The Swedish Match

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-27-2003


The police receive a report that Mark Ivanovitch Klyauzov has been murdered. Indeed. he has not left his bedroom in a week. When the inspector and his assistant arrive, they soon find "evidence" that Klyauzov. a man who led a life of drunken debauchery, was strangled in his room, carried out the window, and later stabbed in the garden to finish him off.

Dyukovsky, the brash young assistant inspector. eagerly interprets every clue. He concludes that three perpetrators were involved in the murder. Two held down the drunken Klauzov, while the third person strangled him. They quickly arrest the valet and the gardener. But who is the third culprit? Could it be Klyauzov's sister, who disagreed with him over religion?

Dyukovsky identifies the central clue, an unusual Swedish match dropped at the scene of the crime. By brilliant detective work, he discovers that a pack of Swedish matches was purchased by the police superintendent's young wife. The inspectors confront he--she quickly caves in. However, all is not as it seems, as the story rushes (or perhaps. lurches) to its surprise ending.


Chekhov wrote this story when he was a medical student at the University of Moscow. At the time he was supporting himself and his family by publishing humorous stories and sketches in popular weekly magazines, especially Fragments,l which was published by Nikolai Leikin. "The Swedish Match" was atypical for Chekhov at this point in his career because of its length and well-developed story.

Moreover, the story is also interesting in that it utilizes (and makes fun of) the use of deductive reasoning to solve a crime. Dyukovsky's confidence in his powers of deduction puts him squarely in the tradition of the fictional detective hero, except, of course, that Dyukovsky is completely wrong in his conclusions.

The detective story originated with Edgar Allan Poe in "The Murders of the Rue Morgue" (1841) and was developed to some extent by Wilkie Collins and other authors. prior to the advent of Sherlock Holmes in "A Study in Scarlet" (1887). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his hero on Dr. Joseph Bell, one of his professors at the University of Edinburgh medical school. Perhaps the young Chekhov came across a professor at Moscow University known for his deductive clinical reasoning.

Certainly. Dr. Grigory Zakharin. the professor of internal medicine. might have filled the bill. According to John Coope in Doctor Chekhov: A Study in Literature and Medicine (see annotation), Zakharin was a brilliant clinician who insisted on "precise analysis of the evolution of the presenting symptoms, the circumstance of personal life and occupation and the psychological state of the patient." (Coope. p. 21) Chekhov greatly admired Professor Zakharin, but in "The Swedish Match" the method of deduction leads to comic denouement.


First published in 1883. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 12: The Cook's Wedding & Other Stories



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