Saturday, March 4, 2017

Anyuta by Anton Chekhov

I read the Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear translation of this story.


Anton Chekhov’s stories and plays commonly share certain themes. They often examine people that can be described as voiceless and/or exploited by others. The author’s tales also show the mirror image of these people. They examine the exploiters, taking a hard look at those who hold power and who unashamedly take advantage of and use others.

These themes are well illustrated in the short story Anyuta.  The tale’s namesake is a young woman whose social position leads the upper classes to look down upon her. Stepan Klochkov is the young medical student with whom she is having an affair. Anyuta is under no illusions as to what their future holds in store. She observes,

In all her six or seven years of wandering through various furnished  rooms, she had known some five men like Klochkov. Now they had all finished their studies, had made their way in life, and, of course, being decent people, had long forgotten her.” 

Stepan is a terrible human being. At one point, he uses Anyuta as a human prop and draws markings on her body as he uses her as a study aid for a medical examination.  Chekhov uses this story to illustrate exactly what kind of a terrible person Stepan is. He is a kind that all too often exists among the respectable of society. Despite the fact that he has committed the same social taboos as Anyuta, and despite the fact that he is cruel and lacks empathy, he will be accepted by society and considered a reputable person. This is illustrated at the point that he decides to leave Anyuta.

“It was as if he foresaw the future with his mental eye, when he would receive patients in his office, have tea in a spacious dining room in company with his wife, a respectable woman— and now this basin of swill with cigarette butts floating in it looked unbelievably vile. Anyuta, too, seemed homely, slovenly, pitiful … And he decided to separate from her, at once, whatever the cost.”

I find the above lines show a terrible cruelty and arrogance inside of Stepan. The basin of cigarette butts and swill is more reflective of him than of Anyuta. 

For her part, Anyuta is one of many of Chekhov’s long-suffering protagonists. She is resigned to her position. There is no rebellion. There is something terribly sad about her. However, I think that the author is trying to show something dignified also. Anyuta is stoic, she hurts no one, she is not self-righteous and she demands nothing for herself. 

Chekhov has a knack for shinning light into this ugly side of human nature. He also has a knack for portraying those who are unfortunately on the receiving end of it. Like most of the author’s tales, this one does not have happy ending. With that, I think that, in giving voice to the voiceless, perhaps Chekhov is illuminating their humanity. 


32 comments:

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, I sense from your review and from another story of Checkhov's The Darling that he had alot of compassion for people who were downtridden, people who got the short end of the stick in life. Read a little about his life. He was a doctor who didn't believe in charging people for his services. He died young from TB but he is certainly a great writer and despite his unhappy childhood he was a good man from what I've read and his humaness comes through in his stories.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Kathy - In his fiction Chekhov really seemed to feel for people. I need to do a little reading in relation to his biography. I know so little about him.

Suko said...

Stepan sounds like a well-drawn but awful character. Wonderful commentary! Anyuta sounds like a compelling short story.

James said...

This sounds like a very sad story. From your wonderful commentary I see both characters sharing experiences that are dysfunctional and cruel. This fiction, however realistic, is difficult to understand.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko. This is a short story. This o think that Stephan is not as fleshed out as he would be of this was a novel.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James - I have been reading a fair number of Chekhov short stories lately and I am seeing a lot of common themes. Many of his stories are sad.

HKatz said...

Excellent observations of how Chekhov shines a harsh light on Stepan and brings out Anyuta's humanity. I plan on reading more Chekhov because of this gift of peering into people and seeing humanity in individuals who are looked down on.

(Also, this reminds me of a couple of Faulkner stories I read, which don't feature women as the main characters, but when women do appear, Faulkner is able to render in just a few details how they're treated badly and kicked around in the society they live in.)

Maria Behar said...

EXCELLENT review as usual, Brian!! :)

What a sad, sad story.... Like Anyuta, there are women in many parts of the world today that suffer in silent, passive resignation, because the countries they live in consider them to be second class citizens. I'm sure that, even here in the U.S., in certain parts of the country, there are also women who suffer in silence. So this story is, sad to say, highly relevant to our own times.

Russian fiction is famous for its social commentary, as well as for its focus on tragic events. I still remember my failed attempt at reading "Anna Karenina".... I just didn't like the book, as it focused on infidelity. And the ending was a tragic one.

It's not easy to read these types of stories or novels, but I have come to the conclusion that you're right -- they ARE necessary, in order for people to see just how HORRIBLE injustice in any form can be.

Since you specifically mentioned the translators of this book, I looked it up on Amazon. They're both award-winning translators. I have added the book to my "Immortal Literature" wish list on Amazon. (Yes, I have several book wish lists....lol.) I think I do need to read this book!

Thanks for your very incisive commentary!! Have a wonderful Sunday!! :) :) :)

JacquiWine said...

It's been a while since I last read any Chekhov, but I I always find something illuminating in his stories - they are full of insights into different facets of humanity. Like Kathy (above), I think he showed a lot of compassion for the disadvantaged in life.

The Reader's Tales said...

Such a great review, Brian! I've never read Anyuta but I know Anton Chekhov... I'm a big fan of Russian writers. Even if the story is sad and tragic it remains a very interesting reading. I will definitely read it in the near future. Thank you for sharing and have a great week!

The Bookworm said...

Anyuta sounds like a depressing story. The passages you quoted show just how sad the relationship is between these two but even worse is how Anyuta accepts it. Great post as always.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - I have been reading multiple Chekhov stories lately. He really did understand humanity, especially the plight of the downtrodden.

I need to read more Faulkner. I have only read As I Lay Dying.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - I have been reading a bunch of Chekhov's stories lately, Almost without exception they are filled insights on humanity.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Reader's Tales.

Tragedy and sadness, while painful, can make for such meaningful literature.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Naida - As I have been reading a few short stories from Chekov, I have found that many are sad. The type of relationship illustrated in this story also seems common with Chekhov.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria .

Indeed Chekhov's themes, be they about oppression or other subjects are so often Universal. There have been, and still are, many situations that exist in the world that are similar to the relationship described in this story.

Whenever I read translated works I try to do a little research. When it comes to Russian literature there is so many opinions out there. So many people have favorite translators as well as translators that they do not like. I also read Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear's translation of The Brothers Karamazov. Though my knowledge on who is the best translator is at best shaky, from what I can tell from samples where I have compared between translations, their work is excellent. \

Have a great weeK!

Tim Davis said...

Thanks to you (and your fine critique), I feel myself being pulled back toward reading Chekhov's stories; however, if I were to choose my favorite from Chekhov, it would be his play, _The Cherry Orchard_, but my favorite short story would be "The Lady and the Pet Dog." It seems to me that Chekhov's consistent theme -- as you have suggested in your critique -- is the individual's isolation even when surround by others.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks R.T. - The Cherry Orchid was a remarkable play. It has been awhile since I read it. I just read The Lady and Her Pet Dog for the first time. I found it to be brilliant and poignant.

baili said...

Very nice story ,sounds inspired by some true incidents as writer did not try to give it a happy ending.
i myself is a person who is since beginning is giver without having hope for return but when it comes to my self respect or basic rights i never surrender.

Brian Joseph said...

Ho Baili - I think that your way of doing things is nearly perfect. Give to others and do not worry about what you get back. Always maintain your dignity and rights.

Gently Mad said...

Good review. I believe the ultimate evil is mankind's lust to dominate others.

We see this on the personal level between friends...one friend always demanding their way... one spouse putting down the other or constantly nagging in effort to be in control... even passive aggressively..."you spent five hours making this meal for me? Is it gluten free?"

To politics, to warfare....why must a leader of a country invade other countries and cause so much suffering just because they want to be "Kaiser" or Emperor etc..?

Then as in Chekov's story, the arbitrary use and abuse of someone.

It's a fallen world. I thank God there is a hereafter. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon.

I agree that the urge to dominate is a source of evil and misery in this world.

Though I am a disbeliver in divine help I believe that humankind is slowly getting better.

Caroline said...

This puts me in the mood to read some Chekhov. It's not a story I'm familiar with but your review reminds me of others that I've read and found wonderful.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I just read a short story collection by him. His works are sublime. I will be posting more on his works in the coming weeks.

Tim Davis said...

Brian, I just downloaded the Delphi edition of Chekhov at Amazon. Point me in the direction of your favorites. And perhaps your many visitors will also tell me about their favorites. Help me build a reading syllabus. Thanks.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi R.T - Obtaining that book is such a great thing to do!

In terms of his plays The Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchid and the Seagull are among my favorites.


I just read some short stories and I will be posting more about them very soon. The Lady and Her Little Dog stands out for me. I found that it is hard to go wrong with Chekhov.

Evelina said...

Great review. You write reviews for a lot of good literature! I'll be following the blog :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the good word and thanks for stopping by Evelina.

thecuecard said...

Ahh Anyuta shouldn't be with this guy, but why is she? She seems to think he's like the other 5 guys she's known like him -- who will leave her. She sounds too resigned to her plight, eh?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - So many of Chekhov's characters are resigned to their fate like Anyuta, The author seemed to be fascinated by such people. I am not sure why. This would be a very good topic for a seperate blog post.

So many books, so little time said...

Sometimes the vile characters show the greater qualities of their co characters (Anyuta). I think this is one for a later date also, I am reading something a bit lighter just now just for a change of pace.

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - Indeed Chekhov often contrasted these passive and exploited people with the pernicious people of the world.