The Darling by Anton Chekhov, 1899
The magic trick:
Maintaining a fairly comedic tone throughout until a surprisingly dark ending sentence
And here I thought I was reading a comedy.
Granted, people are dying throughout “The Darling,” but, trust me, it’s pretty funny. The protagonist, our darling, is incapable of developing her own interests or opinions. So, watching her inherit as her own each subsequent lover’s areas of expertise is amusing.
Clearly, Chekhov has more important themes about gender and society running throughout as well. Still, I was not prepared for the story’s final sentences. Yikes.
There are many, many ways to interpret Sasha’s dream. I won’t even wrestle with that task here. I’d only make an idiot of myself. Sufficed to say, it’s a remarkable thing to see an author be so in command of tone that he can isolate humor and dark human truths on two totally separate planes throughout a single story and succeed equally on both fronts. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
Pustovalov and Olenka got on very well together when they were married.
Usually he sat in the office till dinner-time, then he went out on business, while Olenka took his place, and sat in the office till evening, making up accounts and booking orders.
“Timber gets dearer every year; the price rises twenty per cent,” she would say to her customers and friends. “Only fancy we used to sell local timber, and now Vassitchka always has to go for wood to the Mogilev district. And the freight!” she would add, covering her cheeks with her hands in horror. “The freight!”
It seemed to her that she had been in the timber trade for ages and ages, and that the most important and necessary thing in life was timber; and there was something intimate and touching to her in the very sound of words such as “baulk,” “post,” “beam,” “pole,” “scantling,” “batten,” “lath,” “plank,” etc.
At night when she was asleep she dreamed of perfect mountains of planks and boards, and long strings of wagons, carting timber somewhere far away. She dreamed that a whole regiment of six-inch beams forty feet high, standing on end, was marching upon the timber-yard; that logs, beams, and boards knocked together with the resounding crash of dry wood, kept falling and getting up again, piling themselves on each other. Olenka cried out in her sleep, and Pustovalov said to her tenderly: “Olenka, what’s the matter, darling? Cross yourself!”
I enjoyed this story and posted about it as part of my inaugural Deal Me In project back in 2011. I’ll have to revisit it now as I don’t remember the last few sentences taking such a turn. :-). My post about it is at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/anton-chekhovs-short-story-the-darling/ if you’re interested in my thoughts back then.