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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 89–107.       The Death of the Hero in Chekhov’s World1 Igor Sukhikh In  the  world  of  a  fictional  text,  as  opposed  to  the  real  world,  the  mortality  of   the  hero  is  not  a  given.  The  genres  of  epic  and  fairy  tale  often  feature  immor-­‐‑ tal  heroes  (or  heroes  who  are  only  temporarily  mortal);  characters  in  adven-­‐‑ ture   and   detective   genres   are   invincible   and   eternally   young.   At   the   same   time,  the  hero’s  mortal  demise  is  a  cherished  device,  the  culmination  of  works   of  various  genres,  tendencies,  and  epochs.  “I  just  can’t  get  the  damned  end-­‐‑ ings!”  complained  Chekhov.  “The  hero  has  to  get  married  or  shoot  himself;   there’s  no  other  way  out.”2  Death  is  one  of  the  “final  questions,”  “existential”   themes,”  and  “archetypes”  that  are  essential  for  understanding  any  writer’s   world.     “You   start   out   with   the   misconception   that   Chekhov   practically   never   wrote  about  death,”  notes  V.  Geideko.  “Then  you  recall:  he  did  write  about  it,   and  quite  a  bit  in  fact….”3  The  critic  proceeds  to  list  eight  texts,  primarily  of   Chekhov’s  late  period.  A  multitude  of  other  texts  could  be  mentioned  as  well.   In   the   architectonically   contradictory   picture   of   reality   that   Chekhov   con-­‐‑ structs  from  his  very  earliest  compositions,  the  motif  of  death  occupies  a  vitally   important  place.  His  early  stories  and  novellas  contain  not  only  more  people   than   the   “sparsely   populated”   novels   of   Turgenev   or   Goncharova,   but   also   more  deaths.     In  1880–87,  before  the  story  “Sleepy”  (“Spat’  khochetsia,”  1888)  and  The   Steppe  (1888),  Chekhov  wrote  some  forty  works  where  the  motif  of  death  is   dominant  (in  essence,  functioning  as  the  story’s  theme),  and  over  sixty  works   where  it  is  important  to  the  plot.  The  list  includes  “Death  of  a  Civil  Servant”   (“Smert’  chinovnika,”  1883),  “At  the  Cemetery”  (“Na  kladbishche,”  1884),  “A   Dead   Body”   (“Mertvoe   telo,”   1885),   “Old   Age”   (“Starost’,”   1885),   “Grief”   (“Gore,”   1885),   “A   Night   in   the   Cemetery”   (“Noch’   na   kladbishche,”   1886),   “An  Actor’s  Death”  (“Akterskaia  gibel’,”  1886),  “The  Requiem”(“Panikhida,”   1886),   “Story   without   an   End”   (“Rasskaz   bez   kontsa,”   1886),   “Boredom   of                                                                                                                             1  “Smert’  geroia  v  mire  Chekhova,”  in  Problemy  poetiki  Chekhova,  ed.  I.  N.  Sukhikh  (St.   Petersburg:  Filologicheskii  fakul’tet  Sankt-­‐‑Peterburgskogo  universiteta,  2007),  269–84.     2  “Не  даются  подлые  концы!  Герой  или  женись,  или  застрелись,  другого  выхода   нет”  (Letters  5:  72).   3  V.  A.  Geideko,  Chekhov  i  Iv.  Bunin  (Moscow:  Sovetskii  pisatel’,  1976),  251–52.     90 IGOR SUKHIKH Life”  (“Skuka  zhizni,”  1886),  “The  Teacher”  (“Uchitel’,”  1886),  “Good  People”   (“Khoroshie  liudi,”  1886),  “Enemies”  (“Vragi,”  1887),  “Typhus,”  (“Tif,”  1887),   “The   Investigator,”   (“Sledovatel’,”   1887),   “Volodia”   (1887),   “First   Aid”   (“Skoraia  pomoshch’,”  1887),  “In  the  Barn”  (“V  sarae,”  1887),  etc.     Paradoxical   though   it   may   seem—for   death   becomes   a   source   of   com-­‐‑ edy—the  simplest  case  is  that  of  the  comic  plot:     *   A   government   clerk   (not   a   person!)   dies   because   an   old   man,   a   general   in   the   civil   service   who   works   in   another   department,   yells  at  him,  and  it  is  his  own  fault  (“Death  of  a  Civil  Servant”).     *   A  disillusioned  journalist  “hangs  himself  with  pleasure”  because   he  has  “nothing  to  write  about,”  “it’s  all  happened  before,”  after   which  his  friend  “sits  down  at  the  table  and  churns  out  a  report   about   the   suicide,   an   obituary   for   the   journalist,   a   feuilleton   on   the  subject  of  the  recent  wave  of  suicides,  an  editorial  advocating   harsher  penalties  for  suicide  attempts,  and  several  other  articles   on   the   same   topic”   (“Two   Newspapermen”   [“Dva   gazetchika,”   1885]).4   *   A   writer   working   to   finish   a   contracted   “Christmas   story”   on   deadline   hastily   kills   off   one   hero   and   poisons   another;   as   he   writes,  his  lady  friends  in  the  next  room  keep  telling  him  to  hurry   up,  because  they  want  to  go  out  for  a  walk  (“Story  on  Contract”   [“Zakaz,”  1886]).     *   Another   writer   uses   a   heavy   paperweight   to   kill   a   certain   lady   named  Murashkina  who  had  tormented  him  by  making  him  lis-­‐‑ ten   to   an   endless   play   that   is   utterly   lacking   in   literary   value   (“Drama,”  1886).     *   At  General  Zapupyrin’s  funeral,  in  the  moments  before  the  body   is  carried  out,  two  government  clerks  have  a  conversation  about   the   advantages   of   women’s   happiness   over   men’s   (“Women’s   Happiness,”  [“Zhenskoe  schast’e,”  1885]).     *   At   a   different   funeral,   the   man   giving   the   eulogy   accidentally   goes  on  at  length  about  a  colleague  from  the  same  office  who  is   not   only   alive   and   well,   but   is   standing   right   next   to   him,   and   who   takes   offense   not   at   the   premature   obituary,   but   at   some-­‐‑ thing  completely  different:  “Your  speech  may  be  appropriate...


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