Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chekhov's "The Darling"

You are sitting next to a stranger on an airplane. What, according to the self-help experts, is a surefire way to engage such individuals in conversation?  By guiding them along to talk about themselves and what they do!

Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Darling” is a character sketch of Olenka (“Olenka” is an alternate form of the name “Olga”).  She has successive romantic relationships with Kukin the theatrical producer, Pustovalov, the timber agent, and  Smirnin the verterinarian.  Chekhov writes, “she wanted a love that would absorb her whole being, her whole soul and reason, that would give her ideas an object in life and would warm her old blood.”

Olenka becomes so absorbed with her lovers, however, that she appears to have no self of her own.  For example, after her first husband Kukin dies and she marries Pustovalov, she has no time for the frivolity of the theater, because she has become so immersed in the timber business.  She even dreams about 2 by 4’s!

At our April 27th discussion of this story, one participant wondered if Olenka is classifiable with a particular psychological syndrome.  Another compared her to Woody Allen’s character Zelig, a person who took on the characteristics of every person with whom he became familiar.  A third opined that Chekhov might be questioning whether it's right for us to esteem original thinkers more than those influenced by the ideas of others.  Olenka has empathy for others, and Chekhov's story shows empathy for Olenka.

By the way, if you're interested, check out this Soviet-era dramatization of "The Darling." (It's all in Russian, but if you know the story, it's easy to follow along.) Enjoy!