The Beauties

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-27-2003


This quiet little story has two parts. In the first section, the narrator remembers an incident that occurred when he was a high school boy. He was traveling with his grandfather in the Ukraine and they stopped to rest at the home of an Armenian family. The boy was virtually struck dumb by the beauty of the young woman who served them tea. While his grandfather slept, he stood outside in the yard and watched the exquisite young woman do her chores.

In the second section, he remembers an incident from somewhat later, when he was a university student. His train was stopped at a station, and he had gone out to stretch his legs on the platform. He noticed a carelessly dressed young woman, who was standing outside a train window, speaking to one of the passengers.

Once again, he was "suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling I had once experienced in the Armenian village." The narrator also notices the battered and ugly telegraph operator staring at the girl with "a look of tenderness and of the deepest sadness, as though in that girl he saw happiness, his own youth, soberness, purity, wife, children . . . " A bell rang, and the train moved off.


The story consists of two vignettes. In each case the young narrator is unexpectedly bowled over by the sight of a beautiful young woman. The scenes, which he describes in minute detail, are etched in his memory, yet in neither case did he "do" anything. He was simply an observer. And nothing seemed to happen. So why does he remember these particular scenes?

Perhaps someone has asked the narrator to define beauty, or to give his opinion of what features constitute beauty in a woman. Or perhaps the question has been simmering in his mind. When he tries to grapple with it, though, he stumbles. He can’t generalize his concept of the beautiful; he can only remember particular cases.

Each "beauty" came as a complete surprise and was seemingly inexplicable. And in each case, the beauty was associated with sadness: "It was a sadness as vague and undefined as a dream . . . as though we all four had lost something important and essential to life which we should never find again." And later, "perhaps he, like me, was unaccountably sorry for the beauty, for himself, and for me . . . " What is this connection between beauty and melancholy?


First published: 1888. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

Later Short Stories. 1888-1903


Modern Library

Place Published

New York




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