Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jun-02-2003
  • Last revised: Sep-01-2006


A lieutenant named Alexander Grigoryvitch Sokolsky arrives at the home of Susanna Moiseyevna Rothstein, a Jewess and owner of a vodka distillery. Sokolsky has come to collect the 2300 rubles that Rothstein owes his married cousin. In fact, his cousin doesn’t actually need the money, but Sokolsky is helping his cousin get his debts paid so that he can then borrow the 5000 rubles that he needs to marry his fiancée.

Susanna, a luscious, free-spirited young woman, receives the lieutenant and offers him supper. She entices the IOUs from him, but then refuses to pay up. The next morning Sokolsky returns to his cousin’s house without the money, but presumably sexually satisfied. Kryukov, the cousin, rants and raves. What an outrage! He determines to visit the Jewess himself and demand payment. He does so and, likewise, only returns the next morning, penniless.

After a week, Sokolsky borrows the money from his cousin and leaves. After another week, Kryukov gets an uncontrollable itch to visit the Jewess again. When he arrives at her mansion, there are many men around, including Sokolsky, who evidently has hung around Susanna’s house for a week, having completely forgotten about his fiancée. Krykov’s final words are: "How can I judge him since I’m here myself?"


This scandalous tale appears to have no redeeming social value. You have a wanton woman--a Jew at that--who flaunts convention, fails to pay her debts, and manipulates men with her sexual favors. First, she "corrupts" the betrothed Sokolsky; later, she performs the same service for the happily-married-with-children Kryukov. And the worst thing is that it’s just a game. Presumably, Susanna, who is the heiress of a vodka fortune, could easily afford to pay her debts.

Chekhov doesn’t sit in judgment. Tolstoy would have been (and probably was) outraged at such a story. Perhaps Susanna Moiseyevna is a lonely parentless woman, isolated from others by her gender and religion, desperately seeking companionship in the only way she knows how. Or perhaps she really enjoys using her charms to puncture holes in staid society. Surely, she is a more complex and sophisticated person than any of her male admirers. It’s all about empathy: "How can I judge him since I’m here myself?"


First published: 1886. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov. Vol. 2: The Duel and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



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