is a short story by a renowned Russian author and playwright, Anton Chekhov. I have long loved it for its satirical look at the individual’s awe of the press. In those days there was no media the way we now know it, but the power that the newspapers owed to their wide-spread circulation was well recognised and appreciated. There is thus no wonder that anyone of a low social standing who’d find his name in the newspaper would be overjoyed, like the protagonist of this story.
I don’t often read English translations of Russian literary classics, mainly because I have already read those in Russian, and there is much more to do other than to compare the differences between the original and its translation. In the case with The Joy, I wanted to translate it anew anyway, and I was convinced it was necessary after I read the English translation. The differences start at the very beginning: in the Russian text, the protagonist’s parents are only getting ready to go to bed, but the English translation says they had already gone to bed.
Why is this difference important? A few short sentences of the opening passages depict the Kuldarins family through the time they go to bed and through what they do, once in bed. The youngest, the brothers, are the earliest to go, so by midnight they’re fast asleep. Next, a sister, is also in bed, but is finishing a novel, of which her parents are probably oblivious. No doubt, the novel is a romance, and the girl is in that “romance-prone” age. The parents, being the oldest, are the last to go to bed, but also perhaps because they are waiting for their eldest child, the protagonist, to return home. This young man is leading a typical young man’s lifestyle, visiting public houses, working in the day as a college registrar, which was the lowest civil officer rank in Imperial Russia.
Those first few sentences are also important because, in spite of a long list of brilliant short stories, Chekhov’s perhaps largest contribution as an author was to the world’s theatre with his poignant dramas and comedies. The Joy is exemplary in that, being written in 1883, it anticipates Chekhov’s plays by setting a stage for the story: a half-asleep house, disturbed by a “joy”. The momentum is built by getting the secondary characters out of their beds only gradually, while also, through many repetitions, pointing to the protagonist’s hunger for fame and his total disregard to the kind of fame that had befallen him.
Joy by Anton Chekhov
А. П. Чехов, Радость (original Russian text)
Anton P. Chekhov, The Joy (1883)
It was midnight.
Mitya Kuldarov, all excitement, his hair dishevelled, stormed into his parents’ house and quickly walked across all the rooms. The parents were just getting ready for bed. His sister was already in bed, reading the last page of a novel. His brothers, the schoolboys, were fast asleep.
– Where have you come from? – the parents asked in amazement. – What’s the matter?
– Oh, don’t ask! I didn’t expect this! Oh, I didn’t expect this at all! It’s… it’s simply unbelievable!
Mitya burst out laughing and then sank into the armchair, unable to cope with his happiness.
– It’s incredible! You can’t even imagine this! Look!
His sister leaped out of the bed and, wrapping herself in the quilt, went to see her brother. The schoolboys woke up.
– What’s the matter with you? You’re not yourself!
– Oh, it’s a joy, Mother! For now entire Russia knows about me! Entire Russia! Before it was only you who knew about a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov, and now the whole of the country knows! Mother! Oh my God!
Mitya quickly raised on his feet, ran around the house again, and then returned to the armchair.
– But what happened? Can’t you say exactly?
– You live like animals in the wild, read no newspapers, pay no notice to the news, yet the papers print so many splendid things! Once something happens, it’s promptly reported, nothing is concealed! Oh, I’m so happy! Oh my God! In the papers, they only write about the celebrated people, and now they wrote about me!
– What do you say? Where?
The father went pale. The mother looked at the holy image and crossed herself. The schoolboys left their bed and as they were, in their short nightgowns, came up to their brother.
– Exactly! They wrote about me! Now entire Russia knows me! Mother, you put this issue away and keep as a memory! We’ll be reading it occasionally. Look!
Mitya drew a newspaper out of his pocket, gave it to the father and pointed with his finger to a passage highlighted with a blue pencil.
The father put on his glasses.
– Come on, read it!
The mother looked at the holy image and crossed herself, and the father coughed and began to read:
– On December 29th, at 11 o’clock at night, a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov…
– You see? See? Carry on!
– … a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov, upon leaving a porter-serving public house located at Kosikhin’s in Malaya Bronnaya, and being in the inebriated state…
– I was with Semyon Petrovich… No detail is missed! Carry on! On! Listen!
– … and being in the inebriated state, slipped and fell under the horse of a cab-driver that parked there, which driver is known as Ivan Drotov, a peasant of the Durykina village of the Yukhnovsky district. A frightened horse stepped over Kuldarov, and dragged over him the sledge in which was sitting Stepan Lukov, a 2nd rank Moscow merchant, and then galloped down the street, but was stopped by the street cleaners. Kuldarov, initially unconscious, was later taken to the police station, where he was checked by a doctor. A contusion that he received on his nape…
– I was struck by a thill, father. Go on! Read on!
– … received on his nape is considered light. The incident is being put on file. The victim received medical help”.
– They told me to foment my nape with cold water. So, have you read it now? Yes? See! Now it’s all over Russia! Give it here!
Mitya snatched the paper, folded it and put it back in his pocket.
– I’ll go round to the Makarovs, show them, too… And then to the Ivanitskys, and Natalia Ivanovna, and Anissim Vasillich… I’ll run now! Farewell!
Mitya put on his hat with a badge and, joyous and triumphant, stormed out of the house.
English translation © Julie Delvaux (JS) 2007.