Affective Architecture: ‘A Boring Story’ by Anton Chekhov

by Christian Parreno

At a quarter to ten I have to go and give a lecture to my dear boys. I dress and walk along the road I have known for thirty years, a road which has a history of its own for me. Here is the large grey building with the chemist’s shop; a small building stood on the site begore, and it had a beer shop, in which I thought over my thesis and wrote my first love letter to Varya. I wrote it in pencil, on a sheet of paper with the printed heading Historia Morbi. And there is the grocer’s shop; it used to belong to a little Jew who sold me cigarettes on credit, and later to a fat woman who was fond of students because ‘every one of them has a mother’. Now it is owned by a red-headed tradesman who does not seem to take any interest in anything and who keeps drinking tea from a copper teapot. And here are the grim gates of the university, which have not been repaired for ages; a bored caretaker in a sheepskin, a broom, heaps of snow. … Such gates can hardly produce a wholesome impression on a lad fresh from the provinces who imagines that the temple of science really is a temple. On the whole, the dilapidated state of the university buildings, the gloom of its corridors, the dinginess of its walls, the lack of light, the dismal appearance of the stairs, the coat-hooks and the benches, occupy one of the foremost places in the history of Russian pessimism, they are part of the diathesis. … And here is our park. Since my student days it does not seem to have grown any worse or any better, I do not like it. It would be much more sensible if all pine trees and sturdy oak grew here instead of the consumptive lime trees, yellow acacias, and thin, clipped lilac bushes. A student, whose state of mind is largely dependent on his surroundings, should at every step see before him only what is grand and strong and elegant in the place where he studies. Heaven preserve him from gaunt trees, broken windows, drab walls, and doors covered with torn oilcloth.

Anton Chekhov, ‘A Boring Story’ in Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics, 1975/1889. 51-52

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