Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Concept of time in Chekhov’s Short Stories

Anton Chekhov. From

“What a fragment is in space, a moment is in time. The moment has been greatly exploited in fiction, more particularly in short fiction. Chekhov, perhaps, was the first to exploit the moment in the short story. …There’s his story which tells of a man going out to post a letter. He stands by the post box, wondering if he should send it. At last, after a great deal of hesitation, he looks down and observes that he has his bedroom slippers on, which is a violation of bourgeois decorum. This discovery is decisive. Promptly the letter is dropped into the box, though heaven knows it may change the whole course of his life.
There is another Chekhov story, which tells about a man who contemplates suicide. He enters a shop which sells firearms, with the idea of buying a revolver. The shopkeeper, expansive in the way of a salesman bent on making a sale, dwells on the merits of this or that weapon, describing its particular function and virtue, until the self-destructive mood of the prospective buyer becomes dissipated and he leaves the shop after making the purchase of a bird-cage or some such article.
Note the ephemeral nature of the persons in these two stories; they are persons of the moment who live for the moment. Durability –that is, character- is absent. Chance, accident, moves them to make decisions of import; it is equally possible that another kind of moment would reserve their decision. This is peculiarly of our time; since the day that Chekhov wrote the tendency here described has increased rather than diminished; it has influenced our fiction. It is highly symptomatic of the malady of the age: absence of faith and deterioration of character. If Art is a reflection of the time –and that may be accepted as an axiom- if it is a faithful mirror of what goes on in the human psyche, then for better or for worse, the fact must be accepted, and we must make the most of it.”

Introduction for the Book A World of Great Stories. By John Cournos. P. 8-9. New York, 1947

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