Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Chekhov’s impressionistic style, evident here, consists in juxtaposing complete scenes with a minimum of authorial comment. Multiple perspectives lend the story ambiguity, and a variety of rhythmic structures combined with a variety of artistic devices such as contrast, parallelism, carefully chosen metaphors and similes, dreamlike sequences, and recurring formulas make it an excellent example of the musicality of Chekhov’s prose. Among the story’s many symbolic elements are the ubiquitous sound of bells, the mysterious moon, the smell of pine, and the chirping cricket. The language is a masterly blending of levels of diction, including journalistic, Church Slavonic, and standard and substandard Russian (for example, the language of Father Sisoy and the mother).

Guiding the course of the story is the fatal typhoid that controls Bishop Pyotr’s thoughts and actions. “The Bishop” ranks as one of Chekhov’s best works portraying illness. Sharing numerous thematic and compositional features with Chekhov’s mature plays, it divides into four parts: The first chapter describes the onset of the malady; chapters 2 and 3, its duration; and chapter 4, the crisis followed by death. Hints throughout suggest that the bishop will die. Besides the symptoms of his disease that are scattered here and there, each chapter contains references and allusions to death.