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Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths


Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths

Paddon, Susan (2011) Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths. Masters thesis, Concordia University.

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Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths

Susan Paddon

Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths is a book-length poem series exploring the experience of loss through engagement with the works of Anton Chekhov. The poems are told from the perspective of a daughter who reads Chekhov obsessively while spending a spring and summer caring for her mother, who is dying from pulmonary fibrosis—a respiratory disease that affects the body not unlike TB. Like Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay, in which the speaker’s world is heavily influenced by her reading of Emily Brontë, the speaker in Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths observes the world around her through the prism of the relationships in Chekhov’s work and life.
Throughout the collection, the speaker addresses Maria Chekhova and studies Chekhov’s wife, Olga Knipper, as she tries to penetrate and understand her own complicity in the veneer of normalcy that her mother seeks to maintain despite her deteriorating condition. The narrative continues after both Chekhov and the speaker’s mother have died, demonstrating how the lives around these central figures carry on, but are nonetheless intrinsically linked to their loss.
Heavily reliant on the epistolary form, the collection is divided into six sections. The first five are given the name of a month (May through September) and follow chronologically what is happening in the speaker’s home, while providing a narrative that follows Chekhov’s life (beginning with him and his sister as children and ending in July of 1904 when the writer dies in Germany). The final section, “After,” explores the notion of the archive that remains after death for both public and private figures. What can we know? What do we have the right to look at? Photographs function as both objects to be studied and artifacts to be preserved, and represent a notion of privacy that is lost after death.
The concept of simultaneous tragedies is another theme in the book. The idea comes from one of Chekhov’s short stories, translated as both “Enemies” and “Two Tragedies,” in which two deaths taking place at almost the same time lead to an exploration of the hierarchy of suffering. Can one death be more important than another? Does regret or sadness arising from other traumas become self-indulgent in the face of death?
Religion also plays a key role in the lives of all of the protagonists, whether in the beliefs of the speaker’s mother and Olga Knipper, or the agnostic doubts of Chekhov and the speaker herself. All of them in their way struggle with death and the prospect of an afterlife.
This project has been highly influenced by the work of Sharon Olds, Susan Sontag, John Berger and Anne Carson. For my research, I am indebted to the work of Donald Rayfield, Harvey Pitcher, Jean Benedetti, Michael Finke, and of course, Anton Chekhov.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > English
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Paddon, Susan
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Date:26 April 2011
Thesis Supervisor(s):Bolster, Stephanie
ID Code:7390
Deposited By: SUSAN PADDON
Deposited On:09 Jun 2011 15:08
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:30
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