The Head Gardener's Story

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Apr-28-2004


At a flower sale on Count N.'s estate, the head gardener tells the story of Thomson, a doctor who lived in a certain village and who was such a good man that no one could conceive of wishing him harm. Even the bandits held him in such high esteem that they wouldn't rob him.

One day Thomson was found dead in a ravine. Even though it looked like murder--he was stabbed--the people thought he must have died in a strange accident because no one would be evil enough to kill the doctor. Later, a vagrant was caught trying to sell Thomson's snuffbox. The police found the doctor's bloody shirt under his bed.

Thus, the vagrant was put on trial for the doctor's murder. At the last minute, however, the judge acquitted him because, "I cannot admit the thought that there exists a man who would dare to murder our friend the doctor."


This relatively late (1894) Chekhov story presents us with an interesting moral, but how should we interpret it? The people in Thomson's village believed so strongly in essential human goodness that they chose not to convict an obvious murderer. The head gardener reports that his grandmother, who first told him the story, concluded that God forgave the villagers all their sins because they had such strong faith in humanity.

What is Chekhov's point-of-view? Why is he telling the story? This fable seems particularly interesting at a time when the late 19th century faith in basic human decency has been replaced by an equally strong belief in human depravity.


Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol.9: The Schoolmistress and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



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