It’s the third week in a row that I’ve drawn Chekhov. “Requiem” tells the story of a man, Andrey Andreyitch, who submits a note to Father Grigory in church. The Father confronts him:
“Then it was you wrote this? You?” And Father Grigory angrily thrust before his eyes the little note.
And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before mass, was written in big, as it were staggering, letters:
“For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot Mariya.”
“Yes, certainly I wrote it, . . .” answered the shopkeeper.
“How dared you write it?” whispered the priest, and in his husky whisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.
Who is this “harlot” Mariya? She was Andrey Andreyitch’s daughter, who had become a well-known actress. Her death has been reported in leading newspapers. For some reason her father would prefer to call her “harlot” rather than “actress”.
After being reproached by Father Grigory: “The shopkeeper’s amazement was so great that his fat face spread in all directions like spilt dough.
“How dared you?” repeated the priest.
“Wha . . . what?” asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.”
He cannot seem to understand the distinction between “harlot” and “actress” and has judged his own daughter most harshly. He has been a neglectful father who spent little time with her when she was growing up. About three years previous to her death she has come to visit him and expressed great pleasure in the beauties of the country town. She thinks it is a lovely place; her father thinks it is “simply taking up room.”
The story certainly points out the way some people looked down upon actresses and saw their work as no different that prostitution. Chekhov, married to the actress Olga Knipper, must have picked up on the negativity that some foolish people felt about actresses. He was able to create complex characters, such as Madame Arkadina in “The Seabull” who were actresses. In this story, “Requiem,” although the actress is dead, her dignity soars above that of her earth-bound troglodyte of a father.