‘The Husband’ by Anton Chekhov

The Husband by Anton Chekhov, 1886

The magic trick:

Telling the story of one married couple but extending the commentary to an entire town at the same time

Deceptive story, this one.

It seems pretty simple. Small town fawns over army officers visiting for the night. Woman is particularly excited and uses their visit as an opportunity to party and dance with them. Her husband gets jealous.

That’s the plot, anyway. But Chekhov is particularly Chekovian in this story with the way he finds all of the subtleties lurking beneath the surface of such interactions and feelings.

This night of jealousy opens up unspoken lifetimes of disappoint and regret. The resulting insecurity and frustration for the married couple opens up commentary on the entire town. It’s truly amazing how such a simple story can say so much about an entire society.

And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.

The selection:

In the course of the maneuvres the N—- cavalry regiment halted for a night at the district town of K—-. Such an event as the visit of officers always has the most exciting and inspiring effect on the inhabitants of provincial towns. The shopkeepers dream of getting rid of the rusty sausages and “best brand” sardines that have been lying for ten years on their shelves; the inns and restaurants keep open all night; the Military Commandant, his secretary, and the local garrison put on their best uniforms; the police flit to and fro like mad, while the effect on the ladies is beyond all description.

The ladies of K—-, hearing the regiment approaching, forsook their pans of boiling jam and ran into the street. Forgetting their morning deshabille and general untidiness, they rushed breathless with excitement to meet the regiment, and listened greedily to the band playing the march. Looking at their pale, ecstatic faces, one might have thought those strains came from some heavenly choir rather than from a military brass band.

“The regiment!” they cried joyfully. “The regiment is coming!”

What could this unknown regiment that came by chance to-day and would depart at dawn to-morrow mean to them?

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