Friday, January 6, 2012

Anton Chekhov, "The Grasshopper"

Apparently, by the middle of the winter Dymov began to suspect that he was being deceived. As though his conscience was not clear, he could not look his wife straight in the face, did not smile with delight when he met her, and to avoid being left alone with her, he often brought in to dinner his colleague, Korostelev, a little close-cropped man with a wrinkled face, who kept buttoning and unbuttoning his reefer jacket with embarrassment when he talked with Olga Ivanovna, and then with his right hand nipped his left moustache. At dinner the two doctors talked about the fact that a displacement of the diaphragm was sometimes accompanied by irregularities of the heart, or that a great number of neurotic complaints were met with of late, or that Dymov had the day before found a cancer of the lower abdomen while dissecting a corpse with the diagnosis of pernicious anaemia. And it seemed as though they were talking of medicine to give Olga Ivanovna a chance of being silent -- that is, of not lying.

[. . .]

Olga Ivanovna had been extremely imprudent in her conduct of late. Every morning she woke up in a very bad humour and with the thought that she no longer cared for Ryabovsky, and that, thank God, it was all over now. But as she drank her coffee she reflected that Ryabovsky had robbed her of her husband, and that now she was left with neither her husband nor Ryabovsky; then she remembered talks she had heard among her acquaintances of a picture Ryabovsky was preparing for the exhibition, something striking, a mixture of genre and landscape, in the style of Polyenov, about which every one who had been into his studio went into raptures; and this, of course, she mused, he had created under her influence, and altogether, thanks to her influence, he had greatly changed for the better. Her influence was so beneficent and essential that if she were to leave him he might perhaps go to ruin.

Olga and Ryabovsky remind me of Beckett's "pseudo-couples" as discussed yesterday in Jim Murdoch's post here. They are somehow inseparable but they cannot remain together. Olga and Dymov are of course another pseudo-couple. All of this fits well with Chekhov's maxim that all you need for a story is a man, a woman, and a reason for them to be unhappy. "The Grasshopper" presents two such groupings, with Olga in both groups. A situation in which a character attempts to fit into one of two groups, vacillating between them, is also common in Chekhov. One interesting thing going on in "The Grasshopper" is that the husband, Dymov, does not attempt to fit into the group of artists who gravitate around his wife Olga. He knows he has no place with them and is fine with that.

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