Find today 2050 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/067.html
The chemist’s wife in today’s story feels like a familiar Chekhov character. She is miserable, but can’t pinpoint the reason. “She felt bored, depressed, vexed . . . so vexed that she felt quite inclined to cry — again she did not know why.” In the course of the story, she does find out the reason, having it spelled out first by overhearing two soldiers talk about her marriage and then spending an enjoyable time with the men, drinking and accepting their flattery — something that she won’t get from her husband. What is even more sad about the young and pretty chemist’s wife is that she is only known as “the chemist’s wife” through the entire story. The same could be said about the “corpulent and swarthy” doctor, but the other two characters in the story, Tchernomordik, the chemist and Obtyosov, the “supple as an English whip” officer, are named. Suffering from insomnia before the officers’ visit, I’m afraid that the chemist’s wife will spend many more sleepless nights wondering what could have been if she she had not married the chemist with “the jawbone of an ass” and, possibly, what would have happened if had she opened the door the second time “the bell tinkled discretely.” Now that she knows why she is miserable and tasting for a brief moment joy that she cannot regularly have, her unhappiness has undoubtedly multiplied.
Today’s story revisits a familiar theme of Chekhov and was reminiscent of “The Witch” and “The Huntsman” in which the wife of the story is unhappily married. Here she is known anonymously as the “chemist’s wife” in “the little town of B—“. Watching her husband sleep as dawn approaches while “a greedy flea” stabs his nose, she has tossed and turned with an unidentified depression and sense of boredom. Her husband snores solemnly while dreaming of riches wherein it is noted that “he could not have been wakened now by pinpricks or by cannon or by caresses.” This is fortunate for the wife who hears men approaching outside and is more than eager to have company. We are introduced to an officer and a doctor who speak loud enough outside for the chemist’s wife to overhear their admiration of her and insults of her husband. When they finally decide to make excuses to visit the pharmacy, the wife hastily got dressed to meet them. She enjoys their flirtations and imbibes wine at their urging. Her previous depression was lifted as the three of them continue into morning. As they leave, the wife returns to her room to watch them depart and is pleased to see the officer return. Unfortunately, upon the second calling, the chemist is awakened by the “discreet” bell and foils any second chances his wife may have had at happiness. As her unhappiness returns along with bitter tears, she laments the boring realities of her eternal matrimony. I wonder if by not naming the wife and by placing the location of the story in an abbreviated town, Chekhov means to highlight a generalizable aspect of marriage and the allure of infidelity? If the spouse is resigned to a life of monotony and/or subservience (e.g. the chemist’s wife and Raïssa in “The Witch“), might it be justified for them to be desirous of an alternative? If it is not justified then why don’t we demonize the spouse and defend the husband in these stories? The truth is that I feel sorry for the chemist’s wife (and Raïssa). They seem to deserve better men and better men seem to appear on their doorstep (quite literally). Perhaps the lesson here is not for “The Witch” or “The Chemist’s Wife”…but for the husband.