On Official Business

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jun-01-2003
  • Last revised: Sep-05-2006


Starchenko, a country doctor, and Lyzhin, an acting coroner, travel through a snowstorm to reach the village of Syrna, where they are to hold an inquest regarding the death of Lesnitsky. Three days earlier, Lesnitsky had shot himself in the office of the village council.

When the two officials finally arrive after sundown, the witnesses have gone home for tea; only the talkative old constable remains. Starchenko and Lyzhin eventually proceed to the von Taunitz mansion for comfortable quarters and an evening of entertainment. The storm is so severe that the next day they remain at the mansion, rather than conducting the inquest.

On the third day, as they prepare to return to the village, where the witnesses have been waiting for them, they see the old constable standing in the snow. "Very restive them peasants are," he says. "Have pity on them, kind sirs."


Starchenko, the physician, is unmoved by the whole affair. His first thought is to find a good warm meal and comfortable bed. He considers the suicide to be neurotic and inconsiderate. Later, he prefers to stay at the von Taunitz place rather than to return and conduct the inquest. Lyzhin is, at first, sympathetic to the plight of the villagers, especially the old constable, but he is soon persuaded to spend the night elsewhere. The world of official business is not always sensitive to the needs and concerns of individuals.


First published: 1899. Translated by Ronald Hingley.

Primary Source

The Steppe and Other Stories


Oxford Univ. Press

Place Published

New York