The Black Monk by Anton Chekhov (1894)
Where do we draw the line between genius and madness? Anton Chekhov explores this question in The Black Monk – the story of a young man called Andrei Kovrin who suffers from an undisclosed mental illness which causes him to believe he is being visited by a monk dressed in black. Even when he becomes aware that the monk is only a hallucination, he is not concerned because his visions make him feel happy and full of energy and creativity. Eventually though, his family begin to worry about his sanity…
This is a fascinating, unusual story which I found easy to read but difficult to fully understand. Chekhov’s poetic writing creates an eerie, disturbing atmosphere appropriate to Kovrin’s descent into mental illness.
“Once or twice a week, in the park or in the house, he met the black monk and had long conversations with him, but this did not alarm him, but, on the contrary, delighted him, as he was now firmly persuaded that such apparitions only visited the elect few who rise up above their fellows and devote themselves to the service of the idea.”