“Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress. When I get fed up with one, I spend the night with the other”
Physician, Fiction Writer and Playwright most famous for plays such as The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1900) and The Cherry Orchard (1903), Anton Chekov (29 January 1860 – 15 July 1904) is considered a major literary icon. Chekhov described the Russian life of his time using a deceptively simple technique devoid of obtrusive literary devices, and is regarded as the outstanding representative of the late 19th-century Russian realist school.
Chekov was born in the small seaport of Taganrog, southern Russia, to a grocer father and a mother who was the daughter of a cloth merchant.
In 1879 Chekhov entered the Moscow University Medical School and began to publish hundreds of comic short stories to support himself and his mother, sisters and brothers while in school. His subjects were silly social situations, marital problems, farcical encounters between husbands, wives, mistresses, and lovers, whims of young women. His works appeared in St. Petersburg daily papers.
“The task of a writer is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly.”
He was a literary artist of laconic precision who probed below the surface of life, laying bare the secret motives of his characters. Chekhov’s best plays and short stories lacked complex plots and neat solutions. Often ambiguous, at times humorous, gritty, haunting, ironic, anecdotal, facetious, lyrical, apathetic, bizarre, passionate and tragic, Chekhov’s works explored the entire range of the human spirit. He wanted his works to ask the reader questions, not to provide answers.
Chekhov’s fist book of stories (1886) was a success, and gradually he became a full-time writer. The author’s refusal to join the ranks of social critics arose the wrath of liberal and radical intellitentsia and he was criticized for dealing with serious social and moral questions, but avoiding giving answers. However, he was defended by such leading writers as Leo Tolstoy and Nikolai Leskov. “I’m not a liberal, or a conservative, or a gradualist, or a monk, or an indifferentist. I should like to be a free artist and that’s all…” Chekhov said in 1888.
“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”
Chekhov considered his mature plays to be a kind of comic satire, pointing out the unhappy nature of existence in turn-of-the-century Russia. Perhaps Chekhov’s style was described best by the poet himself when he wrote:
“All I wanted was to say honestly to people: ‘Have a look at yourselves and see how bad and dreary your lives are!’ The important thing is that people should realize that, for when they do, they will most certainly create another and better life for themselves. I will not live to see it, but I know that it will be quite different, quite unlike our present life. And so long as this different life does not exist, I shall go on saying to people again and again: ‘Please, understand that your life is bad and dreary!’”
“Perhaps man has a hundred senses, and when he dies only the five senses that we know perish with him, and the other ninety-five remain alive.”
During Chekhov’s final years, he was forced to live in exile from the intellectuals of Moscow. In March of 1897, he had suffered a lung hemorrhage, and although he still made occasional trips to Moscow to participate in the productions of his plays, he was forced to spend most of his time in the Crimea where he had gone for his health. He died of tuberculosis on July 14, 1904, at the age of forty-four, in a German health resort and was buried in Moscow. Since his death, Chekhov’s plays have become famous worldwide and he has come to be considered the greatest Russian storyteller and dramatist of modern times. 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.