Monday, 24 December 2012

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

Vanka Zhukov, a boy of nine, who had been for three months apprenticed to Alyahin the shoemaker, was sitting up on Christmas Eve.  Waiting till his master and mistress and the workmen had gone to the midnight service, he took out of his master's cupboard a bottle of ink and a pen with a rusty nib, and spreading out a crumpled sheet of paper in front of him, began writing.
Waiting to go to Christmas Eve church service I had just enough time to read the next story in my anthology.  The synchronicity tickled my fancy.  So did the story.

The pathos of little Vanka, a young boy without parental support or friends calls out for aid in a letter to his grandfather.  Vanka is another incarnation of Andersen's "The Little Match Girl".  In his desperation, Vanka calls up the image of his grandfather, a jovial prankster as he gives snuff to ladies and dogs just to laugh at their reactions. The pathetic is piled onto the pathetic; poor Vanka would run away from his horrible situation but he has no boots.  He is suffering the onset of Nature Deficit Disorder in his urban environment.  He pleads with his grandfather to rescue him from his wretched life.

But, unlike the match girl, there is no kindly grandparent who comes to the rescue (even as an envoy from heaven).  The ending of the story assures us that nothing will change for Vanka; his hopelessly mis-addressed, unstamped letter is the last element of pathos that rescues the story from sentimentality, but we know that it can never reach its intended recipient. However, the paradox is that the undeliverable letter has, in a certain sense, been delivered.  For we, the readers are made aware of Vanka's plight, but are as unable to rescue him as his unnotified grandfather.

Anton Chekhov's Plays:

The Seagull (1896) - a comedy in four acts
Uncle Vanya (1899-1900) - a drama in four acts
Three Sisters (1901) - a drama in four acts
The Cherry Orchard (1904) - a comedy in four acts

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