Vanka by Anton Chekhov, 1886
The magic trick:
Using a child’s letter to multiple effects
Welcome to Christmas!
After writing about Christmas stories for all of December the last three years on the SSMT website here I’m switching it up this year. We’re going to have a little 12 Days of Christmas theme starting today and leading up to the 25th.
Day One is maybe the saddest story I’ve ever read. It’s amazing, though. Absolutely amazing.
Chekhov is able to create two vivid settings in the span of four pages. How? The first is in the description of Vanka’s life with his grandfather. The second – and this is where the heartbreak shows up – is in Vanka’s letter. The letter gives us a picture of his new life with the shoemaker and it also allows us to see the world from his helpless and confused perspective. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
Even the dogs would be given snuff. Kashtanka would sneeze, shake her head and walk away, offended. But Eel, too polite to sneeze, would wag his tail. And the weather was glorious. The air still, transparent. fresh. It was a dark night, but the whole village with its white roofs, the smoke rising from the chimneys, the trees, silver with rime, the snow-drifts, could be seen distinctly. The sky was sprinkled with gaily twinkling stars, and the Milky Way stood out as clearly as if newly scrubbed for the holiday and polished with snow….
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