‘An Upheaval’ by Anton Chekhov

An Upheaval by Anton Chekhov, 1886

The magic trick:

Launching the story with a scene that is guaranteed to capture the reader’s attention

This is a textbook way to start a story. In the very first sentence, we get a governess returning home from a walk to a house in turmoil.

What could it be? The following paragraphs further describe the chaos, only upping the reader’s interest in finding out the source of this upheaval.

There’s still plenty of work for the author to do and magic for the story to deliver, but at least you’ve got the reader’s attention from the start.

And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.

The selection:

Mashenka Pavletsky, a young girl who had only just finished her studies at a boarding school, returning from a walk to the house of the Kushkins, with whom she was living as a governess, found the household in a terrible turmoil. Mihailo, the porter who opened the door to her, was excited and red as a crab.

Loud voices were heard from upstairs.

“Madame Kushkin is in a fit, most likely, or else she has quarrelled with her husband,” thought Mashenka.

In the hall and in the corridor she met maid-servants. One of them was crying. Then Mashenka saw, running out of her room, the master of the house himself, Nikolay Sergeitch, a little man with a flabby face and a bald head, though he was not old. He was red in the face and twitching all over. He passed the governess without noticing her, and throwing up his arms, exclaimed:

“Oh, how horrible it is! How tactless! How stupid! How barbarous! Abominable!”


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