January 29, 2022

The Fiasco, by Anton Chekhov

The Fiasco, by Anton Chekhov
Anna Tambova, in a still from the Youtube video embedded below.

In honor of Chekhov's birthday, we present his story, "The Fiasco," translated by Bob Blaisdell. A video version, followed by the story in Russian, are also below.

There is a lively, seven-and-a-half-minute video version of the story starring Anna Tambova available on Youtube (youtube.com/watch?v=elK1f4mXSdk) that carries what I think Chekhov would think is an appropriate tone and energy, a full-blast farce with an impressive soundtrack (“La donne e mobile” from Rigoletto). The director switches up the buffoonery so that it’s the father rather than the mother who botches the blessing by grabbing instead of the icon a still-life of a watermelon. There are other changes, but the basic situation, parents hoping to trap a suitor into becoming a fiance, remains.

Ilya Sergeich Peplov and his wife Cleopatra Petrovna were standing by the door and ravenously listening in. Behind the door, in the little parlor, was proceeding, evidently, a declaration of love; their daughter Natashenka and the teacher of the district school were declaring themselves.

“He’s nibbling!” whispered Peplov, trembling with impatience and rubbing his hands. “Look now, Petrovna, as soon as they’re talking about feelings, right then snatch the icon off the wall and we’ll go bless them. … We’ve got it covered. … A blessing with a holy icon is inviolable. … He wouldn’t get away then, even if he brings a lawsuit.”

And behind the door proceeded this very conversation:

“Leave that manner aside,” said Shchupkin, lighting a match on his checked pants. “I most definitely didn’t write you letters!”

“Oh, sure! As if I don’t know your handwriting!” guffawed the girl, artificially squealing and at the same time taking glances at herself in the mirror. “I knew it right away! And what a strange one you are! A writing teacher, but your handwriting’s like a chicken’s! How can you teach writing if you yourself write so poorly?”

“Hm! … That doesn’t mean anything, miss. In calligraphy the main thing isn’t the handwriting, the main thing is that the students don’t forget. You hit one on the head with a ruler, another one on the knees. … That’s what handwriting is! A simple matter! Nekrasov was a writer, but it’s embarrassing to see how he wrote. In his Collected Works, his handwriting is shown.”

“That’s Nekrasov, but you … (sighs). It would be a pleasure to marry a writer. He’d constantly be writing verses to remember me by!”

“I could write you verses, if you wanted me to.”

“What could you write about?”

“About love … about feelings … about your eyes … You’d read them—you’d go crazy. … Tears would pour out! If I were to write you poetical verses, then would you give me your hand to kiss?”

“Big deal! … You could kiss it right now!”

Shchupkin hopped up and, widening his eyes, fell upon her plump hand, fragrant with egg-soap.

“Snatch the icon!” said Peplov all aflutter, pale with agitation, buttoning up, and nudging his wife with his elbow.

“Let’s go! Go!”

And not hesitating a second, Peplov burst through the door.

“Children …” he muttered, raising his arms and tearfully blinking his eyes. “The Lord blesses you, my children. … Live … be fruitful … multiply …”

“And … and I bless you …” added Mommy, weeping with happiness. “Be happy, dear ones! O, you’re depriving me of my only treasure!” she said turning to Shchupkin. “Love my daughter, be kind to her …”

Shchupkin’s mouth gaped in confusion and fright. The parents’ assault had been so sudden and bold that he could not utter a single word.

“Caught, surrounded!” thought he, faint with fear. “Done for, brother! You’re not escaping this.”

And he humbly bowed his head, as if desiring to say: “Take me, I’m beaten!”

“Ble— I bless …” continued Papa and he also began crying. “Natashenka, my daughter … stand alongside … Petrovna, give me the icon …”

But here the father suddenly stopped crying and his face winced in anger.

“Dummy!” he angrily said to his wife. “You stupid-head! But where’s the icon?”

“Oh, Holy Fathers!”

What happened? The handwriting teacher timidly raised his eyes and saw that he was saved: In confusion Mama had snatched from the wall not the icon but the portrait of the writer Lazhechnikov. Old Peplov and his wife Cleopatra Petrovna, with the portrait in their hands, stood in bewilderment, not knowing what to do or what to say. The handwriting teacher took advantage of the confusion and ran out.


Chekhov began the pivotal year of 1886, wherein he became one of the most loved and appreciated Russian writers alive, with a flurry of comic skits and outstanding short stories. This one, published January 11, was originally titled “Сорвалось!” (“Busted!”). Chekhov signed it with his popular and most usual humor magazine pen name, A. Chekhonte. Eventually, in his Collected Works, Chekhov retitled it as “Неудача” (“The Fiasco”), revising the ending so that instead of the parents exclaiming “Всё погибло!” (“All is lost!”) (an obvious Gogolian curtain line), he has the teacher skipping out of the room.

There is a lively, seven-and-a-half-minute video version of the story starring Anna Tambova available on Youtube (embedded below) that carries what I think Chekhov would think is an appropriate tone and energy, a full-blast farce with an impressive soundtrack (“La donne e mobile” from Rigoletto). The director switches up the buffoonery so that it’s the father rather than the mother who botches the blessing by grabbing instead of the icon a still-life of a watermelon. There are other changes, but the basic situation, parents hoping to trap a suitor into becoming a fiance, remains.

– Bob Blaisdell



Илья Сергеич Пеплов и жена его Клеопатра Петровна стояли у двери и жадно подслушивали. За дверью, в маленькой зале, происходило, по-видимому, объяснение в любви; объяснялись их дочь Наташенька и учитель уездного училища Щупкин.

— Клюет! — шептал Пеплов, дрожа от нетерпения и потирая руки. — Смотри же, Петровна, как только заговорят о чувствах, тотчас же снимай со стены образ и идем благословлять... Накроем... Благословение образом свято и ненарушимо... Не отвертится тогда, пусть хоть в суд подает.

А за дверью происходил такой разговор:

— Оставьте ваш характер! — говорил Щупкин, зажигая спичку о свои клетчатые брюки. — Вовсе я не писал вам писем!

— Ну да! Будто я не знаю вашего почерка! — хохотала, девица, манерно взвизгивая и то и дело поглядывая на себя в зеркало. — Я сразу узнала! И какие вы странные! Учитель чистописания, а почерк как у курицы! Как же вы учите писать, если сами плохо пишете?

— Гм!.. Это ничего не значит-с. В чистописании главное не почерк, главное, чтоб ученики не забывались. Кого линейкой по голове ударишь, кого на колени... Да что почерк! Пустое дело! Некрасов писатель был, а совестно глядеть, как он писал. В собрании сочинений показан его почерк.

— То Некрасов, а то вы... (вздох). Я за писателя с удовольствием бы пошла. Он постоянно бы мне стихи на память писал!

— Стихи и я могу написать вам, ежели желаете.

— О чем же вы писать можете?

— О любви... о чувствах... о ваших глазах... Прочтете — очумеете... Слеза прошибет! А ежели я напишу вам поэтические стихи, то дадите тогда ручку поцеловать?

— Велика важность!.. Да хоть сейчас целуйте!

Щупкин вскочил и, выпучив глаза, припал к пухлой, пахнущей яичным мылом, ручке.

Снимай образ! — заторопился Пеплов, толкнув локтем свою жену, бледнея от волнения и застегиваясь. — Идем! Ну!

И, не медля ни секунды, Пеплов распахнул дверь.

— Дети... — забормотал он, воздевая руки и слезливо мигая глазами. — Господь вас благословит, дети мои... Живите... плодитесь... размножайтесь...

— И... и я благословляю... — проговорила мамаша, плача от счастья. — Будьте счастливы, дорогие! О, вы отнимаете у меля единственное сокровище! — обратилась она к Щупкину. — Любите же мою дочь, жалейте ее...

Щупкин разинул рот от изумления и испуга. Приступ родителей был так внезапен и смел, что он не мог выговорить ни одного слова.

«Попался! Окрутили! — подумал он, млея от ужаса. — Крышка теперь тебе, брат! Не выскочишь!»

И он покорно подставил свою голову, как бы желая сказать: «Берите, я побежден!»

— Бла... благословляю... — продолжал папаша и тоже заплакал. — Наташенька, дочь моя... становись рядом... Петровна, давай образ...

Но тут родитель вдруг перестал плакать, и лицо у него перекосило от гнева.

— Тумба! — сердито сказал он жене. — Голова твоя глупая! Да нешто это образ?

— Ах, батюшки-светы!

Что случилось? Учитель чистописания несмело поднял глаза и увидел, что он спасен: мамаша впопыхах сняла со стены вместо образа портрет писателя Лажечникова. Старик Пеплов и его супруга Клеопатра Петровна, с портретом в руках, стояли сконфуженные, не зная, что им делать и что говорить. Учитель чистописания воспользовался смятением и бежал.


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