The Black Monk Background

The Black Monk Background

"The Black Monk” belongs to that lush category of fiction which is said to have been inspired by the dreams of the author. The nature of remembering dreams being what it is, one should take any assertion on this subject with a grain of salt. This may be especially true when the inspiration dream is reputed to have occurred during an afternoon nap. Such is the case of one particular afternoon toward the end of the 19th century on the Chekhov estate lying just to the south of Moscow, when the noted Russian writer suddenly snapped awake from a terrifying dream featuring a sinister figure that appeared to be a monk.

In 1894 one of Russia’s leading journals covering the creative arts bearing the astonishingly appropriate name The Artist published a story titled “The Black Monk.” If Chekhov is to be taken at his word, that creative expression began as a subconscious image of monk floating over a field.

Interestingly—and rather atypically for stories said to be based directly on dream imagery—the black monk in the story also turns out to be a phantasm of the imagination: a hallucination produced by a diseased mental state. Published just a decade before Chekhov's untimely death from tuberculosis at age 44, “The Black Monk” is generally considered to be the final example of the author’s philosophical short stories. Like “Duel” and “Ward #6,” it is a story in which thematic concerns about the meaning of life and the line between imagination and madness.

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