What’s Papa For? Paternal Intimacy and Distance in Chekhov’s Early Stories

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/This article examines father figures in a selection of Chekhov’s early stories, including 'Grisha,' 'Papasha,' 'At Home,' 'Oysters,' 'Misery,' and 'Requiem.' While most existing criticism on Chekhov highlights the role of the tyrannical father in his work, this article finds that these stories evince an anxiety not so much about the father’s tyranny, but rather his distance—both physical and emotional—from his children. In this respect, the article draws on existing historical and sociocultural research on nineteenth-century fatherhood (Igor Kon, John Tosh and others), which has moved away from the portrait of the nineteenth-century father as a patriarch with unlimited power towards a more nuanced view of him as a subject who operates within specific historical conditions. Similarly, I argue that we should read Chekhov’s fictional fathers not as all-powerful authoritarian figures, but as subjects who must negotiate the boundaries of masculinity and the inequities of socioeconomic systems. Through theoretically-driven close readings of individual stories, and a comparison with Korolenko’s “In Bad Company,” I suggest that Chekhov’s stories reveal broader sociocultural anxieties about fathering practices in the industrializing society of late nineteenth-century Russia. I argue that Chekhov’s stories express paternal distance through an exploration of the language barrier that often exists between fathers and children, and show specific problematic configurations of gender and class shape that barrier. This fresh approach to Chekhov’s fictional fathers does not merely illuminate his stories in a new way, but also paves the way for a revisionist approach to the familiar 'fathers and sons' theme in nineteenth-century Russian literature more broadly.

This article was reprinted in Short Story Criticism 253, ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale-Cengage Learning, 2018)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-543
Number of pages27
JournalSlavic and East European Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2016


  • Russian literature
  • Chekhov
  • Fathers in literature
  • Father-Child Relations


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