Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To Madame M. V. Kiselyov.

BABKINO, June, 1886.

LOVE UNRIPPLED [Footnote: Parody of a feminine novel.]

(A NOVEL) Part I.

It was noon. . . . The setting sun with its crimson, fiery rays gilded the tops of pines, oaks, and fir-trees. . . . It was still; only in the air the birds were singing, and in the distance a hungry wolf howled mournfully. . . . The driver turned round and said:

“More snow has fallen, sir.”

“What?”

“I say, more snow has fallen.”

“Ah!”

Vladimir Sergeitch Tabatchin, who is the hero of our story, looked for the last time at the sun and expired.

* * * * *

A week passed. . . . Birds and corncrakes hovered, whistling, over a newly-made grave. The sun was shining. A young widow, bathed in tears, was standing by, and in her grief sopping her whole handkerchief. . . .

MOSCOW, September 21, 1886.

. . . It is not much fun to be a great writer. To begin with, it’s a dreary life. Work from morning till night and not much to show for it. Money is as scarce as cats’ tears. I don’t know how it is with Zola and Shtchedrin, but in my flat it is cold and smoky. . . . They give me cigarettes, as before, on holidays only. Impossible cigarettes! Hard, damp, sausage-like. Before I begin to smoke I light the lamp, dry the cigarette over it, and only then I begin on it; the lamp smokes, the cigarette splutters and turns brown, I burn my fingers . . . it is enough to make one shoot oneself!

. . . I am more or less ill, and am gradually turning into a dried dragon-fly.

. . . I go about as festive as though it were my birthday, but to judge from the critical glances of the lady cashier at the Budilnik, I am not dressed in the height of fashion, and my clothes are not brand-new. I go in buses, not in cabs.

But being a writer has its good points. In the first place, my book, I hear, is going rather well; secondly, in October I shall have money; thirdly, I am beginning to reap laurels: at the refreshment bars people point at me with their fingers, they pay me little attentions and treat me to sandwiches. Korsh caught me in his theatre and straight away presented me with a free pass. . . . My medical colleagues sigh when they meet me, begin to talk of literature and assure me that they are sick of medicine. And so on. . . .

September 29.

. . . Life is grey, there are no happy people to be seen. . . . Life is a nasty business for everyone. When I am serious I begin to think that people who have an aversion for death are illogical. So far as I understand the order of things, life consists of nothing but horrors, squabbles, and trivialities mixed together or alternating!

December 3.

This morning an individual sent by Prince Urusov turned up and asked me for a short story for a sporting magazine edited by the said Prince. I refused, of course, as I now refuse all who come with supplications to the foot of my pedestal. In Russia there are now two unattainable heights: Mount Elborus and myself.

The Prince’s envoy was deeply disappointed by my refusal, nearly died of grief, and finally begged me to recommend him some writers who are versed in sport. I thought a little, and very opportunely remembered a lady writer who dreams of glory and has for the last year been ill with envy of my literary fame. In short, I gave him your address. . . . You might write a story “The Wounded Doe”— you remember, how the huntsmen wound a doe; she looks at them with human eyes, and no one can bring himself to kill her. It’s not a bad subject, but dangerous because it is difficult to avoid sentimentality — you must write it like a report, without pathetic phrases, and begin like this: “On such and such a date the huntsmen in the Daraganov forest wounded a young doe. . . . ” And if you drop a tear you will strip the subject of its severity and of everything worth attention in it.

December 13.

. . . With your permission I steal out of your last two letters to my sister two descriptions of nature for my stories. It is curious that you have quite a masculine way of writing. In every line (except when dealing with children) you are a man! This, of course, ought to flatter your vanity, for speaking generally, men are a thousand times better than women, and superior to them.

In Petersburg I was resting — i.e., for days together I was rushing about town paying calls and listening to compliments which my soul abhors. Alas and alack! In Petersburg I am becoming fashionable like Nana. While Korolenko, who is serious, is hardly known to the editors, my twaddle is being read by all Petersburg. Even the senator G. reads me. . . . It is gratifying, but my literary feeling is wounded. I feel ashamed of the public which runs after lap-dogs simply because it fails to notice elephants, and I am deeply convinced that not a soul will know me when I begin to work in earnest.

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