Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. N. Pleshtcheyev.

MOSCOW, September 30, 1889.

. . . I do not think I ought to change the title of the story. [Footnote: “A Dreary Story.”] The wags who will, as you foretell, make jokes about “A Dreary Story,” are so dull that one need not fear them; and if someone makes a good joke I shall be glad to have given him the occasion for it. The professor could not write about Katya’s husband because he did not know him, and Katya does not say anything about him; besides, one of my hero’s chief characteristics is that he cares far too little about the inner life of those who surround him, and while people around him are weeping, making mistakes, telling lies, he calmly talks about the theatre or literature. Were he a different sort of man, Liza and Katya might not have come to grief.

October, 1889.

I am afraid of those who look for a tendency between the lines, and who are determined to regard me either as a liberal or as a conservative. I am not a liberal, not a conservative, not a believer in gradual progress, not a monk, not an indifferentist. I should like to be a free artist and nothing more, and I regret that God has not given me the power to be one. I hate lying and violence in all their forms, and am equally repelled by the secretaries of consistories and by Notovitch and Gradovsky. Pharisaism, stupidity and despotism reign not in merchants’ houses and prisons alone. I see them in science, in literature, in the younger generation. . . . That is why I have no preference either for gendarmes, or for butchers, or for scientists, or for writers, or for the younger generation. I regard trade-marks and labels as a superstition. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom — freedom from violence and lying, whatever forms they may take. This is the programme I would follow if I were a great artist.

MOSCOW, February 15, 1890.

I answer you, dear Alexey Nikolaevitch, at once on receiving your letter. It was your name-day, and I forgot it!! Forgive me, dear friend, and accept my belated congratulations.

Did you really not like the “Kreutzer Sonata”? I don’t say it is a work of genius for all time, of that I am no judge; but to my thinking, among the mass of all that is written now, here and abroad, one scarcely could find anything else as powerful both in the gravity of its conception and the beauty of its execution. To say nothing of its artistic merits, which in places are striking, one must be grateful to the novel, if only because it is keenly stimulating to thought. As one reads it, one can scarcely refrain from crying out: “That’s true,” or “That’s absurd.” It is true it has some very annoying defects. Apart from all those you enumerate, it has one for which one cannot readily forgive the author — that is, the audacity with which Tolstoy holds forth about what he doesn’t know and is too obstinate to care to understand. Thus his statements about syphilis, foundling hospitals, the aversion of women for the sexual relation, and so on, are not merely open to dispute, but show him up as an ignoramus who has not, in the course of his long life, taken the trouble to read two or three books written by specialists. But yet these defects fly away like feathers in the wind; one simply does not notice them in face of the real worth of the story, or, if one notices them, it is only with a little vexation that the story has not escaped the fate of all the works of man, all imperfect and never free from blemish.

My Petersburg friends and acquaintances are angry with me? What for? For my not having bored them enough with my presence, which has for so long been a bore to myself! Soothe their minds. Tell them that in Petersburg I ate a great many dinners and a great many suppers, but did not fascinate one lady; that every day I was confident of leaving by the evening train, that I was detained by my friends and by The Marine Almanack, the whole of which I had to look through from the year 1852. While I was in Petersburg, I got through in one month more than my young friends would in a year. Let them be angry, though!

* * * * *

I sit all day long reading and making extracts. I have nothing in my head or on paper except Sahalin. Mental obsession. Mania Sachalinosa.

Not long ago I dined with Madame Yermolov. [Translator’s Note: The celebrated actress.] A wild-flower thrust into the same nosegay with the carnation was the more fragrant for the good company it had kept. So I, after dining with the star, was aware of a halo round my head for two days afterwards . . .

Good-bye, my dear friend; come and see us. . . .

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