Dr. Dymov is an earnest and rather boring young physician, who is preoccupied with his patients and his research. Olga, his wife, craves the excitement and gaiety of the artistic life. She discovers a new lease on romance with Ryabovsky, a colorful landscape artist, who takes her on a cruise on the Volga River. As they spoon under the stars, Olga and her lover make light of her bumptious stay-at-home husband.

After she returns from the cruise, Dymov forgives her infidelity, but in Olga's mind, his forgiveness proves to be another strike against the poor slob, since she just can't stand his complaisant devotion. She runs back to Ryabovsky for a while, until he makes it clear that he is bored with her.

Then one day Dymov develops diphtheria, evidently contracted by "sucking up the mucus through a pipette from a boy with diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid . . . just from folly." Dymov soon becomes delirious, and then dies. Suddenly, Olga is overcome with guilt and grief. Too late, Olga realizes that her husband was a hero.


Chekhov based this story on the real-life love affair between his good friends Isaak Levitan, a well-known (and married) painter, and Lika Mizinova, a young unmarried teacher, who had for many years been a Chekhov groupie. Of course, in the story the woman, rather than the man, is the married individual. This permits the cuckolded person to be a man, and Chekhov bases that character (Dymov) largely on himself, portrayed as a dedicated and disciplined worker who has no time to spare for frivolous romance.

Another way of looking at the story is the dramatic tension between practicality, science, public health, and social consciousness, as exemplified by Dymov; and emotion, art, and romanticism, as exemplified by Ryabovsky. Olga at first chooses the latter, but Dymov's death turns the tables. After he becomes a martyr to science, she suddenly finds him more interesting and mourns her loss.

Was his death the result of a foolish mistake? Did her infidelity play a role, perhaps by distracting him while he was aspirating the pus? Or might Dymov have deliberately performed the foolish procedure, realizing that the infection would cause his death?


Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett. First published in 1892. Also in: Chekhov's Doctors, ed. J. Coulehan (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 2003)

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 5: The Wife and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count