Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, boots, clothes, a big filthy slop—pail filled with soap-suds in which cigarette-ends were swimming, and the litter on the floor—all seemed as though purposely jumbled together in one confusion....
And, if the surroundings are no more beautiful than those in which a great part of the human race lives, neither are the people more beautiful than ordinary people. In The Trousseau, the poor thin girl who spends her life making a trousseau for a marriage that will never take place becomes ridiculous as she flushes at the entrance of a stranger into her mother’s house:
Her long nose, which
was slightly pitted with small-pox, turned red
first, and then the flush passed up to her eyes and her forehead.
I do not know if a blush of this sort is possible, but the thought of it is distressing.
The woman in The Darling, who marries more than once and simply cannot live without some one to love and to be an echo to, is “not half bad” to look at. But she is ludicrous even when most unselfish and adoring—especially when she rubs with eau-de-Cologne her little, thin, yellow-faced, coughing husband with “the curls combed forward on his forehead,” and wraps him in her warm shawls to an accompaniment of endearments. “‘You’re such a sweet pet!’ she used to say with perfect sincerity, stroking his hair. ‘You’re such a pretty dear!’”
Thus sympathy and disgust live in a curious harmony in Tchehov’s stories. And, as he seldom allows disgust entirely to drive out sympathy in himself, he seldom allows it to do so in his readers either. His world may be full of unswept rooms and unwashed men and women, but the presiding genius in it is the genius of gentleness and love and laughter. It is a dark world, but Tchehov brings light into it. There is no other author who gives so little offence as he shows us offensive things and people. He is a writer who desires above all things to see what men and women are really like—to extenuate nothing and to set down naught in malice. As a result, he is a pessimist, but a pessimist who is black without being bitter. I know no writer who leaves one with the same vision of men and women as lost sheep.
We are now apparently to have a complete edition of the tales of Tchehov in English from Mrs. Garnett. It will deserve a place, both for the author’s and the translator’s sake, beside her Turgenev and Dostoevsky. In lifelikeness and graciousness her work as a translator always reaches a high level. Her latest volumes confirm one in the opinion that Tchehov is, for his variety, abundance, tenderness and knowledge of the heart of the “rapacious and unclean animal” called man, the greatest short-story writer who has yet appeared on the planet.