Chekhov, moments and privacy


I was recently re-reading one of Chekhov’s short stories, The Lady with the Dog, and found two paragraphs I’d missed the first time I read it, about this time last year. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov (Mitya) and Anna Sergeyevna meet in a small coastal town and have an affair. She owns a Pomeranian dog.

The first quote reminded me of life-logging and the importance of moments.

“At Oreanda they sat on a seat not far from the church, looked down at the sea, and were silent. Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings — the sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky — Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.”

Nice no? Not sure about “unceasing progress to perfection” or “higher aims”, but its nice to think that “everything is beautiful”.

And the second quote has a bit to do with the theme of privacy, but a different take than what we normally hear about. This is Mitya referring to Anna, but I was thinking more about me and all my personal data…

“…He talked, thinking all the while that he was going to see her, and no living soul knew of it, and probably never would know. He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth — such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his “lower race,” his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities — all that was open. And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, and always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilised man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.”

So, in one short story, two themes arise that are linked in the end, the beauty of life, the need for privacy and the difficulty of sharing the most intense parts with others. Difficult to share with the general public, easier maybe with friends and family, but so much remains hidden, untold. I would even go a step further and say that many things are completely forgotten about too, so, the ultimate irony, its even hard to share your own personal experiences with yourself.

Well, in any case, here’s to Chekhov, born Jan 29, 1860, or 157 years, 1 month, 25 days ago.


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