The most ill at east of them all was Ryabovitch – a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx’s. While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and spectacles seemed to say: I am the shyest, most modest, and most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade!” -From The Kiss-
I read this masterful short story of Chekov’s for The Russian Lit Yahoo group, and found it accessible and enjoyable.
Ryabovitch and his officers are billeted in a small town and find themselves invited to tea at a General’s home. They go reluctantly, feeling perhaps they have been invited out of obligation and nothing more.
In a house in which two sisters and their children, brothers, and neighbours were gathered together, probably on account of some family festivities, or event, how could the presence of nineteen unknown officers possibly be welcome? -From The Kiss-
But once at the gathering, they begin to enjoy themselves – talking to the ladies, drinking and dancing. All, that is, but Ryabovitch – a shy, naive man who feels uncomfortable in the presence of women. When he leaves the main room and wanders into a darkened library, however, Ryabovitch is astonished when a woman rushes up to him and kisses him on the cheek. Obviously having mistaken him for a secret paramour, the woman leaves without a word – and Ryabovitch is left to wonder who she is as the darkness of the room has prevented him from recognizing her identity.
Chekhov takes this singular event and weaves a story of obsession, expectation and disappointment. Although written in the early part of the twentieth century, The Kiss feels like a modern story of intrigue and romance. Chekhov’s skill at creating character and dialogue resonates with the reader.
I read this story as part of a collection from The Essential Tales of Chekhov, edited by Richard Ford – and plan to read the rest of Chekhov’s short works before the year is out. I can highly recommend The Kiss to readers – it is a simple story, but one that delights.