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Brownie Points As the Curtain Descends

Anton Chekhov says:

If a pistol is introduced at the end of the first act, it has to be fired at some point later in the play.

Not a rule he always followed himself, as witness ACT IV of Uncle Vanya, in which Vanya's pistol is talked about but never fired:

TELEGIN. Yes, we haven't had noodles for ages.  [A pause]  Not for ages.  As I was going through the village this morning, Marina, one of the shop-keepers called after me, "Hi! you hanger-on!" I felt it bitterly.

MARINA. Don't pay the least attention to them, master; we are all dependents on God.  You and Sonia and all of us.  Every one must work, no one can sit idle.  Where is Sonia?

TELEGIN. In the garden with the doctor, looking for Ivan.  They fear he may lay violent hands on himself.

MARINA. Where is his pistol?

TELEGIN. [Whispers] I hid it in the cellar.

[VOITSKI and ASTROFF come in.]

VOITSKI. Leave me alone!  [To MARINA and TELEGIN] Go away!  Go away and leave me to myself, if but for an hour.  I won't have you watching me like this!

TELEGIN. Yes, yes, Vanya. 

[He goes out on tiptoe.]

By way of counter-example, Jerry Brown on Hunter S. Thompson:

Like a Chekhov story, the firearms he favored during a turbulent life figured in the manner of his untimely exit.

(Brown weblog entry via Matt Welch at Hit and Run.)

UPDATE [1445 PST]: Two more Thompson notes.  First, via Alan Sullivan's Fresh Bilge, brief parting remarks from the only known human who could draw what Thompson wrote, Ralph Steadman:

If you wonder if he's gone to Heaven or Hell - rest assured he will check out the both, find out which one Richard Milhaus Nixon went to- and go there. He could never stand being bored.  But there must be Football too - and Peacocks.

And Matt Welch expands a bit further on the subject at hand at Reason Online, comparing HST's career with that of the Rolling Stones and noting that he was "that rare journalist who took the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments as seriously as the First, regardless of who currently occupied the White House."


Aaron Haspel

You know, George, Chekhov's is one of those remarks that was meant ironically and has come down to posterity as a literal dictum. He would have a great laugh if he could know that today it's the most famous thing he ever said.

I am quite sure he was making fun of detective stories and excessively "neat" writing in general. All of his own work, not just Uncle Vanya, shows the contrary tendency. It's full of loose ends that he shows no interest whatever in tying up. Not unlike life.

George Wallace

Thank you kindly, Aaron, for dropping by.

I have always had the same understanding of Chekhov's remark: that he was critiquing the "well made" plays of some of his contemporaries and that his own art took him well away from such mechanical tricks. Which means, I suppose, that Jerry Brown's comment is based in a misunderstanding of Chekhov (but not necessarily in a misunderstanding of the forces at work in the life of Hunter Thompson).

I'm not as familiar with Chekhov's stories as I am with the plays, but it seems to me that he mostly does without the actual use of firearms subsequent to the duel in The Seagull. Vanya, certainly, is still with us in the end, however unhappily, notwithstanding his suicidal ideations in Act IV.

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