In my studies of famous authors—most recently Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway—I’ve taken a delightful detour into Anton Chekhov, whom I’ll write about more later. Author of hundreds of short stories and several celebrated plays, this physician-humanitarian-author is most known for his ability to weave unforgettable tales of average people. He doesn’t moralize or aim to instruct yet…when you finish one of his stories, you emerge with a new appreciation of humanity.
Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a book of early Chekhov tales titled The Exclamation Mark! Curiously, we have had many discussions at work about this seemingly overused mark of punctuation at work, in email, Twitter, etc. And now this gem of a book suddenly turns up. The title tale is the comic story (told at Christmas no less) of a civil servant who realizes that he has never used the exclamation mark. He is later haunted by this mark, as it comes to represent exultation, indignation, anger and joy. What has he been missing out on all these years?
My friend Melissa (and Russian literature expert) reminds me that the exclamation mark is not commonly used by these authors. We read this tale at lunch today (it’s only about 4 pages) and then passed it to a friend. All being “civil servants,” we three rejoiced in our own mixed feelings about work (the general) and the exclamation mark (the particular).
And tonight I’m also reminded of the famously introverted Nathaniel Hawthorne’s generous use of this mark in The House of Seven Gables. But that will be another post. Literature is the perfect place for paradox.