Chekhov, Anton P.
|Genre||Short Story (68 pp.)|
|Keywords||Alcoholism, Death and Dying, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Family Relationships, Illness and the Family, Infectious Disease, Love, Pneumonia, Suffering, Tuberculosis|
Young Prince Yegorushka has managed to squander his family's limited resources and now lies in a drunken stupor. His mother (Princess Priklonsky) and sister (Marusya) reluctantly send for Dr. Toporkov, the elegant and highly successful physician whose father was once a serf on their estate. The cold, haughty, and uncommunicative Toporkov appears, gives a few orders, and rushes away. Yet, the princess views the man as a savior and exclaims: "How considerate, how nice he is!"
Marusya also falls ill, and Toporkov makes several house calls, "walking importantly, looking at no one." Old Princess Priklonsky tries to ingratiate the doctor by providing him with a hefty bonus and inviting him to tea. But rather than warming up, Toporkov lectures them "with medical terms without using a single phrase which his listeners could understand."
Some time later, a matchmaker arrives with an astounding proposal--the doctor wishes to marry Marusya for a dowry of 60,000 rubles. (The truth is he will marry anyone for that price.) The Priklonsky family immediately turns the down proposition, ostensibly because of Toporkov's peasant background, but really because they don't have 60,000 rubles to their name.
Meanwhile, as time goes on, Marusya falls in love with the doctor. As she becomes sicker with consumption, the family's financial straits become worse. Finally, with her last five rubles, Marusya seeks help from Toporkov, throwing herself at his feet and proclaiming her love. The astounded doctor experiences an epiphany. He suddenly realizes the worthlessness of all his money-grubbing in an outpouring of love for the dying woman.
This is a very early story, written while Chekhov was in medical school. In fact, it may be one of his first attempts at creating a serious and sustained narrative. The tale itself is unwieldy and sentimental, lacking the taut objectivity of Chekhov's later style.
Dr. Toporkov is a fascinating character. Objectively, the man is arrogant, avaricious, and professionally distant. Nonetheless, from the patient's perspective, Toporkov appears to be a miracle worker. He possesses a "positive quality" that seems to make his very presence therapeutic. At the end of the story, Marusya's selfless love breaks through Toporkov's professional and personal defenses, and he becomes her lover. This experience of love necessarily reveals the futility of his previous ways. He turns into a warmer, more generous person. Will this make him a better doctor?
|Source||Late-Blooming Flowers and Other Stories|
|Editors||C. Chertok & Jean Gardner|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||Translated by C. Chertok and Jean Gardner. First published in Russia in 1882.|
|Annotated by||Coulehan, Jack|
|Date of Entry||03/20/01|