The protagonist of this story is Yakov Ivanov, an ill-tempered old coffin-maker, who hates Jews. Yakov is also a fiddler, but rarely gets to play in the village orchestra because of his antagonism with Rothschild, the flautist. Rothschild is certainly no beauty, a "gaunt, red-haired Jew" with "a perfect network of red and blue veins all over his face."

When Marfa, Yakov's wife of 52 years, becomes ill, Yakov fatalistically builds her coffin in preparation for her death. After she dies, he is "overcome by acute depression." When Rothschild visits him on a friendly errand, Yakov beats up the poor man, yelling, "Get out of my sight!" Afterward, Yakov goes and sits by the river and tries to figure out why he has become the scolding, ill-tempered old man that he is.

Unfortunately, he develops a chill from the exposure. The next day he falls mortally ill with pneumonia. When Rothschild appears at the house again, he is surprised to find Yakov playing the fiddle with tears gushing from his eyes. Later, Yakov tells the priest who has come to confess him, "Give the fiddle to Rothschild."


A nasty old man loses his wife, becomes depressed, develops pneumonia, and dies. Not much of a story. What makes it interesting is that Yakov experiences an epiphany while he sits by the river reviewing his life; he sees himself for what he is and, therefore, has an opportunity for personal redemption. ("Redemption" is surely not a word that Chekhov would have used.) Yakov asks for forgiveness inwardly, as well as outwardly in the social practice of confession. The gift of the fiddle to Rothschild the Jew signifies conversion.


First published:1894. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

Anton Chekhov. Later Short Stories, 1888-1903


Modern Library

Place Published

New York




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