Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To E. M. S.

MOSCOW, September 16.

So we old bachelors smell of dogs? So be it. But as for specialists in feminine diseases being at heart rakes and cynics, allow me to differ. Gynaecologists have to do with deadly prose such as you have never dreamed of, and to which perhaps, if you knew it, you would, with the ferocity characteristic of your imagination, attribute a worse smell than that of dogs. One who is always swimming in the sea loves dry land; one who for ever is plunged in prose passionately longs for poetry. All gynaecologists are idealists. Your doctor reads poems, your instinct prompted you right; I would add that he is a great liberal, a bit of a mystic, and that he dreams of a wife in the style of the Nekrassov Russian woman. The famous Snyegirev cannot speak of the “Russian woman” without a quiver in his voice. Another gynaecologist whom I know is in love with a mysterious lady in a veil whom he has only seen from a distance. Another one goes to all the first performances at the theatre and then is loud in his abuse, declaring that authors ought to represent only ideal women, and so on. You have omitted to consider also that a good gynaecologist cannot be a stupid man or a mediocrity. Intellect has a brighter lustre than baldness, but you have noticed the baldness and emphasized it — and have flung the intellect overboard. You have noticed, too, and emphasized that a fat man — brrr! — exudes a sort of greasiness, but you completely lose sight of the fact that he is a professor — that is, that he has spent several years in thinking and doing something which sets him high above millions of men, high above all the Verotchkas and Taganrog Greek girls, high above dinners and wines of all sorts. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham only noticed that his father was a drunkard, and completely lost sight of the fact that he was a genius, that he had built an ark and saved the world.

Writers must not imitate Ham, bear that in mind.

I do not venture to ask you to love the gynaecologist and the professor, but I venture to remind you of the justice which for an objective writer is more precious than the air he breathes.

The girl of the merchant class is admirably drawn. That is a good passage in the doctor’s speech in which he speaks of his lack of faith in medicine, but there is no need to make him drink after every sentence. . . .

Then from the particular to the general! Let me warn you. This is not a story and not a novel and not a work of art, but a long row of heavy, gloomy barrack buildings. Where is your construction which at first so enchanted your humble servant? Where is the lightness, the freshness, the grace? Read your story through: a description of a dinner, then a description of passing ladies and girls, then a description of a company, then a description of a dinner, . . . and so on endlessly. Descriptions and descriptions and no action at all. You ought to begin straight away with the merchant’s daughter, and keep to her, and chuck out Verotchka and the Greek girls and all the rest, except the doctor and the merchant family.

Excuse this long letter.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06