The House with an Attic
Genre: Short Story
- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Nov-29-1999
This story is subtitled, "An Artist's Story." The narrator is a landscape artist living on the estate of his friend Belokurov. Nearby is the home of the Volchaninovs, a mother and two daughters. The older daughter, Lydia, is a teacher and social activist. The younger daughter, Zhenya (Missie), is warm and lovable. The narrator insists that Lydia's political and social views are wrong.
"In my opinion," he says, "medical centers, schools, village libraries and dispensaries, under present conditions, merely serve the cause of enslavement. The people are entangled in a great chain, and you are not cutting through the chain, but merely adding new links to it." (p. 223). Lydia replies, "It's true we are not saving humanity, and perhaps we make a great many mistakes; but we do all we can, and--we're right." (p. 224)
The narrator falls in love with Zhenya, who responds to him, but he makes the mistake of telling Lydia, who despises him. The next day Lydia has sent her mother and sister away. The narrator never sees them again, although he still has a faint hope: "I begin to feel that she, too, remembers me, that she is waiting for me and that we shall meet one day . . . ." (p. 231)
Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories
This complex story raises the issue of the value of working for social change. Lydia is a social activist. She puts her time and energy where her mouth is. The narrator has a more sanguine view of human nature and the possibility of improving the social system. Rather than approaching problems in a concrete way, he recommends a more spiritual or philosophical approach: "Every man's vocation lies in spiritual activity, in the constant search for truth and the meaning of life." (p. 225)
He also spouts impractical theories. For example, he suggests that if everyone (including the leisured classes) would do just a small amount of physical work, then the peasants would be relieved of their excessive labor. He favors public health over medical treatment, but doesn't offer any practical suggestions about how to pursue public health: "If one must cure, then let us concentrate not on the treatment, but on the prevention of disease." (p. 226).