Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Russian physician, renowned short story author and playwright wrote Uncle Vanya (1899);
We must live our lives. Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile--and--we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith.--Sonia, Act I
Often ambiguous, at times humorous, gritty, haunting, ironic, anecdotal, facetious, lyrical, apathetic, bizarre, passionate and tragic, Chekhov's works explore the entire range of the human spirit. Through his use of such Chekhovian elements as subjective observation, stream of consciousness, character epiphanies, and juxtapositions of pessimism and humour we are immersed in the lives of Chekhov's complex characters. He spurned the more traditional story as moral lesson found in the style of Fyodor Dostoevsky. He wanted his works to ask the reader questions, not to provide answers. While he started out with more comedic sketches and doggerel published under pseudonyms such as Antosha Chekhonte, Chekov went on to write dozens of stories, many critically acclaimed as fine exemplars of the craft and still studied today. His autobiographical journey as seen through the eyes of a child "The Steppe" earned him the Pushkin Prize in 1888. His works have inspired countless contemporary authors and playwrights including George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf. Chekhov's plays are said to be second only to those of William Shakespeare in stage popularity.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on 29 January 1860 in the port town of Taganrog (at the northern tip of the Black Sea between Ukraine and Russia) in Rostov Oblast, Southern Russia, the third of six children born to Yevgenia Yakovlevna Morozov, daughter of a well-traveled cloth merchant and Pavel Yegorovitch (1825-1898), a grocer. Their home is now a museum. Anton's grandfather had been a serf who worked on the estate of Vladimir Grigorievitch Tchertkov before buying his own freedom in 1841.
Growing up in a middle-class family on the shores of the Sea of Azov in pre-Revolution Russia, Anton and his sister and five brothers went fishing, played tennis, and spent leisurely days in the country at their grandfather's. A great lover of nature, young Anton was robust with activity and intelligence, always making jokes, affectionate and playful with his siblings. They also worked hard in their father's shop (now a museum, the "Chekhov Shop") where Anton collected memories and ideas for future stories based on the people he met there. He studied music and was a voracious reader, spending afternoons at the Taganrog town library (now named after him). For many years until his death he sent books to be added to its collections. He read literature and the Greek classics including Homer, and also works by Miguel de Cervantes, Ivan Goncharov, William Shakespeare, Ivan Turgenev and Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. A French governess taught the children languages. To add to his already vivid imagination, Anton's nurse entertained the children with fantastical tales while their mother told them of her travels around the world with her father as a young girl. "Our talents we got from our father, but our soul from our mother." (from The Letters of Anton Chekhov, translated by Constance Clara Garnett, 1861-1946). Anton's father, born into serfdom, had a great love for music. He was a very strict, religious man but they were a close-knit family, sharing evenings after school singing, playing musical instruments, and singing in the church choir and attending Mass on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.
Taganrog was a bustling port and trading town until the railway was built. By the year 1867 Pavel had hit financial ruin. He closed the shop, their home and contents were auctioned off and the family moved to Moscow to start over. Anton stayed in Taganrog to continue his studies at the high school, paying his way by tutoring. In 1879 he joined his family in Moscow and entered the University of Moscow to study medicine. He graduated in 1884 and practiced medicine for the rest of his life. His family were then living in the town of Voskresensk, outside of Moscow. Anton joined them but soon moved to a town close by called Zvenigorod where he met fellow doctor Upensky and practiced medicine. The family's financial struggles continued but the ever-humble Anton became a great support to his family, as a doctor and as a freelance writer. "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one I spend the night with the other." (letter to Alexei Suvorin, 11 September 1888.)
These years of living in the country again became fruitful for Chekhov: he had a strict schedule of writing but also had time for a social life; he became acquainted with numerous literary and artistic people of the day including Leo Tolstoy, Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin and Maxim Gorky. He wrote many stories during this time and his first drama Ivanov (1887) which he wrote in two weeks. Chekhov always delighted in being in the country with family and friends, spending time outdoors canoeing, fishing, gardening and talking about literature. It served his imagination well and also helped him focus on his writing. But despite his cheerful and outgoing demeanour he was suffering from onset of tuberculosis. It did not stop him however from traveling throughout Europe and Russia, including an arduous 6,500 mile journey to the island of Sakhalin or Sahalin to study the Tsar's penal colony there and the brutal conditions suffered by the 10,000 imprisoned. His report on his journey across Siberia and extensive three month research and census of the peoples of the island "enough for three dissertations" (letter to Alexei Suvorin, 27 September 1890) was published as The Island of Sakhalin in 1890. His story "In Exile" (1892) was also inspired by this experience. Chekhov also traveled frequently to Moscow and St. Petersburg visiting friends and overseeing the production of his plays. The death of his brother Nikolay, while under his care and who died of tuberculosis inspired his "A Dreary Story" ("A Boring Story" or "A Dull Story", 1889).
In the late 1880's Chekhov established his own country estate of Melikhovo (now a museum) where the rest of his family joined him. He also worked arduously as a doctor to help those far and wide against the cholera epidemic. His home was always full of visitors and the sick were welcomed while Chekhov himself continued to downplay his own illness. With seeming unending amouts of energy and lust for life, he had numerous philanthropic projects to take care of while he continued to write plays, many of them performed in Moscow's Art Theatre. On 25 May 1901 Chekhov married Olga Knipper (1868-1959) an actress who starred in many of his plays. They settled at Chekhov's new estate in Autka, Yalta. With increasing health problems, Chekhov continued to travel, seeking healthier climates. But after such a short life of giving so selflessly to others, at the age of forty-four Chekhov died while staying at a spa in the Black Forest. He died in Badenweiler, Germany on 2 July, 1904. He was buried in the family plot in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery next to the convent. Many famous Russians are buried there including musical composer Sergei Prokofiev, poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, and writers Mikhail Bulgakov and Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol. In honour of Chekhov in 1954 the formerly named town of Lopasnya (after the Lopasnya Rive), was re-named in Chehov's honour. The town of Chekhov, administrative center Chekhovsky District is located in Moscow Oblast, Russia. Among the many monuments dedicated to Chekhov worldwide stands an impressive bronze statue in Chekhov Square in Taganrog.
Along with his prolific output of letters to friends and family and his four most popular plays The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1900) and The Cherry Orchard (1903), further works by Chekhov include his plays;
The Boor or The Bear (1881),
That Worthless Fellow Platonov (1881),
On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco (1886),
A Marriage Proposal (1888),
The Wedding (1889),
The Wood Demon (1889),
A Tragedian in Spite of Himself or A Reluctant Tragic Hero (1889),
The Festivities (1891),
Peasants (1897), and
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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