Deal Me In 2014: Story #3 “The Christmas Tree and the Wedding” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

20140119-111030.jpg
(Above: Fyodor Dostoevsky)

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.

20140119-111046.jpg

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

Advertisements

11 Comments

  1. January 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I haven’t read this story but thanks for posting that opening bit. What a great first line. I’m trying to get a few extra short stories in from The Book of Other People. Also, with all of this Sherlock Holmes momentum (PBS, CBS Sunday Morning), I’m feeling motivated to re-read some Doyle. I hope you get to some Gogol soon. Love his tales.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Arthur Conan Doyle stories would be a good idea for a “suit” in a future DMI challenge. I think I’ve read most of his stuff, but its been so long ago now, it would be almost like reading them anew.

      I do have a couple Gogol stories on my list. I’ve never read his classic, The Cloak, but it will roll around sometime in 2014.

      The stories and authors in The Book of Other People are mostly new to me. It would also be fertile ground for future DMIs…

      Like

      • January 19, 2014 at 11:20 pm

        Looking forward to your take on Gogol. I hope to get through some of the book of other people soon and have a post or two about it. I’ve read works by a handful of them and most are usually quite good.
        It’s the same for me–the Doyle stories would probably only be vaguely in my mind and the one I’ve read the most (The Adventures of the Red-headed League), seems to always fly away from my memory to be remembered the least.

        Like

  2. January 19, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    I’d never have thought of looking on youtube for short stories – thanks for the tip!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 19, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      It seems a lot of the public domain stories are available there. I was surprised too!

      Like

  3. Dale said,

    January 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Jay, it’s been a long time since I’ve read any Dostoevsky and what I did read was long (The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment) as opposed to short. I remember liking the title of this story when you published your list. I also didn’t know short stories were on Youtube.

    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 19, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      I’ve read Crime and Punishment and The Idiot but never The Brothers Karamazov. The latter is a serious gap in my cultural literacy… 🙂

      Like

  4. Hanne, on Cloud 9 said,

    January 20, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I have this anthology as well, it’s about time i start reading some stories from it. (too many books, too many books). I loved the mention of children being charming in their refusal 🙂

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Me too. As John Wayne said about children in some movie (which one I can’t remember) “Too bad they have to grow up into PEOPLE.” 🙂

      Like

  5. hkatz said,

    January 20, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    I haven’t read this Dostoyevsky story, but I’ll check it out. There’s another one he wrote, “The Heavenly Christmas Tree,” in which he presents a vision of extreme poverty, then a vision of hope (a golden afterlife), and then punctures that vision of hope.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      That sounds like Dostoevsky all right! 🙂 I need to read more of him…

      Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: