Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Black Monk

Illustration by Kate Baylay
The Black Monk, by Anton Chekhov

Andrey Kovrin is a scholar, reputed to be brilliant.  Certainly he has a good opinion of himself!  But he is overworked and goes to stay for a season with his former guardian, Pesotsky.  Kovrin is close to Pesotsky and his daughter Tanya, but he has a very different life and it's difficult for him to stop overworking himself.  Pesotsky and Tanya run a "horticultural center,"--is that a farm?--with orchards and all sorts of wonderful things, and it is a beautiful place that they've dedicated their lives to.  (It reminded me of John Bidwell's farm.)

Kovrin becomes obsessed with a legend that he has heard--or did he imagine it?
“I have been all day thinking of a legend,” he said. “I don’t remember whether I have read it somewhere or heard it, but it is a strange and almost grotesque legend. To begin with, it is somewhat obscure. A thousand years ago a monk, dressed in black, wandered about the desert, somewhere in Syria or Arabia. . . . Some miles from where he was, some fisherman saw another black monk, who was moving slowly over the surface of a lake. This second monk was a mirage. Now forget all the laws of optics, which the legend does not recognise, and listen to the rest. From that mirage there was cast another mirage, then from that other a third, so that the image of the black monk began to be repeated endlessly from one layer of the atmosphere to another. So that he was seen at one time in Africa, at another in Spain, then in Italy, then in the Far North. . . . Then he passed out of the atmosphere of the earth, and now he is wandering all over the universe, still never coming into conditions in which he might disappear. Possibly he may be seen now in Mars or in some star of the Southern Cross. But, my dear, the real point on which the whole legend hangs lies in the fact that, exactly a thousand years from the day when the monk walked in the desert, the mirage will return to the atmosphere of the earth again and will appear to men. And it seems that the thousand years is almost up. . . . According to the legend, we may look out for the black monk to-day or to-morrow.”

He starts to see the black monk, and wants only to see the monk again.  Soon the monk is appearing to him regularly and speaking with Kovrin, telling him that he is a genius with an amazing destiny, that he is a gift from God, all sorts of stuff.  This makes Kovrin very happy, and his obsession worsens...


This is a great short story.  Chekhov is on my Classics Club list and so I'll be reading the other stories in the book too (which I downloaded from Google Books, so you can read this story too, quite easily).  I don't think I've read Chekhov before, but I'm looking forward to more.  But for the moment it's a good Gothic story for October.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Wonderful! I'm heading to Amazon to find this.