“It’s all very ordinary, and every one goes through it. . .That general, for instance, has once been in love; now he is married and has children. Captain Vahter, too, is married and beloved, though the nape of his neck is very red and ugly and he has no waist. . . Salrnanov is coarse and very Tatar, but he has had a love affair that has ended in marriage. . . I am the same as every one else, and I, too, shall have the same experience as every one else, sooner or later. . .” (Chekhov, The Kiss, p.11)
Though modern reader may not make much of a chance kiss aka how Ryabovitch has reacted, a few changes to the event would render it applicable to modern times, with its own sets of values and cultural norms. This observation is true of the treatment of pre-marital sex as well. Though premarital sex was not taboo, it was largely a prerogative of men. Women were expected to be chaste and virtuous, prior and after marriage, respectively.
“In the evenings when his comrades began talking of love and women, he would listen, and draw up closer..And on the evenings when the officers, out on the spree with the setter — Lobytko — at their head, made Don Juan excursions to the “suburb,” and Ryabovitch took part in such excursions, he always was sad, felt profoundly guilty, and inwardly begged her forgiveness. . . .” (Chekhov, The Kiss, p.12)
Skip ahead a century of progress and women’s emancipation, inequalities have not disappeared altogether. While the specific details of the inequities between the genders have morphed, the theme is alive and persistent. In this sense, The Kiss, is a story that offers interpretive and analytic scope across many disciplines and issues. In sum, literary critic Julian Evans’ assessment of The Kiss captures the essence and highlights of the story:
“Embarrassment, the boredom of social life, disappointment, pointless accident: what Chekhov makes out of these snares, the heart- wringing atmosphere he lightly fashions, remains a revelation to me. Cruelty and arbitrary tragedy appear in these stories too. But somehow little seems crueller than his disappointment and ennui. There is a tragic depth to Chekhov’s conjuring of lives like Ryabovich’s, lived on the surface, that first gave me an idea of how a metaphor could be told in the form of a story and render the world legible. The virtue of this story is its completeness, its summoning of human feelings perfectly matched to the events that produce them.” (Evans, 2008, p. 26)
Evans, Julian. “The Kiss and Other Stories Anton Chekhov.” The Independent (London, England) 2 June 2008: 26. Questia. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.
McConkey, James. “Chekhov’s Journey: A Writer Discovers the Ideal of Freedom in a Rugged Prison Colony.” American Scholar Autumn 2005: 84+. Questia. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.
Chekhov, Anton, Forty Stories, translated and with an introduction by Robert Payne, New York, Vintage, 1991 edition, ISBN 978-0-679-73375-1