A Thinking Horse

Anton Chekhov was a Russian writer who lived in the late 19th/early 20th century. He was a pretty good playwright but I’d say his short-stories are his best work. I’m not alone is thinking that either; even Wikipedia says he’s ‘considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history’ (although it doesn’t specify exactly who considers this to be true, but I promise I didn’t edit it).

I don’t think of Chekhov as a light-hearted writer. He described his first play The Cherry Orchard as a comic farce but very few people agree. There are comic elements there but they are rather overshadowed by the tragic elements.

I don’t think his short stories fit neatly into a category either, but they don’t tend to be funny. Yes, they are engaging, beautifully written glimpses into a life, but not one of them has ever made me laugh (well, except for maybe The Story With No Name. No two of them have ever made me laugh!). He is a great writer though, and a sentence or two will get you interested in a story, in a new character, even if they aren’t human.

Misery – To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief? (happy title, right?) starts with a description of snow and Iona, the sledge-driver, waiting for a customer to drive so he can make a little money. But it was the description of Iona’s horse that really got me:

His little mare is white and motionless too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the stick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread horse.

Not bad for two sentences, hey? It’s even the horse who is first described as being more than a just a shape:

She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from the plough, from the familiar grey landscapes, and cast into this slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying people, is bound to think.

I mean, he doesn’t specify exactly what she’s thinking about but it doesn’t sound like she’s a happy horse to me. In which case she’s in good company – Iona isn’t happy either. It seems like the horse is the closest friend he has.

Later, when they are back in the stable, he talks to her:

“Are you munching?” Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. “There, munch away, munch away… Since we have not earned enough for oats, we will eat hay…” […] The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master’s hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.

To whom shall I tell my grief? To a thinking horse. All the human are rubbish.

Chekhov is a really, really great read. I recommend his plays (and just for once I suggest you get the actual book rather than the Kindle version – I found it much easier to follow but hey, you do you) but I really recommend his short-stories, I rate them very highly indeed. I appreciate there are a lot of them, they are generally pretty short but I get swept away within the first few lines, but if you follow this link, you can get them all for 99p! I know I’m biased here, but it’d be lovely if more people had read some of his work and were willing to talk to me about what they thought.

(Unless otherwise stated, I get a small commission if you buy through one of these links)

24 thoughts on “A Thinking Horse

  1. It’s shocking to admit, but I’m new to Chekov. And where I started was perhaps unusual: Sakhalin Island, which was an absorbing and revealing read. I’ll certainly follow your advice though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Growing up in a theatrical family, I came to know Chekov well. I have seen all four of his full length plays. Uncle Vanya being my favorite, followed by the Seagull. I am not a big fan of the Cherry Orchard. Three Sisters is also a good play. I remember reading one of his short plays many years ago as I was considering directing it for the theatre company I was involved with. It was the Bear. I believe Neil Simon must have liked Mr. Chekov enough to take two of his stories and turn them into plays. One was a play called The Good Doctor, which is a series of sketches as a Doctor reflects upon his life. My favorite was the sketch about the Dentist. It is a similar idea to the Harvey Norman and Tim Conway sketch from the Carol Burnett. Another favorite sketch from that play was The Drowning Man. This is about a man, he makes his trade by performing a drowning scene for patrons. He has a hard time convincing the Good Doctor to pay him for his performance. The Good Doctor in the end does, and the man ends up drowning for real. Simon also took another play by Chekov called Fools and adapted. It about the little town of Kulyenchikov and a teacher who comes to rid this town of it’s curse of stupidity. I was fortunate enough to be in this show twice. It is a very funny show.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so jealous, I’ve never seen his plays performed! I’d love to though, I suspect I’d notice things that I haven’t picked up on just reading them.


  3. Wonderful post. I love the way you write of authors and writers. Anton Chekhov is a very interesting choice as a writer. I remember reading his The Beggar a few days back. One of a good ones then.

    Liked by 1 person

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