This study will discuss the portrayal of women in five works by Anton Chekhov (four stories and one play), including their strengths and weaknesses, and will consider the historical perspective which such portrayals reflect. Specifically, the study will argue that Chekhov, in these five works, expresses a deep affection for women and an appreciation for the special suffering of women in a Russia rife with male-dominated superficiality and falseness.
In the story "The Name-Day Party," Chekhov focuses on Olga Mihailovna and her relationship with her husband Pyotr. In Olga we see immediately what editor Yarmolinsky means when he writes of Chekhov's portrayal of females: "What splendid women!" We see also a universal, timeless quality to Chekhov's appreciation of women. His works maintain a continuity of appreciation for the humaneness and endurance of women in the face of suffering and patriarchal prejudice that would not be out of place in our own feminist-oriented era. At the same time, Chekhov was neither a conservative nor a liberal politically, but rejected all "theories" meant to generalize about life, choosing instead to put his faith in the people:
His mind was not doctrinal, much less dogmatic. [He wrote in a letter:] "My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and absolute freedom---freedom from violence and falsehood. . . . " He put no stock in classes or institutions, he had no faith in the intelligentsia or the proletariat, or for that matter in the peasantry, although he shared the populists' belief in the essential moral soundness, indeed, superiority, of the masses. It was in the individual that he put his trust.
In these stories, we might say Chekhov puts his faith in individual women. Eschewing ideologies, all of which grew more shrill as social, economic and political conditions deteriorated in a declining nation at the turn of the century, he referred to his era a...