Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Apr-23-1997


Nilov and Kuprianov are returning from a hunting trip and stop for a meal at the mill. An old man tells them about the mad wolf that has been terrorizing the village. They make light of the tale that there is a man in the village who can cure hydrophobia (rabies). Later, Nilov goes out for an evening walk. Suddenly, he sees a suspicious shadow--the wolf!

Nilov doesn't have a weapon with him. When the wolf gets close, the hunter grabs him by the neck. Ultimately, Nilov's cries for help are answered and the wolf killed, but not before he inflicts a deep bite on Nilov's shoulder. Nilov is terrified of contracting hydrophobia and goes first to the folk healer and then to a local physician, Dr. Ovchinnikov. Ovchinnikov reassures him that he almost certainly won't get rabies; after all, the wolf bit him through his clothing and he bled a lot, so the poison "probably flowed out with the blood."

In the first version of this story (1886), Nilov was so delighted that he paid Ovchinnikov 500 rubles, went merrily along his way, and a year later had not contracted the disease. In the later version (1899-1901), Chekhov changed the ending: Nilov embraces Ovchinnikov and leaves in his carriage, thinking about what a great tale his encounter with the wolf will be.


This interesting tale is subtitled "A true story," although it is unclear whether Chekhov based it on a factual account. Chekhov evidently revised the story in preparation for inclusion in his Collected Works (1899-1901), but he ultimately did not use it. However, the changed ending is a wonderful demonstration of Chekhov's growth as a writer over the preceding 15 years.

In the first version, Nilov rewards the physician generously for the prediction that subsequently turns out to be correct. A year later Nilov only contributes 10 rubles to a collection to send Maxim, an old friend who has been bitten by a mad dog, to be treated by Pasteur. The moral? "Man has a weak memory." The more mature Chekhov, however, takes us no further than Nilov's carriage the same night. He is ecstatic about Ovchinnikov's prediction. But is the prediction true? The author leaves us (and Nilov) hanging.


Tranlated by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.

Primary Source

The Unknown Chekhov



Place Published

New York



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