I can’t believe I just read a work from 1895! It feels like it was just written yesterday or something.
Reading Chekhov’s short story ‘A Nervous Breakdown’ has got me reading more of his short stories (and later, novels). Chekhov has brilliantly captured the situation of a typical woman from the countryside who decides to marry an influential man, leaving behind her family who can barely survive on a daily basis.
How Chekhov ended the story was so amazing and empowering. As a feminist like me, I like how he gave justice to Ana’s character and how she was able to turn things around without sacrificing her relationships with her husband, her family, and the other members of the community, including the other influential ones. It goes to show that we might be born in specific kinds of circumstances, but we can always decide on whoever we want to be.
As a Professor like Kovrin who have definitely experienced mental struggles throughout this complex academic career, I could relate to him in so many ways. Honestly, I can’t seem to believe that something written back in 1894 will still be 100% relatable this 2022.
Chekhov always kills it with the right words in describing how different mental struggles are experienced by specific individuals in specific situations. The short story ‘A Nervous Breakdown’ has got me so hooked to read more of Chekhov’s works, and ‘The Black Monk’ has definitely exceeded my expectations.
The sleeplessness, the constant need to think, and the inevitable fear of being mediocre and ordinary are some of the very common things that happen in a Professor’s life. Kovrin definitely needed some help, and Chekhov’s emphasis on seeking professional help in his mental health-themed stories has been the part I always applaud with. Chekhov recognizes the limits of self-help and coping mechanisms, hence people needed to seek the help of others to be better.
I first encountered Chekhov when Katherine Mansfield made reference to him in her short story Bliss. Aware of the fact that Anton Chekhov is one of the most celebrated authors in Russian Literature, I purchased a copy of the book A Nervous Breakdown I found from an online marketplace. The previous owner of the book included a sticky note with a message “I hope it can also give you the comfort I had reading this book”. It made me even more intrigued.
Guessing from the title, it obviously has something to do with one’s mental health. A nervous breakdown, or panic, is something that all of us have experienced at least once in our lives, hence we could somehow relate to Vasilyev.
But to my surprise, I did not only got to read a perfect, fictional description of what a nervous breakdown feels like and how it was handled by Vasilyev, but I also got a picture of the 1800s Russian society, the state of prostitution, and debates about morality in this short story. There are a lot of subjects of discussion that can be extracted from this short story (including the Russian winter and their vodka culture, even themes of burnout and one’s moral obligations on humanity), which makes this more than impressive.
Now I’m looking forward to reading more of Chekhov’s works and more of Russian classic literature.