Perpetuum Mobile

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jul-09-1999


A doctor and a magistrate are driving down a country road in a rainstorm on their way to an autopsy. The doctor says he doesn't notice the weather. "I feel a strange oppressive dread," he says. "It seems to me as if some misfortune were about to overwhelm me." The magistrate scoffs at this. They decide to stop at a country home for the night.

The doctor mentions his foreboding to the pretty widow who lives in the house. When they go to bed, the drunken magistrate, who thinks the widow was flirting with the doctor, encourages his colleague to visit the woman's room. The straightlaced doctor not only refuses, but also prevents his companion from visiting her.

The magistrate blows up in anger and the two men go home. Three days later the autopsy remains to be done. Once again, the two set off to the autopsy, but this time they are waylaid by a tavern and decide to stop and have a few drinks.


We've gotten into a vicious circle, one of the protagonists remarks near the end of the story. The two men have a duty to perform--after all, there is a corpse waiting for them in a village down the road--but somehow they keep going around in circles. Nothing gets done. Meanwhile, what about the doctor's strange foreboding? What terrible fate awaits him?

Chekhov wrote at least three stories that feature a magistrate and a district physician on their way to an inquest. The most successful and well-known of these stories is On Official Business (1899) [see this database], in which the two officials arrive at a village to investigate a suicide, but the doctor goes off to spend the night with some wealthy friends. A second is The Examining Magistrate (1887) [see annotation], in which the doctor represents the voice of reason that explodes the magistrate's irrational, but consoling, version of his wife's death. In the current story, the doctor is the one who voices an irrational belief in fate.


Translated from the Russian by Avrahm Yarmolinsky (copyright 1954). First published in 1884.

Primary Source

The Unknown Chekhov: Stories & Other Writings



Place Published

New York




Avrahm Yarmolinsky

Page Count