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Chekhov, Anton (Pavlovich)

CHEKHOV, Anton (Pavlovich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Taganrog, 17 January 1860. Education: A school for Greek boys, Taganrog, 1867-68; Taganrog grammar school, 1868-79; Moscow University Medical School, 1879-84, graduated as a doctor, 1884. Family: Married the actress Olga Knipper, 1901. Career: Freelance writer for humorous magazines, 1879-84; practicing doctor in Moscow, 1884-92. Lived in Melikhovo from 1892-99 and Yalta after 1899. Awards: Pushkin prize, 1888. Member: Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1900 (resigned, 1902). Died: 2 July 1904.

Publications

Collections

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem [Complete Works and Letters], edited by S.D. Balukhaty and others. 20 vols., 1944-51; a new edition, 30 vols., 1974—.

The Major Plays. 1964.

The Oxford Chekhov, edited by Ronald Hingley. 9 vols., 1964-80.

Collected Works. 5 vols., 1987.

The Sneeze: Plays and Stories. 1989.

Longer Stories from the Last Decade, translated by ConstanceGarnett. 1993.

The Chekhov Omnibus: Selected Stories. 1994.

Monologues from Chekhov. 1995.

Short Stories

Pestrye rasskazy [Motley Tales]. 1886; revised edition, 1891.

Nevinnye rechi [Innocent Tales]. 1887.

Rasskazy [Tales]. 1889.

Tales. 13 vols., 1916-22.

The Unknown Chekhov: Stories and Other Writings Hitherto Untranslated, edited by A. Yarmolinsky. 1954.

Early Stories. 1960.

The Early Stories 1883-1888, edited by Patrick Miles and Harvey>Pitcher. 1984.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Intrigues: Nine Stories" (in Harper's). November 1997.

Novels

V sumerkakh [In the Twilight]. 1887.

Khmurye liudi [Gloomy People]. 1890.

Duel [The Duel]. 1892.

Palata No. 6 [Ward No. 6]. 1893.

Plays

Ivanov (produced 1887; revised version, produced 1889). In P'esy, 1897; translated as Ivanov, in Plays 1, 1912.

Lebedinaia pesnia (produced 1888). In P'esy, 1897; as Swan Song, in Plays 1, 1912.

Medved' (produced 1888). 1888; as The Bear, 1909; as The Boor, 1915.

Leshii (produced 1889). 1890; as The Wood Demon, 1926.

Predlozhenie (produced 1889). 1889; as A Marriage Proposal, 1914.

Trigik ponevole (produced 1889). 1890.

Svad'ba (produced 1890). 1889; as The Wedding, in Plays 2, 1916.

Yubiley (produced 1900). 1892.

Diadia Vania (produced 1896). In P'esy, 1897; as Uncle Vanya, inPlays 1, 1912.

Chaika (produced 1896). In P'esy, 1897; revised version (produced1898), 1904; as The Seagull, in Plays 1, 1912.

Tri sestry (produced 1901). 1901; as The Three Sisters, in Plays 2, 1916.

Vishnevyi sad (produced 1904). 1904; as The Cherry Orchard, 1908.

Neizdannaia p'esa, edited by N.F. Belchikov. 1923; as That Worthless Fellow Platonov, 1930; as Don Juan (in the Russian Manner), 1952; as Platonov, 1964.

Other

Ostrov Sakhalin. 1895; as The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin, 1967.

Sobranie sochinenii. 11 vols., 1899-1906.

Pis'ma [Letters]. 1909; Sobranie pis'ma, 1910; Pis'ma, 1912-16, and later editions.

Zapisnye knizhki. 1914; as The Note-Books, 1921.

Letters to Olga Knipper. 1925.

Literary and Theatrical Reminiscences, edited by S. S. Kotelianskii. 1927.

Personal Papers. 1948.

Selected Letters, edited by Lillian Hellman. 1955.

Letters, edited by Simon Karlinsky. 1973.

Dear Writer, Dear Actress: The Love Letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper. 1996.

*

Bibliography:

Chekhov in English: A List of Works by and about Him edited by Anna Heifetz and A. Yarmolinsky, 1949; The Chekhov Centennial: Chekhov in English: A Selective List of Works by and about Him 1949-60 by Rissa Yachnin, 1960; Chekhov Bibliography: Works in English by and about Chekhov: American, British, and Canadian Performances, 1985, and Chekhov Criticism: 1880 through 1986, 1989, both by Charles W. Meister; Chekhov: A Reference Guide to Literature by K.A. Lantz, 1985; Chekhov Rediscovered: A Collection of New Studies with a Complete Bibliography edited by Savely Senderovich and Munir Sendich, 1987.

Critical Studies:

Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study, 1950, and A New Life of Chekhov, 1976, both by Ronald Hingley; Chekhov: A Biography by Ernest J. Simmons, 1962; The Breaking String: The Plays of Anton Chekhov by Maurice Valency, 1966; Chekhov and His Prose by Thomas Winner, 1966; Chekhov: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Robert Louis Jackson, 1967; Chekhov by J.B. Priestly, 1970; Chekhov in Performance: A Commentary on the Major Plays by J.L. Styan, 1971; The Chekhov Play: A New Interpretation by Harvey Pitcher, 1973; Chekhov: The Evolution of His Art by Donald Rayfield, 1975; Chekhov: A Study of the Major Stories and Plays by Beverly Hahn, 1977; Chekhov by Irina Kirk, 1981; Chekhov: The Critical Heritage edited by Victor Emeljanow, 1981; Chekhov and the Vaudeville: A Study of Chekhov's One-Act Plays by Vera Gottlieb, 1982; Chekhov: A Study of the Four Major Plays by Richard Peace, 1983; Chekhov (biography) by Henri Troyat, 1984, translated by Micheal Henry Heim, 1986; Chekhov and Tagore: A Comparative Study of Their Short Stories by Sankar Basu, 1985; Chekhov and O'Neill: The Uses of the Short Story in Chekhov's and O'Neill's Plays by Déter Egri, 1986; Chekhov and Women by Carolina de Maegd-Soëp, 1987; Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free by V.S. Pritchett, 1988; Critical Essays on Chekhov edited by Thomas A. Eekman, 1989; Anton Chekhov: The Sense and the Nonsense by Natalia Pervukhina, 1993; The Pragmatics of Insignificance: Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and Gogol by Cathy Popkin, 1993; Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction by Ronald L. Johnson, 1993; The Cherry Orchard: Catastrophe and Comedy by Donald Rayfield, 1994; Chekhov's Plays: An Opening into Eternity by Richard Gilman, 1995; Chekhov's Three Sisters by Gordon McVay, 1995; The Chekhov Theatre: A Century of the Plays in Performance by Laurence Senelick, 1997; Anton Chekhov: A Life by Donald Rayfield, 1998.

* * *

Critics and literary historians generally agree that Anton Chekhov was the most important influence on the development of the "modern" short story at the beginning of the twentieth century. Chekhov's short stories were first characterized as an offshoot of nineteenth-century realism—not because they reflected the social commitment or political convictions of the realistic novel, but because they seemed to focus on fragments of everyday reality and to present "slices of life." When Chekhov's stories first appeared in translation, a number of critics noted that they were so deficient in incident and plot that they lacked every element that constitutes a really good short story. However, at the same time, other critics argued that Chekhov's ability to dispense with a striking incident, his impressionism, and his freedom from the literary conventions of the highly plotted and formalized story marked the beginnings of a new kind of short fiction that somehow combined realism and romantic poetry.

This combination of the realistic and the poetic has been the most problematical aspect of Chekhov's stories. It has often reduced critics to commenting vaguely about an elusive, seamless quality that makes them resistant to analysis or interpretation. As early as 1916 critic Barry Pain noted that in the "artistic" story typical of Chekhov we find a quality rarely found in the novel in the same degree of intensity: "a very curious, haunting, and suggestive quality." Chekhov has been credited with creating the "literary" or "artistic" short story by initiating a shift from focusing on what happens to characters externally to what happens in the minds of characters. Literary historian A.C. Ward argued in 1924 that the brief prose tale written since Chekhov more readily lent itself to impressionistic effects and provided a more suitable medium for excursions into the unconscious than the novel.

When Chekhov began publishing his best-known stories near the end of the nineteenth century, the romantic tale form with its emphasis on plot was still predominant. Although realism had laid the groundwork for Stephen Crane's experiments with impressionism and for Henry James's explorations of psychological reality, O. Henry and lesser-known imitators of the patterned Poe "story of effect" dominated the short story in America at the time. In England the short story was enjoying its first flush of success with the formalized stories of Stevenson and Kipling; Maupassant was sophisticating the patterned Poe story in France; and in Russia Gogol was parodying and Turgenev was lyricizing the folktale.

The Chekhovian short story marks a transition from the romantic projective fiction of Poe and the patterned ironic fiction of O. Henry—in which characters are merely functions of the story—to an apparently realistic episode in which plot is subordinate to "asif-real" character. However, because the short story is too short to allow character to be created by the multiplicity of detail and social interaction typical of the novel, Chekhov's stories focus on human experience under the influence of a particular mood; as a result, tone rather than plot becomes their unifying principle. Conrad Aiken once noted that if, in retrospect, we find that Chekhov's characters have an odd way of evaporating, it is because we never saw them externally, but rather as "infinitely fine and truthful sequences of mood."

The typical Chekhov story does not realistically focus on everyday reality, but instead centers on the psychological aftermath of an event that breaks up everyday reality and leaves the involved characters helpless to understand or integrate the event and painfully inadequate to articulate their feelings about it. Some of Chekhov's best-known stories, such as "Gooseberries" and "The Lady with the Little Dog," end with characters caught in conflicting emotions that transcend their ability to understand or articulate them. Chekhov is not a realist in the usual sense of that term. In fact, after reading "The Lady with the Little Dog," Maxim Gor'kii wrote to Chekhov that he was killing realism for good, for it had outlived its time. "No one can write so simply about such simple things as you do," Gor'kii wrote. "After any of your insignificant stories everything seems crude, as though it were not written with a pen but with a log of wood."

In "Misery," one of the clearest examples of Chekhov's typical theme and structure, the everyday rhythm of the cab driver Iona's reality is broken up by the news that his son is dead, and he feels compelled to communicate the impact of this news to his fares. What the story presents is the comic and pathetic sense of the incommunicable nature of grief itself. Iona "thirsts for speech," wants to talk of the death of his son "properly, with deliberation." He is caught by the basic desire to tell a story of the break-up of his everyday reality that will express the irony he senses and that, by being deliberate and detailed, will both express his grief and control it.

What makes this story different from the typical story that came before it is that it not only does not seem like a told story of a past event, it does not emphasize an event at all but rather the lack of one. What Iona wants to tell is not a story in the usual sense of the word, but a story that expresses an inner state by being deliberate and detailed. In this sense "Misery" is not a mere lament (as the title is sometimes translated), but a controlled objectification of grief and its incommunicable nature by the presentation of deliberate details. It therefore indicates in a basic way one of the primary contributions Chekhov makes to the short story form—the expression of a complex inner state by means of the presentation of selected concrete particulars. T.S. Eliot later termed such a technique "objective correlative," and James Joyce mastered it fully in Dubliners (1914). With Chekhov the short story took on a new respectability as the most appropriate narrative form to reflect the modern temperament.

—Charles E. May

See the essays on "Gooseberries," "The Lady with the Little Dog," and "Rothchild's Violin."

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