Enchanted House: Social Ideal and Uncanny Familiarity in “The House with a Mezzanine”

Elena Vassilieva, University of Southern California

This paper is an interpretation of Anton Čexov’s “The House with a Mezzanine.” Posing the ending of the story as problematic, with the protagonist passively abandoning his newly-found love, I propose a reading of the story in the light of a Gothic narrative, rather than through the motive of a superfluous man. Since the discussions of the Gothic novel often pose Freud’s notion of “the uncanny” as the central explanatory framework for describing mechanisms of fear, often associated with houses, I apply this concept to the work in question in order to elucidate the dynamics of the narrator’s relationship with the women in the story. My findings in that respect reveal that the reason the narrator flees the initially welcoming house may lie in the over-familiarity that characterizes all “uncanny encounters,” as something comfortable and evoking childhood becomes frighteningly intimate and therefore repulsive. It is, in my view, exactly the paradigm associated with the uncanny Gothic houses that we encounter in the story and that lends itself favorably to further analysis of the roles that the sisters play in the story, which, I argue, function as doubles in representing not themselves, but the house. The objective of this exercise is primarily an attempt to go beyond the social agenda in a story that actively engages in the social on the plot level with the protagonist begging to be termed “superfluous” and with one of the sisters clearly positioned as a “Tolstoyan” young woman. I believe that the resulting analysis is a challenging way of discovering the multiple layers of Čexov’s writing.