“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov is a fictional story, which is filled with profound meaning. 

In this article, you will learn some unknown facts about the famous work of the Russian classical author.

Anton Chekhov

 Anton Chekhov. 1903. Unknown author 

The summary of “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

During a dinner-party two main characters, the young Lawyer and the millionaire Banker, got into an argument. Being nothing more than a whim, the argument somehow resulted in a bet. According to its terms, the Lawyer should have spent the following fifteen years in a solitary confinement. If he had stayed in seclusion the whole time, he would have been declared the winner of the bet and the Banker would have paid him two million rubles (back then a large sum of money).

The Lawyer put himself into a self-made prison. As the years went by, he became a completely different person. However, the passing years were cruel to the Banker as well. All his fortune was reduced to two million rubles, which he had promised to pay the Lawyer in the event of his victory. At the turn of the fifteenth year the Banker decided to kill the Lawyer, but the later had managed to live so many spiritual lives that he withdrew from the bet and left his cell, when it took him only five hours to win…

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov. By Terry Bain (CC, flickr)

Some facts about “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

  • Anton Chekhov was writing this short story for the magazine “Novoe Vremya”. Initially, it had been entitled “The Fairy Tale”, since a described situation was clearly fictional. Its characters and their actions had little in common with a real life. By writing this story, Anton Chekhov tried to make people think about the point of their life and the meaning of money. His story points a certain moral and therefore resembles Russian fairy tales. However later, the title “The Fairy Tale” was replaced by “The Bet”.
  • The first edition of this satirical story had another ending. According to Chekhov’s original idea, the Lawyer should have turned himself in to the Banker. Later, the author got disappointed with such a final and excluded it. The existing version ends with the scene of the Lawyer’s escape.
  • The main message of “The Bet” is that money cannot buy one’s happiness. Strangely, some people criticized Anton Chekhov’s story for “glorifying money”.
  • “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov was greatly inspired by Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy’s ideas. Speaking through the mouth of his character, the Lawyer, Anton Chekhov showed that he did not accept and even despised the existing state of things. Although the author omitted the positive side of Tolstoy’s mindset, which proclaims a peaceful solution and non-resistance to evil. These ideas were further developed by Mahatma Gandhi, who was influenced by Tolstoy’s works and even entered into correspondence with him.
  • Yet, Leo Tolstoy gave a good review of “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov. He wrote, “… his story is full of life.”
  • The story also reveals Chekhov’s attitude towards death penalty as something utterly immoral. At the end of the 19th century, there was a heated dispute on the abolition of capital punishment in Russia.

It seems both the Banker and the Lawyer lost the bet. Is it even possible to win a losing game? Perhaps, one should other ways of entertainment. They are nearby, within a hand’s reach.

The article is based on some material taken from the Complete Works of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov and his personal correspondence.

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