Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ward No. 6



Ward No. 6 is a short story written by Chekhov in 1892.  It has appeared in various collections of Chekhov short stories, including The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories translated by Constance Garnett in 1921.  In this story, Chekhov explores the inner working of a run-down lunatic asylum in a provincial town.  He  introduces the readers to a coarse porter who speaks mostly with his fists, various patients, a doctor who presides over this ward, and expresses his thoughts with a local postmaster.  It was recently made into a movie, featuring Vladimir Ilyin.  Here's a clip.

There's also this very recent short film (30 min.) by Suzana Purkovic, with English subtitles.

17 comments:

  1. The trailer is as . . . oblique as the story. What is Ward No. 6 about? As has been said about one of Conrad's tales, it's a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

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  2. Yes, I loved this short story too. Chekhov was a master at portraying the provincial drudgery and inertitude. I know someone who has PHD in psychology and lectured psychology students who was sectioned in a psychiratric unit, made for grim reading. Luckily he had internet acess so we could all talk to him.

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  3. "Inertitude!" I like that one. I often wonder with Chekhov if he is seeking higher truths or simply recording his impressions.

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  4. Loved this quote, as Ragin assessed his situation,

    "In the first place, they say that suffering leads man to perfection; and in the second, if mankind really learns to alleviate its sufferings with pills and drops, it will completely abandon religion and philosophy, in which it has hitherto found not merely protection from all sorts of trouble, but even happiness."

    It seems a rather cynical view of a higher calling.

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  5. Finished reading the story this morning and open to discussion. Chekhov provides a wonderfully sly twist to this story. Of course, you figure this was the way it had to end given Ragin's interest in Ivan Dmitritch.

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  6. If you are referring to the ending as a "sly twist," I think horrible twist is more apt. I wasn't surprised that Ragin would eventually be assaulted by Nikita, but it doesn't lessen the blow, so to speak.

    As for that quote, it seems quite prescient to me. Add therapy to "pills and drops" and that would pretty much cover contemporary response to suffering, at least in the West.

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  7. More Ragin finding himself committed. Nikita's blow was adding insult to injury. I don't think he so much died from the blow, as from the realization he had been fooled by the town's people, apparently in the same way Ivan Dmitritch had. It was psychological horror story in the end.

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  8. What makes the recent screen interpretation of Ward No. 6 is that Karen Shakhnazarov sets the story in contemporary Russia, the "dreamworld" Ragin and Ivan Dmitritch imagined,

    http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-11-24/film/celebrating-chekhov-and-ward-no-6/

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  9. I was also reading Vasili Grossman's Life and Fate (in translation) and in true Russian fashion, the scientists and intellectual characters sit down and have a massive discussion of Russian literature. The conclusion was that Chekhov expressed the spirit of humanity, in that he was able to depict any character, and portray them as human being first, a doctor, bishop or convict second. It really is an extrarodianry part of the book, you can literally sense Grossman's heartlfelt belief in this Chekhovian worldview flowing out from the pages.

    I do not have Life and Fate in front of me, but I would advise anyone to read it. It is described as the Soviet version of war and peace.

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  10. Aksyonov's Generations of Winter is also very good.

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  11. I can still remember reading the story for the first time, while I was desperately in search for a perfect one to make a short film for Academy, and Chekhov got me immediately. Although, later on I found that Dostoievsky's short stories are suitable for film, also, 'cause it leaves so much space for the picture while at the same time you have no chance to add something new for the characters because they are full of life already. And that's a perfect combination for adopting a story. Yes, many could say that Chekhov wrote about pain, and human misery at first, but in each story there's an enormous feeling of a courage and love, mixed with human suffering. He simply is a revealer of a human soul.

    By the way, thanks for adding a clip of my short film. :)

    Best,
    Suzana

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  12. I really should check back posts more often. What a wonderful surprise to see you posting here. I enjoyed your version of the story better than the feature length film. I don't think it is a story that needs updating. I loved the irony in the way Ragin and Gromov projected their emotions into the future. This was lost in Gornovsky's film

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  13. Not only that you should check this site often, but I should do the same. At least there's some nice message after a couple of months to read. :)
    Well, I also think that updating this story means losing some authenticity that Chekhov made so strong. Chekhov feels the soul, while we lose some soulness in this futuristic times (comparing to Chekhov's), at least it seems like that to me.

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  14. Great to have you back! I thought one of the most fascinating aspects of the story was the discussion about the future between the doctor and his patient, in which the doctor felt that much of this suffering would be eased in the future. The patient wasn't so sure. Seems that Shakhnazarov and Gornovsky thought it would be ironic to play on this theme by setting the story in the present, showing much of the same condition, but I thought the story lost its sense of timeliness.

    I tried to generate a discussion on Ward No. 6 but it didn't go very far. Have since posted threads on other Chekhov stories I read over the year, including The Duel, which I enjoyed very much,

    http://tolstoywarpeace.blogspot.com/2010/04/anton-chekhovs-duel.html#comments

    although I've yet to see the film that was made recently.

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  15. What got me most into Ward No. 6 was the doctor - patient relationship, and the way it progress through the story. Makes you conclude, or just confirm your thoughts that being normal is somehow equal as being mad. Only circumstainces makes as a prisoner or not. Althoug, it very relative to speak about freedom on planet Earth. :)

    Great, I didn't know that there's adaptation, film adaptation of Chekhov's "The Duel". I'm searching for it now... maybe some torrent.
    Thanks for the info.

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  16. It is a deeply intriguing story in many ways. There was also the Gothic element where the doctor ultimately becomes the patient as he ends up suffering through the same sense of withdrawal from the community that the patient he had confided in went through. It also says a lot about what Chekhov felt about parochial life in Russia. He was generally pretty harsh on small towns.

    The other thing lacking in the movie was the sense of small confinement, as this ward was quite small, a half-dozen patients or so. There was a very claustrophobic feeling to the story.

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