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A selection of Chekhov’s captions to humorous drawings

Tuesday 10 January 2023, by Anton Chekhov

During his medical studies in the Moscow State Medical University between 1879 and 1884, Chekhov regularly contributed captions to humorous drawings in various literary publications.

You will find below a selection of works from this interesting and little-known aspect of the master’s literary activity. [1].


The magazine Shards (Осколки)
(1861-1916)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. FROM THE THEATER WORLD
2. AT A PARTY
3. POETIC DREAMS
4. THREE DRAWINGS
5. IN THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD
6. A WOMAN’S CLASSIC
7. A MODERN MARGUERITE
8. HOW LOVELY YOU ARE TODAY!
9. THE POOREST POVERTY
10. WHIT SUNDAY
11.THE DREAM OF THE GOLDEN YOUTHS DURING THE NOVEMBER RECRUITMENT
12. RASCALISM!!


1. FROM THE THEATER WORLD

IMPRESARIO: You want to work as a chorus girl, but now I have no vacancies ... When there is one, I’ll contact you with pleasure. Kindly leave your address.

SHE: Here are my business cards.

IMPRESARIO: Why so many? One’s enough for me!

SHE: That doesn’t matter – distribute the rest to your friends…


Drawing by V. I. PORFIRIEV.

Published for the first time in the literary weekly "Shards" (Осколки), February 5, 1883.



2. AT A PARTY

 Excuse me, let me pass, Your Excellency...

 You’re mistaken. I’m not "Your Excellency".

 So why are you stopping at the door then? Come on in…


Drawing by V. I. PORFIRIEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards", February 5, 1883.



3. POETIC DREAMS

 If instead of that pussycat, a merchant’s daughter... And if the merchant’s daughter has three or four hundred thousand... And with that three hundred thousand, we could buy a house... ...with oxen... With triplets and puffins... ...to bring Katyusha into the world...


Drawing by A. I. LEBEDEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, 19 February, 1883.



4. THREE DRAWINGS

1.

 And the window cleaners dare to claim that I don’t have a view!


2.

 What a white neck you have!

 My whole body’s like that, too, I swear!…


3.

 Witness Pozharova! I’ve been calling for you for half an hour and you didn’t show up... Where have you been? Are you deaf?

 No... I was here... I didn’t come because I’m no longer Pozharova... I got married yesterday...


Drawings by N. A. BOGDANOV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, 19 February, 1883.



5. IN THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD

1. VICTIMS OF SCIENCE

 In the daytime you read your disgusting lectures, in the afternoon you sleep like a corpse, at night you look at the stars through a telescope... All night long! And it’s been going on since our wedding day! It’s horrible! Don’t you want offspring, you barbarian?

2. CHILDREN

 My father’s a professor, Privy Councillor, he’s famous and has written many books, but between you and me... he’s a talentless... stupid...

 And mine? You don’t know mine! “Drop your stupid physiology!”, I tell him, and get down to medical practice! Practice will get you twenty thousand a year! But he won’t agree, the old bastard! For him, you see, the salary alone is enough...

3. THE LARGE VIEW

 I have proved the existence of the soul! I’ll go even further, damn it! I’ll prove to them that the soul is a gaseous body and that it turns into a liquid body under the pressure of seven hundred atmospheres! Yes!!!

4. EXPERTS IN THE BATHHOUSE

 When I look at these people, it seems to me that I’m in the morgue.

 And I think they’re all sitting waiting for their portraits to be taken.

5. THE ANATOMIST GRUBER [2] IS TO BLAME

 Don’t disturb her, gentlemen! Let’s leave the room... She, the poor girl, has had a family misfortune! Her husband got an "F" in anatomy!

6. THE SCIENTIST LOVELAS

 Heh heh heh... I called her in... bought her dinner and champagne... I promised to buy her a bracelet... And when she got drunk and leaned on my chest, I measured her skull! A fine Gaulish type! Do you know what the posterior-anterior diameter of her skull is? You wouldn’t believe it!


Drawings by V. I. PORFIRIEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, March 5, 1883.



6. A WOMAN’S CLASSIC

 You have a terrible neckline! Aren’t you ashamed to appear in such an outfit in our society?

 Not at all! Roman women weren’t ashamed to undress and even bathe in front of slaves. I imitate the Roman matrons!


Drawing by A. I. LEBEDEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, March 12, 1883.



7. A MODERN MARGUERITE

 For you are Marguerite... Where’s your fiancé Faust?

 You see, my dove, though my father was a detective and discovered many thieves and crooks, he couldn’t find a single groom for me... From that I conclude that there are now many more thieves than grooms...


Drawing by V. I. PORFIRIEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, January 21, 1884.



8. HOW LOVELY YOU ARE TODAY!

How lovely you are today, little sister! How nice! Your eyes shine with such intelligence and such kindness that if I were a man, I would treat you to dinner every day! That pallor, the sad expression on your face, those tears on your eyelashes suit you so well that I’m ready to drown you in champagne! Why am I not a man!?


Drawing by Nikolai CHEKHOV.

Printed for the first time posthumously in the magazine “Footlights and Life” («Рампа и жизнь»), July 13, 1914.



9. THE POOREST POVERTY

 I would go around the world, but I don’t have a suitable suit!


Drawing by A. I. LEBEDEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, February 25, 1884.


10. WHIT SUNDAY

Our poetic Little Russia loves Whit Sunday. Her songs and customs from all the days of spring give priority to this good day – and for good reason. You can bet that at a time when we see greenery only on green fabrics and in the green devils of the country wine drinking there, in Hochland spring has already managed to unfold in all its beauty by this day. There it smells now of lilac, bird cherry and acacia. The earth isn’t dirty or cold, like ours; in the rivers behind the green reeds from morning till night boys and girls bathing are already crying out. The nightingale has already sung his best romances, and in the steppe Don Juan the quail, the noble passion for which he cries out day and night is already beginning to evaporate. There, only one custom is possible, with which the drawing of the talented K.A. Trutovsky introduces the reader.

This interesting custom is as follows: the girls weave wreaths of flowers, go to the river and throw them into the water. In which direction the wreath floats, in that direction the betrothed lives. Short, clear and simple. Here you have a compass in its primitive form. It’s hardly possible to discover America with it, but it’s very easy to guess the future. So, if the wreath floats then the girl should be married at all costs; if there’s no wind in the air and the wreath is motionless, then the fortune-teller can only hang her nose and burst into tears: she won’t taste the sweets of Hymen. If last year the wreath floated to the right, and this year it floats to the left, then that means that the forelocked “he” moved from right to left this year. If the wreath floats and is eaten by a cow, then it doesn’t follow that the bridegroom lives in a cow’s stomach. If the wreath floats to the right, then to the left, then again to the right and begins to “waddle” in this way, then she’ll be a fortune-teller for soldier’s widows and abandoned wives, etc.


Drawing by K. A. TRUTOVSKOY.

Published for the first time in the satirical magazine "The Alarm clock” (Будильник), May 26, 1884.

The Alarm Clock magazine


11. THE DREAM OF THE GOLDEN YOUTHS DURING THE NOVEMBER RECRUITMENT

...and have pleasant dreams. They dream that before being examined for admission to the number of military recruits, they’ve lost weight like matches, that their height is ten times the volume of their chest, that thirteen teeth are missing in their mouths, that they’ve turned out to be suffering from heart disease, that Suzette bit off their finger, about which there’s been a police report. At the same time their eyes are so short-sighted that they’re forced to wear glasses with magnifying lenses. In a word, the military authorities refused to accept them as soldiers. Pure happiness!


Drawing by V. I. PORFIRIEV.

Published for the first time in "Shards”, November 24, 1884.



12. RASCALISM!!

 500 Afghans! Big deal! Listen to what I’m about to tell you, it’ll be better than Herat! [3]

 In 18**, I marched with my regiment into the town of Napliusk, which has 5,375 inhabitants. My musicians were playing a march from "Boccaccio" with such zeal that their horses were drenched in sweat. The commoners, and especially the female commoners, were delighted.

 An hour later I sat at the window of my assigned flat and surveyed the area. It was my vis-à-vis, a dilapidated, rotten little house with a sign on it reading "The Ladysmith”. The midwives here must be making a bad living, I thought, or they wouldn’t live so piggishly. Bloody hell, we’ve got to support the local industry!

 I’ve been walking around the town and making a reconnaissance. Pom-poms and cupids at every turn, one better than the other. My eyes didn’t have time to wink. Lieutenant Derjabkin, the rascal, was already climbing over a fence, and the corporal was walking with some two fat women... Kudos!

 A year and a half passed. I was sitting at the same window and looked out. The dilapidated cottage had already become a big two-storey house. The midwife looked at me through her window, bowed and said: "You are our benefactors!" It’s amazing what one energetic boss can do!

 Two years later my regiment is marching out of Napliusk. The musicians are stepping in order. I left Napliusk when it had already 11,000 inhabitants. And you talk about Herat and 500 Afghans! Big deal!


Drawings by V. I. M. M. DALKEVICH.

First published posthumously in the magazine “Literary Gazette” (Литературная газета), 28 June, 1967.

Originally intended for the issue of the magazine "Shards" dated April 20, 1885, but it was not passed by the censorship service.


Portfolio


[1The translations of the captions have been done specially for this site by Ray, with the help of DeepL and Google Translate.

[2V.L. Gruber (1814-1890) was a renowned professor of anatomy at the St.Petersburg Medical-Surgical Academy and founder of the Institute of Practical Anatomy at the Academy. By 1883 he had authored about 500 scientific works. According to his biographer: "the tests he carried out on students were marked by severity and exactingness."

[3Herat! – In 1885 relations between Britain and Russia deteriorated significantly. The incident occurred over the Afghan border and in particular over the Afghan town of Herat. The "Afghan question" was covered daily in the periodical press. The magazine Shards also posted reports on the course of events: "Clouds have shrouded the political horizon ... There will either be a deep peace or a war, who knows with whom: with polar bears, with Indian elephants, with England, with Afghan camels ... All this mania has been brewing over some Herat, about which we all know in certainty only that some multicoloured people live there..." – reported I. Gräck in Shards on April 6, 1885.