‘A Country Cottage’ by Anton Chekhov: Short Story Analysis
‘A Country Cottage’ is a realistic short story with a hint of a parable-like feel to it penned by the Russian master of short story writing Anton Chekhov. A young newly married couple are happy together in each other’s company even though they are not well off. They cannot afford a holiday abroad for their honeymoon and so spend it roaming around a country station with arms and bodies wrapped around each other. They are in marital bliss. So happy are they that they don’t notice each other’s faults and are blissfully unaware of the responsibilities that would entail in the future as a married Christian couple. They are jolted back to this realization by the untimely appearance of Sasha’s uncle’s family. Sasha’s uncle’s family is a large one depicting the future that awaited Sasha and Varya in the later stages of their marriage. Sasha and Varya are so annoyed that their peaceful life has been disrupted by these intruders and start finding fault with each other. Thus, the uncle’s family arrival was a foreboding to the young couple of their soon-to-be future, which they could not digest.
There is only one supernatural element in this story, titled ‘A Country Cottage’, which is the moon’s depiction. The moon is considered to be watching over Varya and Sasha and is jealous of their initial happy state because they have each other while she is alone in the world. The moon lives a life of celibacy or permanent virginity, which brings her nothing but unhappiness and a sense of terrible loneliness. The moon especially feels lonely and jealous when she sees the couple arm-in-arm roaming about the country station. They are happy enough with their circumstances and see beauty even in things that would otherwise not seem elegant or worthy of praise. For example, the copse or a small group of trees in the station and the dull telegraph posts; Varya, in her heightened excited and tranquil condition, feels she sees beauty and charm in the country wind and the station’s telegraph poles. Sasha, her husband, accepts whatever Varya says and is at peace with her.
Sasha and Varya were happy until the uncle’s family’s arrival brought the reality and responsibilities of marriage to their notice. The uncle’s family comprised:
- Two girls.
- Two school-going boys.
- A stout wife.
- A governess.
- A grandmother.
On seeing the uncle’s battalion, Sasha and Varya realize that it would ruin their peaceful life in the country cottage. This premonition gets them throwing accusations at each other, thus spoiling their relationship, probably forever, till the end of their marital existence. The only person who is happy with the whole charade is the virgin moon, who takes heart as she realizes that she is indeed luckier than mortals. At least she does not have to entertain relatives, especially gatecrashers like the uncle’s family.
Sasha and Varya were the epitomai of what it means to be a happy couple before the arrival of the uncle’s family. They were satisfied with their meager food of chicken for two, salad, sardines, and salmon. In fact, for only two people, this fare of food is good enough. Their small three-roomed cottage, their little garden of flowers, and meager furnishings were just suitable for their simple way of life as a young, newly married couple. However, with the arrival of the uncle’s family, Sasha and Varya suddenly see the lack in their home settings which anger them and make them attack each other verbally. Sasha attacks Varya telling her that the family had come to stay at the cottage because of her. Varya, on the other hand, acidly mentions that they were Sasha’s relatives and that it was his fault for inviting them to their tiny home.
As the narration and description of Anton Chekhov show, the uncle’s family is the typical family of contemporary urban Russia. Most probably, the uncle’s family lived in the city or town and had taken Sasha’s open invitation too seriously that they were ready to gatecrash on the couple’s personal space. The uncle’s family does so because they feel a married couple needs to get to know their relatives, and since they were newly married, they should be ready to expect guests. In most countries in Asia, like Russia of the late nineteenth century, it is customary for relatives to arrive unannounced at other people’s homes; it still takes place in my country India. However, I don’t entertain guests of any kind. I live the life of a solitary recluse with 32,000 books on my premises. To learn more about my life in books and with books, you can check out my memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai on my blog’s products page. If you want to know what hand Anton Chekhov had in making me a recluse, you can check out my blog post Living a life like Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Bet’.
The uncle’s family mirror what will happen to Varya and Sasha soon:
- Sasha would be burdened with running the household and grow grey early and become extremely thin, giving in to his wife and children’s extravagances.
- Varya would lose her beauty and become stout and obese after several pregnancies and a life full of household chores and problems making two ends meet. All this with no one lending a listening ear to her woes.
- Varya and Sasha would have at least four children, who would be handfuls to bring up in the newfangled Russia of the late nineteenth century. They would need the help of a governess to teach their children and to take care of them wherever they went. They would even have to house the governess on their premises. They would have to see to the children’s proper upbringing and their school materials.
- Since they would be a young couple, they would need an elderly grandmother who would be carted with them wherever they would go. The grandmother would have her notions about running a household and would undoubtedly be a pain to Varya, who seems independent-minded.
- They would not be living with meager furniture and requirements. The addition of children into the family indicated that they would need more things and the parents would enter midlife with the cares of life on their heads.
The moon is glad to see the change in Varya and Sasha’s relationship and beams brightly upon their latest issue with the uncle’s family. Varya and Sasha will have to learn to have patience with the uncle’s family and realize that they too would want to have a holiday in the future and would undoubtedly gatecrash a family as well. Notice in the story how the uncle thinks that the couple was there at the station waiting for his family when in reality they were roaming about enjoying their privacy. Yet, Varya and Sasha are on their best behavior and welcome their uncle’s family to their country cottage. We realize that the uncle’s family has come to the country cottage because they want a break from city life and to rest in the country, even if it is only for three to four days, as mentioned in the text.
Note that the stout aunt mentions in her woes that her father was Baron von Fintech. This means that she was once part of the aristocratic class in Russian and married a poor man; probably theirs was a love marriage. The very fact that she keeps on talking about her father’s noble lineage indicates how insecure she was and how she missed her old life amongst the elite circles of society. The story ends with Varya and Sasha resignedly letting the uncle’s family into their cottage, realizing that the ‘honeymoon’ period of their marriage was over and it was back to reality. They had not just married each other but each other’s families.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. I have reviewed a few other short stories by Chekhov, which you can check out here. I have Anton Chekhov’s entire short story collection and hope to analyze more of his short stories soon.
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