31 pages 1 hour read

Anton Chekhov

The Darling

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1899

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “The Darling”

“The Darling” (Dushechka) is a short story by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. It was first published in 1899 in Semya (Family) magazine and tells the story of a woman named Olga (Olenka) through four relationships. Olga is nicknamed “darling” due to her pliant, selfless, and submissive personality, which leads her to repeatedly subordinate herself to others. The author uses structural repetition, free indirect style, an ambiguous ending, and dramatic irony to convey themes of Love and Dependence, Isolation and Despair, and Agency and Individual Identity. This guide uses the Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear translation, from Bantam Books’ 2000 edition of Chekhov’s Stories, freely available online.

Olga sits alone in her courtyard as rain clouds gather on the horizon. Kukin, a lodger who lives on her property and runs the Tivoli amusement garden, stands in the middle of the yard complaining that it’s going to rain, because people won’t patronize his business and he will lose money. The next two days are the same. As she listens to Kukin, Olga falls in love with him. Throughout her life she has always needed someone to love: recently, her father, who now has an illness and sits alone in the house; before that, her aunt; before that, her French tutor. Her affectionate nature has led to the town’s residents nicknaming her “darling.” At night, she listens to the fireworks from the Tivoli garden, and in the morning, she looks out for Kukin when he returns. Her heart goes out to him as he tries to draw interest in theater from an indifferent public that prefers trivial amusements.

Kukin proposes and they marry. Olga works the box-office for him and starts complaining to friends about the public, repeating her husband’s opinions. The actors love her and start calling her “darling,” just like the townspeople and her husband. She often lends them money. Though business is good through winter, her husband continues to complain, and he becomes “skinnier and yellower” (3). Olga gives him infusions in bed, calling him “sweetie” and “my pretty one” (3). While Kukin is on a trip to Moscow to recruit performers, Olga hears a loud knocking on her door. A messenger delivers a telegram bringing news that he has died, plunging Olga into grief.

Three months later, Olga meets Vassily Andreich Pustovalov, a lumberyard manager, on her way home from church. He comforts her by explaining that her misfortune is “God’s will,” and “we must bear it with submission” (5). Olga finds him handsome and cannot stop thinking about him. He likes her too, and soon they are married. As with Kukin, Olga works in Pustovalov’s office. She talks to her friends about lumber, thinks about it constantly, and even dreams about it. When friends advise her to take some time off, and to visit the theater, she dismisses the theater as trivial.

When Pustovalov travels out of town to buy lumber, Olga weeps. Her only distraction is talking with Smirnin, a veterinarian who lodges with them. He does not live with his wife and son because his wife was unfaithful. Olga and Pustovalov pity him and pray that they will have a child. One day in winter, Pustovalov catches a cold, and after four months, he dies. Olga is again distraught; she keeps the shutters of her house locked, and wears black on her rare excursions out of the house. After six months, the townsfolk notice that the shutters are open again and Olga talks about the terrible state of veterinary care, echoing Smirnin’s thoughts and opinions. This annoys his colleagues, but Smirnin and Olga are nevertheless happy together.

Smirnin is soon recalled by his army regiment and transfers to Siberia. Now Olga is well and truly alone. Her father is dead, and day after day she sits in her courtyard, listening to the rockets from the Tivoli gardens, which evoke nothing in her. Worst of all, without a love object to imitate, she has no opinions or interests of her own. She is losing her looks, and the townspeople realize that her best years are behind her.

Years pass, the town expands, and Olga’s house decays. Her only company is her cook and a stray cat. Occasionally, a memory from the past brings tears to her eyes. One July, she hears a knock at the door and opens it to see Smirnin, gray-haired and in civilian clothes. Amazed, she falls into his arms. He has made up with his wife and decided to settle down. They want to live somewhere their son can go to school. Olga offers the family lodging in her house.

All of a sudden, Olga is full of life. She begins repairs on the house, smiling and ordering the workers about, and she quickly comes to love Smirnin’s son, nine-year-old Sasha, reading with him before he goes to bed. She repeats the words from his textbook, and they become the first opinion, albeit not original, that she has held in years. Soon, she becomes obsessed with education, and after Sasha’s mother abandons Sasha, Olga raises him as if he were her own child. Smirnin is often away inspecting cattle. As Olga looks in on Sasha sleeping, takes him to school, and prepares his meals, she thinks that this is the deepest, most selfless love she has ever felt. The townspeople notice that she seems younger and talks only about Sasha’s school and education.

At night she dreams of a future in which Sasha becomes a doctor or engineer and has children and a house of his own. Suddenly, a loud knocking interrupts her thoughts. Her heart pounds in terror. She imagines it is a telegram from his mother, summoning Sasha to Kharkov to live with her. She has never been so unhappy. It is, however, only Smirnin coming home from the club. Relieved, Olga lies back down, hearing Sasha sleep-talk in the other room.