43 pages 1 hour read

Anton Chekhov

The Duel

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1891

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Individualism Versus the Common Good

Compared to many popular narratives, Chekhov’s prose can be disorienting. One expects a story but gets philosophy. In The Duel, the main philosophical debate is between selfish individualism versus the supposed “common good.” This debate is embodied in the ideas and behavior of Laevsky and Von Koren, whose interpersonal conflict is rooted in their opposing values.

Laevsky represents the extremes of individualism for much of the novella, as he is preoccupied almost exclusively with his own wants and desires at the expense of other people—most importantly, at the expense of Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, who will be left socially and legally vulnerable if he abandons her. Laevsky frequently resorts to excuses and self-pity when faced with ethical dilemmas, as when he seeks to find ways of abandoning Nadyezhda Fyodorovna even if it involves deception, or tries to evade informing her of the news of her husband’s death for fear she will expect him to marry her. His ego and self-delusion are also displayed in the way he fantasizes about the greatness he could supposedly achieve if only circumstances were more favorable to him, as when he daydreams about how “He was perhaps very clever, talented, remarkably honest [.