Zinotchka – Anton Chekhov

by Anton Chekov

(about 2400 words)

Petya is a young boy full of all the mischief of most young boys, and when he happens to catch his governess in an indecent kiss with his older brother, he can hardly contain himself with amusement and excitement for what he’s seen. He’s overeager to let Zinotchka and his brother know that he knows, and when one day he accidentally lets slip a little of his secret in front of his stern and virtuous mother, Zinotchka’s whole attitude for him changes. Suddenly he is the most hated, vilest creature on the planet to her, and she’s not afraid to let him know it, either. Finally. Petya blabs the whole thing to his mother who is naturally outraged, and by the by lets Zinotchka go. Years later she is married to his brother, and despite Petya himself having grown up, her dislike of him is still strong. One’s first hate, after all, is not dissimilar from one’s first love.

anton chekhovAnton Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. His father was the owner of a grocery story and his mother a story teller to her children. The former was the abusive head of the family, which left a lasting impression on Chekhov. His father, who was a devout orthodox Christian nevertheless made life miserable for his family, and after going bankrupt, fled to Moscow which broke Chekhov’s mother. Chekhov stayed behind to finish his eduction, and to sell all that remained of the family possessions, and was forced to board with another man in a similar situation. He sent all the extra money he made that didn’t go toward paying for his education back to his family in Moscow. When he finally finished his schooling, he moved in with the rest of his family to pursue a medical degree. This is a man who had an abusive, financially insolvent father, no place to live, and paid for his education in part by catching and selling wild birds, and he not only became a doctor, but one of the most celebrated short story writers of all time. No more complaining about the hard life of a broke college student! Oh, and I forgot to mention that even though he became a doctor, he didn’t make a lot of money off of it, as he treated the poor for free because he was just amazing all around, apparently. During this time he was still writing as well and quickly gained popularity. Unfortunately he also gained tuberculosis, but really, do I even have to mention that at this point in the challenge? He traveled for a good long time, writing as he did and stubbornly refusing to admit that his lungs were dissolving in his goddamn chest until finally he was reluctantly persuaded to go see a damn doctor. He died on July 15, 1904 at the age of 44.

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

YThe Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(about 6000 words)

A young woman who is in poor health as judged by her husband and brother, both physicians, is taken to rest at a country house. Once instated there, she’s told that she shouldn’t go out, or move much, or eat much or in general do too much that would cause her excitement, for fear that it would upset her delicate lady constitution and throw her into a mad fit the likes of which men of this time are always trying to prevent, presumably because they all don’t know a damn thing about how women work. Not unlike today, actually. Anyway, she takes this as the way of the world and more or less remains trapped in a single room for so long that she starts going loopy in the head, seeing things that aren’t there on the yellow wallpaper. Soon, her stifled mind begins imagining all sorts of strange, horrific scenarios that have taken place in the room she occupies. This of course leads her husband to think her condition is worsening, and he confines her even more, until at last she giddily escapes, assuming the identity of the woman she’s imagined this whole time has been staring at her through the yellow wallpaper. Cabin fever guys, it’s serious business.

Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman_by_Frances_Benjamin_JohnstonCharlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Connecticut, USA. Like Poe, Gilman’s father abandoned the family when she was still a baby. Unable to support the family, Gilman’s mother often received help from some of her paternal aunts, among which was Harriot Breecher Stowe. Gilman was forced to teach herself to read at the age of five, since her mother was too ill to see to her schooling herself. Her mother discouraged the reading of fiction and deep friendships in a misguided attempt to protect her children from the sort of hurt her husband’s abandonment had left with her. Fortunately Gilman’s father wasn’t a complete deadbeat, and he did support her continued education as well as advancing her mind with book recommendations. Gilman married when she was 24, and after the birth of her only child, suffered a severe bout of postpartum depression. This largely became the inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper. She separated from her husband four years later and joined several feminist movements in California. During this time she also sent her daughter east to live with her husband and his second wife, acknowledging his right to know his daughter and visa versa. Perhaps her own experiences with an absent father helped shape this progressive view. When she moved back east she became romantically involved with her first cousin, and the two were happily married until he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Gilman herself was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 1932, and three years later, ended her life on her own terms.

X-ing a Paragraph – Edgar Allan Poe

XX-ing A Paragraph
by Edgar Allan Poe

(about 2500 words)

Mr. Touch-and-go Bullet-head has just arrived in Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis to set up shop as a newspaper editor, which he does across the street from an existing newspaper, The Gazette. The first thing Bullet-head does upon arrival is print a piece talking smack about his rival across the street. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the established editor, John Smith, who proceeds to write a counter piece about Bullet-head’s style, specifically his perceived fondness of the letter ‘o.’ Mockingly, John suggests that Bullet-head is so enamored with the vowel that he wouldn’t be able to write anything without it. Naturally incensed Bullet-head takes up his pen and spends the entire night writing the most ridiculous, o-filled paragraph imaginable. This he sends to his type setters late at night before heading off to bed. But what a surprise his type-setters get when they discover that their boxes of O’s have completely vanished! Standard practice says that they should replace the missing letters with X’s, and they do, all the while accusing The Gazette‘s editorial staff for swiping their O’s. In the morning, when the paragraph goes live, Mr. Bullet-head is nowhere to be found. Presumably he’s off somewhere dropping the mic, along with a scattering of O’s along the way.

PoeEdgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, USA. He was born to a pair of actors, the youngest of three children, and the year after his birth, his father abandoned the family. He was later orphaned when his mother died the next year. He was adopted by John Allan, with whom he would have many disagreements with throughout his life. After receiving a large inheritance from his uncle, Poe lost much of it in gambling and studies at a university that had strict, yet unenforced rules. He had a falling out with his foster father over his gambling debts. Briefly he enlisted in the military as a means to support himself. He dropped out of the military the same way he dropped out of university, and though he regained contact with his foster father, the two continued to fight until eventually Poe was disowned from the family. His writing career started in earnest after the death of his brother, and he is credited with being the first notable American writer to attempt to live solely on his writing. Unfortunately he had a hard time of it, as pirated British works were cheaper for publishers than paying new, American authors. As a result, Poe sort of epitomized the image of the starving artist through much of his writing career. He married his thirteen year-old cousin while bouncing between jobs, and was with her for eleven years before she died of tuberculosis. Poe, already known as being an alcoholic, began to drink even more heavily. During this time, he sold “The Raven” for only $9, and continued his generally career destroying behavior of being cantankerous and argumentative with both writers and editors alike. Poe’s death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849 is still largely disputed by historians. He was found delirious and rambling the night before and was taken immediately to the hospital where he ultimately died. Possible causes ranging from excessive alcoholism to syphilis to voter fraud have been posited, but all his medical records have since been lost and his death remains a mystery.

What the Moon Brings – H. P. Lovecraft

W-12What the Moon Brings
by H. P. Lovecraft

(about 700 words)

Returning briefly to horror stories, this incredibly short work by H. P. Lovecraft reflects the primitive sort of fears we all have of the dark. The inability to see potential threats heightens the danger of every shadow, and combined with our overeager brains’ need to make sense of the information it receives, those shadows and small tricks of light quickly morph into something bestial and horrific. Lovecraft captures this sense of helplessness, being at the mercy of one’s own faulty senses and imaginings in this story which whips the reader along in a chaotic up and down tempo, nicely emphasizing the erratic nature of fear and the dark.

H._P._Lovecraft,_June_1934Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890 in Rhode Island, USA. While his works are undoubtedly very popular now, Lovecraft found difficulty in supporting himself with his writing during his life. Withdrawn and being something of a night owl, he didn’t socialize much, and had trouble promoting himself and his work. This behavior seems to have stemmed from lack of confidence in his childhood, when he was bullied by his peers and kept home by an overprotective mother for “illnesses.” After his mother died, Lovecraft married Sonia Greene, who offered to support him while he tended his writing career. His writing appeared only in pulp magazines to limited success, unfortunately, and when Sonia lost her hat business, the couple quickly fell on hard times. Lovecraft’s lack of experience in anything but writing kept him from more lucrative work, and Sonia continued to be the principal earner of the family. They moved around a lot before finally settling in Providence where Lovecraft continued to write for very little money. Harsh comments from critics affected him more than he let on, and he became even more withdrawn from the literary world, going so far as to ignore inquiries from publishers about possible novels. Falling even further into poverty, Lovecraft moved in with an elderly aunt in the later years of his life, before succumbing to intestinal cancer on March 15, 1937 at the age of 46.

The Veteran – Stephen Crane

VThe Veteran
by Stephen Crane

(about 1800 words)

Comfortable in his old age, an army veteran regales his friends, employees and family with stories of his first days in the war. When asked whether or not he was afraid in battle, the man answers candidly that he had been, that it had been hard not to be, when it felt like the whole world was coming to pieces around him. He admits, likewise openly that during his first battle he’d run, before he finally “came into” the whole thing and doing his duty. This information shocks his young grandson, who holds him as a hero. The thought that his grandfather might have run from battle completely undoes all the valor and bravery that the boy had held in the old man, and nothing, not even talk of young horses can break the boy out of his new, sullen mood.

Later that evening, a drunk farmhand knocks over a lantern in the barn and the whole thing goes ablaze. The old man rushes to save his livestock, entering the barn again and again, despite receiving a hip shattering kick from a horse in the process. When at last he brings the final animal out he’s reminded of the colts still trapped in the blaze, and goes in for the final time. The roof collapses upon him, and the old man, with his courageous spirit, dies in the fire.

stephen craneStephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871 in Newark New Jersey. He was the final addition to the family and had thirteen elder siblings, four of which had died before he was born. He taught himself to read before he was four, and wrote his first poem at the age of eight. He excelled in his early schooling, and despite a spate of deaths in his family in his younger years, completed his first book at the age of fourteen. His talents in university were heavily in the arts and social sciences, and he did poorly in maths and hard science. He dabbled briefly in the military, but his family discouraged his enlistment, and when he transferred universities to pursue an engineering degree, he was lazy with his studies and his attendance. In the end, he quit his studies altogether and took up writing full time. While he wrote an incredible amount he was never financially successful, which prevented him from marrying. Much of Crane’s life and reputation has been tarnished by his scandal and relationships with prostitutes, though these seem to be amicable friendships and writing related research relationships rather than sexual ones. Nonetheless, his name was smeared because of them. Crane spent some time as a world-wide war correspondent, was ship wrecked on a boat bound for Cuba, and sank into debt. He died in Germany on June 5, 1900 of Tuberculosis, which from here on out I’m going to refer to as writer’s lung.

Uncle Richard’s New Years Dinner – L. M. Montgomery

UUncle Richard’s New Years Dinner
by L. M. Montgomery

(about 1500 words)

We can’t have a L. M. Montgomery story without a dead parent, so in “Uncle Richard’s New Years Dinner,” the protagonist, Prissy, lives with her father, having never known her mother who died when she was born. She used to be close to her uncle Richard, too, before he and her father had a falling out. Now Uncle Richard shuns the both of them, which is hard on both her and her father, neither of whom hold any hard feelings toward Uncle Richard. When Prissy hears that her uncle will be away for all of New Years day, with no one at home to cook him a dinner when he comes home late, she gets the idea to sneak into her uncle’s house to cook for him and leave before he gets home at one o’clock. It’s the perfect crime: sneak in, cook a whole meal and sneak out. Nothing could go wrong. That is, unless her uncle gets home early.

lucy_maud_montgomeryLucy Maud Montgomery was born on November 30, 1874 in Clifton Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her mother died when she was just a baby and her father gave her up to her grandparents. Her grandparents didn’t show a great deal of warmth toward her and in fact, reading her more famous works, “Anne of Green Gables” or “Emily of New Moon” it’s easy to see where Montgomery drew inspiration for her key antagonists. During this period of strict discipline and lonely isolation, Montgomery drew up several imaginary friends which became the bedrock for her creative writing later in life. While visiting her father in Prince Albert, Montgomery had her first poem published. Four years later she received her teacher’s license, and studied literature for the next four years after. She had many fleeting love interests, though never serious for marriage until she became a bit desperate, only to back out at the last minute. While she received much fame and popularity from her writing, “Anne of Green Gables” in particular, she knew that it was most economical for her to marry, and so ended up with a minister who moved them both to Ontario soon after. She died on April 24, 1942 from what may have been a heart condition, or suicide. Her last note/journal entry is somewhat ominous and various sources provide different arguments for both.

The Tinder-Box – Hans Christian Andersen

TThe Tinder-Box
by Hans Christian Andersen

(about 2900 words)

The Tinder-Box is a fairy tale, and has all the trappings of fairy-tales: a witch, a downtrodden soldier, copper, silver, gold, three guardians, and a princess trapped in a tower and a king who has seen her marriage unfavorably prophesied to–you guessed it–a common soldier.

So this soldier is returning home form the wars when he comes upon a witch who asks him to go down into a big tree. Inside, she says, he will find three doors guarded by three dogs, containing chests filled with copper, gold and silver and he can take as much as he wants but all she wants is a tinder-box. So, the soldier goes, loads up his pockets with gold but refuses to let the witch have the tinder-box until she tells him what she’s going to to with it. Being just as stubborn as the soldier, she refuses to tell him. Unfortunately for her, he has a sword and is so fresh from the wars that committing homicide in the middle of the road over the usage of a tinder-box doesn’t strike him for a moment as morally reprehensible. So, after punting the witch’s head into a ditch, he goes into town with his new wealth, spends freely and amasses a huge number of friends who all abandon him when the money runs out. Despondent, he stokes a flame on the tinder-box and POOF! the first guardian dog appears and offers him any wish that he wants. Well, of course the soldier wants more money. Soon he is rich and all his friends come back to him. He then learns about a beautiful princess trapped in a copper castle by her father who doesn’t want her to marry as the insanely specific prophecy has foretold. With one murder under his belt, the soldier thinks nothing about sending his dog to kidnap sleeping beauty (who seriously doesn’t wake up the whole time riding on the dog’s back) and kisses her before sending her back. Just add one count of sexual assault onto that tally. This continues nightly until finally the queen finds away to catch him and really, it’s no wonder that he’s sentenced to hang for all that he’s done. Fortunately he has some kid go grab him his tinder-box, and on the day of his execution calls his three dogs who proceed to straight up murder everyone: judge, jury, king and queen, everyone, until the remaining, unmauled towns people declare that the soldier shall be king and the imprisoned princess shell be his queen. The princess comes out of the tower (presumably stepping over the intestines of her still warm parents) and says she’s totally OK with this outcome. Fairy tale.

hans-christian-andersenHans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on April 2, 1805. Though his family was lower class, his father had been told that the family had once come from high society and his father held onto this belief firmly. It seems, however, that this was untrue. Andersen was an only child and received his education at a school for impoverished children. While attending school he worked as an apprentice, before moving to Copenhagen at the age of fourteen to study to be an actor. When one of the theater hands suggested that Andersen was a poet, he switched his goals in life and began writing in earnest. The director of the Royal Danish Theater petitioned King Frederick VI to pay in part for Andersen’s grammar schooling, where he was an average student. The schools at which he studied were abusive, wouldn’t let him write, and in general made him depressed. During his writing career, he wrote many of the fairy tales that are common to most childhoods in the west, including The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Princess and the Pea. He had a personal and professional friendship which Charles Dickens, as they both wrote about the common theme of under-privileged children and poor workers of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately this friendship was taxed to the breaking point when he overstayed his welcome by five weeks at Dickens’s home, and never received another letter from the great author again. Andersen had many romantic obsessions with both men and women, but none of them were returned. He died of liver cancer on 4 August 1875.

The Sphinx Without a Secret – Oscar Wilde

SThe Sphinx Without a Secret
by Oscar Wilde

(about 2100 words)

By chance, two old college friends meet in Paris where they spend some time catching up before one of them lets slip that he’s had some sort of a mystery woman in his life. Upon being pressed he tells his story. One day he happened to see a lovely young woman, wandering around and looking alluring. He had no idea who she was, or where she could be reached, but her image refused to leave his mind. By chance one day he was introduced to the same woman by a mutual acquaintance, and after a brief dinner date he managed to find out her address, and that she was a recent widow. Bolstered by this, he sends a letter to her house, and when he finally receives a reply back, it is to tell him never to send her letters to her house, only to a care-of address at the library. Obviously he’s puzzled by this, but as most of their subsequent dates are normal enough, he lets it pass. That is until he finds her skulking around a room letting house. He picks up her dropped handkerchief from the location, and when she later lies to him that she hadn’t been out of the house all day, he throws a tantrum and leaves her and France to go instead to Norway. When he returns, he learns that the lady has died of congested lungs following a cold she caught at an opera. Distraught, he seeks to find the cause of her mystery but finds nothing. The room she let she only just sat in and did nothing else, and saw no one else. What a mystery indeed.

Oscar_Wilde_portraitOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. His father was knighted for his work as a doctor and his mother, a poet, greatly influenced Wilde’s own writing. Wilde excelled in his studies, winning awards in all levels of his education for his academic performance. It was while attending Oxford that he first seriously attempted writing, and won prizes for these early poems. After releasing a collection of poems to moderate critical success, Wilde toured America, giving 140 lectures in nine months. There he met some prominent American writers of the time. During his tours through America and England, Wilde became known for his place in the aesthetic movement which denounced using art for social or political statements, and instead insisted on appreciating beauty for the sake of beauty. He married in 1884 and had two sons with his wife, though he is most well known for the stint he spent in prison on accusations of homosexuality. While not strictly secretive about his sexuality, Wilde was screwed over by the father of a male lover who insulted Wilde so badly that he sued for liable. This unfortunately made his ‘open secret’ complete public fact and had him charged with gross indecency and sentenced to two years in prison. Despite all the literary success he had achieved before his imprisonment, when he was finally released he was broke, broken and in desperate need of a change of climate. Like D. H. Lawrence, he went into a period of self exile where he couch surfed with friends in France for a time. He died three years later of meningitis at the age of forty-six. His most famous works are his novel “The Picture of Dorian Grey” and the play, “The Importance of Being Ernest.”

A Respectable Woman – Kate Chopin

RA Respectable Woman
by Kate Chopin

(about 1500 words)

After having house guests for most of the winter and traveling with her husband the rest of the time, Mrs. Baroda is looking forward to a little quiet time at home. That is all interrupted, however, when her husband announces that an old college friend is coming to stay with them for a little R&R. At the first image Mrs. Baroda forms of their guest, she dislikes him, but upon actually meeting him, changes her mind–sort of. Her husband has told her before that his friend is a man of words and ideas, however he is curiously silent around her and her husband both, politely listening to conversation, but adding little himself. In the end, she decides once again that she doesn’t like him, and tells her husband as much, though he finds her displeasure amusing at best. When one night she finds her evening sit on the bench disturbed by her husband’s friend, she’s astonished to hear him finally open his mind to her, flooding her with all sort of indecent desires. She is, however, a respectable woman, and doesn’t give in to the temptation. When her husband’s friend returns in the summer however, who can say? She promises only to be “very friendly” to him.

I find myself sympathizing with Mrs. Baroda’s position in this story. While house guests are nice to have over, they can also be very taxing, and it’s nice when the house is finally empty again. The final sentence in the story leaves itself open to interpretation, and perhaps it’s my modern sensibilities that make me feel that Mrs. Baroda intends to cast off her “respectable woman” mantel for something a little more exciting.

Kate_ChopinKatherine O’Flaherty was morn on February 8, 1850, in St. Louis Missouri. She was the child of a successful Irish businessman and a French Canadian mother, and was the only of their children to live past the age of twenty-five. She married Oscar Chopin when she was twenty, and eight years later had given him six children in total. They were married for twelve years before Oscar died, leaving all his debt from failed business ventures to his wife. She tried her best to keep her husband’s business afloat while earning a reputation as a notorious flirt (and possibly having an affair or two with married men. I guess the ending of the story isn’t so open ended after all.) When the business finally floundered, she moved back to St. Louis to be with her mother who died a year later. Falling into a depression, Chopin was advised to take up writing as an outlet her her energy, and as a source of income. Before her death on August 22, 1904, Chopin had written twenty-one works of short and long fiction.

A Question of Possession – Andy Adams

QA Question of Possession
by Andy Adams

(about 2300 words)

On a Texas ranch back in the 1880s a man named Grey has his herd of horses confiscated by the Sheriff Ninde, due to some bad paperwork, and possibly some bad policing too. All in all, the sheriff isn’t painted as being a very competent man, as is usual for fictional sheriffs. Grey had become bankrupt in Kansas due to being the cosigner on a friend’s lone, and even though he swears he’s cleared up all his debts, some of it has followed him to Texas. Ninde, with a campaign promise to be tough on crime hanging over his head, descends on Grey’s ranch for the horses. grey, naturally refuses and moves his whole herd under cover of darkness out of the Sheriff’s jurisdiction. Now, not only with his reputation on the line but with the possibility of having to pay grey’s debts himself on account of his mismanagement, Ninde must go to whatever lengths he can to get those horses back, and save face.

Andy AdamsAndy Adams was born on May 3, 1859 in Indiana, USA. Both his parents were pioneers and as such he helped with the horses and cattle as a boy. As this story reflects, Adams moved to Texas in the early 1880’s where for ten years he drove cattle. He left on a failed business venture thereafter, and died in Colorado Springs. He didn’t begin writing until well into his forties, and all of his stories, naturally, are about cowboys.