The philosophy student Kovrin is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His doctor suggests a rest in the country and so Kovrin decides to visit his childhood friend Tanya Pesotsky on her father's estate. While there he tells Tanya the legend of the black monk: a desert monk whose image has been reflected in mirages for a thousand years and who will soon return in the flesh.

One day in the garden, the black monk appears to the young man. This gives him joy and energy, even though he realizes that it is a hallucination. "What harm is in it?" Kovrin asks himself. As the summer goes on, the black monk continues to visit. Kovrin asks Tanya to marry him, they wed and move to the city. At one point Kovrin's hallucinations and disordered thinking overwhelm him; he agrees to medical treatment which evidently cures his mental disorder. Yet, his feelings of energy and creativity also disappear, along with the black monk.

Kovrin realizes that he hates his wife and she hates him. She returns to her father and his beloved garden, while Kovrin receives a professorship, a position he never actually takes because he is too ill--he has begun to hemorrhage from the lungs. Soon after receiving news of his father-in-law's death, he sees the black monk again and dies of a hemorrhage.


A strange and compelling tale. At one level this is the story of a young megalomanic or schizophrenic man who feels most alive, most creative, most himself when he is experiencing his hallucinations. The "cure" (or remission) of his psychosis deadens him.

On another reading, the tale may suggest Chekhov's own creative turmoil during the middle years at his estate at Melikhovo (V. S. Pritchett,Chekhov. A Spirit Set Free, pp. 122-123, see entry). Kovrin's mental condition apparently hides or makes him ignore the tuberculosis which eventually causes his death. Likewise, Chekhov's "black monk" led him to work and travel obsessively, despite the fact that he was severely ill with tuberculosis (and coughing up blood at times) through the 1890's.


First published: 1894. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 3: The Lady With the Dog and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count