The Witch by Anton Chekhov (1918)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror March 3, 2015
The lovely and young Raissa, adorned with hair plaits that touch the floor, is a witch. Or maybe not. Her husband Savely is a red-haired, grouchy and repulsive older man who believes his wife is a witch and blames her for the wicked snowstorm and cold they must endure in their little house in the countryside.
Our story opens in true Chekhovian style with descriptive atmospherics.
“A plaintive lament sobbed at the window, on the roof, or in the stove. It sounded not like a call for help, but like a cry of misery, a consciousness that it was too late, that there was no salvation.”
A postman and his partner become lost in the storm and knock at their cabin door. Raissa opens the door to these strangers. And the postman becomes enchanted, or should I say bewitched, by Raissa’s lovely neck.
Watch for the fascinating dark imagery that is the star of this story. Sexual and spiritual desires are themes in this fiction by the long acclaimed master of the short story, Anton Chekhov. He is famous for his anti-climactic endings that leave a reader to ponder Chekhov’s messages. And his prose! We can still marvel today at his talents. Eudora Welty said “Reading Chekhov was just like the angels singing to me.” For my writer followers here, in case you’ve not read Chekhov’s Six Principles of a Good Story, here they are. My favorite is #6. Chekhov certainly fulfilled that one.
- Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature
- Total objectivity
- Truthful descriptions of persons and objects
- Extreme brevity
- Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype
Chekhov’s death has been a well-known story in literary history. Raymond Carver fictionalized it in his short story Errand (read it here). If you’re a Chekhov fan, you must read Errand. Chekhov’s wife Olga tells it like this. “Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe (“I’m dying”). The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: “It’s a long time since I drank champagne.” He drained it and lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child.” [From Olga Knipper, Memoir, in Benedetti, Dear Writer, Dear Actress, 284]
Read The Witch at the Classic Reader http://www.classicreader.com/book/394/1/
Unfortunately I could not find an audio of this story but there are many others here at Chekhov Audio.
[Art of nude witch is by Albert Joseph Penot, “Sabbat,” 1910]
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