Study Guide

Uncle Vanya Love

By Anton Chekhov

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ASTROV: [...] I don't want anything, I don't need anything, I don't love anyone… But I do love you. [Kisses her on the head.] As a child I had a nyanya like you. (1.33-35)

When the Doctor says that he doesn't love anyone, but makes an exception for Marina, we see it as a way of separating out different kinds of love. There's the first kind, which he doesn't feel for anyone, and goes along with wanting and needing someone else. The second kind is a nostalgic love, which is more like the relationship between a mother or nanny and child.

VOYNITSKY: But how lovely she is! How lovely! In all my life I've never seen such a beautiful woman. (1.96-97)

Beauty and loveliness are synonyms, and the fact that Vanya is putting the adjectives "lovely" and "beautiful" together shows how love, for him, goes hand in hand with pretty things. He doesn't seem to respect Yelena for her brains, musical talents, or personality; for him, her outer appearance is all it takes for him to love her. Which makes us think that Vanya's emotions might be a little bit superficial.

VOYNITSKY: [...] No Don Juan has had such complete success! His first wife, my sister, a lovely meek creature, pure as that blue sky, noble, generous, with more admirers than he had students, loved him with the kind of love only pure angels have for those as pure and beautiful as themselves. (1.141-45)

Don Juan is the original Latin lover, a real womanizer, so when Vanya compares Serebryakov to him, it all seems a little bit silly. Serebryakov is old, grouchy, and sick—not exactly what the ladies go for. And that irony, the difference between Don Juan and Serebryakov, is exactly what drives Vanya nuts: the old guy is just as lucky as the world's greatest lover, even though he doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities.

VOYNITSKY: Because that 'fidelity' is false from start to finish. It's full of rhetoric but has no logic. To betray your old husband whom you can't stand—is immoral; but to try and stifle in yourself your wretched youth and your living feeling—is not. (1.153-56)

Vanya is trying to change the rules of society here by asking to whom one must be faithful in a marriage. The answer, traditionally, of course, is to your spouse. But he is proposing that, by being faithful to her spouse, Yelena is being untrue to herself because she is young and beautiful and should therefore have an equally young and beautiful husband. He wants to invent a new morality where being faithful to yourself is the most moral thing to do.

MARINA: [...] Vera Petrovna, your late wife, little Sonya's mother, used not to sleep at nights, she used to worry… She loved you very much… (2.114-16)

Poor, wittle Professor; he's got the entire house, his daughter, wife, brother-in-law, and the nyanya up with him since he can't sleep through his sickness, and even that doesn't satisfy him. Marina's comment about his first wife is obviously comparing her to his second wife, Yelena, who is technically up with him but doesn't seem too worried. And since Marina seems to equate worry with love, this is a jab at the new, worry-free wife.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: When you speak to me of your love, I somehow go numb and don't know what to say. I'm sorry, I can't say anything to you. [Moves towards door.] Good night. (2.158-60)

Wow. Hope you have better luck when you ask your crush out to the prom! Because numbness is not usually what you're hoping for when you declare your love for someone. Yelena is numb, and that's her problem. She doesn't seem to be in touch with her feelings at all, and she lets herself be carried along by what her husband wants without recognizing what she herself wants. Sounds a lot like most of the characters in the play, right?

ASTROV: [...] I now expect nothing for myself, I don't love humanity… It's a long time since I loved anyone. (2.230-21)

This is an interesting way of saying that you're single and loving it, Doctor. Putting the verbs "expect" and "love" together like this makes the spectator think about the connection between them. And it's true—expectations and love go hand in hand. When you love someone, you imagine a future with them. Astrov has given up on love and therefore has no expectations for the future.

ASTROV: [...] I am old, I've worked myself to the bone, I've coarsened, all my feelings are blunted and I don't think now I could become attached to a human being. I love no one and … now I won't love. What still excites me is beauty. I am not indifferent to that. I think that if Yelena Andreyevna wanted to, she could turn my head in a day… But that's not love, that's not affection… [Covers his eyes with a hand and shudders.] (2.354-60)

Astrov feels like his love machine's gotten rusty from disuse, and while it's trying to kick into gear now that he's feeling butterflies over Yelena, it's been out of commission for so long that it might not turn over. The problem is that Astrov isn't able to recognize that his feelings might be love. He'd rather call them lust and continue to ignore them.

SONYA: [...] Tell me, Mikhail Lvovich… If I had a friend or a younger sister and if you learnt that she… well, let's say, loved you, how would you react to that?

ASTROV: [shrugging] I don't know. I suppose, not at all. I would let her know that I could not love her… (2.366-70)

Admit it; you've tried the "I've got this friend (and it isn't me!) who needs some advice…" shtick, and everyone saw right through it. Sonya's doing everything she can to show Astrov that she's into him, and even this lame "friend or younger sister" line doesn't get through to him. It's time for her to read He's Just Not That Into You.

SONYA: [...] I've loved him for six years now, I love him more than my mother; every minute I hear him, I feel the pressure of his handshake; and I look at the door, I wait, I always think he's about to walk in. And, you see, I keep on coming to you to talk about him. Now he's here every day, but he doesn't look at me, he doesn't see me… It's such torment! (3.69-74)

Oh, that is harsh. Astrov is totally snubbing Sonya, and she's in agony. It's hard to imagine that she can call what she feels "love," because it's absolutely and completely unrequited. We also see one of the real downsides of love here. Sonya obviously feels deeply for Astrov, but because he doesn't return the feeling, her love has trapped her. Love is a powerful thing; it can be totally hard to resist it, even if you know it won't go anywhere. And that's one of Sonya's big problems.

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