A Calamity: Presenting the Female Self

From these interventions we can notice the character’s oscillation between love and marital duty as well as the incompatibility between marriage and love, which is one of the recurrent motifs in Chekhov’s stories. This partakes of the mimetic function of his writing, through which the author is criticizing the values of the bourgeois society of nineteenth century Russia, in which women were married very young, generally with older men who had a good financial situation.

The enactment of the adulterous love affair between Anna and Gurov shows the author’s preference for love and the drama of women whose lives are dictated by men. However, the image of Anna Sergeyevna is created in the story mostly through the imaginative mediation of Gurov. Gurov is an embittered philanderer whose experience with women had taught him the lesson to “almost always speak ill of women, and when they were talked of in his presence he used to call the ‘the inferior race’” (413).

Probably because he needs a fresh perspective, or because he approaches old age or because of the boredom of everyday life, Gurov eventually falls in love with Anna, even if he had treated her in the usual way at the beginning of the affair. The image that he presents of her creates after their separation is clearly idealized: “He did not dream of Anna Sergeyevna, but she followed him about everywhere and watched him.

When he shut his eyes he saw her before him as though she were there in the flesh, and she seemed to him lovelier, younger, tenderer than she had been, and he imagined himself a finer man than he had been in Yalta” (423). Moreover, his increasing love for Anna and, consequently, of his depiction of her, is seriously motivated by his becoming aware that he is getting old: “In the past he had met women, come together with them, parted from them, but he had never once loved; it was anything you please, but not love.

And only now that his head was grey he had fallen in love, really, truly – for the first time in his life” (432). As Alyohin, Gurov also re-presents the woman whom he loves through the prism of his own imagination in a highly lyrical mode, which is problematic in terms of becoming a faithful description of the woman herself. The short story “A Calamity” is the only one of the three examples analyzed in this paper that fully voices the female character.

In this short story Sofya Petrovna is presented in an unmediated manner, through the dramatization of her voice or through the descriptions of the third person omniscient narrator. This type of focalization gives the reader the highest degree of insight into the interiority of the female character. In fact, “A Calamity” is the mise-en-scene of a minute description of the gradual submission of Sofya to adulterous love after her stoic attempt at resistance. As in “The Lady with the Pet Dog”, the female character is presented as oscillating between passion and duty.

The reiteration of this opposition signifies the author’s perception of nineteenth century Russian women as beings determined by ingrained social conventions. They are frail, ignorant creatures, who are guided more by passion than reason in their actions and who have a high sense of moral duty: “Much of what he said she did not grasp, but what she found attractive about his talk was the temerity with which modern man, casting all hesitation and doubts to the winds, settles great questions once and for all and reaches final conclusions.

She suddenly realized that she was admiring him, and took fright” (66). Like Anna Sergeyevna, Sofya Petrovna does not seem to be in love with her husband as she remarks all his unpleasant features: “My God! ” thought Sofya Petrovna. “I love and respect him, but…why does he chew his food so disgustingly? ” (70). It is significant, however, that her perception of her husband is changed only under Ilyin’s influence. Her confusion is that of a woman who is rather made to believe that she might love Ilyin.

In this story, even if the female character is voiced and the narrative perspective focuses on the description of her feelings, Sofya Petrovna’s actions are actually determined by the two male characters. On the one hand, as we have shown, Ilyin is making her believe that she might be in love with him, in spite of her protests. On the other hand, when she resorts to her husband’s help, his ignorance and indifference lead her to embrace the adulterous affair: “That was her last hope. Receiving no answer, she went out…It was fresh and blowy.

She was conscious neither of the wind nor the darkness, but walked on and on. An irresistible force was driving her forward, and it seemed as though, if she had stopped, it would have pushed her in the back” (77). This final presentation of Sofya’s “agency” shows her under the influence of the male characters. The woman is revealed to be a powerless, frail and unreasoning creature, whose actions and life bear the seal of the masculine primacy. Conclusion In all of the three stories analyzed so far, the manipulation of the viewpoint frames the narratives from the male’s perspective.

The most obvious example occurs in “About Love”, in which the first person narrator, Alyohin presents Anna Luganovich as if he had been in the character’s mind, in a God-like omniscient stance. In “The Lady with the Pet Dog”, although the female character is at times voiced through embedded dialogue, the focus of the perspective remains on the male character, whose interior conflict, as well as his musings on the love affair, are rendered in detail. Of the three stories, “A Calamity” is the one that voices the female character the most, minutely recording her dramatic oscillations between love and marriage.

However, this short story is problematic too because of the predominance of passion in the description of Sofya Petrovna, as well as of her weakness and subordination to the two men who ultimately influence her decisions.

References:

Freedman, John. “Narrative Technique and the Art of Story-Telling in Anton Chekhov’s ‘Little Trilogy’”. South Atlantic Review, vol. 53, no. 1, Jan. 1988, pp. 1-18. Porter, Richard N. “Bunin’s ‘A Sunstroke’ and Chekhov’s ‘Lady with a Dog’”. South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 4, nov. 1977, pp. 51-56. Yarmolinsky, Avraham, ed. The Portable Chekhov. New York: The Viking Press, 1966.