Valerie Martin on Chekhov’s “The Duel”

Valerie Martin is in New York tonight to read from her latest short story collection, The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories. As a prelude to her visit, she was happy to talk about one of her favorite short stories by one of the masters of the form.

valerie-martin.gifAnton Chekhov’s story “The Duel” concerns a number of characters, all residents of a hot seaside town in the Caucuses, who pass their time in light “official” duties and in conversation with and about one another. Ivan Andreich Laevsky, a young man who works for the finance ministry, lives unhappily with his mistress, Nadezhda Fyodorovna, a married woman who has run away with him, forsaking her husband and causing a rift between Laevsky and his mother who “couldn’t forgive me this liaison.” The couple is hard up for money and their passion for each other has turned to dust in the hot sun.

Laevsky is a typical Chekhov character, filled with self-loathing and angst, constantly imagining that he will be happy if he can only make some change in his circumstances. In Petersburg he thought he would be fulfilled by running away to the Caucuses with Nadezhda where they would settle, make new friends and buy a piece of land, “labor in the sweat of our brow, start a vineyard, fields, and so on.” Now, faced with the tedium of small town life and a horror of the fields full of “venomous centipedes, scorpions and snakes under every bush and stone,” all he wants is to leave his mistress and return to St. Petersburg. “If I were offered two things, to be a chimney sweep in Petersburg or a prince here, I’d take the post of chimney sweep.” He confides this to his friend, Dr. Samoilenko, a soft-hearted, peaceable man, “infinitely kind, good-natured, and responsible,” who advises Laevsky to take pity on his beautiful, intelligent mistress and offer her respect and indulgence. “Marry her, dear heart!” he concludes. But Laevsky cannot endure the notion that he has any duty to Nadezhda, and goes away with one thought in mind—to escape—though he isn’t sure how to do it. “In my indecision I am reminiscent of Hamlet,” Laevsky thinks as he goes out for a game of vint. “How rightly Shakespeare observed it! Ah, how rightly!”


16 May 2006 | selling shorts |

Look at Me, Putting On Airs!

Frank Sennett of The Spokesman Review starts up a new column called “Blogspotter” by taking a look at author blogs, and he got me to tell his readers that “the best author blogs turn visitors on to books by other folks as well.” Or, as the money quote puts it:

“The glimpses into other writers’ personal lives are fun, but the thing I like most about my favorite authors’ blogs is their willingness to celebrate OTHER authors that they admire… It’s not just about promoting themselves, but acknowledging that we’re all enthusiastic readers, and we’re all looking for the next awesome book to read.”

15 May 2006 | uncategorized |

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