Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

the words "Confession - or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya A Letter" written next to the portrait of anton chekhov

Everything in the world, and my life, in particular, is governed by chance. Only chance! And chance is a despot.

Sounds like a ‘why me?’, doesn’t it?

This is a remark by the protagonist of Chekhov’s short story called Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter. It was first published in March 1882 in Alarm Clock, and it is now available as part of a short story collection called Prank published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is written in the form of a letter where the protagonist, Makar Baldastov, a 39-year-old single man, is responding to a friend’s inquiries about why he is unmarried. He goes on to recount, at length, three specific, close encounters with women he had intended to marry.

The first one was with a lady called Olya. Makar is wholly smitten with Olya’s beauty and charm and shares his future plans sitting with her at a park. Makar seems to be experiencing bliss, just being in her company. Olya spotted a goose and started chasing after her, only to have a gander hiss at her soon after. 

Terrified, she makes a run for her life. Makar was watching it all from a distance. Seeing her in trouble, Makar hit the gander with his walking stick but not before he had already nipped part of Olya’s dress.

As soon as they are left alone, Makar remarks about Olya’s cowardice. She bursts into tears in response.

Her frightened little face was neither naive nor childlike. It was idiotic! Cowardice, ma chere, I cannot abide! Me married to a faint-hearted, cowardly woman? I couldn’t imagine it.

The second one was a woman called Zhenya. Makar loved Zhenya because she loved the writer in him, and she apparently lived and breathed his ambition. They used to do their reading and writing together, and Zhenya was a constant companion through it all. 

One fine day, as they await a response from a publisher about one of Makar’s submissions, they get a humiliating response.

You haven’t got a drop of talent. What the hell is this gobbledygook? Don’t waste stamps and leave us alone. Take up something else!

Needless to say, Makar was fuming. Zhenya, on the contrary, seems a bit indifferent; her remarks are the final nail in the coffin for their relationship.

Maybe you don’t have any talent! They should know, after all. 

Zhenya didn’t care for my writing, which meant she couldn’t care for me. That’s how it was! 

The third one was a woman called Zoya, daughter of Colonel Pepsinov. The Pepsinovs are opera enthusiasts, and Makar gets to attend operas with the family. Makar is madly in love with Zoya and is on the verge of proposing marriage. 

He chooses to declare his love for her at an opera- the first act of Faust. As he is about to propose, he hiccups but brushes it aside. Soon, the hiccups are far more frequent, making everything he is saying to Zoya, completely incomprehensible. 

He rushes to the bar, gets a few drinks, comes back, and tries again. The hiccups come back with a vengeance, and this time he makes a fool of himself not just in front of Zoya but her entire family. 

He does try to make up for the disaster by apologizing to Colonel Pepsinov, but he is not the one to give his daughter away to someone who permits himself to engage in public belching.

“Would you have given your daughter, if you had one, to a man who permits himself to engage in public belching? Well, sir?

I would.

Then you’d be making a mistake, sir!

Zoya couldn’t forget the hiccups, and Makar is done for the third time.

Confession – or Olya, Zhenya, Zoya: A Letter: Review and My Thoughts

The story was hilarious! Makar is superficiality personified. The man deserves a medal, ladies and gentlemen! He wants a perfect wife- beautiful, obedient, and preferably one that doesn’t have a mind, feelings, or even a life of her own.

Human as Olya is, she has no right to be scared. Cowardice is off-putting for Makar.

As long as Zhenya is not speaking her mind and embeds her life entirely in his, she is the ideal partner. As soon as she expresses the slightest deviation from that norm, she is done for. 

After all, how could Makar not have writing talent? How dare she even think of such a thing, forget about speaking that out loud.

If I had to choose my favorite of the three, I would go with Makar and Zoya, though. 

Karma is a b*tch, isn’t it Makar?

I did notice, however, how emphatically Chekhov presented the writer Makar in Chapter two. It’s as if he was pouring out some of his own experiences being a writer. Maybe I am reading too much into it.

Calling themselves editors and publishers at the helm of the literary world, where they do everything they can to drown us writers. A pox upon them!

Vast and bountiful as the earth is, there is no place on earth for a writer. The writer remains an orphan, an outcast, a scapegoat, a helpless infant.

I divide all of mankind into two camps: writers and enviers. The former write, while the latter, racked with envy, scheme and play all sorts of dirty tricks on them. I have died many times, and I will die many more because of the envy of these enviers.

With all the due hate to enviers, Who wouldn’t envy Chekhov?


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