Art and beauty, books

The Beauties by Anton Chekhov

I’ve never really got into short stories.  Nor Chekhov.

But I was convinced by Phillip Pullman that this short story is a masterpiece.

You can listen to it on The Guardian.

Chekhov’s genius lies in the way he manages to convey with such apparent effortlessness a profound sense of the mystery of beauty, and of the sadness of those who observe and think. The narrator of this apparently inconsequential tale fixes on exactly the right details, from a myriad of possible ones, to strike at the heart. It’s a masterpiece of minimalism.

A schoolboy is accompanying his grandfather as they drive in their carriage along a dusty road across the steppe on a sultry August day. They stop for refreshment at the house of an Armenian friend of the grandfather. The boy, the grandfather and their Ukrainian driver are all struck by the beauty of the Armenian’s daughter.

Some years later, now a student, the boy is on a train that stops for some minutes at a country station. He gets out to stretch his legs, and sees a girl on the platform talking to someone in one of the carriages. She is very beautiful.

It’s about as spare and empty of plot as a story could be; two impressions that barely even amount to anecdote.

Like Waiting for Godot, it’s a story in which nothing happens, twice

Who has not fallen in love at first glance of a stranger?

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