Monday, August 20, 2007

Reader's Diary #281- Anton Chekhov: The Bet

Short Story Monday

Like most works by 19th century Russians, "The Bet" is another light-hearted sexcapade- think Porky's but with funny accents.

Kidding of course. Though I am starting to question if the Russians know what fun is. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov...they didn't exactly pick simple or trivial themes did they? But whereas I enjoyed reading the first two authors, I can't say I understand what the big deal is about Chekhov- or at least his short story "The Bet."

For those of you who haven't read it, "The Bet" is the story of a lawyer who willingly imprisons himself for fifteen years to win a two million dollar wager against a banker who doubts his ability to stick it out. The bet comes at the end of a heated discussion about whether or not capital punishment is more or less ethical than life imprisonment. The banker declared that capital punishment is actually more humane, while the lawyer feels that despite being equally immoral, "to live anyhow is better than not at all."

It might be an interesting premise but I don't see how the story lives up to it. Maybe in its day the topic was perhaps more novel, perhaps less discussed. But I don't see how Chekhov adds anything to the debates many of us modern folks have had over the topic. "The Bet" is rather dull and predictable and in the end Chekhov offers no more insight on the issue. I doubt anyone's opinion will be swayed on the issue in the slightest after reading it. When I finished it the first time, I honestly thought I was missing a page and went searching for the rest. It doesn't end abruptly per se, there's just not much of a build up to begin with. Apparently simply throwing out a topic makes him a genius.

Oh well.

(Just a reminder that if anyone else out there should write a post about a short story, please feel free to submit the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in November. September's carnival will be hosted by Book Nut. Her theme is classics. If you've written a post about classic literature, or would like to, consider submitting your post link to her: mmfraf [at] sbcglobal [dot] net before September 14th.)


Anonymous said...

"think Porky's but with funny accents"

That just about killed me, I'm gonna have to come back when I'm not laughing to read the post. Excited for short story Monday's though. Woot.

Dewey said...

You would have LOVED my entire Chekhov class in my master's program. When I read this story, I agreed with the banker, and I remember a lively discussion in class, since half of us felt that way and the other half agreed with the lawyer.

Stephanie said...

I haven't read any Chekhov. To be honest, I really haven't read a lot of the Russian lit out there. I really should, but alas, I tried War and Peace. Just couldn't get too far! One of these days!

I'm hoping to read some of Poe and Gaiman's short stories for the RIP challenge! Hopefully, I can make a submission to your Book Carnival!

John Mutford said...

Allison: I'm starting to enjoy Short Story Mondays if I do say so myself! Gives me a reason to read a genre I typically neglect, and it's nice to have a short piece to blog about. Hopefully others will take it up too!

Dewey: An entire course devoted to Chekhov, eh? Actually, I probably would have enjoyed it. That discussion sounds pretty lively, too. Since capital punishment has been abolished in Canada, the differences between American and Canadian readers of this story could be interesting, too.

Stephanie: War and Peace is a doozy, for sure. So many characters to keep track of! Looking forward to a submission or two. I'm a fan of Poe, and I haven't read any Gaiman (insert blushing emoticon here), so I'd really be interested in either one.

Dewey said...

I don't actually know any Americans in favor of capital punishment, but then again I'm a treehugging hippie liberal, and my friends tend to be the same. :) But one of my Canadian friends tells me that even the politics considered liberal here are considered centrist there, so maybe I would seem much less like a hippie to you than I do here. said...

There is an animated, narrated version of "The Bet" here:

See more classic literature animated at:

Just A Short Story said...

You know, the story isn't really about capital punishment versus imprisonment for life.

It's about the value of human life; is it worth more than money? It's about what the banker learns, and what the lawyer learns - and how they walk away from the experience.

So really, Chekhov wasn't trying to add his insights on capital punishment.