About Love – Anton Chekhov
- Alyohin– narrator/speaker of the story
- Talking with his guests Burkinand Ivan Ivanych about the Russian perspective of love.
- Initiates the story of two servants Nikanor, the cook and the beautiful girl Palageya. It’s like a mismatch of love. The girl Pelageya was so beautiful whereas Nikanor was clumsy, fat and very bad looking.
- Alyohin presents the violent love affair between two servants where the cook Nikanor was a high temper. She didn’t want to marry him but live with him. When he was in drunk; he used to swear and beat her and she would hide in downstair and sob.
- Alyohin analyses the love between the servants. Why did not she fall in love with somebody more like herself inwardly and outwardly? Personal happiness does not count in love and it uncertain and vague as well as mysterious. Love is not the absolute solution of happiness and several questions regarding love are unanswered.
- The speaker continues to state more about love from the Russian perspective. “Russians who are cultivated have a weakness for these questions that remained unanswered. Love is usually poeticized, embellished with roses, nightingales; but we Russians embellish our love with these fatal questions, and choose the least interesting of them, at that.”
- He recalled that he was fallen in love with a girl when he was a student in Moscow but she did not perform the act of love. “When we are in love, we never stop asking ourselves whether it is honourable or dishonourable, sensible or stupid, what this love will lead to, and so on”
- When Alyohin was telling a story about love to his guest; the atmosphere was not good. There was the grey sky and drenched (wet) tree and he was telling a story being so lonely.
- He continued that he returned to his home at Safyino; after graduated from the University and started farming to pay off the debt of his father for his education. While staying in a village; he was a bookish fellow who read The Messenger of Europe.
- He was elected as honorary justice of the peace and went to town for circuit court and met several educated people; lawyers including Luganovich; the assistant president of the circuit court.
- Luganovich invited the Alyohin for dinner where he had an opportunity to meet with Anna Alexeyevna; the wife of Luganovich. Alyohin was fascinated by the beauty of Anna even after she gave birth to a child at the age of 22.
- Both husband and wife were so fond of him. He regularly visited their home for dinner. Alyohin was quite positive to save innocent people from the arson (firing in the house) case in the court.
- Alyohin was restless because of the natural, and elegant beauty of Anna; so he couldn’t stop without meeting her and soon returned to town from his home Safyino. He was in love with her despite the fact that she was married.
- He received the parcel from Anna and remained so much excited. He thought that the Luganovichs understood his loneliness. So they became friends. They also asked him if he required money; they would be happy to help him.
- He said that he was always thinking of Anna why she married the dull and simple-hearted man of over forty and had children for him. Alyohin said the beauty of Anna didn’t match with her husband Luganovich.
- He said that he had loved her tenderly, deeply, but he had reflected and kept asking himself what their love could lead to if they did not have the strength to fight against it.
- Alyohin said that if she said her feeling to him and her husband; the result would be terrible.
- As time rolled on; Anna had two children and the grown-up children hung on his neck saying Uncle Pavel Konstantinovich.
- He recalled that they had gone to the theatre together and watched opera sitting side by side.
- Anna tried to run away from her husband and children and stayed at her mother or sister. It was the dissatisfaction towards her own life and the means of approach to Alyohin.
- They did not utter their love for each other and remained silent.
- Later Luganovich received an appointment in Western Province and they had to sell their villa and everything to go there. Several people were there to bid goodbye to Anna Alexeyevna.
- Alyohin rushed to the station to bid goodbye and to give her the forgotten basket.
- Finally, they met and embraced with burning pain in their hearts. Alyohin finally confesses his love to her. Before they parted forever; he kissed her and pressed her hands. The train was moving and he was wandering here and there in the station and crying.
- At last; according to Alyohin; he went to Sofyino missing her much. Burking and Ivan Ivanych were expressed pity over him whose condition was like the squirrel in the cage.
“About Love” is a famous Russian story written by a famous story-writer, Anton Chekhov. In the story, Chekhov presents the difference between three love stories and tries to prove that “Love” like that is not bound by conjugal relations. He views that love is true and spiritual. Happiness, unhappiness, morality, sin, virtue, social status, class, prestige, etc. have nothing to do with love. Alyohin is the narrator in this story. He had been living as a poor farmer at Sofyino since he graduated from the university. The story begins when the narrator and his two guests-Bufkin and Ivan were having breakfast in a country house. Alyohin told about the violent love affair between his two servants Nikanor and Pelageya. According to the narrator, Pelageya didn’t want to marry Nikanor but she was ready to live with him just so. On the other hand, Nikanor couldn’t stay with her before marriage for religious reasons. Alyohin says that love is a hindrance and a source of dissatisfaction and irritation. To justify his statement, he began his own story.
Alyohin had to work hard at Sofyino to pay off his debt as his father had spent a lot of money on his education by mortgaging the land. Though he was a landowner, Alyohin had to work hard on the farm with his servants. Many years before, he had been elected honorary justice for peace and sometimes he had to go to the town to participate in the court session. Unexpectedly, one of his friends, Luganovich invited him for dinner. There, he was very much attracted by the young and beautiful Ana Alexeyevna, the wife of Luganovich. In the latter days, he frequently visited her and they spent much time together flaking for hours and going to the theatre. Though they couldn’t miss the company of each other, they didn’t express their desires, love and feedings. They hid feelings fearing that it would ruin both of their lives.
At last, as a result of unexpressed feelings, Anna had got mental sickness and she had to go to Crimea for treatment. Many people gathered at the railway station to say goodbye to Anna. When the train started to move, Alyohin ran to Anna with her basket which she had forgotten. Their emotional eyes met together and their spiritual strength couldn’t stop them falling in each other’s arms. They kissed each other and expressed their deep love. However, they parted forever and Alyohin returned to his farmland (village) being sad and he would never meet her again in his life. The true love of Alyohin is the means of living. The moment of her memory often relieved Alyohin in his life.
Questions and Answers:
Q.1. The second paragraph of “About Love” is a brief account of a violent love affair between two servants’. Is it significant that Aloyohin is the source of this anecdote?
Ans: In the second paragraph of the story, Alyohin tells the story of the violent love affair between Nikanor and Pelageya. It is important that Alyohin is the source of this story because in the story Alyohin is not only a character but also the narrator. The whole story revolves around him and his storytelling except slight intervention in the first and last paragraph of the story. As he is the narrator, whatever he tells about others and about himself should be believed without any question. The contrast between the love affair of Nikanor-Pelageya and Alyohin-Anna is clear. In the first love story, hero and heroine belong to socially inferior class whereas, in the second love story, they belong to a socially superior and cultivated class of people. And moreover, the love between the first couple is an ordinary and usual love between a man and women to be materialized by marriage but love between Anna and Alyohin is of higher level, an unusual love which goes beyond the social limitation and matrimonial bonds.
Q.2. How does an account of the occasion and of the setting in which the narrative occurs affect our understanding of Alyohin?
Ans: First two paragraphs of the story provide an appropriate setting to the story. The story starts with an occasion where few friends including Alyohin are having a leisurely time perhaps celebrating their holiday. What they all are doing is eating, drinking and talking. As time goes on, Alyohin starts talking about the love affair between Nikanor and Pelageya and nature of their behaviour. Their conversation turns to the subject of love which leads to the telling of Alyohin’s own love story. Alyohin’s statement about love is very much influenced by his own experience. By telling his own love story, he wants to free love from marital bonds. So, the setting does affect our understanding of Alyohin.
Q.3 An atmosphere of inertia is established in the opening paragraphs of the story. Cite some specific details which help to create this atmosphere. Is this air of indecisive leisure suggested again at the end of the story? What is the connection between this atmosphere and Alyohin’s behaviour with the women he loves, and the outcome of their relationship?
Ans: The story begins with an occasion where few friends are having leisurely time. They are eating, drinking and talking about anything they like. They have already had their breakfast and the cook again comes to ask what they would like for dinner. This occasion helps to create the atmosphere of inertia in the sense that they have nothing special to do except eating, drinking and talking. The same air of leisure is suggested again at the end of the story. As Alyohin is telling the story, the rain stops, the sun comes out and two friends Burkin and Iva go out on the balcony and enjoy a fine view of the garden. The atmosphere was a close connection with Alyohin’s behaviour with the women he loves. Alyohin seems to be a lovely fellow and he is always disturbed by the memory of his beloved Anna. Whenever he has any free time, he can’t help telling his love story to others. This also suggests that he has got life long grief and misery as the outcome if his relationship with Anna.
Q.4. Alyohin is said to rush around like a squirrel in a cage and this judgement is echoed in the final paragraph of the story. What is the significance of this repetition?
Ans: Alyohinis said to rush around like a squirrel in a cage and this judgement is repeated in the final paragraph. This repetition is very much significant. Alyohin is not a common man. He is an educated man with knowledge of the language and intellectual sensibilities. But instead of involving in scholarly activities, he is living a life of a simple farmer which limit the scope of his life. In this sense, the first judgement is made by Luganovich family that he is rushing around like a squirrel in a cage. The same judgement is repeated by his friend when he finishes telling his love story. Alyohin tells his love story so skillfully and beautifully that his friends are greatly impressed by his intelligence and skill. Such a person who can tell stories with such candor, with kindness and intelligence is living the life of an ordinary farmer. So, his friends are sorry for him and make this judgement. The implication is that he should have been an artist, or writer, not an ordinary farmer.
Q.5. Why do you think Chekhov chose to write about an ordinary man instead of a hero or a scholar or actor? Does Chekhov imply anything about Alyohin’s assumption that “Celebrated” people lead more fulfilled lives than the rest of us? Do you agree with Alyohin’s assumption?
Ans: Chekhov chose to write about an ordinary man instead of a hero, or a scholar or an actor in order to present general human nature and possible events that may happen to a man. Even a hero or a scholar or an actor is a man at first, then only comes what he does. And moreover, natural human feelings of love, hatred, anger, emotion, happiness, and grief do not make any difference between celebrated personalities and common and ordinary man. These feelings are common to all. The only thing is that well-educated people may perceive things differently and may better handle in a different way. So, I do not agree with Alyhin’s assumption that only the celebrated people lead more fulfilled lives. Each human attempt kindled with virtue and goodness is heroic in its own way. Chekov also doesn’t imply anything about Alyohin’s assumption because Chekhov has presented the plight of the common ordinary men as opposed to Alyohin’s assumption. Alyohin does not know that he is the hero of the story of his won life.
Q.6. Sketch the character of Alyohin.
Ans: Alyohin is a narrator and central character of the story ‘About Love’. His first-person narrative of his relationship with Anna forms the core of the story. He believes that love is a great mystery and it is different in a different situation. The spiritual love as such is not bound by marital status, age, socioeconomic and moral issues. He regards questions of ethics in love as fatal questions, which are the cause of hindrance, dissatisfaction, and frustration in love. He opines that when one loves one must either think beyond the ethical issues of the love or must not reason at all. Alyohin is a responsible, hardworking and ethical personality. After his graduation from university, he returns to Sofyino and works as a peasant. He is a bookish fellow. In order to pay off the debt his father borrows for his education, he dedicates himself completely in the field instead of searching his career in some kind of scholarly activities. Though he hates such manual work, he has to continue working in the field.
He does not even leave an inch of field unturned. He has to sleep on his feet due to tiredness. In such a condition, he compares himself with a village cat driven by hunger to eat cucumber in the kitchen garden. He comes to a state where nothing is left from his former luxury. Similarly, he is one of the pathetic characters in his affair with Anna. Though like Anna he too intensely loves her, he cannot express his love to her. In the final hour, he expresses his love but it is too late and returns Sofyino with a heavy heart. Anna, her husband Luganovich, and Alyohin’s friends Burkin and Ivan compare Alyohin with a squirrel in a cage. Like a squirrel in a cage, Alyohin is confined in his farmhouse. He has to live like a peasant despite being a university graduate, however with repugnance.
Q.7. Compare the two love affairs described in the story.
Ans: The love between the two servants (Nikanor and Prlageya) is an innocent one, and most possibly based on the physical plane of experience. They frankly express their love with each other and have their own choices about marriage. Possibly they are happy in their love despite certain problems. Their love is not bound by marital relations either. On the other hand, Alyohin’s love is more of a spiritual kind and has less to do with physical passion. Both of them are drawn to each other but they fail to express their love in words till his last meeting with Anna in a train compartment. Their love did not give fullness and satisfaction but the love led toward unhappiness, separation, and pessimism.
Q.8. Describe the circumstances which compelled Alyohin, the narrator of the story, quit the position of the judge.
Ans: After Alyohin was elected as an honorary judge, he fell in love with Anna, the wife of Luganovich. She had a good relationship with her husband. She was young, beautiful, simple and kindhearted. Both Alyohin and Anna were in deep love but they couldn’t express their love. When Anna left the city, Alyohin also gave up his job and started working in his village.