About Love by Anton Chekhov
Translated by Constance Garnett
AT lunch next day there were very nice pies, crayfish, and mutton cutlets;
and while we were eating, Nikanor, the cook, came up to ask what the
visitors would like for dinner. He was a man of medium height, with a
puffy face and little eyes; he was close-shaven, and it looked as though
his moustaches had not been shaved, but had been pulled out by the roots.
Alehin told us that the beautiful Pelagea was in love with this cook. As
he drank and was of a violent character, she did not want to marry him,
but was willing to live with him without. He was very devout, and his
religious convictions would not allow him to "live in sin"; he insisted on
her marrying him, and would consent to nothing else, and when he was drunk
he used to abuse her and even beat her. Whenever he got drunk she used to
hide upstairs and sob, and on such occasions Alehin and the servants
stayed in the house to be ready to defend her in case of necessity.
We began talking about love.
"How love is born," said Alehin, "why Pelagea does not love somebody more
like herself in her spiritual and external qualities, and why she fell in
love with Nikanor, that ugly snout—we all call him 'The Snout'—how
far questions of personal happiness are of consequence in love—all
that is known; one can take what view one likes of it. So far only one
incontestable truth has been uttered about love: 'This is a great
mystery.' Everything else that has been written or said about love is not
a conclusion, but only a statement of questions which have remained
unanswered. The explanation which would seem to fit one case does not
apply in a dozen others, and the very best thing, to my mind, would be to
explain every case individually without attempting to generalize. We
ought, as the doctors say, to individualize each case."
"Perfectly true," Burkin assented.
"We Russians of the educated class have a partiality for these questions
that remain unanswered. Love is usually poeticized, decorated with roses,
nightingales; we Russians decorate our loves with these momentous
questions, and select the most uninteresting of them, too. In Moscow, when
I was a student, I had a friend who shared my life, a charming lady, and
every time I took her in my arms she was thinking what I would allow her a
month for housekeeping and what was the price of beef a pound. In the same
way, when we are in love we are never tired of asking ourselves questions:
whether it is honourable or dishonourable, sensible or stupid, what this
love is leading up to, and so on. Whether it is a good thing or not I
don't know, but that it is in the way, unsatisfactory, and irritating, I
It looked as though he wanted to tell some story. People who lead a
solitary existence always have something in their hearts which they are
eager to talk about. In town bachelors visit the baths and the restaurants
on purpose to talk, and sometimes tell the most interesting things to bath
attendants and waiters; in the country, as a rule, they unbosom themselves
to their guests. Now from the window we could see a grey sky, trees
drenched in the rain; in such weather we could go nowhere, and there was
nothing for us to do but to tell stories and to listen.
"I have lived at Sofino and been farming for a long time," Alehin began,
"ever since I left the University. I am an idle gentleman by education, a
studious person by disposition; but there was a big debt owing on the
estate when I came here, and as my father was in debt partly because he
had spent so much on my education, I resolved not to go away, but to work
till I paid off the debt. I made up my mind to this and set to work, not,
I must confess, without some repugnance. The land here does not yield
much, and if one is not to farm at a loss one must employ serf labour or
hired labourers, which is almost the same thing, or put it on a peasant
footing—that is, work the fields oneself and with one's family.
There is no middle path. But in those days I did not go into such
subtleties. I did not leave a clod of earth unturned; I gathered together
all the peasants, men and women, from the neighbouring villages; the work
went on at a tremendous pace. I myself ploughed and sowed and reaped, and
was bored doing it, and frowned with disgust, like a village cat driven by
hunger to eat cucumbers in the kitchen-garden. My body ached, and I slept
as I walked. At first it seemed to me that I could easily reconcile this
life of toil with my cultured habits; to do so, I thought, all that is
necessary is to maintain a certain external order in life. I established
myself upstairs here in the best rooms, and ordered them to bring me there
coffee and liquor after lunch and dinner, and when I went to bed I read
every night the Yyesnik Evropi. But one day our priest, Father
Ivan, came and drank up all my liquor at one sitting; and the Yyesnik
Evropi went to the priest's daughters; as in the summer, especially at
the haymaking, I did not succeed in getting to my bed at all, and slept in
the sledge in the barn, or somewhere in the forester's lodge, what chance
was there of reading? Little by little I moved downstairs, began dining in
the servants' kitchen, and of my former luxury nothing is left but the
servants who were in my father's service, and whom it would be painful to
"In the first years I was elected here an honourary justice of the peace.
I used to have to go to the town and take part in the sessions of the
congress and of the circuit court, and this was a pleasant change for me.
When you live here for two or three months without a break, especially in
the winter, you begin at last to pine for a black coat. And in the circuit
court there were frock-coats, and uniforms, and dress-coats, too, all
lawyers, men who have received a general education; I had some one to talk
to. After sleeping in the sledge and dining in the kitchen, to sit in an
arm-chair in clean linen, in thin boots, with a chain on one's waistcoat,
is such luxury!
"I received a warm welcome in the town. I made friends eagerly. And of all
my acquaintanceships the most intimate and, to tell the truth, the most
agreeable to me was my acquaintance with Luganovitch, the vice-president
of the circuit court. You both know him: a most charming personality. It
all happened just after a celebrated case of incendiarism; the preliminary
investigation lasted two days; we were exhausted. Luganovitch looked at me
"'Look here, come round to dinner with me.'
"This was unexpected, as I knew Luganovitch very little, only officially,
and I had never been to his house. I only just went to my hotel room to
change and went off to dinner. And here it was my lot to meet Anna
Alexyevna, Luganovitch's wife. At that time she was still very young, not
more than twenty-two, and her first baby had been born just six months
before. It is all a thing of the past; and now I should find it difficult
to define what there was so exceptional in her, what it was in her
attracted me so much; at the time, at dinner, it was all perfectly clear
to me. I saw a lovely young, good, intelligent, fascinating woman, such as
I had never met before; and I felt her at once some one close and already
familiar, as though that face, those cordial, intelligent eyes, I had seen
somewhere in my childhood, in the album which lay on my mother's chest of
"Four Jews were charged with being incendiaries, were regarded as a gang
of robbers, and, to my mind, quite groundlessly. At dinner I was very much
excited, I was uncomfortable, and I don't know what I said, but Anna
Alexyevna kept shaking her head and saying to her husband:
"'Dmitry, how is this?'
"Luganovitch is a good-natured man, one of those simple-hearted people who
firmly maintain the opinion that once a man is charged before a court he
is guilty, and to express doubt of the correctness of a sentence cannot be
done except in legal form on paper, and not at dinner and in private
"'You and I did not set fire to the place,' he said softly, 'and you see
we are not condemned, and not in prison.'
"And both husband and wife tried to make me eat and drink as much as
possible. From some trifling details, from the way they made the coffee
together, for instance, and from the way they understood each other at
half a word, I could gather that they lived in harmony and comfort, and
that they were glad of a visitor. After dinner they played a duet on the
piano; then it got dark, and I went home. That was at the beginning of
"After that I spent the whole summer at Sofino without a break, and I had
no time to think of the town, either, but the memory of the graceful
fair-haired woman remained in my mind all those days; I did not think of
her, but it was as though her light shadow were lying on my heart.
"In the late autumn there was a theatrical performance for some charitable
object in the town. I went into the governor's box (I was invited to go
there in the interval); I looked, and there was Anna Alexyevna sitting
beside the governor's wife; and again the same irresistible, thrilling
impression of beauty and sweet, caressing eyes, and again the same feeling
of nearness. We sat side by side, then went to the foyer.
"'You've grown thinner,' she said; 'have you been ill?'
"'Yes, I've had rheumatism in my shoulder, and in rainy weather I can't
"'You look dispirited. In the spring, when you came to dinner, you were
younger, more confident. You were full of eagerness, and talked a great
deal then; you were very interesting, and I really must confess I was a
little carried away by you. For some reason you often came back to my
memory during the summer, and when I was getting ready for the theatre
today I thought I should see you.'
"And she laughed.
"'But you look dispirited today,' she repeated; 'it makes you seem older.'
"The next day I lunched at the Luganovitchs'. After lunch they drove out
to their summer villa, in order to make arrangements there for the winter,
and I went with them. I returned with them to the town, and at midnight
drank tea with them in quiet domestic surroundings, while the fire glowed,
and the young mother kept going to see if her baby girl was asleep. And
after that, every time I went to town I never failed to visit the
Luganovitchs. They grew used to me, and I grew used to them. As a rule I
went in unannounced, as though I were one of the family.
"'Who is there?' I would hear from a faraway room, in the drawling voice
that seemed to me so lovely.
"'It is Pavel Konstantinovitch,' answered the maid or the nurs e.
"Anna Alexyevna would come out to me with an anxious face, and would ask
"'Why is it so long since you have been? Has anything happened?'
"Her eyes, the elegant refined hand she gave me, her indoor dress, the way
she did her hair, her voice, her step, always produced the same impression
on me of something new and extraordinary in my life, and very important.
We talked together for hours, were silent, thinking each our own thoughts,
or she played for hours to me on the piano. If there were no one at home I
stayed and waited, talked to the nurse, played with the child, or lay on
the sofa in the study and read; and when Anna Alexyevna came back I met
her in the hall, took all her parcels from her, and for some reason I
carried those parcels every time with as much love, with as much
solemnity, as a boy.
"There is a proverb that if a peasant woman has no troubles she will buy a
pig. The Luganovitchs had no troubles, so they made friends with me. If I
did not come to the town I must be ill or something must have happened to
me, and both of them were extremely anxious. They were worried that I, an
educated man with a knowledge of languages, should, instead of devoting
myself to science or literary work, live in the country, rush round like a
squirrel in a rage, work hard with never a penny to show for it. They
fancied that I was unhappy, and that I only talked, laughed, and ate to
conceal my sufferings, and even at cheerful moments when I felt happy I
was aware of their searching eyes fixed upon me. They were particularly
touching when I really was depressed, when I was being worried by some
creditor or had not money enough to pay interest on the proper day. The
two of them, husband and wife, would whisper together at the window; then
he would come to me and say with a grave face:
"'If you really are in need of money at the moment, Pavel
Konstantinovitch, my wife and I beg you not to hesitate to borrow from
"And he would blush to his ears with emotion. And it would happen that,
after whispering in the same way at the window, he would come up to me,
with red ears, and say:
"'My wife and I earnestly beg you to accept this present.'
"And he would give me studs, a cigar-case, or a lamp, and I would send
them game, butter, and flowers from the country. They both, by the way,
had considerable means of their own. In early days I often borrowed money,
and was not very particular about it—borrowed wherever I could—but
nothing in the world would have induced me to borrow from the
Luganovitchs. But why talk of it?
"I was unhappy. At home, in the fields, in the barn, I thought of her; I
tried to understand the mystery of a beautiful, intelligent young woman's
marrying some one so uninteresting, almost an old man (her husband was
over forty), and having children by him; to understand the mystery of this
uninteresting, good, simple-hearted man, who argued with such wearisome
good sense, at balls and evening parties kept near the more solid people,
looking listless and superfluous, with a submissive, uninterested
expression, as though he had been brought there for sale, who yet believed
in his right to be happy, to have children by her; and I kept trying to
understand why she had met him first and not me, and why such a terrible
mistake in our lives need have happened.
"And when I went to the town I saw every time from her eyes that she was
expecting me, and she would confess to me herself that she had had a
peculiar feeling all that day and had guessed that I should come. We
talked a long time, and were silent, yet we did not confess our love to
each other, but timidly and jealously concealed it. We were afraid of
everything that might reveal our secret to ourselves. I loved her
tenderly, deeply, but I reflected and kept asking myself what our love
could lead to if we had not the strength to fight against it. It seemed to
be incredible that my gentle, sad love could all at once coarsely break up
the even tenor of the life of her husband, her children, and all the
household in which I was so loved and trusted. Would it be honourable? She
would go away with me, but where? Where could I take her? It would have
been a different matter if I had had a beautiful, interesting life—if,
for instance, I had been struggling for the emancipation of my country, or
had been a celebrated man of science, an artist or a painter; but as it
was it would mean taking her from one everyday humdrum life to another as
humdrum or perhaps more so. And how long would our happiness last? What
would happen to her in case I was ill, in case I died, or if we simply
grew cold to one another?
"And she apparently reasoned in the same way. She thought of her husband,
her children, and of her mother, who loved the husband like a son. If she
abandoned herself to her feelings she would have to lie, or else to tell
the truth, and in her position either would have been equally terrible and
inconvenient. And she was tormented by the question whether her love would
bring me happiness—would she not complicate my life, which, as it
was, was hard enough and full of all sorts of trouble? She fancied she was
not young enough for me, that she was not industrious nor energetic enough
to begin a new life, and she often talked to her husband of the importance
of my marrying a girl of intelligence and merit who would be a capable
housewife and a help to me—and she would immediately add that it
would be difficult to find such a girl in the whole town.
"Meanwhile the years were passing. Anna Alexyevna already had two
children. When I arrived at the Luganovitchs' the servants smiled
cordially, the children shouted that Uncle Pavel Konstantinovitch had
come, and hung on my neck; every one was overjoyed. They did not
understand what was passing in my soul, and thought that I, too, was
happy. Every one looked on me as a noble being. And grown-ups and children
alike felt that a noble being was walking about their rooms, and that gave
a peculiar charm to their manner towards me, as though in my presence
their life, too, was purer and more beautiful. Anna Alexyevna and I used
to go to the theatre together, always walking there; we used to sit side
by side in the stalls, our shoulders touching. I would take the
opera-glass from her hands without a word, and feel at that minute that
she was near me, that she was mine, that we could not live without each
other; but by some strange misunderstanding, when we came out of the
theatre we always said good-bye and parted as though we were strangers.
Goodness knows what people were saying about us in the town already, but
there was not a word of truth in it all!
"In the latter years Anna Alexyevna took to going away for frequent visits
to her mother or to her sister; she began to suffer from low spirits, she
began to recognize that her life was spoilt and unsatisfied, and at times
she did not care to see her husband nor her children. She was already
being treated for neurasthenia.
"We were silent and still silent, and in the presence of outsiders she
displayed a strange irritation in regard to me; whatever I talked about,
she disagreed with me, and if I had an argument she sided with my
opponent. If I dropped anything, she would say coldly:
"'I congratulate you.'
"If I forgot to take the opera-glass when we were going to the theatre,
she would say afterwards:
"'I knew you would forget it.'
"Luckily or unluckily, there is nothing in our lives that does not end
sooner or later. The time of parting came, as Luganovitch was appointed
president in one of the western provinces. They had to sell their
furniture, their horses, their summer villa. When they drove out to the
villa, and afterwards looked back as they were going away, to look for the
last time at the garden, at the green roof, every one was sad, and I
realized that I had to say goodbye not only to the villa. It was arranged
that at the end of August we should see Anna Alexyevna off to the Crimea,
where the doctors were sending her, and that a little later Luganovitch
and the children would set off for the western province.
"We were a great crowd to see Anna Alexyevna off. When she had said
good-bye to her husband and her children and there was only a minute left
before the third bell, I ran into her compartment to put a basket, which
she had almost forgotten, on the rack, and I had to say good-bye. When our
eyes met in the compartment our spiritual fortitude deserted us both; I
took her in my arms, she pressed her face to my breast, and tears flowed
from her eyes. Kissing her face, her shoulders, her hands wet with tears—oh,
how unhappy we were!—I confessed my love for her, and with a burning
pain in my heart I realized how unnecessary, how petty, and how deceptive
all that had hindered us from loving was. I understood that when you love
you must either, in your reasonings about that love, start from what is
highest, from what is more important than happiness or unhappiness, sin or
virtue in their accepted meaning, or you must not reason at all.
"I kissed her for the last time, pressed her hand, and parted for ever.
The train had already started. I went into the next compartment—it
was empty—and until I reached the next station I sat there crying.
Then I walked home to Sofino...."
While Alehin was telling his story, the rain left off and the sun came
out. Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch went out on the balcony, from which there
was a beautiful view over the garden and the mill-pond, which was shining
now in the sunshine like a mirror. They admired it, and at the same time
they were sorry that this man with the kind, clever eyes, who had told
them this story with such genuine feeling, should be rushing round and
round this huge estate like a squirrel on a wheel instead of devoting
himself to science or something else which would have made his life more
pleasant; and they thought what a sorrowful face Anna Alexyevna must have
had when he said good-bye to her in the railway-carriage and kissed her
face and shoulders. Both of them had met her in the town, and Burkin knew
her and thought her beautiful.