Depictions of Personality Disorders in Chekhov’s Prose: “Ariadne” as Psychopath

Mark Swift, University of Auckland

Chekhov’s interest in psychiatry is evident from his stories that depict psychotic states, notably “The Seizure” (“Pripadok”) and “The Black Monk” (“Chernyi monakh”). This paper demonstrates how Chekhov accurately described personality disorders before they were defined by modern psychology.

After the great novelists’ intricate analyses of thought processes, Chekhov approached psychological portraits as a behavioral scientist who focuses on observable behavior for characterization and as an indicator of inner life (Esin 1988).

This analysis applies the Five Factor Model of Personality, the most comprehensive and widely-used model in psychology, as a diagnostic tool to two of Chekhov’s memorable heroines.

The Five Factor Model of Personality classifies personality on five major dimensions (each of which is defined by a number of specific traits) according to how respondents rate themselves and others in relation to key adjectives, the underlying assumption being that any relevant personality trait is encoded in language. Personality disorders are characterized by extreme or excessive personality traits in relation to the norm. Chekhov’s “Ariadne” and Olga of “The Grasshopper” (“Poprygun'ia”) are selected as subjects for this analysis, because real-life prototypes inform the personalities of these heroines and because they exhibit excessive traits that meet the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders, psychopathic and histrionic, respectively.

Diagnostic criteria of psychopathy include hedonism; a lack of responsibility, guilt, loyalty, and empathy; impulsivity; the incapacity to form close relationships; egocentricity and superficial charm (Harpur 1994)—all of which characterize Chekhov’s heroine. Ariadne’s additional attributes of pathological lying, cunning, her intolerance for boredom and grandiose sense of self-worth earn her high marks on Psychopathy Checklist, used in Corrections to predict recidivism (Hare, 1990).

The proffered analysis affirms the cross-cultural validity of the Five Factor Model of personality, as well as Chekhov’s insight in his selection of traits for characterization.