Anton Chekhov was a prolific writer and his short stories and plays had great insight into the inner lives of ordinary people. He was instrumental in establishing modern theatre along with Ibsen and Strindberg, and bringing realism to the forefront. Here are some quotes from his famous plays:
The Cherry Orchard
All Russia is our orchard.
Just think, Anya. Your grandfather, your great-grandfather and all your ancestors owned serfs, they owned human souls. Don’t you see that from every cherry-tree in the orchard, from every leaf and every trunk, men and women are gazing at you? If we’re to start living in the present isn’t it abundantly clear that we’ve first got to redeem our past and make a clean break with it? And we can only redeem it by suffering and getting down to real work for a change.
My love is like a stone tied round my neck; it’s dragging me down to the bottom; but I love my stone. I can’t live without it.
A hungry dog believes in nothing but meat.
Dear and most respected bookcase! I welcome your existence, which has for over one hundred years been devoted to the radiant ideals of goodness and justice.
The cherry orchard is now mine! I bought the estate on which my grandfather and father were slaves, where they were not even permitted in the kitchen.
Don’t laugh at me. If my father and grandfather could only rise from their graves and see what happened, see how their Yermolay — Yermolay who was always being beaten, who could hardly write his name and ran round barefoot in the winter — how this same Yermolay bought this estate, the most beautiful estate in the world.
You look boldly ahead; isn’t it only that you don’t see or divine anything terrible in the future; because life is still hidden from your young eyes.
Perhaps man has a hundred senses, and when he dies the five senses that we know perish with him, and the other ninety-five remain alive . . . Everything that is unattainable for us now will one day be near and clear . . . But we must work.
Life has gone by as if I never lived.
The Three Sisters
I often wonder: suppose we could begin life over again, knowing what we were doing? Suppose we could use one life, already ended, as a sort of rough draft for another? I think that every one of us would try, more than anything else, not to repeat himself, at the very least he would rearrange his manner of life, he would make sure of rooms like these, with flowers and light … I have a wife and two daughters, my wife’s health is delicate and so on and so on, and if I had to begin life all over again I would not marry. … No, no!
I don’t think there can really be a town so dull and stupid as to have no place for a clever, cultured person. Let us suppose even that among the hundred thousand inhabitants of this backward and uneducated town, there are only three persons like yourself. It stands to reason that you won’t be able to conquer that dark mob around you; little by little as you grow older you will be bound to give way and lose yourselves in this crowd of a hundred thousand human beings; their life will suck you up in itself, but still, you won’t disappear having influenced nobody; later on, others like you will come, perhaps six of them, then twelve, and so on, until at last your sort will be in the majority. In two or three hundred years’ time life on this earth will be unimaginably beautiful and wonderful. Mankind needs such a life, and if it is not ours today then we must look ahead for it, wait, think, prepare for it. We must see and know more than our fathers and grandfathers saw and knew.
What seems to us serious, significant and important will, in future times, be forgotten or won’t seem important at all.
In Moscow you can sit in an enormous restaurant where you don’t know anybody and where nobody knows you, and you don’t feel all the same that you’re a stranger. And here you know everybody and everybody knows you, and you’re a stranger … and a lonely stranger.
To Moscow, to Moscow, to Moscow!
It’s curious that we can’t possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem paltry and ridiculous. Did not the discoveries of Copernicus or Columbus, let us say, seem useless and ridiculous at first, while the nonsensical writings of some wiseacre seemed true?
I used to know a certain amount five-and-twenty years ago, but I don’t remember anything now. Nothing. Perhaps I’m not really a man, and am only pretending that I’ve got arms and legs and a head; perhaps I don’t exist at all, and only imagine that I walk, and eat, and sleep…. The devil only knows.
We must work, work. That is why we are unhappy and look at the world so sadly; we don’t know what work is.
I can’t make you love me by force, of course … but I don’t intend to have any more-favoured rivals…. No … I swear to you by all the saints, I shall kill my rival…. Oh, beautiful one!
A few days ago I was reading the prison diary of a French minister. He had been sentenced on account of the Panama scandal. With what joy, what delight, he speaks of the birds he saw through the prison windows, which he had never noticed while he was a minister. Now, of course, that he is at liberty, he notices birds no more than he did before. When you go to live in Moscow you’ll not notice it, in just the same way. There can be no happiness for us, it only exists in our wishes.
After us they’ll fly in hot air balloons, coat styles will change, perhaps they’ll discover a sixth sense and cultivate it, but life will remain the same, a hard life full of secrets, but happy. And a thousand years from now man will still be sighing, “Oh! Life is so hard!” and will still, like now, be afraid of death and not want to die.
It seems to me that a man must have faith, or must search for a faith, or his life will be empty, empty…. To live and not to know why the cranes fly, why babies are born, why there are stars in the sky…. Either you must know why you live, or everything is trivial, not worth a straw.
Time will pass, and we shall go away forever, and we shall be forgotten, our faces will be forgotten, our voices, and how many there were of us; but our sufferings will pass into joy for those who will live after us, happiness and peace will be established upon earth, and they will remember kindly and bless those who have lived before.
Mankind is looking for something, and will certainly find it. Oh, if it only happened more quickly.
People should be beautiful in every way–in their faces, in the way they dress, in their thoughts and in their innermost selves.
In countries where there is a mild climate, less effort is expended on the struggle with nature and man is kinder and more gentle.
Russian forests crash down under the axe, billions of trees are dying, the habitations of animals and birds are laid waste, rivers grow shallow and dry up, marvelous landscapes are disappearing forever…. Man is endowed with creativity in order to multiply that which has been given him; he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.
The world perishes not from bandits and fires, but from hatred, hostility, and all these petty squabbles.
A woman can only become a man’s friend in three stages: first, she’s an agreeable acquaintance, then a mistress, and only after that a friend.
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
Those who come a hundred or two hundred years after us will despise us for having lived our lives so stupidly and tastelessly. Perhaps they’ll find a means to be happy.