Today’s story is 2015 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/040.html
I was fairly disappointed with this story, expecting more. At first I thought this would be the story of an opera singer and her daughter reunited. Like Chekhov was going against type with a tale of a selfless diva. But the daughter never shows up again after the first paragraph. It’s basically a dialogue about a drunken husband trying to swing a big deal (importing sausage casings to big cities) and the opera singer trying to get him to shut up so she can sleep. After he leaves, their situation is revealed: how he had a stable job and hated her being a singer, but forgave her and quit his job when the money came in. I don’t understand the ending when she yelled at the mare d’elle (husband of her) while he was undressing in the next room. It was strange and unusual that there was a another man with him. I don’t think this was homoerotic encounter considering the husband snores a few moments later. The sad truth is, whatever it was, I didn’t care all that much to explore it further.
Fame does not come cheap, especially for Natalya who must endure the high cost of being married to her drunkard of a husband, mari d’elle, Denis. Natalya is a famous singer and although her and her husband came from meager backgrounds, they are both living the high-life that fame affords. The story opens with Natalya dreamily wishing to be reunited with her daughter who lives “far away with her grandmother or aunt.” The fact that she is unclear of where her daughter actually lives is perhaps a testament to how often she gets to enjoy motherhood or how sincere are her reunion wishes. As she dozes, her drunken husband enters the room with “a whiff of cold air and a smell of brandy.” He has yet another money making scheme to discuss at the most inappropriate time. He wishes to import sausage skins from the Caucasus and sell them for profit to local merchants. He is apparently full of ideas and asserts “with capital even out of cigarette ends one may make a million.” Noticing that this idea has failed to peak her interest, he pursues another route by discussing the possibility of opening his own theater for her act. She is tired and berates him for his drunkenness and inappropriate nature. He storms off suddenly and leaves her to sleep. Laying there, her mind drifts to happier moments in their past when it was enough for him to make a decent salary. She reminds herself that her fame came amid his protest but he was quick to “forgive” her when the papers began reporting how much she was getting paid. He left his book-keeping job to join her where he quickly learned the ways of wealth and acquired new tastes for oysters, Burgundies, and fashionable dress. His taste for wealth had grown insatiable. Just as she was about to sleep again, her mari d’elle barges in once more. Having just relived the truth behind her self-made success, she finds new courage to curse his drunken state. She threatens to leave when he quietly ignores her outburst. Only then does she discover that he has a guest she had not noticed before…a provincial manager who she originally mistakes for an actor. Embarrassed by the circumstances she shrieks and returns to her room. Mari d’elle ends the story with a nod to the power of money and a final snore. We never find out what happens to the provincial manager…or if that was indeed his true title. Chekhov leaves a lot of doors open on this story. To be honest, I’m not sure I want to go in to any of the rooms. The pathology runs deep in this marriage.