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Anton Chekhov

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1900, Yalta. Chekhov (L) and Maxim Gorky.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Анто́н Па́влович Че́хов) (January 29 1860 (Jan. 17 O.S) in Taganrog, RussiaJuly 14 or July 15 (July 1 or 2) 1904 in Badenweiler, Germany) was a major Russian playwright and perhaps the foremost modern writer of the short story.

Although better known in his homeland for his outstanding short stories, Chekhov is a major influence on twentieth-century drama through his use of mood, apparent trivialities and inaction to highlight the internal psychology of his characters. In particular, his four major plays -- The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard -- are frequently revived in modern productions. In his lifetime, Chekhov wrote several hundred short stories widely regarded as brilliant.

Contents

Life

Early Life

Anton Chekhov was born in Taganrog, a small provincial port on the Sea of Azov, in southern Russia. A son of a grocer (his father had official rank of the Trader of the Third Guild - купeц 3й гильдии) and grandson to a serf who had bought his own freedom, Anton Chekhov was the third of six children. Young Anton was a gifted mime, participated in the church choir and was a frequent patron of amateur theater productions.

His father, Pavel Chekhov, a strict disciplinarian and a religious zealot, demanded from all dedication to the Eastern Orthodox Church and the family business. In 1875, facing bankruptcy, he was forced to escape from the creditors to Moscow and for the next several years family slipped into poverty.

Anton stayed behind for three more years to finish his school. He made ends meet by giving private tutoring, selling off household goods, and later, working in a clothing warehouse. By 1879, Chekhov completed his gymnasium and joined his family in Moscow, entering Medical Department of Moscow State University.

Early Writings

In a bid to support his family, Chekhov started writing short, humorous sketches and vignettes of contemporary Russian life, many under the pseudonyms of Antosha Chekhonte (Антоша Чехонте), Man without the spleen (Человек без селезенки) and others. His first published piece appeared in a St Petersburg weekly Strekoza (Стрекоза, "Dragonfly") in March, 1880. It is not known how many stories Chekhov wrote during this period, but his output certainly was prodigious, and he rapidly earned a reputation as a satirical chronicler of Russian street life.

Nicolas Leykin, one of the leading publishers of the time and the owner of Oskolki (Осколки, "Fragments"), to which Chekhov began submitting some of his finer works, recognized the writer's talent but restricted the length of Chekhov's prose, limiting him only to sketches of a page and a half in length. Some believe that it was this limitation that developed Chekhov's trademark concise style.

Chekhov qualified as a physician in 1884, but continued writing for weekly periodicals and in 1885 began submitting to the Petersburgskaya Gazeta ("The Petersburg Gazette") longer works of more somber nature which were rejected by Leykin. By December 1885 he was invited to write for one of the most respected papers of St Petersburg, Novoye vremya (Новое Время, "New Times"), owned and edited by the millionaire magnate Alexey Suvorin. By 1886 Chekhov was becoming a well-known writer but still considered his writing a hobby.

Dmitrii Grigorovich, one of the many writers who were attracted to Chekhov's stories, persuaded him to take his talents seriously. In an immensely fruitful year Chekhov wrote over a hundred stories and published his first collection "Motley Tales" {Pestrye rasskazy) with support from Suvorin, and in the following year the short story collection "At Dusk" (V sumerkakh) won Chekhov the coveted Pushkin prize. This would marked the beginnings of a highly productive career for the writer.

Mature years

In the late 1880s, Chekhov contracted tuberculosis from his patient. In 1887, forced by overwork and ill health, Chekhov undertook a trip to eastern Ukraine. Upon his return, he started writing the long short story The Steppe (Step), which was eventually published in a serious literary journal Severny vestnik ("Northern Herald"). This short story marked a new height for the writer, having the prestige to be published in a leading periodical of the time and showing the maturity that distinguished his later fiction.

After a successful production of The Seagull by the Moscow Art Theatre, he wrote three more plays for the same company: Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. In 1901 he married Olga Leonardovna Knipper (1870-1959), an actress who performed in his plays.

The movement toward naturalism in theatre that was sweeping Europe reached its highest artistic peak in Russia in 1898 with the formation of the Moscow Art Theatre (later called МХАТ, the Moscow Academy Art Theatre). Its name became synonymous with that of Chekhov, whose plays about the day-to-day life of the landed gentry achieved a delicate poetic realism that was years ahead of its time. Konstantin Stanislavsky, its director, became the 20th century's most influential theorist on acting.

Accompanied by Suvorin, Chekhov visited western Europe. Their long and close friendship negatively reflected on Chekhov's popularity, as Suvorin's Novoye vremya was considered politically reactionary in the increasingly liberal times. Eventually, Chekhov broke with Suvorin over the attitude taken by the paper toward the notorious Dreyfus Affair in France, with Chekhov championing the cause of Alfred Dreyfus.

His illness forced Chekhov to spend long periods of time in Nice, France and later in Yalta in the Crimea. Chekhov died of complications of tuberculosis in Badenweiler, Germany where he had been visiting a special clinic for treatment. He is now buried in Novodevichy Cemetery.

Assessment

It can be safely said that Chekhov revolutionized the genre of short story. No writer of the short story appear to have so much influence over future generations of short fiction writers, either through his use of subject-matter and his technique. It is often said that nothing much happens in Chekhov's stories and plays, but he compensates for any lack of outward excitement by his original techniques for developing internal drama. A typical Chekhovian story has little external plot, and the point of the story is most often found in what happens within a given character, and that is conveyed indirectly, by suggestion or by significant detail. Chekhov echews the traditional build-up of chronological detail, instead emphasizing on moments of epiphanies and illumination over a significantly shorter period of time. As such his best stories have a psychological realism and concision seldom matched by other writers. Tolstoy likened Chekhov's technique to that of the French Impressionists, where he would seemingly add daubs of paint apparently without reason, but whose overall effect is one of vivid, unchallengeable artistry.

Chekhov main themes are work and love, but his characters find lasting satisfaction in neither activity. His younger characters are usually portrayed as victims of illusion, the older ones as victims of disillusionment. The passage of time is a constant preoccupation, as are the trivialities of life and the desultory and unsuccessful search for its meaning.

One critic says of Chekhov that he is no moralist — he simply says "you live badly, ladies and gentlemen," but his smile has the indulgence of a very wise man.

As samples of the Russian epistolary art, Chekhov's letters have been rated second only to Aleksandr Pushkin's by the literary historian D.S. Mirsky. Although Chekhov is still chiefly known for his plays, critical opinion shows signs of establishing the stories — and particularly those that were written after 1888 — as an even more significant and creative literary achievement.

In his dramatic works Chekhov was equally an innovator, seeking to convey the texture of everyday life as he moves away from traditional ideas of plot and conventions of dramatic speech. Dialogue in his plays is not smooth or continuous: characters interrupt each other, several different conversations can take place at the same time, and lengthy pauses occur when no one speaks at all. His plays commonly feature the struggle of a sensitive individual to maintain his integrity against the temptations of worldly success. A recurring theme is the pointlessness of radical, human or mechanical change, versus the powerful inertia of slow organic cycles.


Perhaps one of his best known contribution is the Chekhov's dictum (or otherwise known just as Chekhov's gun): If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.

Influence

Though already celebrated by the Russian literary public at the time of his death, Chekhov did not become internationally famous until the years after World War I, by which time the translations of Constance Garnett (into English language). Yet his elusive, superficially guileless style of writing — in which what is left unsaid often seems so much more important than what is said — has defied effective analysis by literary critics, as well as effective imitation by creative writers.

Chekhov's plays were immensely popular in England in the 1920s and have become classics of the British stage. In the United States his fame came somewhat later, through the influence of Stanislavsky's technique for achieving realistic acting. American playwrights such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Clifford Odets have used Chekhovian techniques, and few important writers of plays in the 20th century can have escaped Chekhov's influence entirely: for example, the work by British playwright Michael Frayn is often compared to that of Chekhov for its focus on humorous family situations and its insights into society.

Many writers of prose, particularly of short stories, have also been influenced by Chekhov. The delicate stories by Katherine Mansfield reveal the influence of Anton Chekhov. John Cheever has been called "the Chekhov of the suburbs" for his ability to capture the drama and sadness of the lives of his characters by revealing the undercurrents of apparently insignificant events. American writer Raymond Carver was also frequently compared to Chekhov, because of his minimalistic prose style, and tendency to meditate upon the humor and tragedy in the everyday lives of working class people. Master of the short story, the British author Victor Sawdon Pritchett's short stories are prized for their craftsmanship and comic irony similar to that of Chekhov.

The continuously growing list of films and theater productions based on Chekhov's stories and plays includes Emil Loteanu's My Tender and Affectionate Beast (1978, see Template:Imdb title), Nikita Mikhalkov and Marcello Mastroianni's Dark Eyes (1987), Louis Malle's Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), Anthony Hopkins's August (1996), Lanford Wilson's The Three Sisters (1997), among many others.

Works

Plays

Nonfiction

  • A Journey to Sakhalin (1895), including:
    • Saghalien [or Sakhalin] Island (1891-1895)
    • Across Siberia
  • Letters

Short stories

Many of the earlier stories were written under the pseudonym "Antosha Chekhonte".

  • "Intrigues" (1879-1884) - nine stories
  • "Late-Blooming Flowers" (1882)
  • "The Swedish Match" (1883)
  • "Lights" (1883-1888)
  • "Oysters" (1884)
  • "Perpetuum Mobile" (1884)
  • A Living Chronology (1885)
  • "Motley Stories" ("Pstrye Rasskazy") (1886)
  • "Excellent People" (1886)
  • "Misery" (1886)
  • "The Princess" (1886)
  • "The Scholmaster" (1886)
  • "A Work of Art" (1886)
  • "Hydrophobia" (1886-1901)
  • "At Home" (1887)
  • "The Beggar" (1887)
  • "The Doctor" (1887)
  • "Enemies" (1887)
  • "The Examining Magistrate" (1887)
  • "Happiness" (1887)
  • "The Kiss" (1887)
  • "On Easter Eve" (1887)
  • "Typhus" (1887)
  • "Volodya" (1887)
  • "The Steppe" (1888) - won the Pushkin Prize
  • "An Attack of Nerves" (1888)
  • "An Awkward Business" (1888)
  • "The Beauties" (1888)
  • "The Swan Song" (1888)
  • "Sleepy" (1888)
  • "The Name-Day Party" (1888)
  • "A Boring Story" (1889)
  • "Gusev" (1890)
  • "The Horse Stealers" (1890)
  • "The Duel" (1891)
  • "Peasant Wives" (1891)
  • "Ward No 6" (1892)
  • "In Exile" (1892)
  • "The Grasshopper" (1892)
  • "Neighbours" (1892)
  • "Terror" (1892)
  • "My Wife" (1892)
  • "The Butterfly" (1892)
  • "The Two Volodyas" (1893)
  • "An Anonymous Story" (1893)
  • "The Black Monk" (1894)
  • "The Head Gardener's Story" (1894)
  • "Rothschild's Fiddle" (1894)
  • "The Student" (1894)
  • "The Teacher of Literature" (1894)
  • "A Woman's Kingdom" (1894)
  • "Three Years" (1895)
  • "Ariadne" (1895)
  • "Murder" (1895)
  • "The House with an Attic" (1896)
  • "My Life" (1896)
  • "Peasants" (1897)
  • "In the Cart" (1897)
  • "The Man in a Case", "Gooseberries", "About Love" - the 'Little Trilogy' (1898)
  • "Ionych" (1898)
  • "A Doctor's Visit" (1898)
  • "The New Villa" (1898)
  • "On Official Business" (1898)
  • "The Darling" (1899)
  • "The Lady with the Dog" (1899)
  • "At Christmas" (1899)
  • "In the Ravine" (1900)
  • "The Bishop" (1902)
  • "The Bet" (1904)
  • "Betrothed" or "A Marriageable Girl" (1903)
  • "Agafya"

Novel

External link

Template:Commons

Quotes

  • "The stage reflects in itself the quintessence of life, so one must not introduce on it anything that is superfluous"bg:Антон Чехов

cs:Anton Pavlovič Čechov da:Anton Tjekhov de:Anton Pawlowitsch Tschechow es:Antn Chjov eo:Anton ĈEĤOV fr:Anton Tchekhov ko:체홉 he:אנטון צ'כוב nl:Anton Tsjechov ja:アントン・チェーホフ pl:Anton Czechow pt:Anton Paolovitch Tchekhov ro:Anton Cehov ru:Чехов,_Антон_Павлович sk:Anton Pavlovič Čechov fi:Anton Tšehov sv:Anton Tjechov tr:Anton ehov zh:契訶夫

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