fun arranging still-lifes:

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Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe en L’Orange

It seemed to her for some reason that if her husband were suddenly to turn facing her, and to say, ‘Olya, I am unhappy,’ she would cry or laugh, and she would be at ease. She fancied that her legs were aching and her body was uncomfortable all over because of the strain on her feelings. – The Party (198)

How many of us wear ourselves out binding our pride to our confusion and a looming monotony of meaninglessness that scares or deadens us? I was admittedly late to making this discovery, but I am happier when I can say if I’m not. Just let me feel. Let me feel it. The demons in my head are dispelled, and then there is happiness, lurking on a cool path through the woods, in one of our children’s laughter, competitive four-square, rushing waterfalls, bags of ice, blackened marshmallows, the history of cinema, no money or shoes, forgotten tent poles, a starry night, copious amounts of quinoa salad and the color orange. It’s all there.

Life for those whose circumstances never change is agonizing and very difficult: the longer they live, the more agonizing such circumstances become, if their spirits are not broken altogether.  – Twenty Six Men and a Girl (213)

Our spirits are not broken. Throw the comfort of a soft bed, clean clothes, and dry bathroom floors aside- these new circumstances in good company are a sweet succor to me. It’s all here. Don’t let happiness pass you by.

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*The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories edited by David Richards
The Party, Anton Chekhov translated by Constance Garnett
Twenty-Six Men and a Girl, Maxim Gorky translated by Roger Cockrell

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10 responses to “Camping With Chekhov

  1. I am listening. “Our spirits are not broken” .

  2. wow. what an eloquent summary of a camping trip! love it.

  3. The connections are everything.

  4. I would love read Chekhov’s thoughts on the October Revolution had he not died from TB. Even more, his thoughts on Putin’s Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

    I imagine he’d take a peek and then outspokenly wish he had died off from some horrible disease before 1917.

  5. petrujviljoen

    I recently read Chekhov’s Letters. And The Lady with the Dog. From his ‘Letters’ I noted the following quote: ” … to the study of life I’m as important as a star an astronomer. Then I would work painstakingly and know wherefore I was working.” Forgive me I didn’t write down the page number of the edition I have. He complained about expectations of publishers and the public.

    • The Lady with the Dog is one of my favorite short stories ever.
      “There was watermelon on the table in the hotel room. Gurov cut himself a slice and unhurriedly began to eat it. At least half an hour passed in silence.”
      I think of that passage often. Chekhov captures a moment, he captures the reader’s mind and heart. Brilliant.

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