Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15th: Anton Chekhov
A Month of Short Stories and Their Authors

now reading: Martin Amis: The Biography by Richard Bradford

I must say that my first experience with Chekhov didn't go so well. But I was fifteen years old at the time. What did I know? I've since fallen in love with all things Russian literature. Isn't it high time I revisit ol' Chekhov?

Today's Story: "The Looking Glass"
Author: Anton Chekhov
My Rating: A

This is a short but sweet (or well, you know, bittersweet...emotional...a little worrisome...depressing...take your pick) story about a girl ("young and pretty") who is gazing into her looking-glass while dreaming about getting married. Let's talk about the term "looking glass" for a second. This is one of those things that is absolutely positively one hundred percent not used in USA English (I have no idea about Canada, I realize...Canadians?) but that we are easily able to understand is a mirror. Once we learn it, that is. When we are eight or nine years old and have finished reading Alice in Wonderland and pick up the sequel Through the Looking Glass, we might not know that a looking glass is a mirror and we might at first be unsure of what exactly is happening to Alice and what sort of glass she is falling through, thinking maybe it's a window or something, until we are finally bonked over the head with a sort of "Duh!"  Because, simply put, it's a mirror. So this just gets me feathers all ruffled thinking about how stupid it is to "Americanize" (and or "USA-ize, pending what we hear from Canadians) English-English books. FOR EXAMPLE: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Ugh. I like the idea of learning about one another's English usage, with footnotes if necessary, not translating English-English to USA-English, when I read. Who's with me? I know that it can lead to confusion sometimes when you don't have footnotes, but that's OK. It's a learning experience! Anyway, whoever translated the Chekhov obviously used the term "looking glass" and not mirror. And so here we are.

True or False: Chekhov writes a lot about women. I'm totally cool with that, Anton, but I really need to read more of your stuff. It was Three Sisters that did me in, at age fifteen, at theater camp. Had to perform an abridged version of it. Was miserable. Can't even remember the name of the acting coach who directed us in that scene, but I remember actually hiding out in the bathroom one day trying to figure out a way to not return to his classroom and not have to rehearse the scene. With hindsight, I think that whether or not he was a great acting coach of teenagers (especially sheltered and immature ones), I was clearly the pathetic one. I do believe it was Lori and Penny and I playing the three sisters--and I'm not even sure which one I was. I'm thinking maybe Irina. Really, the plot is lost to my memory, everything is lost to my memory except the utter misery I felt the entire several weeks of rehearsing. What's funny about that is that I had to burst into tears in the scene, acting-wise, and you'd think I should have been easily able to do that, what with being miserable and all. Why was I so miserable? I don't know! It was just miserable! Which is just so weird seeing as I have grown very fond of angst, drama, and Russian lit over the years. Did I just not know myself yet? (This is a distinct possibility.) How did the performance go? Well, all three of us were nominated for acting awards, and the director of the entire workshop did initiate a standing ovation for us. (But really, not for me. Probably mostly for Penny; she was actually a good actress.) I think it's just because he adored Chekhov, and Three Sisters was famously his favorite play, which, you know, no pressure! That's probably why our director was so hard on us and why I was so miserable. I swore off Chekhov after that summer.

And now here I am, in a cold and gray and windy Michigan summer (yes, this is what passes for July around here; might as well be in exile in Siberia or something) reading a little more Chekhov. "The Looking-Glass" has a plot that is entirely imagined but that is vividly rendered. It makes sense when you read it. It leaves you with lots of profound questions like "What does it mean to join my life with that of another?"  and "What do we owe our neighbors?" (not to mention our horses) and "Is life at all worth living, since it will inevitably be filled with sad and terrible events?"  That Chekhov, fun guy. Let's all have a beer, no?! Seriously. !@#&*Russians. Love them.

And so, I hereby heartily recommend this great story and I hereby also pledge to reread Chekhov's Three Sisters and try to figure out just exactly what was wrong with my unable-to-appreciate-it-fifteen-year-old-self (perhaps Taylor Swift can weigh in?), and I also apologize to the universe for allowing my personal adolescent misery to prevent me from fully appreciating the beautifully rendered misery of others.

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