Russian Women's Studies: Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture

By Tatyana Mamonova; Margaret Maxwell | Go to book overview

6
The Stories of Anton Chekhov
and the Women's Movement
at the End of the Nineteenth
Century

It is appropriate to consider Anton Chekhov a progressive writer who saw far into the future; however, if he were to meet a contemporary feminist, he would take her for a person from another planet.Her views, manners, dress, hairstyle, and entire way of life would seem alien and incomprehensible to him. It seems as though his stories, which are the subject of this chapter, were written a thousand years ago — not a hundred.

Even when I read Chekhov's stories as a young girl, I had the feeling that he did not trust women and viewed them narrowly and patriarchially.But in the Soviet schools where Chekhov is studied, no one mentioned this and I drove that thought from my mind.However, the same thought came to me again when, as fate willed it, I later returned to his stories.

We were taught that Chekhov fought his entire life for justice and against pettiness and that he possessed historic optimism.Nonetheless, a good half of humanity finds an extremely limited perspective in his stories. The theme raised in one of his early works, "A Mysterious Nature" ( 1883), is later amplified by Chekhov numerous times.A pretty little lady, who pretends to be what she is not, says, "I thirsted for something unusual . . . unwomanly."1 Chekhov debunks her completely, although in the dénouement of the story he admits it seems forced and biased.

We shall investigate this theme in detail later. Meanwhile, let us address ourselves to another Chekhov work of the same period. Maxim Gorky wrote: "On reading The Daughter of Albion, the highly esteemed public laughs and scarcely sees in that story a sated landowner's extremely vile mockery of the lonely person who is a stranger to one and all."2 That is the opinion of Gorky, a great humanitarian, but where is the assurance that Chekhov thought the same? The remarks that Chekhov puts in the mouth of the landowner,

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