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Seminar Paper, 2001
15 Pages, Grade: 2,3
1.1. Background of the Texts
1.2. Summary of Chekhov’s Sleepy
2.1. The Setting
2.2. The Plot
2.3. The Characters
2.3.1. Varka/The Child-Who-Was-Tired
2.3.2. The Shoemaker/The Man and The Mistress/The Frau
2.3.3. The Baby
2.3.4. Missing and Additional Characters
4.1. Main Sources
4.2. Secondary Sources
4.2.1. List of Works Cited
4.2.2. List of Works Consulted
5. Appendix: Chekhov’s Sleepy
This paper will discuss differences and similarities of The Child-Who-Was-Tired first published on February 24 in the New Age and later, short after her return from Bavaria, in ‘In a German Pension’ published in 1911 by Katherine Mansfield and Anton Chekhov’s Sleepy, which was written nearly 20 years earlier. The parallels between the characters and the plots, especially in the outcome of both short stories, make Katherine Mansfield suspicious of having committed plagiarism.
“Anton Chekhov’s short stories were first welcomed in England and America just after the turn of the century as examples of late nineteenth-century realism [...].“ Characterised as ‘slices of life’ they could have served as patterns or examples for Mansfield’s stories, which are characterised in the same way. In so far she writes at least in Chekhov’s tradition. She “could have read Sleepy at Queen’s College as early as 1903, when [...] her literary interest was expending.”
The question of plagiarism will be answered in the conclusion of this paper, when the differences and similarities are worked out properly.
This story is about a little girl whose name is Varka. She lives with a shoemaker and his family in a house and works for them as a nurse. Her real parents are apparently dead and her foster parents give her a very hard time: She has to work a lot and if she does not do something well enough she gets beaten by her master or his wife.
The story begins very early in the morning. Varka is already up and nursing the baby. She is fighting hard against an overwhelming tiredness. When she naps in, she dreams about a muddy road where nobody walks along but a lot of people just lie there fast asleep. Then the dream changes and she is in the hut, where she has lived with her real parents before her father died. And she dreams about his death. Suddenly her master wakes her with a hit on the back of her head because the baby is crying. Now she has to go on rocking the baby’s cradle.
Varka has to work very hard throughout the whole day: She has to heat the stove, set the samovar, clean her master’s goloshes, and serve the visitors that come into the house. Between the single orders she has to take care about the baby. Her tiredness becomes agonising. At the end of the day, when she is at last allowed to go to sleep, the baby cries again, which makes Varka recognise that it is the baby, who keeps her from living. With a smile on her face she suffocates the baby with a cushion and lies herself down to sleep.
There are certain hints that Chekhov’s story plays presumably in Russia. One is the Russian name of the protagonist, ‘Varka’, as well as the word ‘samovar’, which is “a container for heating water used especially in Russia for making tea”6. At least Chekhov, as a Russian himself, wrote this story in his mother tongue.
Mansfield’s story appeared in her collection of short stories “In a German Pension”, which contains experiences she made during her stay in the spa of Bad Wörishofen/Bavaria from 1909 to 19107. She also uses different German idioms as ‘The Frau’, which is used for the mother or mistress of the ‘Child-Who-Was-Tired’ imitating a German address for a person, or “Oh, weh! Oh, weh!“8. A last reason are the “two tubs of sauerkraut“9 in the cellar. Therefore the story must be set in Germany. Both stories take place in the house, where the protagonist lives with her foster parents or masters.
Mansfield just changed the country, where the story takes placed, into one that was familiar to her.
The plot of The Child-Who-Was-Tired differs only in a few points from the plot of Sleepy. There are some left-outs: Mansfield starts off directly with the protagonist’s dream of the road, that leads to nowhere, which plays a central role in her story. Chekhov starts with a brief description (“Varka, the little nurse, a girl of thirteen“) of Varka who nurses the baby while she is fighting her tiredness.
The events of the rest of the day are very similar: The child is treated by its masters in the same way as Varka, she has similar things to do, like making coffee, setting the table, nurse the baby, there are also some visitors in the evening she has to serve. And in the end, she kills the baby by suffocation, too.
The story has nearly been changed in its plot, so the similarity of the two stories indicates that “[...] Mansfield had read Chekhov’s story. The plots of ‘Sleepy’ and ‘The Child-Who-Was-Tired’ are the same.“10
A first difference between Chekhov’s and Mansfield’s protagonist is the name: Chekhov gives her a common Russian name, but Mansfield exchanges the name for a description, which shows the reader the central nature of the protagonist.
The most important difference between the protagonists is not to be found in their behaviour - it is nearly the same because it is nearly the same plot - but in her own history. Chekhov uses a dream to describe how her father died, which was a very traumatising experience for her.
The Child-Who-Was-Tired lives just like Varka with her foster parents but she is not traumatised through the loss of her real parents but through the treatment by her mother. She tried to “squeeze her [the child’s] head in the wash-hand jug, and the child’s half silly“11. That means that the child’s mother injured her brain violently and she is not completely responsible for her deeds herself. “All of Chekhov’s exposition is gone: the flashback to the death of Varka’s father, her mother’s begging, and her delivery into servitude for survival.“10
 Berkman, Sylvia. Katherine Mansfield: A Critical Study. Yale: UP, 1971. p 43.
 Mansfield, Katherine. The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. London: Penguin, 1981.
 May, Charles E. “Chekhov and the Modern Short Story.“The New Short Story Theories. Ed. Charles E. May. Athens: Ohio UP, 1994. p 199.
 Daly, Saralyn R. Katherine Mansfield: Revised Edition. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. p 16.
6 “Samovar.“Oxford Advanced Learner’s. 1989 ed.
7 Daly, Saralyn R. Katherine Mansfield: Revised Edition. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. p xv.
8 Mansfield, Katherine. The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. London: Penguin, 1981. p 747.
9 Mansfield, Katherine. The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. London: Penguin, 1981. p 748.
10 Daly, Saralyn R. Katherine Mansfield: Revised Edition. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. p 16.
11 Mansfield, Katherine. The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. London: Penguin, 1981. p 750.
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