A.P. Chekhov - A Pink Stocking
A DULL, rainy day. The sky is completely covered with heavy
clouds, and there is no prospect of the rain ceasing. Outside
sleet, puddles, and drenched jackdaws. Indoors it is half dark,
and so cold that one wants the stove heated.
Pavel Petrovitch Somov is pacing up and down his study,
grumbling at the weather. The tears of rain on the windows and
the darkness of the room make him depressed. He is insufferably
bored and has nothing to do. . . . The newspapers have not been
brought yet; shooting is out of the question, and it is not
nearly dinner-time. . . .
Somov is not alone in his study. Madame Somov, a pretty little
lady in a light blouse and pink stockings, is sitting at his
writing table. She is eagerly scribbling a letter. Every time he
passes her as he strides up and down, Ivan Petrovitch looks over
her shoulder at what she is writing. He sees big sprawling
letters, thin and narrow, with all sorts of tails and
flourishes. There are numbers of blots, smears, and
finger-marks. Madame Somov does not like ruled paper, and every
line runs downhill with horrid wriggles as it reaches the
margin. . . .
"Lidotchka, who is it you are writing such a lot to?" Somov
inquires, seeing that his wife is just beginning to scribble the
"To sister Varya."
"Hm . . . it's a long letter! I'm so bored -- let me read it!"
"Here, you may read it, but there's nothing interesting in it."
Somov takes the written pages and, still pacing up and down,
begins reading. Lidotchka leans her elbows on the back of her
chair and watches the expression of his face. . . . After the
first page his face lengthens and an expression of something
almost like panic comes into it. . . . At the third page Somov
frowns and scratches the back of his head. At the fourth he
pauses, looks with a scared face at his wife, and seems to
ponder. After thinking a little, he takes up the letter again
with a sigh. . . . His face betrays perplexity and even alarm. .
"Well, this is beyond anything!" he mutters, as he finishes
reading the letter and flings the sheets on the table, "It's
"What's the matter?" asks Lidotchka, flustered.
"What's the matter! You've covered six pages, wasted a good two
hours scribbling, and there's nothing in it at all! If there
were one tiny idea! One reads on and on, and one's brain is as
muddled as though one were deciphering the Chinese wriggles on
tea chests! Ough!"
"Yes, that's true, Vanya, . . ." says Lidotchka, reddening. "I
wrote it carelessly. . . ."
"Queer sort of carelessness! In a careless letter there is some
meaning and style -- there is sense in it -- while yours . . .
excuse me, but I don't know what to call it! It's absolute
twaddle! There are words and sentences, but not the slightest
sense in them. Your whole letter is exactly like the
conversation of two boys: 'We had pancakes to-day! And we had a
soldier come to see us!' You say the same thing over and over
again! You drag it out, repeat yourself. . . . The wretched
ideas dance about like devils: there's no making out where
anything begins, where anything ends. . . . How can you write
"If I had been writing carefully," Lidotchka says in self
defence, "then there would not have been mistakes. . . ."
"Oh, I'm not talking about mistakes! The awful grammatical
howlers! There's not a line that's not a personal insult to
grammar! No stops nor commas -- and the spelling . . . brrr!
'Earth' has an a in it!! And the writing! It's desperate! I'm
not joking, Lida. . . . I'm surprised and appalled at your
letter. . . . You mustn't be angry, darling, but, really, I had
no idea you were such a duffer at grammar. . . . And yet you
belong to a cultivated, well-educated circle: you are the wife
of a University man, and the daughter of a general! Tell me, did
you ever go to school?"
"What next! I finished at the Von Mebke's boarding school. . .
Somov shrugs his shoulders and continues to pace up and down,
sighing. Lidotchka, conscious of her ignorance and ashamed of
it, sighs too and casts down her eyes. . . . Ten minutes pass in
"You know, Lidotchka, it really is awful!" says Somov, suddenly
halting in front of her and looking into her face with horror.
"You are a mother . . . do you understand? A mother! How can you
teach your children if you know nothing yourself? You have a
good brain, but what's the use of it if you have never mastered
the very rudiments of knowledge? There -- never mind about
knowledge . . . the children will get that at school, but, you
know, you are very shaky on the moral side too! You sometimes
use such language that it makes my ears tingle!"
Somov shrugs his shoulders again, wraps himself in the folds of
his dressing-gown and continues his pacing. . . . He feels vexed
and injured, and at the same time sorry for Lidotchka, who does
not protest, but merely blinks. . . . Both feel oppressed and
miserable. . . . Absorbed in their woes, they do not notice how
time is passing and the dinner hour is approaching.
Sitting down to dinner, Somov, who is fond of good eating and of
eating in peace, drinks a large glass of vodka and begins
talking about something else. Lidotchka listens and assents, but
suddenly over the soup her eyes fill with tears and she begins
"It's all mother's fault!" she says, wiping away her tears with
her dinner napkin. "Everyone advised her to send me to the high
school, and from the high school I should have been sure to go
on to the University!"
"University . . . high school," mutters Somov. "That's running
to extremes, my girl! What's the good of being a blue stocking!
A blue stocking is the very deuce! Neither man nor woman, but
just something midway: neither one thing nor another. . . I hate
blue stockings! I would never have married a learned woman. . .
"There's no making you out . . .," says Lidotchka. "You are
angry because I am not learned, and at the same time you hate
learned women; you are annoyed because I have no ideas in my
letter, and yet you yourself are opposed to my studying. . . ."
"You do catch me up at a word, my dear," yawns Somov, pouring
out a second glass of vodka in his boredom.
Under the influence of vodka and a good dinner, Somov grows more
good-humoured, lively, and soft. . . . He watches his pretty
wife making the salad with an anxious face and a rush of
affection for her, of indulgence and forgiveness comes over him.
"It was stupid of me to depress her, poor girl . . . ," he
thought. "Why did I say such a lot of dreadful things? She is
silly, that's true, uncivilised and narrow; but . . . there are
two sides to the question, and audiatur et altera pars. . . .
Perhaps people are perfectly right when they say that woman's
shallowness rests on her very vocation. Granted that it is her
vocation to love her husband, to bear children, and to mix
salad, what the devil does she want with learning? No, indeed!"
At that point he remembers that learned women are usually
tedious, that they are exacting, strict, and unyielding; and, on
the other hand, how easy it is to get on with silly Lidotchka,
who never pokes her nose into anything, does not understand so
much, and never obtrudes her criticism. There is peace and
comfort with Lidotchka, and no risk of being interfered with.
"Confound them, those clever and learned women! It's better and
easier to live with simple ones," he thinks, as he takes a plate
of chicken from Lidotchka.
He recollects that a civilised man sometimes feels a desire to
talk and share his thoughts with a clever and well-educated
woman. "What of it?" thinks Somov. "If I want to talk of
intellectual subjects, I'll go to Natalya Andreyevna . . . or to
Marya Frantsovna. . . . It's very simple! But no, I shan't go.
One can discuss intellectual subjects with men," he finally
blue stocking: a woman with strong scholarly or literary
audiatur et altera pars: the opposite side needs to be heard