“Children and young girls often come and look at me with curiosity and sadness.”
This month the “Too Busy for Books” Book Club read the novella My Life by Anton Chekhov.
My Life tells of a young nobleman in provincial 1880s Russia who sees corruption all around him. He determines to drop out of society and toil with his hands as a common laborer. For this, his father disinherits him, the governor threatens him, he is cursed in the street; at the same time, he makes friends with a sympathetic intellectual and hooks up with most beautiful woman in town. So there’s pluses and minuses.
Chekhov was no nobleman but he had done a ton of toiling among peasants; he does not romanticize his semi-literate, part-medieval homeland. In the end, the nobleman finds corruption even among the very poor, and comes to doubt many of his actions. But there is no questioning the urgent need to fix his broken society, and in this way the immensely fine My Life still rings sweetly subversive.
Chekhov comes across as a lovely human being who witnessed the worst of humanity’s stupidities but never lost his sense of humor.
This was the last novella he wrote, and many say his most autobiographical.