Before the Wedding by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

the text "before the wedding written by anton chekhov" written next to the portrait of anton chekhov

Unmarried girls are crazy to get married, but they are the only ones, because it is no good at all. I’m married, I should know. Give it time; you’ll see for yourself.

If you are interested in reading plenty of (good) advice like the one above, you should pick up Anton Chekhov’s short story called Before the Wedding. The story was first published in October 1880 in Dragonfly magazine. It is now available as part of a short story collection called Prank published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Before the Wedding: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with the marriage of Podzarylkins’s daughter to a collegiate assessor named Nazariev. Contrary to expectations around such a ceremony, the betrothal went without a hitch. The Podzarylkins’s daughter is entirely unremarkable, considers good spelling as the best intelligence one could have, and loves tall men and the name “Roland.” 

The Podzatylkins’daughter is remarkable by the virtue of being completely unremarkable. Since no one has ever seen any evidence of her intellect, let’s not talk about it.

Nazariev, on the other hand, fancies himself as a real ladies’ man, talks loudly, and doesn’t shy from recommending literature reading to almost every woman he meets. He does not make much money, barely enough to cover his tobacco expenses.

The match looks doomed from the get go.

After the wedding, the daughter was called on to visit her mother. Her mother has some advice to give to her daughter. She starts with calling her husband names and ends with the same, sprinkling random words of caution about her son-in-law in between. 

The mother doesn’t seem enthusiastic about her own marriage and advises the daughter to advise caution against her husband and father. In the mother’s mind, nothing good seems to ever come out of a marriage. She also feels offended by her daughter’s complete lack of moroseness on the occasion of the betrothal. 

How bad would it look to the community- a child not crying! As if the daughter never loved her parents in the first place and is happy to leave them

Yesterday that ugly balding nitwit – your father, I mean -decided to play the joker. He handed me a shot glass. I thought it was wine, but it was vinegar and herring oil instead.

You didn’t weep once; what’s there to be so happy about? Everyone must have thought that you are happy to be leaving your parents. That’s how it looks.

A husband is never going to give you sound or sensible advice. He’s just going to do whatever suits him best. Don’t listen to your father either.

I hope he swells up till he can’t move!

The daughter left to see her father soon after. There was plenty of advice to be had there as well. A little more laid back than the mother, the father began with a lot of praise for Nazariev. 

He then mentioned the vast amount of dowry he had to give him for the marriage, then warned about husbands never having their best interests in mind and finally closing with how untrustworthy his wife and any mother-in-law in the world was.

Hear your mother out, sweetie, but be careful. She’s nice enough but no less of a double-dealing, flighty, namby-pambyish unbeliever for all that. Her advice can’t compare to that of your father, the very author of your being.

What does your husband love? Your personality? Your kindness? Your tender feelings? None of that! He loves your dowry.

Husbands don’t take to their mothers-in-law. I detested mine so much I put burnt cork in her coffee.

A father comes first – always! Don’t listen to anyone else.

Nazariev comes to meet his betrothed soon after. He begins with how much he had missed her and then goes on with a lengthy rant about her parents having duped him by not offering the amount of dowry as promised initially. 

Also, that her father had not disclosed his correct rank before the betrothal, he is adamant to bring her parents to heel.

That was before the wedding. You don’t need to be a prophet to figure out what happens after.

Before the Wedding: Review and My Thoughts

What’s fun about this story is its relevance to our times. It doesn’t seem like much has changed about the perception of mothers-in-law over the last century and a half. 

The mother hates the father, and the father doesn’t seem to respect the mother. The husband seems to care only about the money and the wife is almost clueless. 

What was consistent in the message was that her parents, who were at loggerheads with each other, lacked trust in the institution of marriage. Both the parents caution her about trusting her husband too much. No one would love her the way they would. After all, parents love their kid for who they were, unlike the husband, who was in it for his own personal gain – dowry in their case. 

Of course, the main thing he had on for the discussion when the husband came was how he had been duped on the dowry.

Chekhov’s message for you here – married or not – Proceed with caution.

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