History and synopsis of “Duel” by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

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“Duel” which is one of the largest short stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov  was first published in 1891. One of the main theme of the work is the moral death of a person who has neither a goal in life nor moral guidelines. But, Chekhov emphasizes that there is always an opportunity to correct mistakes and his book shows us a person who is undergoing a transformation from irresponsibility and selfishness to a worthy person…

This book is now part of our Russian/English bilingual books

The first mention of the idea was in a letter from Chekhov in 1888, a few months after a trip to the Caucasus. The work on the story began after his return from Sakhalin to Moscow at the end of 1890.

The first publication was in the Novoe Vremya newspaper in 1891. It was published as a separate edition by A.S. Suvorin in 1892, and later entered the collected works of A.P. Chekhov, published by A.F. Marx. 

There were many screen adaptations of the novel. The first called “Duel was by Tatyana Berezantseva and Lev Rudnik in 1961 in USSR. Then in 1963 “Duel” was directed by  Charles Jarrott in  Charles Jarrott. The next was in Germany, directed by Hans Schweikart in 1964.  Then there was named “Bad Good Man” in the USSR in 1973 which was directed by  Iosif Kheifits. The two last one were “Horses Carry me” in 1996 directed by Vladimir Motyl and “Duel” directed by Dover Koshashvili in 2010


Ivan Laevsky begins dating a married woman named Nadezhda. In order to be together they just leave and go to the Caucasus, where they start a new life.

But soon after the move, things start to fall apart. The main character, Ivan Laevsky is no longer fascinated by Nadezhda, and his financial situation is becoming more and more precarious every day. Instead fixing his problems, Ivan walks a lot and spends money on taverns and gambling, getting into debt. He complains about his hardships to a new acquaintance Tom.

Nadezhda herself is not happy and begins dating men on the side as she is thinking about leaving Laevsky, Then her husband dies, and she is left with little or no choice. She never worked, has no relatives, if she leaves Ivan she will end up in poverty.

One Day Ivan is challenged to a duel by von Koren. At first, he willingly agrees, but thinking more about it, the duel seems to him an absolutely senseless and dangerous undertaking. Contrary to his usual practice, he does not run away and decides to participate in this duel of honor. Miraculously the duel ends happily. Ivan intentionally shoots into the air, and his opponent misses.

Laevsky has changed, fixing his problems, paying off his debts, and he even learned to respect Nadezhda.

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Beginning of the book


It was eight o’clock in the morning—the time when the officers, the local officials, and the visitors usually took their morning dip in the sea after the hot, stifling night, and then went into the pavilion to drink tea or coffee. Ivan Andreitch Laevsky, a thin, fair young man of twenty-eight, wearing the cap of a clerk in the Ministry of Finance and with slippers on his feet, coming down to bathe, found a number of acquaintances on the beach, and among them his friend Samoylenko, the army doctor.

With his big cropped head, short neck, his red face, his big nose, his shaggy black eyebrows and grey whiskers, his stout puffy figure and his hoarse military bass, this Samoylenko made on every newcomer the unpleasant impression of a gruff bully; but two or three days after making his acquaintance, one began to think his face extraordinarily good-natured, kind, and even handsome. In spite of his clumsiness and rough manner, he was a peaceable man, of infinite kindliness and goodness of heart, always ready to be of use. He was on familiar terms with every one in the town, lent every one money, doctored every one, made matches, patched up quarrels, arranged picnics at which he cooked shashlik and an awfully good soup of grey mullets. He was always looking after other people’s affairs and trying to interest some one on their behalf, and was always delighted about something. The general opinion about him was that he was without faults of character. He had only two weaknesses: he was ashamed of his own good nature, and tried to disguise it by a surly expression and an assumed gruffness; and he liked his assistants and his soldiers to call him “Your Excellency,” although he was only a civil councillor.

“Answer one question for me, Alexandr Daviditch,” Laevsky began, when both he and Samoylenko were in the water up to their shoulders. “Suppose you had loved a woman and had been living with her for two or three years, and then left off caring for her, as one does, and began to feel that you had nothing in common with her. How would you behave in that case?”

“It’s very simple. ‘You go where you please, madam’—and that would be the end of it.”

“It’s easy to say that! But if she has nowhere to go? A woman with no friends or relations, without a farthing, who can’t work . . .”

“Well? Five hundred roubles down or an allowance of twenty-five roubles a month—and nothing more. It’s very simple.”

“Even supposing you have five hundred roubles and can pay twenty-five roubles a month, the woman I am speaking of is an educated woman and proud. Could you really bring yourself to offer her money? And how would you do it?”

Samoylenko was going to answer, but at that moment a big wave covered them both, then broke on the beach and rolled back noisily over the shingle. The friends got out and began dressing.

“Of course, it is difficult to live with a woman if you don’t love her,” said Samoylenko, shaking the sand out of his boots. “But one must look at the thing humanely, Vanya. If it were my case, I should never show a sign that I did not love her, and I should go on living with her till I died.”

He was at once ashamed of his own words; he pulled himself up and said:

“But for aught I care, there might be no females at all. Let them all go to the devil!”

The friends dressed and went into the pavilion. There Samoylenko was quite at home, and even had a special cup and saucer. Every morning they brought him on a tray a cup of coffee, a tall cut glass of iced water, and a tiny glass of brandy. He would first drink the brandy, then the hot coffee, then the iced water, and this must have been very nice, for after drinking it his eyes looked moist with pleasure, he would stroke his whiskers with both hands, and say, looking at the sea:

“A wonderfully magnificent view!”

After a long night spent in cheerless, unprofitable thoughts which prevented him from sleeping, and seemed to intensify the darkness and sultriness of the night, Laevsky felt listless and shattered. He felt no better for the bathe and the coffee.

“Let us go on with our talk, Alexandr Daviditch,” he said. “I won’t make a secret of it; I’ll speak to you openly as to a friend. Things are in a bad way with Nadyezhda Fyodorovna and me . . . a very bad way! Forgive me for forcing my private affairs upon you, but I must speak out.”

Samoylenko, who had a misgiving of what he was going to speak about, dropped his eyes and drummed with his fingers on the table.

“I’ve lived with her for two years and have ceased to love her,” Laevsky went on; “or, rather, I realised that I never had felt any love for her. . . . These two years have been a mistake.”

It was Laevsky’s habit as he talked to gaze attentively at the pink palms of his hands, to bite his nails, or to pinch his cuffs. And he did so now.

“I know very well you can’t help me,” he said. “But I tell you, because unsuccessful and superfluous people like me find their salvation in talking. I have to generalise about everything I do. I’m bound to look for an explanation and justification of my absurd existence in somebody else’s theories, in literary types—in the idea that we, upper-class Russians, are degenerating, for instance, and so on. Last night, for example, I comforted myself by thinking all the time: ‘Ah, how true Tolstoy is, how mercilessly true!’ And that did me good. Yes, really, brother, he is a great writer, say what you like!”

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