"Olenka, the daughter of the retired collegiate assessor, Plemyanniakov, was sitting in her back porch, lost in thought."
The opening sentence of the story shows Olenka "lost in thought," and from the start we see Chekhov building a character whose mind is a mystery. We have no idea what her thoughts are, and such will be the case for the rest of the story, as Olenka's only discernible thoughts emerge as the thoughts of others. This sentence also introduces Olenka as someone's daughter, setting up a dynamic where Olenka will predominately be defined by her relationships to other men.
"Damn my luck in this world and the next! Let the artists have me up! Send me to prison!—to Siberia!—the scaffold! Ha, ha, ha!"
During his diatribe about the rain keeping away patrons at his theatre, Kukin facetiously invites all manner of disaster on himself. Little does he know that later in the story, he indeed will end up thrown in jail and, soon after, dead. By showing this character receiving the fate that he tempts, Chekhov shows off his black humor and raises a bit of a metaphysical mystery about a man's destiny.
"It seemed to her that she had been in the timber trade for ages and ages, and that the most important and necessary thing in life was timber; and there was something intimate and touching to her in the very sound of words such as 'baulk,' 'post,' 'beam,' 'pole,' 'scantling,' 'batten,' 'lath,' 'plank,' etc."
One of the funnier indications of Olenka's tendency to take on the opinions and ideas of a man in her life comes with this strange infatuation with timber-related vocabulary. Chekhov seems to understand that without absurd, humorous touches like this, his tale of a peculiar woman's tragic life would otherwise be unremittingly bleak.
"When Pustovalov went away to buy wood in the Mogilev district, she missed him dreadfully, lay awake and cried."
This is the key recurring vignette in "The Darling": Olenka, left without the man she's grown dependent on, spending her alone time in a state of hopeless despondency. Note how similar Chekhov's portrayal of her is in this scene when Pustolatov is simply away buying lumber as it is when Pustolatov dies. On a psychological level, we can understand that Olenka is reliving the drama of when Kukin went to Moscow and never returned, but on a characterization level, Chekhov uses scenes like this to develop a habitual action.
"She repeated the veterinary surgeon's words, and was of the same opinion as him about everything."
By this point in the story—when two of Olenka's husbands have died and she is getting closer to Smirnin, the veterinarian—we have come to accept that Olenka will attach herself as quickly as she can to another man, but Chekov makes sure that the dramatic nature of Olenka revising her personality is never lost on us. It is in fact quite bizarre to watch this woman suddenly sound off on obscure matters that could only possibly be relevant to a veterinary surgeon.
"She saw the objects about her and understood what she saw, but could not form any opinion about them, and did not know what to talk about. And how awful it is not to have any opinions!"
Here, the drama of the story is really revealed. We learn that "The Darling" is not simply a story about a woman and her many tragic losses, but the story of a woman who is constantly at risk of losing her entire personhood when she loses a man in her life. Olenka has no opinions or ideas of her own, and we realize that she is a peculiarly and profoundly empty character, who looks around the room and sees objects and can't even muster a scant thought about them.
"I'll give it you! Get away! Shut up!"
The confounding final lines of the story are bellowed by young Sasha in his sleep. While they are fairly cryptic, it's at least somewhat obvious that Sasha is having a dream about Olenka, and that he wishes to push her away. If this is the case, then perhaps Chekhov is showing us how yet another male figure will abandon Olenka, this one just a boy. At the same time, Olenka has a maternal relationship with the boy, and the natural progression of that dynamic leads to the son-figure eventually leaving home. Is it possible that by finding a male figure who will rightfully leave, Olenka has broken her tragic cycle? Or will this be yet another unbearable abandonment?
The Darling Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Darling is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
One major theme in Chekhov's story is the nature of love. This theme is illustrated through the character of Olga Semyonovna, who lives for the idea of love and withers away without it. In the story, however, Chekov questions Olga's feelings about...