Anton Chekhov’s short story, “The Darling”

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This Saturday I drew the eight of clubs from the handful of cards remaining in my deck from my 2011 project, “Deal me in!”. This card was assigned to a Chekhov story I and read once before many years ago as part of another spate of short story reading. I hadn’t marked the story as one that I found particularly good, but it WAS Chekhov, after all, so it possibly made my 2011 short story reading list on that merit.

The story deals with a woman, Olga Semyonovna – a stereotype of the woman who possesses little or no identity of her own unless she is attached to a man. In this story, Olga “goes through” a couple husbands and a married lover until at the end her devotion settles on the little boy, Sasha, who is the son of her last lover, a veterinary surgeon.

Chekhov has some great descriptions of how she comes to think of the men she loves. One of them, who ran kind of a town theater, was away during the evenings and Olga would lament his absence and when she heard the town’s frequent crackling and banging of fireworks, “…it seemed to her that it was Kukin struggling with his destiny, storming the entrenchments of his chief foe, the indifferent public.” Later, in a key paragraph, Chekhov describes her as wanting “a love that would absorb her whole being, her whole soul and reason – that would give her ideas and an object I life, and would warm her old blood.” It’s funny that, though it seems Chekhov intends her character to be a pitiable one, many (including the great Tolstoy, apparently) saw Olga as a personification of the feminine ideal. It seems to me that a woman with a mind and ideas of her own would be a treasure much more to be preferred…

The story left me sad, and not without some sympathy for Olga, the darling. What a life it must be to have no opinions or identity of one’s own!

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10 Comments

  1. Alex said,

    November 30, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I recently listen to Stephen Fry read some of Chekhov’s short-stories and was spell-bound. This was not one of the however. Many of them left me as you described: sad but with sympathy for the characters. Maybe that’s what Chekhov was going for…

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 4, 2011 at 11:17 am

      Hi Alex,
      Thanks for alerting me to the Stephen Fry readings. I sampled one on iTunes and think I might go ahead and order the whole thing. I’m not usually an audio book listener, but from what I heard this would be a good one to try.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Dale said,

    November 30, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Other than The Black Monk (which was great), I haven’t read any Chekov. Something else to put on my list. Right now I’m reading “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”. Really good, but I think it holds the record for the longest time it’s taken me to read a book this year.

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    • Jay said,

      December 4, 2011 at 11:19 am

      Hi Dale,
      I’ve had The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay on my TBR list for quite some time now. It seems almost universally praised by those who have read it. Maybe in 2012 I will get to it finally.
      Happy reading!
      -Jay

      Like

  3. Darlyn said,

    December 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I read this story a couple of months ago, and sadly realized that there are still women like Olga in existence–women who mold themselves into who the men they’re with want them to be. Sad but true.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm

      Hi Darlyn,
      I’m afraid you’re probably right about that. Hopefully progress is being made, though… 🙂
      -Jay

      Like

  4. Che said,

    December 4, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Chekov is among my absolute favorite short story writers. I read a few short stories every week as part of the Short Story on Wednesday event hosted by Risa at http://breadcrumbreads.wordpress.com/. I invite you to join us anytime you’re free. I can see that I’m going to be a regular visitor at your blog🙂

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks for the visit, Che, and for letting me know about Risa’s site. I will definitely be participating in “Short Story on Wednesday” – maybe not every week, but I will look forward to hearing about what everyone else is reading and discovering.

      Chekhov wrote one of my all time favorite short stories, The Black Monk. Have you read that one? I was recently reminded of it when the book club at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library read Sirens of Titan, when the “chrono-synclastic infandibula” (or whatever it was called) was reminiscent of the Black Monk’s appearing in multiple places across time and distance.

      -Jay

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  5. anatheimp said,

    December 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Jay, you’ve reminded me just how much I love the stories of Chekhov.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      I’m happy to help jog your memory, Ana🙂

      Like


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