Friday, 9 May 2014

...of panophobia

'Belikov tried to bury his thoughts inside a rigid case. Only official regulations and newspaper articles, in which something or other was prohibited, had any meaning for him. For him, only rules forbidding students to be out in the streets after nine in the evening or an article outlawing sexual intercourse were unambiguous and authoritative: the thing was prohibited - and that was that! But whenever anything was allowed and authorised, there was something dubious, vague and equivocal lurking in it. When a dramatic society or reading-room, or a tea-shop in town, was granted a licence, he would shake his head and softly say, "That's all very well, of course, but there could be trouble!"
'The least infringement, deviation, violation of the rules reduced him to despair, although you may well ask what business was it of his anyway? If a fellow-teacher was late for prayers, or if news of some schoolboy mischief reached his ears, or if he spotted a schoolmistress out late at night with an officer, he would get very heated and say over and over again, "There could be trouble." At staff meeting he really got us down with his extreme caution, his suspiciousness and his positively encapsulated notions about current wretched standards of behaviour in boys' and girls' schools, about the terrible racket students made in class and once again he would say, "Oh dear, what if the authorities got to hear? Oh, there could be trouble! Now, what if we expelled that Petrov in the second form and Yegorov in the fourth?" Well then, what with all his moaning and whining, what with those dark glasses and that pale little face (you know, it was just like a ferret's), he terrorised us so much that we had to give in. Petrov and Yegorov were given bad conduct marks, put in detention and finally both were expelled. He had the strange habit of visiting us in our digs. He would call in on some teacher and sit down without saying a word, as though he were trying to spy something out. After an hour or two he would get up and go. He called it "maintaining good relations with my colleagues". These silent sessions were clearly very painful for him and he made them only because he felt it was his duty to his fellow-teachers. All of us were scared of him, even the Head. It was quite incredible really, since we teachers were an intelligent, highly respectable lot, brought up on Turgenev and Shchedrin. And yet that miserable specimen, with that eternal umbrella and galoshes, kept the whole school under his thumb for fifteen whole years! And not only the school, but the whole town! Our ladies gave up their Saturday amateur theatricals in case he found out about them. And the clergy were too frightened to eat meat or play cards when he was around. Thanks to people like Belikov, the people in this town have lived in fear of everything for the last ten or fifteen years. They are frightened of talking out loud, sending letters, making friends, reading books, helping the poor or teaching anyone to read and write...'

[Man In A Case, Chekhov, A.]

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