A Short Story for Saturday: The Black Monk by Anton Chekhov

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.”

Read The Black Monk online here

One thought on “A Short Story for Saturday: The Black Monk by Anton Chekhov

  1. Jp says:

    I think it also addresses wider issues of what life is about and the nature of happiness. Tanya and her father live in a beautiful garden but it seems to bring them only stress and unhappiness and they do not seem to find time to take pleasure in it. Even her wedding is a time of stress not happiness. When Kovrin “recovers” he is miserable and sees himself as mediocre and his time of happiness as megalomania and pretension. One obvious bleak message to take from the story is that you need to be mad to experience pure joy in life, but I found the story curiously uplifting – take joy in life where and when you can and don’t worry what other people think of you!

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