Short story: “The Beggar”

by look i have opinions

“The Beggar,” by Anton Chekhov, translated by Constance Garnett

Collected in The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories (on Project Gutenberg); read the same translation (uncredited for some reason) online here and here; an audio version is available as part of a collection here

2,037 words in English

A neat, quietly perceptive story. I like this bit:

“Skvortsov flew into a rage and gave the beggar a merciless scolding. The ragged fellow’s insolent lying aroused his disgust and aversion, was an offence against what he, Skvortsov, loved and prized in himself: kindliness, a feeling heart, sympathy for the unhappy. By his lying, by his treacherous assault upon compassion, the individual had, as it were, defiled the charity which he liked to give to the poor with no misgivings in his heart.”

We can see that Skvortsov’s motives are selfish, and at the same time we can see a certain innocence about them. The narration invites us to judge him, and to judge ourselves, but it doesn’t insist.

For a moment I hesitated to add the tag “literary plots,” since this story seems very different from the literary fiction of today, simpler and more direct. But the plot undeniably takes place in the psychology of the characters. The suspense is all about the nature of the change in Lushkov, and the way in which Skvortsov’s complacence will inevitably be shaken.