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!