The Bishop

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-27-2003


In the cathedral a distinguished bishop (Pyotr) is conducting the liturgy on the Eve of Palm Sunday. Among the hordes of people who come to the altar to receive palm branches, the bishop sees an elderly peasant woman who resembles his own mother. He drives home to the monastery feeling extremely fatigued (he has been ill for three days) and learns that, indeed, the peasant woman was his mother, who had unexpectedly made the long journey from her village to see her famous son.

The next day the bishop dines with his mother and his naughty niece (Katya). Suddenly, after the meal, the bishop becomes gravely ill with typhoid. Yet over the next few days he travels around conducting Holy Week Services. Toward the end of the week, he begins to hemorrhage. He reviews the events of his life as his mother sits by his bed. Just before Easter arrives, he dies. As time goes on, the bishop is forgotten, except by his mother.


This is the last of Chekhov's great stories, written during the period when he was desperately ill with tuberculosis and working on his last play, The Cherry Orchard. According to V. S. Pritchett in Chekhov. A Spirit Set Free, "'The Bishop' is one of his finest works and reads like a sustained anthem to his own death."

The bishop is a man who rises from humble origins to become famous and powerful. Yet in the end what matters to him are the simple things--his commitment to duty, his family relationships. The story's final paragraphs might be summarized by the Latin sentence, "Sic transit gloria mundi."


First published: 1902. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol.7: The Bishop and Other Stories



Place Published

New York