Posted August 13, 2010on:
I happened to re-read a short story “The Kiss” by Anton Chekov after a long long time. I was literally gasping by the time I had finished. I have been so deeply moved by only very few readings over many years. One was Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, especially his descriptions of his mother, the second was The Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy, and the third this story by Anton Chekov.
The Kiss is the story of a young Russian officer, who is unattractive and rather shy. He happens to be accidentally kissed by a woman in the dark, who mistakes him for someone else. Anton Chekov follows the effects of this purely chance and meaningless occurrence on the life of this shy and awkward man who has never known the joy of love. His whole life is consumed by this faceless She who he wasn’t even able to see in the dark. The young man is not stupid, and well aware of the meaninglessness of the event, but his yearning for love is so intense, that he cannot stop himself from projecting everything to Her. For months, his life is almost transformed, and love he never had in life plays out on the stage of his imagination. What recourse does a hungry heart have but the imagination? His emotions have built to a pitch when he returns to the town where the kiss took place, and he almost feels like a lover returning to his beloved. Events conspire to keep him from going to the house where the event took place, and at the height of his indignation and anxiety the senseless of his predilection hits him. It is almost as if nature has conspired to play a joke on his poor soul. And he submits to his despair.
A completely human and plausible story. Chekov doesn’t use cleverness or charm to make his story interesting. It is quite simply a snippet of life. It could have happened to anyone anywhere in the world. He weaves the tale effortlessly into the natural setting and events that unfold around the protagonist, each ambivalent to his inner conflict, thus heightening the tragedy of his tale. A tale that has come from a profound sympathy for the human condition. Another thing that makes the story special is Chekov’s descriptions of the inner state of this sensitive man, torn between his reason, yet helpless before emotion, wishing to share his state, yet spurned by the indifference of his comrades. You relate to this man, you feel for him.