Literature Annotations

Chekhov, Anton P.
On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco

Genre Play (6 pp.)
KeywordsDomestic Violence, Family Relationships, Freedom, Individuality, Marital Discord, Power Relations, Scapegoating

This short dramatic monologue is in the form of a public lecture by Ivan Ivanovich Nyukhin, the "husband of a wife who keeps a music school and a boarding school for girls." Nyukhin begins by indicating that his wife has insisted that he lecture today on the harmful effects of tobacco, though he himself smokes. He invites those who are not prepared for a dry, scientific lecture to leave, but then keeps postponing the topic while he talks about how forceful and dominant his wife is.

He longs "to take off this vile old frock that I wore to my wedding thirty years ago" and assert himself. Yet, he can't; his wife is waiting in the wings. At the end of the monologue, Nyukhin begs the audience not to "tell" on him: "tell her that the lecture was... that the booby, that is me, behaved with dignity."

CommentaryThe original version of this monologue (1886) was one of Chekhov's very popular early farces; it was published in English for the first time in The Unknown Chekhov. The currently more well-known version (1902) illustrates the artistic development in Chekhov's later writing. This version (described here) allows the audience to glimpse the reality of Nyukhin's sad life beneath the thick layer of farce. Of course, the piece has nothing to do with the harmful effects of tobacco. Its topic is the pathos of the human comedy.
SourceThe Unknown Chekhov
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousTranlated by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 04/23/97
Last Revised 05/18/97