About Love by Anton Chekhov, 1898
The magic trick:
The mention of Pelagea and her love for the abusive cook
The essence of “About Love” is Alehin’s sad story about a love he never had the courage to consummate. So why does Chekhov open with a brief aside about the beautiful Pelagea and her ill-advised love of the ugly and abusive cook? It’s a good question. Let’s discuss.
Chekhov, we know from his famous gun theory, does not waste time with trivialities. Everything he includes in his writing is with tremendous sense of purpose. I’d argue the section about Pelagea and the cook serves two key functions. One, it foreshadows Alehin’s tale of woe by providing a first example of the dangers of failing to take a decisive hand in your own love affairs. And two, it illustrates Alehin’s hypocritical views on love. He is saddened and frustrated by Pelagea’s inability to turn her love toward a more advantageous situation, just as he launches into the story of his own heartache caused by similar weaknesses in himself.
The entire Little Trilogy features characters and their contradictions. No one is immune. We’re all living hypocrisies. These stories do a wonderful job of wrestling with that idea. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
“Luckily or unluckily, there is nothing in our lives that does not end sooner or later. The time of parting came, as Luganovitch was appointed president in one of the western provinces. They had to sell their furniture, their horses, their summer villa. When they drove out to the villa, and afterwards looked back as they were going away, to look for the last time at the garden, at the green roof, every one was sad, and I realized that I had to say goodbye not only to the villa.”