Yesterday was International Women’s Day. As we all know, International Women’s Day was founded as a socialist political event, aimed at liberating women from the drudgery of housework and exhorting them to join the glorious worker’s revolution. It later established as an official holiday of the CCCP by Vladimir Iliych Lenin. Of course, the event has mostly moved away from its specific political roots, but it would seem imprudent to avoid the chance to drink Russian beer and discuss Russian literature and misogyny.
In Anton Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog, the character Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov first appears as a misogynist who refers to women as “the lower race.” But like all well-crafted characters (and real people,) there is more to him. He is also a philanderer. Of course, there is nothing mutually exclusive about misogyny and infidelity, but the cause of his infidelity seems somewhat incongruous with his professed views on women. Chekhov writes that Gurov does not feel comfortable in the company of men, “but in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave.” Can real misogyny coexist with this comfort and ease with women? Could he really disdain women if they are the only society in which he feels himself?
To be sure, he thought little of his own wife, “and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, [and] inelegant,” but that is just one woman. Women who were not his wife attracted him and made them feel at ease. And all of the negative things he had to say about women, he said to men. Why should we give any weight to what he says to men when we have already been told that he does not know what to say around men? “In the society of men he was bored and not himself,” so are his professed misogynistic views to be regarded as really his own? Or are they simply the talk of a man saying what he thinks other men want to hear?
On my first reading, I had no sympathy for Gurov. Even with these questions in mind, a second reading produced very little inclination to take his side. But I suspect that Chekhov meant for the reader to come down somewhere in the middle. The final question of the story is not whether Gurov is right or wrong in anything that he does, but where can he possibly go from here?
Beer of the Week: Baltika No. 7 Export Lager – Having never heard of any Russian beers (I’ve only had American brewed “Russian imperial porters”,) my expectations were not high. This beer definitely surpassed my admittedly low expectations. It is a clear gold color with a pillowy head. The aroma has a slight hint alcohol at the end, as well as a sweet combination of fruit and of caramel malt. The taste is not quite as sweet as the aroma, but has a slight taste of apple cider. It is not the best beer in the world, but it is definitely better than plenty of “big-name” brews. Plus it has a really cool pull-tab cap.
Reading of the week: The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov – Our introduction to Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov is not flattering. He has nothing good to say about women, even if he has nothing but sweet things to say to them. Whether or not the reader becomes reconciled to him as he changes throughout the story depends much on the reader, but only a certain sort of man can find him totally agreeable from the outset.
Question of the week: Chekhov writes that Gurov “had been unfaithful to [his wife] often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women.” Does his disdain (or apparent disdain) for women result from his infidelity, or does his infidelity result from his disdain?