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Read ‘The duel’ by Anton Chekhov

October 23, 2013

This novella was written in 1891.  Novella is something between a short story and a full fledged novel. But its often quite long – more towards the length of the novel. This one may have been around 80-100 pages. I read it on kindle. And it was a good 25% of a very large book by Anton Chekhov which as a total of 5 stories.

So written in 1891, i.e. some 122 years before now. And the surprising thing is it does not feel that old. The story is basically about conflict of four varying kind of ideas, represented by 4 different characters. Actually there are more characters. But I am simplifying it, as in one case 2 characters represent the same idea.

So the ideas are 1) Cynicism and Depravity (not an idea technically, but thats how one character lives life). 2) Science and logic: A Zoologist who seems to be the closest proxy for the author. 3) Love: The helper who likes to help and believes in loving and helping neighbors. 4) Religion: A guy who is part of the Church in some capacity.

The cynic (and depraved) has grown out of love for his live-in partner lady. Yes, those things are not so new. And although the main stream people of the town, don’t accept their position totally, still they have some social life as by and large people are cordial to them. And some even friendly.

So, again, the cynic (and depraved) has grown out of love for his woman. And incidentally the woman was previously married to some other gent, in St. Petersberg, when he stole her away and brought her to this smallish town.

He basically wants to run away, leaving her in the town. And justifies it to himself with some high-brow but actually shallow intellectualism. Something on the lines of it will be dishonest for him to continue living with her, if he doesn’t love her any more. Things like duty and responsibility does not cross his mind, or are discarded.

The man of Science, Zoologist,  hates him for living this kind of a depraved existence. And also for wanting to run away.

The kind man, who is also plays a part-host to the Zoologist and the religious man, as these two are actually on short visits to the town, still wants to help the cynic. This is because he considers his duty to help his neighbors.

The Zoologist hates the cynic, and is also angry with the kind man for being such a sucker. The religious man is shown to be not very assertive type. Also he has less of a say in the scheme of things as he is very young. He is normally like an apprentice to the zoologist. The latter gives him some copying/drawing job, and also offers him a job of his assistant for future zoological expeditions.

What I liked about the story is that, like any other Russian Classic of that age, it really feels like a real life story. You feel like you almost went into the story and in that town and saw those characters.

Also the clash of different ideas i.e. Science (which also serves as a proxy for near atheism or in the least agnostic thoughts) vs. kindness/religiousness vs. cynicism (an utter disregard for the beauty of things).

The end is quite satisfying. People self-correct to varying degrees. And overall its a very good story.

Also there are mentions to the writings of earlier Russian writers. Mostly it is of Tolstoy. Chekhov through his characters takes a dig at Tolstoy. However myself, as a reader, find more in common between him and Tolstoy.

I would recommend these kind of stories who is experiencing a dry spell (something like atheism) in their lives. These kind of stories rekindle and talk to the softer side in oneself.


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