From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian short story writer and playwright. He was born in Taganrog, southern Russia, on 29 January 1860, and died of tuberculosis at the health spa of Badenweiler, Germany, on 15 July 1904. His brief playwriting career produced four classics, while his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.
A few months before he died, Chekhov told the writer Ivan Bunin he thought people might go on reading him for seven years. "Why seven?" asked Bunin. "Well, seven and a half," Chekhov replied. "That’s not bad. I’ve got six years to live."
Always modest, Chekhov could hardly have imagined the extent of his posthumous reputation. The ovations for The Cherry Orchard in the year of his death showed him how high he had risen in the affection of the Russian public—by then he was second in literary celebrity only to Tolstoy, who outlived him by six years—but after his death, Chekhov's fame soon spread further afield. Constance Garnett's translations won him an English-language readership and the admiration of writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield, the last arguably to the point of plagiarism. The Russian critic D.S. Mirsky, who lived in England, explained Chekhov's popularity in that country by his "unusually complete rejection of what we may call the heroic values." In Russia itself, Chekhov's drama fell out of fashion after the revolution but was later adapted to the Soviet agenda, with the character Lopakhin, for example, reinvented as a hero of the new order, taking an axe to the cherry orchard.
One of the first non-Russians to praise Chekhov's plays was George Bernard Shaw, who subtitled his Heartbreak House "A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes" and noted similarities between the predicament of the British landed class and that of their Russian counterparts as depicted by Chekhov: "the same nice people, the same utter futility."
In America, Chekhov's reputation began its rise slightly later, partly through the influence of Stanislavski's system of acting, with its notion of subtext: "Chekhov often expressed his thought not in speeches," wrote Stanislavski, "but in pauses or between the lines or in replies consisting of a single word… the characters often feel and think things not expressed in the lines they speak." (Reynolds, Elizabeth (ed), Stanislavski's Legacy) The Group Theatre, in particular, developed the subtextual approach to drama, influencing generations of American playwrights, screenwriters, and actors, including Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan and, in particular, Lee Strasberg. In turn, Strasberg's Actors Studio and the "Method" acting approach influenced many actors, including Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, though by then the Chekhov tradition may have been distorted by a preoccupation with realism. In 1981, the playwright Tennessee Williams adapted The Seagull as The Notebook of Trigorin.
Despite Chekhov's eminence as a playwright, some writers believe his short stories represent the greater achievement. Raymond Carver, who wrote the short story Errand about Chekhov's death, believed Chekhov the greatest of all short-story writers:
- "Chekhov's stories are as wonderful (and necessary) now as when they first appeared. It is not only the immense number of stories he wrote—for few, if any, writers have ever done more—it is the awesome frequency with which he produced masterpieces, stories that shrive us as well as delight and move us, that lay bare our emotions in ways only true art can accomplish.
Ernest Hemingway, another writer influenced by Chekhov, was more grudging: "Chekhov wrote about 6 good stories. But he was an amateur writer." And Vladimir Nabokov once complained of Chekhov's "medley of dreadful prosaisms, ready-made epithets, repetitions." But he also declared The Lady with the Dog "one of the greatest stories ever written" and described Chekhov as writing "the way one person relates to another the most important things in his life, slowly and yet without a break, in a slightly subdued voice."
Virginia Woolf mused on the unique quality of a Chekhov story in The Common Reader (1925):
- "But is it the end, we ask? We have rather the feeling that we have overrun our signals; or it is as if a tune had stopped short without the expected chords to close it. These stories are inconclusive, we say, and proceed to frame a criticism based upon the assumption that stories ought to conclude in a way that we recognise. In so doing we raise the question of our own fitness as readers. Where the tune is familiar and the end emphatic—lovers united, villains discomfited, intrigues exposed—as it is in most Victorian fiction, we can scarcely go wrong, but where the tune is unfamiliar and the end a note of interrogation or merely the information that they went on talking, as it is in Tchekov, we need a very daring and alert sense of literature to make us hear the tune, and in particular those last notes which complete the harmony."
This is a partial list of Anton Chekhov's works:
- That Worthless Fellow Platonov (most commonly known as Untitled play [Пьеса без названия] or simply, Platonov [Платонов]) (c. 1881) - provided the source material for Michael Frayn's Wild Honey
- On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco [О вреде табака] (1886, 1902)
- Ivanov [Иванов] (1887) - a drama in four acts
- The Boor or The Bear (Medved' [Медвдь]: Shutka v odnom deystvii, 1888) - one act comedy
- The Proposal [Предложение] or A Marriage Proposal (c. 1888-1889) - one act
- A Reluctant Tragic Hero [Трагик поневоле] (1889)
- The Wedding [Свадьба] (1889) - one act
- The Wood Demon [Леший] (1889) - four-act comedy
- The Festivities [Юбилей] (1891)
- The Seagull [Чайка] (1896) - a comedy in four acts
- Uncle Vanya Дядя Ваня] (1899-1900) - based on The Wood Demon
- Three Sisters [Три сестры] (1901) - a drama in four acts
- The Cherry Orchard [Вишнёвый сад] (1904) - a comedy in four acts
Template:See These are the best-known stories, in order of publication:
- ’’The Death of a Government Clerk’‘ (Smert chinovnika) (1883) [Смерть чиновника]
- ’’A Chameleon’‘ (Khameleon) (1884) [Хамелеон]
- ’’Oysters’‘ (Ustritsy) (1884) [Устрицы]
- ’’A Living Chronology’‘ (Zhivaya Khronologiya) (1885) [Живая хронология]
- ’’Small Fry’‘ (Melyuzga) (1885) [Мелюзга]
- ’’The Huntsman’‘ (Yeger) (1885) [Егерь]
- ’’A Malefactor’‘ (Zloumyshlennik) (1885) [Злоумышленник]
- ’’Sergeant Prishibeyev’‘ (Unter Prishibeyev) (1885) [Унтер Пришибеев]
- ’’Misery’‘ (Toska) (1886) [Тоска]
- ’’The Requiem’‘ (Panikhida) (1886) [Панихида]
- ’’Anyuta,’‘ (1886) [Анюта]
- ’’Agafya (1886) [Агафья]
- ’’Grisha’‘ (1886) [Гриша]
- ’’Easter Eve’‘ (Svyatoy Nochyu) (1886) [Святою ночью]
- ’’A Gentleman Friend’‘ (Znakomy muzhchina) (1886) [Знакомый мужчина]
- ’’The Chorus Girl’‘ (Khoristka) (1886) [Хористка]
- ’’Vanka’‘ (1886)) [Ванька]
- ’’Home’‘ (Doma) (1887) [Дома]
- ’’The Siren’‘ (Sirena) (1887) [Сирена]
- ’’Kashtanka’‘ (Kashtanka) (1887) [Каштанка]
- ’’Sleepy’‘ (Spat khochetsya) (1888) [Спать хочется]
- ’’The Bet’‘ (Pari) (1889) [Пари]
- ’’A Dreary Story’‘ (Skuchnaya istoriya) (1889) [Скучная история]
- ’’Gusev’‘ (1890) [Гусев]
- ’’Peasant Wives’‘ (Baby) (1891) [Бабы]
- ’’The Grasshopper’‘ (Poprygunya) (1892) [Попрыгунья]
- ’’In Exile’‘ (V ssylke) (1892) [В ссылке]
- ’’Ward No. 6’‘ (Palata No. 6) (1892) [Палата № 6]
- ’’The Black Monk’‘ (Chyorny monakh) (1894) [Чёрный монах]
- ’’Rothschild's Fiddle’‘ (Skripka Rotshil’da) (1894) [Скрипка Ротшильда]
- ’’The Student’‘ (Student) (1894) [Студент]
- ’’The Teacher of Literature’‘ (Uchitel slovenosti) (1894) [Учитель словесности]
- ’’Anna on the Neck‘‘ (Anna na sheye) (1895) [Анна на шее]
- ’’Whitebrow’‘ (Beloloby) (1895) [Белолобый]
- ’’Ariadna’‘ (Ariadna) (1895) [Ариадна]
- ’’An Artist's Story [The House with the Mezzanine]’‘ (Dom s mezoninom) (1896) [ Дом с мезонином]
- ’’Peasants’‘ (Muzhiki) (1897) [Мужики]
- ’’The Petchenyeg’‘ (Pecheneg) (1897) [Печенег]
- ’’The Schoolmistress [In the Cart]’‘ (Na podvode) (1897) [На подводе]
- ’’The Little Trilogy’‘ (1898): ’’The Man in a Case’‘ (Chelovek v futlyare) [Человек в футляре], ’’Gooseberries’‘ (Kryzhovnik) [Крыжовник], ’’About Love’‘ (O lyubvi) [О любви]
- ’’Ionych’‘ (1898) [Ионыч]
- ’’A Doctor's Visit [A Case History]’‘ (Sluchay iz praktiki) (1898) [Случай из практики]
- ’’The Darling’‘ (Dushechka) (1899) [Душечка]
- ’’On Official Duty’‘ (Po delam sluzhby) (1899) [По делам службы]
- ’’The Lady with the Dog’‘ (Dama s sobachkoy) (1899) [Дама с собачкой]
- ’’At Christmas Time’‘ (Na Svyatkakh) (1900) [На святках]
- ’’In the Ravine’‘ (V ovrage) (1900) [В овраге]
- ’’The Bishop’‘ (Arkhiyerey) (1902) [Архиерей]
- ’’Betrothed [The Fiancée]’‘ (Nevesta) (1903) [Невеста]
- "The Shooting Party", (1884)
- ’’The Steppe’‘ (Step) (1888) [Степь]
- ’’The Duel’‘ (Duel) (1891) [Дуэль]
- ’’An Anonymous Story [The Story of an Unknown Man] [The Story of a Nobody]’‘ (Rasskaz neizvestnovo cheloveka) (1893) [Рассказ неизвестного человека]
- ’’Three Years’‘ (Tri goda) (1895) [Три года]
- ’’My Life’‘ (Moya zhizn) (1896) [Моя жизнь]
- A Journey to Sakhalin (1895), including:
- Saghalien [or Sakhalin] Island (1891-1895)
- Across Siberia'
- (In English translation)
- Letters of Anton Chekhov to His Family and Friends: With a Biographical Sketch. Translated by Constance Garnett. New York. 1920. Internet Archive on-line edition.
- Letters on the Short Story, the Drama, and Other Literary Topics, by Anton Chekhov. Selected and Edited by Louis S. Friedland. London. 1924.
- The Letters of Anton Pavolvitch Tchekhov to Olga Leonardovna Knipper. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett. New York.
- The Life and Letters of Anton Tchekov. Translated and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky and Philip Tomlinson. New York. 1925.
- The Personal Papers of Anton Chekhov. Introduction by Matthew Josephson. New York. 1948.
- The Selected Letters of Anton Chekhov. Edited by Lillian Hellman and translated by Sidonie Lederer. New York. 1955. ISBN 0374518386.
- DEAR WRITER, DEAR ACTRESS: The Love Letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper. Ecco, 1997, ISBN 0880015500.
- Anton Chekhov's Life and Thought: Selected Letters and Commentary. Translated by Simon Karlinsky, Michael Henry Heim, Northwestern University Press, 1997, ISBN 0810114607.
- A Life in Letters. Translated by Rosamund Bartlett, Anthony Phillips. Penguin Books, 2004. ISBN 0140449221.