Thursday, August 3, 2017
CHEKHOV'S LETTER FROM A BROTHEL IN BLAGOVESHCHENSK
During his famous trip to visit the penal settlements in the Far East (Sakhalin Island), Chekhov arrived in the provincial city of Blagoveshchensk (named, apparently, after the Christian holiday of Blagoveshchenie, the Annunciation) on June 27, 1890. The city is located 8000 kilometers east of Moscow, on the Amur River and bordering on China. From there he wrote his friend, the publisher A.S. Suvorin (1834-1912) a letter about his visit to a brothel:
"a nice clean room, sentimental in an Asiatic way, furnished with bric-a-brac. No ewers, no rubber devices, no portraits of generals . . . The Japanese girl has her own concept of modesty. She doesn't put out the light, and when you ask what the Japanese is for one thing or another, she gives a straight answer, and as she does so, because she doesn't understand much Russian, points her fingers and even puts her hand on it. What's more, she doesn't put on airs or go coy, like Russian women. And all the time she is laughing and making lots of tsu noises. She is amazingly skilled at her job, so that you feel that you are not having intercourse, but taking part in a top-level equitation class. When you come the Japanese girl pulls with her teeth a sheet of cotton wool from her sleeve, catches you by the 'boy' . . . and gives you a massage, and the cotton wool tickles your belly. And all of this is done with coquetry, laughing, singing and saying tsu."
English translation from Donald Rayfield biography of Chekhov (Henry Holt, 1997), p. 228. Chekhov's correspondence with Suvorin is amazingly frank and open. In Soviet times many letters between the two were published in censored form or not at all. This is one of those letters in the "not at all" category.