An example Anton Chekhov's depiction of the place of women in Russian society, "The Darling," has elicited varied interpretation from its critics. The story is a character sketch of Olenka Plemyanniakov, who assumes her persona from whomever she marries. In his parody of this character who "was always fond of some one and could not exist without loving," some critics feel that Chekhov inadvertently develops her into a worthy personage in her final devotion to the boy Sasha as a mother, a true woman.
Ivan Petrovitch Kukinis a boarder at Olenka's lodge. He is the perennial pessimist, throwing his arms up whenever it is going to rain as he is the owner of an outdoor amphitheatre. As Olenka listens to him, tears of sympathy form in her eyes, and his despair arouses a "deep and genuine" affection in Olenka's heart. After their marriage, Olenka mimics everything that her husband says and feels. When he despises the public for their ignorance, she, too, despises them. Kukin loves her for her accord with him, calling her his pet. But, when he goes to Moscow to collect a new troupe, he suddenly dies.
Vassily Andreitch Pustovalov. the manager at the timber merchant's, accompanies Olenka from the funeral of her husband. However, he appears more as a country gentleman than a tradesman. With a sense of fate, he consoles Olenka, "it is the will of God, so we ought to have fortitude and bear it submissively." After he leaves, his image remains with Olenka. Shortly thereafter, an elderly lady came to have coffee with Olenka; this woman tells Olenka that Pustavalov is an excellent man. When he comes to visit, Olenka he only stays ten minutes, but when he leaves "Olenka loved him so much that she lay awake all night in a perfect fever." In the morning, she sends for the elderly lady and the marriage is arranged. He and Olenka get on well and Olenka takes his place in the office when he is gone, discussing the timber as though she is the merchant. "Vassitchka's" ideas are hers, and she abandons her interest in the theatre that she has had with her first husband. However, after six years, Pustovalov goes out to the yard one day, caught cold and becomes fatally ill and dies.
Vladimir Platonitch Smirninis a veterinary surgeon whom Olenda meets after having lived an isolated life with her cook, Mavra. Unlike the other men in her life, Smirnin does not want Olenda talking with the other veterinarians when they visit. She asks, "What will I talk about then?" Unhappy because she desires "a love that would absorb her whole being," Olenka is discontent. Smirnin is called to his regiment and is gone for years. But, one night Smirnin comes dressed as a civilian and says that he has reconciled with his wife. Olenka gives them lodging; however, it is not long before the wife leaves again.
Sasha Smirnin is the son of the surgeon. While his father is away, Olenka cares for him, but she smothers him with attention. When he goes to high school, Olenka finds that she "has opinions of her own" as she can discuss the school. Later, when Sasha's mother sends for him, Olenka is in despair.
But another minute would pass, voices would be heard: it would turn out to be the veterinary surgeon coming home from the club.
"Well, thank God!" she would think.
Olga Semyonovna, referred to as Olenka, has life only by attaching hers to whomever she is married and to Sasha, whom she smothers. (Her characterization is included with the husbands')