by Anton Chekhov
If Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe had a baby, it would be this story.
A kind and competent lecturer overworks himself and goes to his former guardian’s country home for the summer. He has sleep problems, awake all night and dropping off suddenly during the day.
Out of nowhere, he comes up with a legend of a black monk whose mirage walks abroad, cast and recast around the world and out into the universe.
He sees the vision, which assures him he is a genius. He marries his former guardian’s daughter, frightens her with his visions, is cured, resents the ordinary life to which sanity condemns him. Hating everybody, he leaves his wife, gets consumption, sees the monk again, is reassured he’s a genius, and dies happy.
Until the end, I thought the bulk of it was a dream after he dropped off during a concert.
Now that I know it was really happening, I can think about it differently. Beautifully written, as Chekhov always is, but ghastly and sad. Chekhov foreshadows this by his description of the grounds: “gloomy”, “precipitous”, “like shaggy paws”, “unfriendly”, “plaintive”. The house and tended grounds, by contrast, are always fruitful and gay, but they’re tame. The house and tended grounds are kept that way by constant, irritating struggle.
Not surprising, then, that the main character only maintains his place within normalcy by constant, irritating struggle, a struggle that ultimately wounds or destroys everybody around him.
Geez, Chekhov, be ghastly next time!
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: Write about a delusion, mirage, or vision.