This week, the six of clubs led me to read Dostoevsky’s short story, The Christmas Tree and the Wedding. I own it as part of my e-book, Best Russian Short Stories, a volume chock full of Pushkin, Gorky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, Turgenev and Dostoevsky to name just the most luminous. I also “own” this in audio format via the Free Audio Books app on my iPhone and iPad. I both read and listened to this one – and for once the reader for the Librivox version was actually good! 🙂
Clubs are a “special suit” in my 2014 Deal Me In Sort Story Reading Challenge, representing stories by Russian writers. In last year’s edition of the challenge, I read stories by Turgenev, Gorky, and Pushkin, which only whetted my appetite for more. I’ve read a little Dostoevsky before, including the novels Crime and Punishment and The Idiot and also a short story (“The Grand Inquisitor?”) for my old book club’s annual short story month me year.
Dostoevsky begins the tale a bit cryptically: “The other day I saw a wedding… But no! I would rather tell you about a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But the other incident was still finer.” What do these two things have in common? About halfway through the story you will realize where it’s going…
The story’s narrator found himself (five years previously) at a Christmas Ball, hosted by an upwardly mobile member of the Russian upper class. The ball is but a thinly veiled excuse for him to rub shoulders with the well-to-do of the city, which include the portly and unctuous Julian Mastakovich. The narrator, only at the party by “coincidence” and not one of the host’s target demographic, has the opportunity to see all sorts of unsavory behavior by these pillars of society. Particularly disturbing was how the children in attendance received gifts specifically chosen to fit their “station” or the station of their families. The little boy of the host’s poor governess receives a used a practically worthless book with the covers missing and is expected to be happy with this treasure and leave the richer kids alone to play with their fine toys. In spite of all this, the narrator describes the children as “charming” and that “…they absolutely refused to resemble their elders.”
One elder, however, callously invades the sanctity of the children’s world. The narrator sees his motives clearly and even attempts to expose him to shame with an indiscreet comment. None of this derails the plans of the elder, though, as we learn at the story’s conclusion.
What story did you read this week? Do you have any favorites from among Dostoevsky’s shorter works?
If you are interested in reading this story, it maybe read online for free at: http://www.classicreader.com/book/2169/1/
Care to listen to it instead? Here’s a version on YouTube http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr5fTSnAd6g&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DLr5fTSnAd6g