Friday, July 30, 2010


Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin are caught in a heavy shower while walking in the countryside and seek refuge in the mansion of landlord Aliokhin who  welcomes them warmly. Aliokhin does not seem to have bathed for ages and is dirtily clothed as he returns home from his farming duties.They all bathe and change and as they converse in the evening, Ivan narrates the story of his own brother, a government official who spent half his life single mindedly pursuing and finally achieving his dream of living in the countryside. He turns into a ridiculous caricature of a "country gentleman" with all the foibles, pretensions and pomposity. Chekhov here questions Tolstoi's view that all that a man requires is six feet of ground. By running away from his life in the city to an idyllic nest, a haven far from tension and worry, the character in the story, and by implication Aliokhin the host, have cut themselves from the stream of life, the battlefield which is our human destiny.

"It is a common saying that a man needs only six feet of land. But surely a corpse wants that, not a man. And I hear that our intellectuals have a longing for the land and want to acquire farms. But it all comes down to the six feet of land. To leave town, and the struggle and the swim of life, and go and hide yourself in a farmhouse is not life -- it is egoism, laziness; it is a kind of monasticism, but monasticism without action. A man needs, not six feet of land, not a farm, but the whole earth, all Nature, where in full liberty he can display all the properties and qualities of the free spirit."

Ivanich's brother has lived out his life in the city dreaming of the day when he can eat gooseberries grown on his own land like the one's he enjoyed in his childhood. Perhaps few things are as dreary as a dream fulfilled, for happiness is an ever receding mirage.

".... I saw a happy man, one whose dearest dream had come true, who had attained his goal in life, who had got what he wanted, and was pleased with his destiny and with himself. In my idea of human life there is always some alloy of sadness, but now at the sight of a happy man I was filled with something like despair. ...Think of the people who go to the market for food: during the day they eat; at night they sleep, talk nonsense, marry, grow old, piously follow their dead to the cemetery; one never sees or hears those who suffer, and all the horror of life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is quiet, peaceful, and against it all there is only the silent protest of statistics; so many go mad, so many gallons are drunk, so many children die of starvation. . .  "don't be satisfied, don't let yourself be lulled to sleep! While you are young, strong, wealthy, do not cease to do good! Happiness does not exist, nor should it, and if there is any meaning or purpose in life, they are not in our peddling little happiness, but in something reasonable and grand. Do good!"

I thimk Chekhov is trying to tell us to do our best in the present for the land of gooseberries does not exist and even if we do get to the gooseberries they are not anything as sweet as we dreamt them to be. Gooseberries are just not worth living for, like Kane's Xanadu. Nor are gooseberries the purpose of life.


Ronak M Soni said...

You're reading again?

litdreamer said...

Since you usually review movies, I wasn't sure whether this was a short story or an early film, though I never knew Chekhov to be a film director. Thanks to Ronak for clarifying.

Speaking of reviews, looks like I have a lot of catching up to do since my vacation. You've been busy!

S. M. Rana said...

I'm actually being more and more drawn to reading.