The Lady With The Little Dog by Anton Chekhov, 1899
The magic trick:
The three paragraphs, in the story’s opening, which summarize Dmitri’s biography for the reader
Chekhov’s greatest magic trick is the way in which his stories betray almost no magic at all. He simply tells stories about things that happen to people. The magic is in the way he conveys the most intimate knowledge of his characters and their struggles. In “The Lady With The Little Dog,” the magic display begins almost immediately as he describes the story’s protagonist, Dmitri Dmitritch.
In but three paragraphs, Chekhov provides the reader with more insight about Dmitri’s life, situation, and motivations than most people know about themselves. He mixes straight biographical facts with quick-sketch anecdotes about Dmitri’s marriage with analysis of how these facts and anecdotes have affected Dmitri’s views.
It may sound simple, but I encourage anyone who hasn’t to attempt to sum a man up in three paragraphs. It’s difficult bordering on impossible for most of us. Chekhov makes it look easy in this section – and throughout the rest of the story. Every character, every scene, is drawn with minimal noise. He filters out the unnecessary language and information and gets right to the core of the issue every single time. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
Experience often repeated, truly bitter experience, had taught him long ago that with decent people, especially Moscow people — always slow to move and irresolute — every intimacy, which at first so agreeably diversifies life and appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably grows into a regular problem of extreme intricacy, and in the long run the situation becomes unbearable. But at every fresh meeting with an interesting woman this experience seemed to slip out of his memory, and he was eager for life, and everything seemed simple and amusing.