The Student by Anton Chekhov, 1894
The magic trick:
Connecting the present and past
Beautiful is really the only word that seems suitable with which to describe this story. The student plays the role of teacher during the story, as he visits with two widows on his way home and tells them the biblical story of the Last Supper. It is the student, though, who also learns the greatest lesson from the story. He connects the essential elements of the past – the agony of guilt and loss in the Bible – to the present tense through the widows’ emotions. He connects the essential earthly elements of wind and cold of the present tense to the same challenges faced by the great men of Russia’s history.
Anyone who has given themselves chills thinking about history – walking a historic ground or coming into contact with historic artifacts – can understand this sense of perspective and connection with the larger scope of time. It’s a beautiful feeling. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a minute to take breath. “The past,” he thought, “is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.