“The Darling”


The Role of Women in Turn-of-the-century and Pre-Revolutionary Russia

by Myriam Cyr-Proulx



Chekhov’s short story “The Darling” portrays Olenka Semyonovna, a Russian woman at the turn of the century.  Presently called “Darling”, this young woman only defines herself within the relationship she has with men. Her life is perceived as meaningless and undefined as soon as Olenka steps out her of husband’s social entourage.

Chekhov’s characterization of Olenka evokes criticism about the situation of women in Russia at the time. Chekhov uses Olenka to ridicule the identity of women at the-turn-of-the-century, which is a result of the limited role of women during the Pre-Revolutionary Russia.  This Pre-Revolutionary Russia excluded women from politic, economy and also they were refused access to higher education. In general, they were excluded from any type of social life.  As Olenka has no opinion and beliefs of her own, Chekhov set out a satire to demonstrate his point of view about the role of women in society. Do women have to sacrifice their own values and knowledge to live in the shadow of their husband? In the story, Olenka does not only live in the shadow of the men whom she attaches herself to, she completely becomes the female version of them. She transformed herself to adjust her identity to her husband identity. 

In “The Darling,” Chekhov chooses to ridicule not only Olenka’s character, but also Russian social life. He emphasizes and evokes the loss of the woman’s identity through “selfless maternal love”[1] and their lack of education.  In the nineteenth century in Russia, women expressed a desire to be freer and to have the right to equality. However, even though the situation improved for women, the nineteenth century still held an oppressive lifestyle for women. They were still limited to traditional social positions.

Chekhov’s short story “The Darling” also depicted and challenged the place of women in Russia. Olenka is a parody of the limited role of Russian women. Her character is used to evoke the reader’s uncertainty about the ideal of gender in society. The ambiguity of the text makes us question what Chekhov’s intentions are in relation to the role of women in the story. It is clear, that the author’s “plan was to mock a dependant and an emancipated women[2].” In the story, Olenka’s submissive state of mind is a warning to society, a possibility to react against the concept of the inferiority of women.  Chekhov shapes a reality that creates and places women in a position of vulnerability. Olenka is alienated from herself and as a result transformed her beliefs into the pre-established role women have towards men.

Chekhov uses the context of the turn-of-the-century and the historical context of Russia before the revolution to emphasize and critique the lack of development of women within their social context. As Chekhov wrote himself “All I wanted was to say honestly to people: “have a look at yourself and see how bad and dreary your lives are!”[3] As an example of prejudice and lack of judgment about the current status of women in Russia, this satire about this meaningless and lost woman sent out an important message about identity and how we decide to shape ourselves within different social contexts.

            Finally, Chekhov’s story helps the reader to see “how not to live”[4]; he also focuses on the little details of everyday life to indicate the importance of paying attention to how we develop our identity within our daily life.  Chekhov transgresses the taboo about the role of women and shows us a glimpse of the unknown power of women.

[1] "The Darling." Enotes.Com. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.enotes.com/darling/>.

[2] "The Darling Study Guide." BookRags. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-thedarling/>.

[3] Anton Chekhov." Moonstruck Drama Bookstore. 11 Nov. 2007 <www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc6>.

[4] "The Darling Study Guide." BookRags. 11 Nov. 2007 <http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-thedarling/>.