Today’s story, the last one written between 1882-1885, has 1524 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/041.html
Chekhov starts today’s story as if he is writing a fantasy tale using elements of Lewis Carroll or the Brothers Grimm. Nellie, “a young and pretty girl, dreaming day and night of being married,” gazes into a looking-glass. In the mirror her future husband emerges and they live together through days and months in fast forward, yet she sees “her future distinctly in all its details.” The story jumps to Nellie banging on a doctor’s door, trying to get him to aid her ailing husband. Once inside the house, the story seems more Chekhovian. The exhausted doctor is coming down with typhus and tries to reject Nellie’s pleading to help save her husband, but she is persistent and threatens to take him to court. What I found interesting was the details given to the doctor, Stephan Lukitch, but absolutely none to the husband. After they arrive at Nellie’s house, she leaves to see to her husband, but the readers stay with the doctor. Running out the door to fetch another doctor after Lukitch becomes delirious, an overwhelming vision of poverty, creditor dodging, death of children and misery overwhelms her. This similar form of compression was used on the front end of the story, but this time much darker. Looking into her husband’s dead face, she asks, “Why is it, what is it for?” She muses further in the next sentence: “And all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid prelude to this.” Yikes. Those nihilistic thoughts make me wonder if Chekhov was reading Nietzsche around this time. Even though Chekhov returns to the girl to her present state after she drops the looking-glass, I can’t help but think that this is the most bleak and pessimistic story that Chekhov has told so far. Even though he often shows people in sorrow and misery, there is still a glimmer of humanity. No so in this looking-glass.
What dreams may come to those with passion? Chekhov introduces us to Nellie, a young and pretty girl, who dreams of being married. It is New Year’s Eve and we find her staring in to the looking-glass in her room. Half-asleep she begins to see a future in the mirror with her spouse…her “destined one.” The details of her life fly by until at last they settle on a particular night in the future when she is searching for a doctor to care for her sick husband. As is more typical of a nightmare, she struggles to convince the provincial doctor to forget his own illness and fatigue to come care for her husband. He eventually gives in only to fall into delirium himself shortly after the trek back to her home. She begins to leave so that she can find the next town’s doctor when the drunkenness of sleep takes hold and changes the scenery. Now she is experiencing the financial troubles of married life as she watches her husband struggle to pay the mortgage. She also sees her children and the inevitable illness and death that accompany them. Finally, she sees the death of her husband and experiences his funeral in excruciating detail…down to the “footmarks in the hall made by the undertaker.” Then the realization sinks in…“what is it for?” Suddenly, “all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid prelude to [his death].” Having reached this conclusion, she is startled awake as one of the looking-glasses fall to the ground. We are left to ponder what new insight has come to Nellie with this vision of the future. Was it a dream or a nightmare for her? Dreams usually stoke passions while nightmares may extinguish hope. It’s difficult to say the path she will choose–one of solitary isolation away from the troubles of marriage and children or one of trials and tribulations that come with holy matrimony. It’s interesting that we know more about Nellie’s future spouse (fictitious though he may be) than we do about her. We know her only through interpretation of her anxieties and the brief introduction Chekhov gives in the opening lines. Nevertheless, I suspect that she will continue the pursuit of marriage. After all, Chekhov neglected to make her husband an alcoholic.