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A monologue from the play by Anton Chekhov
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Two Plays of Tchekhof. Trans. George Calderon. London: Grant Richards Ltd., 1912.
Hmph! You talk of fame and happiness, of some brilliant interesting life; but for me all these pretty words, if I may say so, are just like marmalade, which I never eat.
You are very young and very kind, but I don’t know what is so delightful about my life. You have heard of obsessions, when a man is haunted day and night, say, by the idea of the moon or something?
Well, I’ve got my moon. Day and night I am obsessed by the same persistent thought; I must write, I must write, I must write…. No sooner have I finished one story than I am somehow compelled to write another, then a third, after a third a fourth.
I write without stopping, except to change horses like a postchaise. I have no choice. What is there brilliant or delightful in that, I should like to know? It’s a dog’s life!
Here I am talking to you, excited and delighted, yet never for one moment do I forget that there is an unfinished story waiting for me indoors. I see a cloud shaped like a grand piano.
I think: I must mention somewhere in a story that a cloud went by, shaped like a grand piano. I smell heliotrope. I say to myself: Sickly smell, mourning shade, must be mentioned in describing a summer evening.
I lie in wait for each phrase, for each word that falls from my lips or yours and hasten to lock all these words and phrases away in my literary storeroom: they may come in handy some day.
When I finish a piece of work, I fly to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope of resting, of forgetting myself, but no, a new subject is already turning, like a heavy iron ball, in my brain,
some invisible force drags me to my table and I must make haste to write and write. And so on for ever and ever. I have no rest from myself; I feel that I am devouring my own life,
that for the honey which I give to unknown mouths out in the void, I rob my choicest flowers of their pollen, pluck the flowers themselves and trample on their roots. Surely I must be mad?
Surely my friends and acquaintances do not treat me as they would treat a sane man? “What are you writing at now? What are we going to have next?” So the same thing goes on over and over again,
until I feel as if my friends’ interest, their praise and admiration, were all a deception; they are deceiving me as one deceives a sick man, and sometimes I’m afraid that at any moment they may steal on me from behind and seize me and carry me off, like Póprishtchin, to a madhouse.
In the old days, my young best days, when I was a beginner, my work was a continual torture. An unimportant writer, especially when things are going against him, feels clumsy, awkward and superfluous;
his nerves are strained and tormented; he cannot keep from hovering about people who have to do with art and literature, unrecognized, unnoticed, afraid to look men frankly in the eye,
like a passionate gambler who has no money to play with. The reader that I never saw presented himself to my imagination as something unfriendly and mistrustful.
I was afraid of the public; it terrified me; and when each new play of mine was put on, I felt every time that the dark ones in the audience were hostile and the fair ones coldly indifferent.
How frightful it was! What agony I went through! Yes, it’s a pleasant feeling writing;… and looking over proofs is pleasant too. But as soon as the thing is published my heart sinks,
and I see that it is a failure, a mistake, that I ought not to have written it at all; then I am angry with myself, and feel horrible…. [Laughing] And the public reads it and says: “How charming!
How clever!… How charming, but not a patch on Tolstoy!” or “It’s a delightful story, but not so good as Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons.'” And so on, to my dying day, my writings will always be clever and charming, clever and charming, nothing more.
And when I die, my friends, passing by my grave, will say: “Here lies Trigorin. He was a charming writer, but not so good as Turgenev.”