Short Story of the Day, The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I liked to lie like that; a sleeping man is not molested, and meanwhile one can dream and think. But I could not dream, my heart was beating uneasily, and M.’s words, “Je haïs ces brigands!” were echoing in my ears.

—–Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Peasant Marey

The Wild Detectives in the Bishop Arts District.

Dallas Streetcar

Reunion Tower, taken from inside the Dallas Streetcar. On my way to Bishop Arts for a discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow.

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

Starting in January of this year, every Wednesday after work I took the DART train downtown, then rode the Streetcar to the Bishop Arts district – arriving at the bookstore The Wild Detectives. I was part of a group called the DRBC (Difficult Reading Book Club) and were slogging our way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It was a ton of fun, and when we finished up in the summer, it was announced that the next Difficult Book was going to be a trilogy by Virginia Woolf. I thought hard about it (even bought the books) but at the end decided that I didn’t want to give up the time to criss-cross the city… plus I had my own long/difficult reading project to complete (which I’m still working on after well over a year).

Today, though, I received an email outlining the next DRBC book – The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In theory, I read that book in college, but have no memory of it (at the time I was mixing literature and writing studies with Physical Chemistry classes – and the combination almost broke me) and suspect I might have made too liberal use of the study guides. But now, I want to read it, and read it in a diverse group, and maybe get a bit more out of it.

This will start up in January… sometime. In the meantime I thought I’d do some research on the deeper meaning of Dostoevsky’s work (without reading any of The Brothers Karamazov before it’s time) and maybe brushing up on some of his shorter works.

Thus, the short story of the day:

The Peasant Marey, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

available along with a number of Dostoevsky short stories at Project Gutenberg.

Here’s an audio version, if you prefer:

This is a (on the surface) simple story of a man in a Siberian Russian prison reminiscing about a slight incident from his childhood. There is a lot there beneath the surface, however. Worth the read.

 

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Four – The Servant

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty four – The Servant, by Sergey Terentyevich Semyonov

Read it online here:

The Servant

S. T. Semyonov was born to Russian peasant parents and lived a life of menial manual labor. He used that tough life as fodder for his stories.

I’m not too familiar with his writing – and am not sure if they all are like today’s selection – but I would imagine they are. It’s a simple story, a moral tale, that starts with a young man down on his luck. He has lost his position due to having to return to his village for military duty. He has been walking the streets of Moscow, hungry, for days – looking for work – any work.

When he runs across a silver tongued old friend, he has a ray of hope and a bit of good fortune. But he learns about the cost of his good fortune and has to make a decision. It seems that he chooses wisely.

“What’s the use of wasting words? I just want to tell you about myself. If for some reason or other I should ever have to leave this place and go home, not only would Mr. Sharov, if I came back, take me on again without a word, but he would be glad to, too.”

Gerasim sat there downcast. He saw his friend was boasting, and it occurred to him to gratify him.

“I know it,” he said. “But it’s hard to find men like you, Yegor Danilych. If you were a poor worker, your master would not have kept you twelve years.”

Yegor smiled. He liked the praise.

“That’s it,” he said. “If you were to live and serve as I do, you wouldn’t be out of work for months and months.”

It’s a short, straightforward tale – but a fine humans story about making the best of a difficult life.

The author, Semyonov was killed by bandits at the age of fifty five. It doesn’t get any more difficult than that.

Short Story Day 6 – Gooseberries

6. – Gooseberries
Anton Chekhov
http://www.eldritchpress.org/ac/gooseb.html

This is day six of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

After a string of modern and post-modern works, we swing back to a classic master – Anton Chekhov. He wrote a prodigious number of stories on a wide variety of subjects, but all of them were uniquely his own unmistakable style. Often known more as a playwright, his masterly short stories may be his greatest achievement.

I have always been a fan of his famous story, The Lady with the Dog -(audio version). A few days ago, I wrote about Joyce Carol Oates. She produced a story, The Lady with the Pet Dog, which was a modern adaptation of the same tale, told from the point of view of the woman (with the dog). Together, the Oates and Chekhov versions make for some good reading and an interesting comparison.

Today’s story, “Gooseberries” is one of Chekhov’s later works, and is full of his characteristic ambiguity, moral questioning, and general good cheer. It is very attentive to the minutiae of daily life and the author manipulates these details to define and enrich the message and morals that he wants to convey.

Three men spend the day talking, and one tells a long “story within a story” which, on closer inspection has a very close relationship to the outer, framing story. The inner tale fails to interest the listeners, which makes the outer story that much more subtle and effective.

In the end, nothing much happens and nothing is decided… the rain continues to fall and the odor of spent tobacco keeps a character awake late into the night. The moral ambiguities are not resolved – the brother, eating his gooseberries that he thinks are delicious while the narrator confides are bitter – acts like a pig, but is undeniably happy in the way that a person can when his dreams come true.

I think that Checkov is ultimately telling us that this in how life is – there are no guarantees and victory is simply a slight shade away from defeat – happiness is elusive, but so are good works. Selfishness is evil, but charity is an illusion. All you can hope for is to muddle through – but maybe this is a miracle in itself.

“If I were young.”

He suddenly walked up to Aliokhin and shook him first by one hand and then by the other.

“Pavel Koustantinich,” he said in a voice of entreaty, “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!”

Ivan Ivanich said this with a piteous supplicating smile, as though he were asking a personal favour.

Then they all three sat in different corners of the drawing-room and were silent. Ivan Ivanich’s story had satisfied neither Bourkin nor Aliokhin. With the generals and ladies looking down from their gilt frames, seeming alive in the firelight, it was tedious to hear the story of a miserable official who ate gooseberries. . . . Somehow they had a longing to hear and to speak of charming people, and of women. And the mere fact of sitting in the drawing-room where everything — the lamp with its coloured shade, the chairs, and the carpet under their feet — told how the very people who now looked down at them from their frames once walked, and sat and had tea there, and the fact that pretty Pelagueya was near — was much better than any story.

—-Gooseberries, by Anton Chekhov