By Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian playwright and short story writer. Chekhov is widely considered one
of the greatest writers of short fiction in history. In this excerpt from “The Grasshopper,” a couple shares a
happy life together despite their dramatically differing interests. As you read, take notes on what about Olga
and Dymov makes them different.
Olga Ivanovna was twenty-two, Dymov was thirty-one.
They got on splendidly together when they were
married. Olga Ivanovna hung all her drawing-room
walls with her own and other people’s sketches, in
frames and without frames, and near the piano and
furniture arranged picturesque1
Japanese parasols, easels, daggers, busts,
photographs, and rags of many colours…. In the
dining-room she papered the walls with peasant
woodcuts, hung up bark shoes and sickles,2
stood in a
corner a scythe3
and a rake, and so achieved a diningroom in the Russian style. In her bedroom she draped
the ceiling and the walls with dark cloths to make it
like a cavern, hung a Venetian4
lantern over the beds,
and at the door set a figure with a halberd.5
And every one thought that the young people had a very charming
When she got up at eleven o’clock every morning, Olga Ivanovna played the piano or, if it were sunny, painted
something in oils. Then between twelve and one she drove to her dressmaker’s. As Dymov and she had very
little money, only just enough, she and her dressmaker were often put to clever shifts to enable her to appear
constantly in new dresses and make a sensation with them. Very often out of an old dyed dress, out of bits of
tulle, lace, plush, and silk, costing nothing, perfect marvels were created, something bewitching — not a dress,
but a dream. From the dressmaker’s Olga Ivanovna usually drove to some actress of her acquaintance to hear
the latest theatrical gossip, and incidentally to try and get hold of tickets for the first night of some new play or
for a benefit performance. From the actress’s she had to go to some artist’s studio or to some exhibition or to
see some celebrity — either to pay a visit or to give an invitation or simply to have a chat. And everywhere she
met with a gay6
and friendly welcome, and was assured that she was good, that she was sweet, that she was
- Picturesque (adjective) visually attractive
- a short-handled farming tool with a semicircular blade
- a tool used for cutting crops such as grass or wheat
- relating to Venice or its people
- a combined spear and battle-ax
- lighthearted and carefree
rare…. Those whom she called great and famous received her as one of themselves, as an equal, and predicted
with one voice that, with her talents, her taste, and her intelligence, she would do great things if she
concentrated herself. She sang, she played the piano, she painted in oils, she carved, she took part in amateur7
performances; and all this not just anyhow, but all with talent, whether she made lanterns for an illumination or
dressed up or tied somebody’s cravat8 — everything she did was exceptionally graceful, artistic, and charming.
But her talents showed themselves in nothing so clearly as in her faculty for quickly becoming acquainted and
on intimate terms with celebrated people. No sooner did any one become ever so little celebrated, and set
people talking about him, then she made his acquaintance, got on friendly terms the same day, and invited him
to her house. Every new acquaintance she made was a veritable fête9
for her. She adored celebrated people,
was proud of them, dreamed of them every night. She craved for them, and never could satisfy her craving. The
old ones departed and were forgotten, new ones came to replace them, but to these, too, she soon grew
accustomed or was disappointed in them, and began eagerly seeking for fresh great men, finding them and
seeking for them again. What for?
Between four and five she dined at home with her husband. His simplicity, good sense, and kind-heartedness
touched her and moved her up to enthusiasm. She was constantly jumping up, impulsively hugging his head
and showering kisses on it.
“You are a clever, generous man, Dymov,” she used to say, “but you have one very serious defect. You take
absolutely no interest in art. You don’t believe in music or painting.”
“I don’t understand them,” he would say mildly. “I have spent all my life in working at natural science and
medicine, and I have never had time to take an interest in the arts.”
“But, you know, that’s awful, Dymov!”
“Why so? Your friends don’t know anything of science or medicine, but you don’t reproach10 them with it.
Everyone has his own line. I don’t understand landscapes and operas, but the way I look at it is that if one set of
sensible people devote their whole lives to them, and other sensible people pay immense sums for them, they
must be of use. I don’t understand them, but not understanding does not imply disbelieving in them.”
“Let me shake your honest hand!”
After dinner Olga Ivanovna would drive off to see her friends, then to a theatre or to a concert, and she
returned home after midnight. So it was every day.
On Wednesdays she had “At Homes.” At these “At Homes” the hostess and her guests did not play cards and did
not dance, but entertained themselves with various arts. An actor from the Dramatic Theatre recited, a singer
sang, artists sketched in the albums of which Olga Ivanovna had a great number, the violoncellist played, and
the hostess herself sketched, carved, sang, and played accompaniments. In the intervals between the
- Amateur (adjective) nonprofessional
- a necktie
- a French term for “party”
- Reproach (verb) to express disappointment in or displeasure with someone
recitations, music, and singing, they talked and argued about literature, the theatre, and painting. There were
no ladies, for Olga Ivanovna considered all ladies wearisome and vulgar except actresses and her dressmaker.
Not one of these entertainments passed without the hostess starting at every ring at the bell, and saying, with a
triumphant expression, “It is he,” meaning by “he,” of course, some new celebrity. Dymov was not in the
drawing-room, and no one remembered his existence. But exactly at half-past eleven the door leading into the
dining-room opened, and Dymov would appear with his good-natured, gentle smile and say, rubbing his hands:
“Come to supper, gentlemen.”
They all went into the dining-room, and every time found on the table exactly the same things: a dish of oysters,
a piece of ham or veal,11 sardines, cheese, caviar, mushrooms, vodka, and two decanters of wine.
“My dear maître d’hôtel!”12 Olga Ivanovna would say, clasping her hands with enthusiasm, “you are simply
fascinating! My friends, look at his forehead! Dymov, turn your profile. Look! he has the face of a Bengal tiger
and an expression as kind and sweet as a gazelle. Ah, the darling!”
The visitors ate, and, looking at Dymov, thought, “He really is a nice fellow”; but they soon forgot about him, and
went on talking about the theatre, music, and painting.
“The Grasshopper” by Anton Chekhov (1892) is in the public domain.
Unless otherwise noted, this content is licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
- the meat of calves
- a French term meaning “butler”
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to share
your original ideas in a class discussion.
- In the context of the text, how do Olga and Dymov’s understanding and interest in the world differ?
How does this impact their relationship? Do you consider your views of the world more artistic or
scientific? How does this affect who you get along with? Cite evidence from this text, your own
experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.
- In the context of the text, how does love emerge? Why is Olga and Dymov’s relationship successful,
despite their differences? Do you think this will change? Why or why not?
- In the context of the text, how does society determine social status? How does Olga build up her
presence and status in society? Do students think her constructed status is reflective of her true
status? Why or why not? Have you ever presented an image of yourself that wasn’t entirely true?
Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your