Domestic abuse and violence is a problem in families around the world. Tracking cases is as difficult as treating victims and abusers alike. Only in recent decades has domestic abuse become a public and governmental concern. It was socially acceptable in some societies for men to subjugate their wives and children to violence in order to “keep them in their place”.
Even during these times of acceptance though, there were people speaking out against it. Anton Chekhov and James Joyce were two people who wrote about domestic abuse in a negative light in their fiction. The two authors, from such different places and pasts, are very much similar in how they stood up against social acceptance and even the Catholic Church to call attention to domestic violence. Chekhov makes domestic abuse a function of the lower class that has been abused by the higher class while Joyce tends to use domestic abuse to represent the relationship between Ireland and Britain.
The Huntsman is an early story by Chekhov, and even early on in his writing his views about domestic violence are obvious. The huntsman is not a likeable character, assumes himself higher class, calling himself a “free, pampered, profligate man [Ã¢Â?Â¦]” and calls the woman he is married to a “working woman” (Chekhov 10). Chekhov makes the huntsman into a negative character for one purpose, to show how the lower class is so often made to bear beating from the upper class. Yegor sees it almost as his right, should Pelagea force him to come and live out his days with her as a husband then beatings will ensue (Chekhov 11).
Chekhov also tells the reader that Yegor has already beaten Pelagea before, “you came in at Easter for a minute [Ã¢Â?Â¦] you scolded me and beat me and went away” (Chekhov 8). This type of subject and master relationship is a familiar scene for Russian culture. Even in present times it is estimated that 14,000 women are killed per year by male partners in Russia, and this is an improvement over conditions during the late nineteenth century, when Chekhov was writing (Sperling 165). Also being a physician, Chekhov likely saw cases of domestic abuse first hand.
Similar to Russia, Ireland is known as a country fond of alcohol. Though despite The Huntsman involving abuse while under the influence, Joyce’s Dubliners offers more of what may be seen as alcohol induced abuse. The prime example of this is Counterparts. Farrington beats his son with a walking stick at the end of the story, facilitated by a day full of social frictions, drinking, and no outlet for his anger. The surface of this story seems similar in every way but circumstance to The Huntsman. However Joyce is making an argument about the relationship of Ireland and its parent country, England. Every social agitation Farrington encounters during his day associates negatively with England. His boss Mr. Alleyne is northern Irish, meaning more than likely protestant and an English sympathizer.
Alleyne is constantly riding Farrington for his lack of production for the company. This in turn causes Farrington to drink, and he finally gets to the bars with friends to drink. He is beaten in arm wrestling by a man named Weathers, who is speculated to be from England, and just before a woman that Farrington had been eyeing brushes past him and doesn’t even look back but simply says “O, Pardon! in a London accent” (Joyce 91). Farrington is boiling mad the entire way home and beats his son with no real reason upon arriving, other than the fact that he is drunk and angry. The Dubliners is where “Men prey upon women, mothers [parents] upon children; men are weak and violent, women weak and domineering” and is an “accurate picture of Irish life of 1904” (Lewiecki-Wilson 138). The argument being made here is that the Irish turn on themselves instead of the English, though the English are the cause of their grief.
Chekhov one wrote in a letter to Dmitry V. Grigorovich that, “Russian life beats the Russian to a pulp, pounds him like a thousand-pood [sic] stone” (Turkov 255). The argument is similar to the one Joyce makes about Irish society. This quote also lends itself to interpretation rather well with the story Sleepy by Chekhov. The subjected lower class in pre-communistic Russian history was fairly well known. Social elites commonly employed many servants, and even the upper-middle class was known to have nannies and cooks. Varka is subjected to the shoemaker and his wife’s consistent abuse throughout the story, epitomized by the following statement, “if Varka-God Forbid!-should fall asleep, her master and mistress would beat her” (Chekhov 65).
The lack of sleep directly induces the hallucination in which Varka’s subconscious tells her that in order to sleep, she must kill the baby. Therefore, in a rather round about way, the cycle of abuse within the home continues. The sociological model for perpetrators of child abuse seems to side with Chekhov for the demographic aspects, With respect to perpetrator demographic characteristics, abusers tend to be single, young, and poorly educated; they report a history of observing and/or receiving abuse. They suffer from multiple environmental stressors, which are often related to family demographic factors [Ã¢Â?Â¦] (Hampton 48)
The quote above seems to describe Varka very well, and while she is the perpetrator of the abuse in this case she is not exempt from domestic abuse herself. It’s already been mentioned that she indeed was subject to beatings when her duties were not fulfilled. This cycle, like in Counterparts, continues “down the ranks” as it were until the most innocent are hurt (the infant here in Sleepy, the son in Counterparts). The scientific term for this cycle is known as the “Intergenerational transmission of Physical Abuse” which generally states that patterns of violent behavior are passed from one generation to the next. With reference to child physical abuse, this hypothesis suggests that victims of childhood physical abuse are more likely to abuse their own children. (Hampton 56)
This cycle on a more “micro” scale applies to both Sleepy and Counterparts. It is a repeating theme in Joyce’s fiction, more so than Chekhov.
A Little Cloud is another one of Joyce’s “domino abuse” style stories, with a similar Irish/English interpretation as in Counterparts. A Little Cloud’s main character abuses his infant in the story, non-physically however. Little Chandler becomes so disillusioned and frustrated with Gallaher after their meeting-the way Gallaher had sold out morally, patriotically, completely-to the English and Europe that he finds the infant crying in the house utterly unbearable. He screams at the child and it can be speculated that because of his anger he might have unintentionally nearly smothered it against his chest while holding it. Little Chandler is Ireland, again turning in on itself, abusing its very own future and never once touching the British. In stark contrast to A Little Cloud, Chekhov offers Vanka which is identical to Sleepy in so many respects. Even the names of the main characters are similar (Vanka and Varka). Unlike Varka, Vanka actually does fall asleep while rocking the child and the master responds as was predicted in Sleepy, “The master took me by the hair and dragged me out into the yard and beat me with the stirrup-strap” (Chekhov 50). Vanka is the lowest class even among the servants who make him steal from the master.
The subjective abuse of the lower class by the upper class which in turn propagates more abuse in Chekhov’s short stories contrasts rather starkly with Joyce’s interclass abuse which translates into larger Irish-English conflicts. While on the surface the situations can seem similar in how the authors depict domestic abuse, they have different intents. One thing they do share though is the feeling that domestic abuse is abominable during times when churches often suborned such activities.