‘A Daughter of Albion’ by Anton Chekhov: Short Story Analysis
‘A Daughter of Albion’ is a short story hitting out at the free-spirited and broad-minded British of the nineteenth century. The word ‘Albion’ indicates someone belonging to Great Britain or England. In this story penned by Anton Chekhov, one of the greatest short story writers of the nineteenth century, a British governess is ridiculed by her cynical employer, who is infatuated with her. Her married employer is in a sexual relationship with her despite having a wife and children. He loves spending time with this free-spirited and haughty governess who looks down upon the Russian’s backwardness. Because of her, he has taken to fishing all day without caring for his job, family, or friends. Chekhov uses subtle and brazen sexual innuendos to bring out the feelings Gryabov, the landowner, has for Fyce, the British governess.
Gryabov is sexually possessed by Fyce and loves spending hours fishing or angling with her. His friend, Otsov, a nobleman, tries to talk him out of the hobby and spend time with him over a drink of vodka. However, one realizes from the story that even Otsov is sexually fascinated by Fyce and her self-assuredness as she disdainfully looks on at the two lewd Russian men. Gryabov is madly lustful after Fyce. She seems indifferent to the abuses he heaps upon her in Russian. Gryabov mentions that even though Fyce has been ten years in Russia, she has not learned the language. In comparison, a Russian who visited or settled in England learned English much more quickly than Fyce, who had made no effort to understand or comprehend Russian.
We realize that other than the sexual nature, the theme running through ‘A Daughter of Albion’ is the stereotyped image Russians had about English or British women. Through the words of Gryabov and Otsov, we see the image the Russians had about the British:
- They felt the British had no emotions and looked upon people of other nations or regions as inferior to themselves.
- They were emotionless and had no expressions.
- The British woman was emancipated to such an extent that they could live as spinsters until they were old and were still termed maidens.
- The British spinster was sexually active but could still dream of suitors to marry who need not necessarily be the men they were sleeping with.
- The British woman was so broad-minded that nothing could shock them, not even if a man stripped naked in front of them. That is what Gryabov does towards the latter half of the story.
- The British were fastidious, never prone to feeling ashamed or shy of anyone, and were well-educated.
- The British were sexually liberated.
- The British did not feel any other culture was better than their own. That is why Fyce never learned a word of Russian while staying with Gryabov.
Gryabov speaks very disparagingly of Fyce throughout the story, which only titillates Otsov. Both the men are perverts who consider women like Fyce not to be true women. For such men, their Russian women were honorable while ‘the daughters of Albion’ or England were as good as prostitutes or even worse. One finds the story hard to chew, and there is a prejudice towards liberated women on the part of Chekhov that one cannot ignore here in this story. We know this because otherwise, there is no meaning to the tale. The idea behind the story was to make it sound humorous, but as mentioned in the book How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton, stories meaning can evolve. Tales of the past can convey different meanings to the era or people that are reading them. Probably Chekhov was taking a dig at the British single woman, which now comes across as lewd, sexually biased, and highly provocative. I have reviewed Terry Eagleton’s book, which you can check out for your reference. I have also analyzed many more Anton Chekhov’s short stories that you can check out and read.
The story is riddled with sexual perversity. Notice how Gryabov describes Fyce’s nose as a hook indicating that she is a ‘fisher-of-men’ waiting to copulate with them. He calls her an ugly doll or the devil’s doll, indicating her arrogant and independent nature in bed. Chekhov keeps on describing the looks Fyce gives Gryabov and Otsov as ‘disdainful’. Now, disdainful means showing contempt or lack of respect. Women in Chekhov’s time had to respect their husbands and their employers, who were men. Fyce never did, so she went against what he, as a rural man, stood for. He abuses her, which Otsov pretends not to like but revels. Gryabov mentions that he missed a church service with probably the Russian Orthodox Pope at that time because he wanted to continue fishing all day. Fishing or angling here in this story is indicative of sex and an erect penis.
Gryabov then seems to have caught something while fishing. He knows very well it is a stone that he probably has caught by his hook, but he wants to get into the water. He wants to strip naked in front of Otsov and, more importantly, in front of Fyce to shock them. He first tries to show Otsov how shameless Fyce was when he pretended to tell her to hide behind some bushes away from the river. That act of telling her to get into the bushes is lewd enough as if Gryabov was trying to ask her to lie down so that he could have sex with her. For the first time, she angrily speaks when he tries to pull her to the bushes. She refuses to hide, and so Gryabov strips till he is naked like Adam. He titillates Otsov, but there is no reaction from Fyce unless one counts her disdainful look. Gryabov does not get into the water immediately. He touches himself and asks Otsov why there was a rash on his chest. Gryabov then ducks into the river, indicative how drowned he was in the lust of Fyce. Otsov finally leaves his perverted friend to his fishing and goes away.
The story ends with no fish being caught, but Fyce and Gryabov sexually satisfied each other’s needs. Note that Gryabov mentions that he wouldn’t have kept Fyce in his employment if it were not for his children. It is a brazen lie as he was openly having an affair with the British governess, which his wife preferred to ignore.
I like analyzing short stories by Russian writers, especially Chekhov. I read this short story when I was in the third grade, and it was lovely to read it after so many years and analyze it. When I read it way back as a child, I did not see any meaning to the story and just found it confusing. I would then go on to read more of the classic authors in my school library. If you want to know more about my life in books and with books, you can check out my memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai on the products page. I’m sure you will love it. If you are a teacher or educator and want to get your children to read the classics, check out my non-fiction book titled Classics: Why and how we can encourage children to read them. I hope to analyze more of Anton Chekhov’s works soon.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, and essay analysis, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, you can check out the products page on my blog. There is so much good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan