September 27, 2009 | Published in | 1 comments

I pored through about 10 of Anton Chekhov's short stories as part of my Russian Lit assignment. The first five or so were - for lack of a better word - odd. I am not well versed in Russian literature; it is probably the last thing I would have ever read in my life if I hadn't taken this class. I am actually excited about this class; it is my first time doing literature since my A level days and I am thankful that it's not Jane Austen - queen of old school chic lit - I'm studying again.

Chekhov's words are diaphanous, almost billowy, strung together like a random assortment of clothes on a peg line on a cloudy afternoon. Chekhov is famous for his stream-of-consciousness style of writing, weaving in and out of reality and dream seamlessly. His style was later adopted by a slew of other modern authors, like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Chekhov was a doctor by profession, and a writer by night, claiming that "medicine is [his] wife, literature [his] mistress". Grigorovich thought he had "real talent", but Chekhov never thought so; he felt his writings were "mechanical" and written "half-consciously". In any case, Grigorovich inspired him to focus more on his writing. Chekhov went on to win the Pushkin Prize for his short story collection, At Dusk.

Chekhov was born into a peasant family (unlike other great Russian writers like Leo Tolstoy, who was a Count) and had an abusive father who was declared bankrupt later on in life. This left Chekhov, his brother and mother in a physically and emotionally destitute state. Hence, Chekhov started to write to support himself and his family. He finished his education in medical school and began to practice as a doctor in 1884. Ironically enough, he was struck with recurrent episodes of tuberculosis throughout his life but never admitted to it. In the end, he died of it in 1904 in Germany. His body was transported back to Russia in a train carriage that transported oysters.

Many of Chekhov's stories concern life's little details, mundanity and a gaping lack of purpose. Although most will find his material dreary and overly tragic, I find it oddly compelling. For instance, "Sleepy" details the stream of thoughts of an exhausted babysitter named Varka who simply wants to sleep but cannot because of the screaming baby and the baby's overbearing mistress. Varka strangles the baby and sleeps like a dead person at the end of the story.

And the baby screams, and is worn out with screaming. Again Varka sees the muddy high road, the people with wallets, her mother Pelageya, her father Yefim. She understands everything, she recognises everyone, but through her half sleep she cannot understand the force which binds her, hand and foot, weighs upon her, and prevents her from living. She looks round, searches for that force that she may escape from it, but she cannot find it. At last, tired to death, she does her very utmost, strains her eyes, looks up at the flickering green patch, and listening to the screaming, finds the foe who will not let her live.

1 Responses to “Sleepy”

  1. Liya says:
    28 September 2009 at 14:55

    haunting. beautiful. and preeeetty scary.
    cool post as usual