(T)he (S)hort (S)tory on (T)he (S)unday (S)alon
The Grasshopper by Anton Chekhov (1892)
Extracted from the Folio Society Anton Chekhov Anthology (2001)
Mid-December already? Where did 2008 go? With only 3 weeks left, it’s time to make a sprint to the finish line of my reading challenges. The literary equivalent of a sprint being the short story and here I am sprinting with Chekhov to the end of the What An Animal! challenge.
My only previous experience of Chekhov was – confession time – a bad one. Two years ago. The Three Sisters at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, staged as part of the Edinburgh Festival. Static, boring and not the ideal introduction to Chekhov, it would appear. Best forgotten I’m told by those in the know. In fact, I believe the word execrable was applied by some Chekhovians to that particular production.
It has still taken me two years to make a second sally into the world of Anton Chekhov, master of stage and short story. Two years wasted it transpires because The Grasshopper entranced me from the very first.
All Olga Ivanovna’s friends and acquaintances were at her wedding.
“Look at him; isn’t it true that there is something about him?” she said to her friends,with a nod towards her husband, as though she wanted to explain why she was marrying a simple, very ordinary, and in no way remarkable man.
Within 50 words Chekhov has described the tensions that will pervade the whole narrative. Olga Ivanovna, a social butterfly (Chekhov using the much less complimentary grasshopper metaphor), has married Dymov, 9 years her senior and a doctor of great promise. He will make a name for himself in medical research – only the hard work, the long hours and the slog are still in front of him. How will Olga handle the wait?
Obsession with celebrity and romance is nothing new it transpires and once the honeymoon period is over, Olga returns to her artistic circle to be seduced by the irresistible romantic flourishes of the artist Ryabovsky.
I feel that I am in your power. I am a slave. Why are you so enchanting today?
The Grasshopper is the classic 19th century adulteress story – will the flighty Olga learn the difference between seduction and true love and if so, will she do so in time? In terms of characterisation, Chekhov’s story has more in common with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary than Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but with details and an ending sufficiently divergent to render it an original in the canon of a popular 19th century theme.