Kashtanka

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"Kashtanka"
Kashtanka 01 (Kardovsky).jpg
Kashtanka, Fedyushka and Luka Alexandrovich
1903 illustration by Dmitry Kardovsky
AuthorAnton Chekhov
Original title"Каштанка"
CountryRussia
LanguageRussian
Published inNovoye Vremya
Publication date25 December 1887 (old style)

"Kashtanka" (Russian: Каштанка)[note 1] is an 1887 short story by Anton Chekhov.

Publication[edit]

The story was first published in Novoye Vremya's No. 4248, 25 December (old style) 1887 issue, originally under the title "In Learned Society" (В учёном обществе; V uchyonom obschestve).[1]

Revised by the author, divided into seven chapters and under the new title it came out as a separate edition in Saint Petersburg in 1892 and enjoyed six re-issues in 1893–1899. Chekhov included it into Volume 4 of his Collected Works published by Adolf Marks in 1899–1901. In 1903 the story came out illustrated by Dmitry Kardovsky and in such form continued to be re-issued well into the end of the 20th century. [1]

Background[edit]

There were at least two persons who claimed to have prompted Chekhov the original idea. One of them was Nikolai Leykin: of that Viktor Bilibin informed the author in a 7 December 1887 letter (Chekhov apparently left the claim uncommented). Another, the circus performer and animal trainer Vladimir L. Durov (1863–1934) in his 1927 book "My Animals" maintained that it was him who once told Chekhov the real life story about a dog named Kashtanka who'd performed with his troupe.[2]

Plot[edit]

The Egyptian Pyramid by the Rostov-on-Don artist Dmitry Lyndin, in front of the main entrance to Gorky Park in Taganrog, Anton Chekhov's native city

Chapter 1. Misbehaviour. Kashtanka, a young foxey-looking mongrel, belonging to a carpenter drunkard named Luka Alexandrovich gets lost through her own 'improper behaviour', frightened by a military band on the street. Hungry and desperate ("If she had been a human being she would have certainly thought: 'No, it is impossible to live like this! I must shoot myself!'"), she huddles up by the entrance to some unfamiliar house.

Chapter 2. A Mysterious Stranger. A stranger comes out, feels sorry for the lost dog and, delighted with her funny looks, takes her to his place where he treats her to good dinner. Upon the inspection, she finds the place poor and ugly (nothing "besides the easy-chairs, the sofa, the lamps and the rugs") next to her masters' apartments, rich with all manner of rubbish. On the plus side, the host gives her not a single kick, which feels like a novelty. Finally, she goes to sleep, dreaming nostalgically of how Luka's son Fedyushka used to lovingly 'play' with her by way of using her "...as a bell, that is, shake her violently by the tail so that she squealed and barked", as well as giving her a piece of meat to swallow and then "with loud laugh, pull[ing] it back again from her stomach", by a thread he'd fixed it with.

Chapter 3. New and Very Agreeable Acquaintances. In the morning Kashtanka meets (and, after a bout of initial hostility, befriends) her neighbours: a gander named Ivan Ivanovich, who talks lots of nonsense, and the old white tom-cat Fyodor Timofeyitch, a lazy creature with highly skeptical mindset. From her new master she receives a new name, Tyotka (Auntie).

Chapter 4. Marvels on a Hurdle. The trio, completed by the pig Khavronya Ivanovna, and supervised by their trainer, starts to perform most wonderful tricks, like bell-ringing, pistol-shooting and, most importantly climbing one another to form what's known in their master's parlance as the Egyptian Pyramid. Kashtanka is intrigued and delighted with the show. The next night sees her moving into the gander and cat's apartment.

Chapter 5. "Talent! Talent!" A month passes, and Auntie gets used to her new life, full of good dinners and exhausting but joyful training sessions during which she walks on hind legs, catch sugar, dance and 'sing' (by way of accompanying music by howling). Finally, she becomes Fyodor Timofeyitch's sub in Egyptian Pyramid. The master is delighted ith Auntie's progress. Still, every evening brings her a whiff of sadness, as she continues to dream wistfully of her wonderful past with the rude and silly carpenter and his sadistically-minded little boy.

Chapter 6. An Uneasy Night. The tragedy strikes: Ivan Ivanovich dies. It transpires that a horse had accidentally stepped upon him earlier in the day. Everybody is greatly distressed, thoughts of imminent death creep into both the dog and the cat's heads.

External video
Kashtanka, the 1952 Soviet animation by Mikhail Tsekhanovsky (31 min)

Chapter 7. An Unsuccessful Début. Several days passes. The team leaves the house for a performance in which Kashtanka is for the first time to substitute the late Ivan Ivanovich at the base of the Egyptian Pyramid. The master is nervous and full of dark premonitions. The show starts well: Kashtanka performs some tricks, then prepares to do the singing and dancing routine, then... "Look out, dad, that's our Kahtanka!" she hears Fedyushka's voice in the audience. Mad with joy, she rushes off stage, to greet her old family. Half an hour later she's on the street with them, happy to return to her good old life of hunger, full of abuse and drunken Luka's eloquence, mostly in the form of one, oft-repeated observation: "You, Kashtanka, are an insect of a creature, and nothing else. Beside a man, you are much the same as a joiner beside a cabinet-maker."

Reception[edit]

The reaction to the story was extremely warm, but several reviewers expressed their dissatisfaction with its finale. In an 8 January 1888 letter Yakov Polonsky wrote to Chekhov: "For a New Year Day you treated us with two fine stories, "Kashtanka" and "The Easter Tale"[note 2] and I am happy to inform you that everybody here are delighted with them.... It's just that it seemed to me that "Kashtanka"'s final scene bears the mark of either tiredness or haste. It certainly looks is if something in it is missing."[3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The name refers to colour: 'kashtan' (каштан) is 'chestnut' in Russian
  2. ^ In later editions known as "A Story Without a Title", "Без Названия"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Sakharova, E.M. Commentaries to Каштанка. The Works by A.P. Chekhov in 12 volumes. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura. Moscow, 1960. Vol. 5, pp. 520-521
  2. ^ В.Л. Дуров. Мои звери. Москва. 1927. Стр. 59
  3. ^ The Word compilation, p. 223 // Слово. Сб. второй.Москва, 1914, стр. 223

External links[edit]