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Chekhov Legacy

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), was a Russian playwright and short-story writer. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in Taganrog, Russia. In 1879, Chekhov moved to Moscow, where he studied medicine. He began his literary career writing short humorous stories and sketches for popular newspapers and comic sheets to help support his needy family. Chekhov graduated from medical school and became a doctor. His scientific background and his experiences as a country doctor contributed to the realism of his mature stories. In 1890, Chekhov studied the Russian state prisons on Sakhalin Island in the Pacific Ocean. He described the terrible living conditions there in Sakhalin Island (1893-1894).

While practicing as a doctor, he had his first full-lenght play, Ivanov (1887), produced, to a disappointing reception. He took up serious themes with such stories as "The Steppe" (1888) and "A Dreary Story" (1889); later stories include "The Black Monk" (1894) and "Peasants" (1897). He converted his second long play, The Wooden Demon (1889) into the masterpiece Uncle Vanya (1897). His play The Seagull (1896) was badly received until its successful revival in 1899 by K. Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre. He moved to the Crimea to nurse his eventually fatal tuberculosis, and there he wrote his great last plays, Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904), for the Moscow Art Theatre.

Books with Anton Chekhov's autographs from the collection of Taganrog Memorial Chekhov Museum

In 1901, Chekhov married Olga Knipper, an actress who played leading roles in several of his plays that were staged by the famous Moscow Art Theater. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov died of tuberculosis in Badenweiler, Germany in 1904.

Chekhov's plays, which take a tragicomic view of the staleness of provincial life and the passing of the Russian gentry, received international acclaim after their translation into English and other languages, and as a short-story writer he is still regarded as virtually unmatched. Most of his characters are decent and sensitive. They dream of improving their lives, but most fail, victims of their sense of helplessness and uselessness. Scholars believe Chekhov probably was criticizing the backwardness he saw in Russian social and political life under the czars. But he never preached at his readers or audiences, preferring to present highly individualized characters with specific problems.

Chekhov's influence on the modern short story and the modern play was immense. Among his innovations were his economical husbanding of narrative resources, his concentration on character as mood rather than action, his impressionistic adoption of particular points of view, his dispensing with traditional plot, and, as Charles May declared in an essay collected in A Chekhov Companion, his use of atmosphere as "an ambiguous mixture of both external details and psychic projection." In all these regards Chekhov had an immediate and direct impact on such Western writers as James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, and Sherwood Anderson; indirectly, most major authors of short stories in the twentieth century, including Katherine Anne Porter, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Bernard Malamud, and Raymond Carver, are in his debt.

Among Western playwrights, George Bernard Shaw was the first to grasp Chekhov's intentions and techniques, and he modeled his own "Heartbreak House" (1919) on The Cherry Orchard. Yet it was not until the mid- 1920s that Chekhov caught on with English audiences, becoming one of the trio of major dramatists regularly performed in British playhouses, along with Ibsen and Shakespeare. His influence on English playwrights other than Shaw, up to and including Harold Pinter, has been less direct, but no less powerful. In American drama the notion of "subtext" that Chekhov originated informs many of the works of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, and William Inge. Chekhov's methods also anticipate Bertolt Brecht's technique of "Vefreundungseffekt" ("estrangement") and Samuel Beckett's dramatic stasis and derealization.

Contemporary Writers on Chekhov:

There is never a time when I'm not reading or rereading a story or play by Chekhov. - Cristina Garcia

In a short story that's next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right. In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you can't. I mean by that the good short stories like Chekhov wrote. That's why I rate that second - it's because it demands a nearer absolute exactitude. You have less room to be slovenly and careless. There's less room in it for trash. - William Faulkner

I'm crazy about Chekhov. I never knew anyone that wasn't. - Woody Allen

Chekhov! Chekhov! Chekhov! - Tennessee Williams, asked to name his favorite authors

Reading Chekhov was just like the angels singing to me. - Eudora Welty

If I have to choose between Chekhov and most hip-hop, I'll go with Chekhov. - Cornel West

Read Chekhov, read the stories straight through. Admit that you understand nothing of life, nothing of what you see. Then go out and look at the world. - Francine Prose, "Learning from Chekhov"

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. - Raymond Carver

Chekhov wrote about 6 good stories. But he was an amateur writer. - Ernest Hemingway

Who better to learn from than Chekhov, who is here plainly in front of us to teach, as we can be plainly in front of him to learn. - Romulus Linney, Story Quarterly, 37, 2001

Anton Chekhov 1897

Poster for the Cherry Orchard by Chekhov, USA

Poster for Three Sisters by Chekhov, Poland, 1993

Poster for the Seagull by Chekhov
Poster for the Three Sisters by Chekhov, USA
Poster for the Seagull by Chekhov, South Korea
Poster for Cherry Orchard by Chekhov
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