I read the Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear translation of this story.
This Post contains spoilers.
As I observed here, one common aspect of Anton Chekhov’s stories is that they champion the voiceless. In the story Anyuta, the tale’s namesake is exploited by her boyfriend, Stepan Klochkov. In response, Anyuta suffers silently. Furthermore, Stepan shows no redeeming qualities. Having read a fairly large number of Chekhov’s stories, I can say that this type of unhealthy relationship is very common in the great Russian writer’s tales.
The Fidget is another of the tales of the voiceless as well as their exploitive counterparts. Newlywed Olga Ivanovna neglects her husband, Dymov, and cheats on him with her artist friend, Ryabovsky. The entire story concerns her ill treatment of him. Though Dymov comes to realize what is going on, he never confronts his wife.
When she decides to cheat on Dymov, Olga Ivanovna ponders,
“She wanted to think of her husband, but the whole of her past, with the wedding, with Dymov, with her soirées, seemed small to her, worthless, faded, unnecessary, and far, far away… What Dymov, indeed? Why Dymov? What did she care about Dymov? Did he really exist in nature, or was he merely a dream? “For him, a simple and ordinary man, the happiness he has already received is enough,” she thought, covering her face with her hands. “Let them condemn me there, let them curse me, and I’ll just up and ruin myself, ruin myself to spite them all… One must experience everything in life. Oh, God, how scary and how good!””
As cruel as the above is, there is a tinge of regret in Olga Ivanovna’s mind, despite the fact that she rationalizes her actions with, “For him, a simple and ordinary man, the happiness he has already received is enough” she realizes that what she is doing is wrong.
This is unusual for Chekhov. In most of his other stories, like Anyuta, those that exploit the good and the silent do so without any regret. Furthermore, the malicious person usually gets away scot-free and ends up self-satisfied. However, something unusual happens in The Fidget.
Upon Dymov’s death, Olga Ivanovna is wracked with guilt and regret,
“Olga Ivanovna recalled her whole life with him, from beginning to end, in all its details, and suddenly understood that he was indeed an extraordinary, rare man and, compared with those she knew, a great man...The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, and the rug on the floor winked at her mockingly, as if wishing to say: “You missed it! You missed it!””
Olga pays a price for her horrible treatment of Dymov. Her punishment is self-reproach. The story ends on this note. This reader is left to wonder what becomes of her. Will she go on, full of regrets as broken person, or will she use this tragedy and create something better for herself and for the world?
I think that there is at least some hope in the fact that Olga Ivanovna realizes what she has done. It gives her humanity. This is rare, as Chekhov’s oppressors do not usually show much compassion. Checkhov often wrote stories filled with darkness. Often the humanity he illuminates is only present in the downtrodden. In this tale, however, we see some light even in one who is culpable.