The Cherry Orchard
by Anton Chekhov
Lubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya
Lubov and Money
In Act 2, Lopakhin says of Lubov and her brother, "I've never met such frivolous people as you before, or anybody so unbusinesslike and peculiar" (2.44). He has a point. Chekhov shows Lubov throwing her money away so many times it's almost overkill. She loans money to Pischik in Act 1. She overtips the waiters in Act 2, then gives a homeless man a gold piece. Act 4 opens with Gaev chiding her for giving the peasants her whole purse. Why, Lubov, why?
Well, here are a few reasons. Money is not a precious thing to Lubov. She doesn't work for her money and perhaps has never truly understood that it's not an inexhaustible resource. Chekhov (who, let's remember, had two jobs) is critiquing the idleness of Russian aristocrats who, at the time he was writing, were meeting their economic comeuppance.
The critique is tempered, however, by the fact of Lubov's deeply generous nature. When she's presented with a human face asking her for help, she freely gives it. This nurturing quality is central to her character. As Lopakhin recalls:
She's a good sort--an easy, simple person. I remember when I was a boy of fifteen, my father, who is dead--he used to keep a shop in the village here--hit me on the face with his fist, and my nose bled. ...We had gone into the yard together for something or other, and he was a little drunk. Lubov Andreyevna, as I remember her now, was still young, and very thin, and she took me to the washstand here in this very room, the nursery. She said, "Don't cry, little man, it'll be all right in time for your wedding." (1.5)
Lopakhin remembers this moment of kindness for the rest of his life.
Lubov and Love
Lubov lives for love. It's in the way she moves, as Gaev says. It influences all her actions, including her way with money, as we discussed above. She freely gives money to everyone from the homeless to her worthless lover in Paris. In Act 3, Lubov confesses to Trofimov that she wants to return to her love. Trofimov is outraged. How can she return to someone who robbed her blind? She doesn't care about that. He needs her:
LUBOV. That wild man is ill again, he's bad again. ... He begs for forgiveness, and implores me to come, and I really ought to go to Paris to be near him. You look severe, Peter, but what can I do, my dear, what can I do; he's ill, he's alone, unhappy, and who's to look after him, who's to keep him away from his errors, to give him his medicine punctually? And why should I conceal it and say nothing about it; I love him, that's plain, I love him, I love him. ...That love is a stone round my neck; I'm going with it to the bottom, but I love that stone and can't live without it. (3.60)
Human connections define and motivate Lubov, and she encourages them in others: in Anya and Trofimov, Varya and Lopakhin. Her emotional nature drives her decisions, and is part of what makes it impossible for her to let go of the past.
Lubov and the Past
It breaks our heart when Lubov sees her mother in the orchard. She's in the nursery, willing herself back in time:
LUBOV. [Looks out into the garden] Oh, my childhood, days of my innocence! In this nursery I used to sleep; I used to look out from here into the orchard. Happiness used to wake with me every morning, and then it was just as it is now; nothing has changed.
Suddenly a tree branch shape-shifts into a woman in white, Lubov's mother. Lubov holds the impossible hope that returning home can make her a child again. She'd like to wipe out everything shameful and unpleasant in her adult life. To start over. In some ways, as Lubov gives up the orchard and acknowledges the present, we're watching her grow up again.