The setting of “The Kiss” is a Russian village on a May evening. The officers of an artillery brigade encamped nearby are invited by a retired lieutenant general, the leading landowner in the village, to spend an evening dining and dancing in his residence. After describing a panoramic scene of aristocratic society, Chekhov focuses on one of the officers, Ryabovich, an inarticulate conversationalist, a graceless dancer, a timid drinker, and an altogether awkward social mixer. During the evening, he strays into a semidark room, which is soon entered by an unidentifiable woman, who clasps two fragrant arms around his neck, whispers, “At last!” and kisses him. Recognizing her mistake, the woman then shrieks and runs from the room.
Ryabovich also exits quickly and soon shows himself to be a changed man: He no longer worries about his round shoulders, plain looks, and general ineptness. He begins to exercise a lively romantic fancy, speculating who at the dinner table might have been his companion. Before falling asleep, he indulges in joyful fantasies.
The artillery brigade soon leaves the area for maneuvers. Ryabovich tries to tell himself that the episode of the kiss was accidental and trifling, but to no avail: His psychic needs embrace it as a wondrously radiant event. When he tries to recount it to his coarse fellow officers, he is chagrined that they reduce it to a lewd, womanizing level. He imagines himself loved by, and married to, the woman, happy and stable; he can hardly wait to return to the village, to reunite with her.
In late August, Ryabovich’s battery does return. That night, he makes his second trip to the general’s estate, but this time he pauses to ponder in the garden. He can no longer hear the nightingale that sang loudly in May; the poplar and grass no longer exude a scent. He walks a bridge near...
(The entire section is 762 words.)