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Anton Chekhov

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English Literature

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian dramatist and short-story writer. He was one of the main figures in the literary movement of realism and the subsequent movement of naturalism in drama.

Anton Chekhov: Biography

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. He was the third of six children. His father, Pavel Chekhov was the son of a former serf. His mother, Yevgeniya Chekhova, was a storyteller who entertained her children with her tales. Pavel and Yengeniya ran a grocery shop. Pavel Chekhov was an abusive father and husband, which is why Anton Chekhov did not have a childhood he wanted to remember. Growing up, he attended two schools in Taganrog.

In 1876, Chekhov's father went bankrupt and moved most of the family to Moscow to avoid being arrested for his debts. Chekhov stayed in Taganrog to finish his education which he had to pay for himself by doing odd jobs. It was during that time that young Chekhov began to write. Inspired by the works of authors he was reading at the time, such as Ivan Turgenev, Miguel de Cervantes, and Arthur Schopenhauer, he wrote a full-length play called Fatherless.

In 1879, Chekhov moved to Moscow and started studying medicine. Having to support his family and pay for his studies, he sold funny anecdotes and comic sketches, describing Russian street life. He gained a good reputation, and in 1882 he was writing for one of the main literary magazines at the time - 'Oskolki' ('Fragments'). In 1884, Chekhov graduated as a doctor. Between 1884 and 1886 he realised he had tuberculosis but he did not tell his family because they were counting on him to support them.

In 1886, Chekhov, who was writing less comic and more serious fiction. He became a writer for the popular St. Petersburg newspaper 'Novoye Vremya' ('New Times'). The following year, in 1887, Chekhov travelled around the Ukrainian steppe, which inspired him to write his first longer work of fiction - a novella called The Steppe. The same year he was commissioned to write a play, and he wrote the drama Ivanov in only ten days. In 1888, The Steppe was published in the literary newspaper 'Severny Vestnik' ('Northern Herald'). The same year, Chekhov won the prestigious Pushkin Prize for his short story collection At Dusk (1887). Between 1889 and 1890, Chekhov wrote the play The Wood Demon, which would later be shortened and would take on the name Uncle Vanya. The play wasn't published until 1897.

In 1890, Chekhov, who had become interested in prison reform, travelled on his own to the remote island of Sakhalin where a penal colony was situated. In Sakhalin, Chekhov interviewed the local people and the convicts. As a result, he wrote the sociological research volume The Island of Sakhalin which was published in two parts in 1893 and 1894.

In 1892, Chekhov bought an estate in the countryside near Moscow, in Melikhovo, where he moved with his parents and his sister, Maria. He worked as a physician there but it proved to be a fruitful period for his writing. Inspired by village life, between 1892 and 1898, Chekhov wrote some of his most famous works, such as the novellas My Life (1896) and Peasants (1897), the short stories The Black Monk (1894) and Ariadne (1895), and the play The Seagull (1895).

In 1896, The Seagull was performed in St. Petersburg, but it was not received well. The poor reception caused Chekhov to declare that he would not write for the stage again. However, two years later, in 1898, the Moscow Art Theatre production of the play, directed by the famous theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), was a success. Chekhov continued working for the Moscow Art Theatre where he staged his later plays – Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904) – also directed by Stanislavski. The playwright was never happy with the performances of his works because they were interpreted as tragedies, while Chekhov himself viewed them as comedies.

In 1897, Chekhov had a lung haemorrhage. He was officially diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to the sea resort of Yalta. While he was living there, he was often visited by his friends, the writers Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) and Maxim Gorky (1868-1936). In 1899, he wrote the famous short story, The Lady With the Dog, which is set in Yalta.

In 1901, Chekhov married the actress Olga Knipper whom he had met when she was acting in productions of his dramas. During his lifetime, the writer had many romantic relationships but that was his only marriage. Chekhov and Olga did not have any children. In June 1904, the couple went to the German spa town of Badenweiler. It was there that the writer spent his last days. Chekhov died from tuberculosis on July 15th 1904 in Badenweiler, with his wife by his side. His body was transported back to Russia and buried in Moscow.

Anton Chekhov was a physician by profession and a writer by calling. He is recognised worldwide as one of the greatest playwrights and short stories writers.

Anton Chekhov: Plays

Let's look at some of Chekhov's most well-known works:

The Seagull (1895)

'I am a sea-gull—no—no, I am an actress.'

- Nina Zarechnaya, Act 4

The Seagull is a four-act play by Anton Chekhov. It was written in 1895 and it premiered on October 17th 1896 at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

The Seagull follows a group of artists who meet at a country estate. The play explores the relationships between the characters and their broken dreams.

Uncle Vanya (1897)

'Man is endowed with reason and creative powers so that he may increase what has been given to him, but up to now he has not created but only destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wild life is becoming extinct, the climate is ruined and every day the earth gets poorer and uglier.'

- Astrov, Act 1

Uncle Vanya is a four-act play by Anton Chekhov. Chekhov wrote the original version of the play, titled The Wood Demon, between 1889 and 1890. It was subsequently shortened and published in 1897. Its first production was in 1899 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

The play is about Ivan Voynitski, known as Uncle Vanya, and the group of characters who reside at the country estate that he manages. The characters' struggle is with finding purpose and hope in a futile life. Additionally, Uncle Vanya is considered to be one of the first plays to raise questions on the topic of environmental issues.

Three Sisters (1901)

'But then there's loneliness. However you might philosophise about it, loneliness is a terrible thing.'

- Chebutykin, Act 2

Three Sisters is a four-act play by Anton Chekhov written in 1900 and premiered in 1901 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

The drama follows the sisters Olga, Maria and Irina, as they are forced to live in the countryside when they long for the liveliness of the city. Three Sisters explores the nature of unfulfilled potential.

The Cherry Orchard (1904)

'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.'

- Trofimov, Act 2

The Cherry Orchard (1904) is Anton Chekhov's last play, written in 1903.The four-act play premiered on January 17th 1904 at the Moscow Art Theatre.

The Cherry Orchard is about the decline of an aristocratic family, who lose their beloved Cherry Orchard estate to the son of their former servant. The play deals with some of the social changes in Russian society at the turn of the 20th century – after the abolishment of serfdom, the aristocracy was overshadowed by the bourgeoisie.

Anton Chekhov Short stories

Chekhov was a master of the short story genre. Let's look at some of his most well-known short stories:

  • Kashtanka (1887)
  • Ward No.6 (1892)
  • The Two Volodyas (1893)
  • The Black Monk (1894)
  • The Student (1894)
  • Ariadne (1895)
  • The Lady With the Dog (1899)
  • The Bride (1903)

Chekhov's favourite of his short stories was The Student (1894), which follows a day in the life of a clerical student.

Anton Chekhov's Main Themes

Chekhov dealt with some recurring themes, including:

Suffering

Considering that, while writing most of his works, Chekhov was suffering from tuberculosis, it is not surprising that his condition influenced his writing. In his short stories, suffering often comes in the form of disease – characters are ill and death is a tangible presence. The illness is sometimes metaphorical – it points to weaknesses that plague society as a whole. Moreover, in Chekhov's plays the characters suffer because they lead a life that they feel is unfulfilled – whether because they feel stuck, or because they long for something or someone they cannot attain. The way Chekhov describes suffering is as something fundamentally human, something which affects us all in different ways. As readers or audience, we can relate to Chekhov's characters because their pain reflects ours; what the characters go through is what human beings have always gone through.

Unfulfilled potential

In many of Chekhov's works, the characters feel as though they haven't lived their lives to their full potential. They have dreams that are shattered by reality, and they often find it difficult to keep up when times, situations and people in their lives change. Indeed, the climax in most of Chekhov's narratives occurs when the main characters have to look back on their lives, and to redefine their ideals and the ways in which they chose to live until that moment. Some of them find new meanings and learn how to keep on living and hoping for a better future. Others, however, are unable to do so and their existence becomes empty. Chekhov's short stories that feature the latter scenario are anti-climactic.

The theme of unfulfilled potential and the ways in which different people deal with it is very true to real life. Most people reminisce about what they could have done differently.

Loneliness

The theme of loneliness in Chekhov's works encapsulates the human condition. Each one of Chekhov's characters is specific and memorable but they all have loneliness in common. In some cases, loneliness is examined as a state of individuality – a character feels utterly alone in their unique perception of the world that none of the other characters understands. In other cases, loneliness is the impossibility to be with the person you love, or to even find someone to love.

Anton Chekhov Importance

Anton Chekhov was a key figure in the movement of literary realism.

Realism is a style in art or literature that shows things and people as they are in real life¹ (Oxford English Dictionary). Common features in works of realism include realistic plots and in-depth descriptions of settings and characters. Works of realism are character-driven and focus on their day to day lives.

Chekhov believed that, as a writer, his job was to describe real life and the people in it as a witness, without imposing any judgement on them. His short stories have been translated into many languages and, although he only wrote a few plays, Chekhov is the most staged dramatist after Shakespeare. His works - whether you read them or see them in the theatre - are still relevant today, because they depict the struggles of ordinary people in an extraordinary way.

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) - Key takeaways

  • Anton Chekhov was a Russian dramatist and short-story writer. He was a key figure in the movement of literary realism. Chekhov is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time.
  • Anton Chekhov was born on January 29th 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. He died from tuberculosis on July 15th 1904 in Badenweiler, Germany.
  • In his works, Chekhov reflects the fundamental human struggles of everyday life.
  • Anton Chekhov's most famous plays are: The Seagull (1895), Uncle Vanya (1897), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904).
  • Some of Chekhov's most well-known short stories are: Ward No.6 (1892), The Black Monk (1894). The Student (1894), and Ariadne (1895).
  • The main themes in Chekhov's works are: suffering, unfulfilled potential, and loneliness.

¹ Realism, Oxford English Dictionary: oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/american_english/realism

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov is known for his plays and short stories.

Anton Chekhov was a Russian dramatist, short-story writer and physicican. He was a key figure in the movement of literary realism. He is recognised worldwide as one of the greatest writers.

Anton Chekhov is influential because he wrote about the fundamental human struggles in a way that resonated with people during his time, and that is still relevant today.

Anton Chekhov's writing style is realism. His works are character-centered and obejctive.

Anton Chekhov's four most famous plays are: The Seagull (1895), Uncle Vanya (1897), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904).

Final Anton Chekhov Quiz

Question

When did Uncle Vanya premiere?

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Answer

1899

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Question

Which of the following is NOT one of the main themes in Uncle Vanya?

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Answer

Country life vs City life

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Question

True or False: Elena and Serebryakov are happily in love.

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Answer

False.

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Question

True or False: Vanya blames Serebryakov for ruining his life.

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which character is passionate about preserving the forests?

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Answer

Astrov

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Question

True or False: Marina is Vanya's mother.

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Answer

False.

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Question

Which character is in love with Astrov?

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Answer

Sonya

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Question

Uncle Vanya explores...?

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Answer

the search for purpose in a futile life

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Question

Which character tries to shoot Serebryakov?

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Answer

Voinitski

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Question

Which character has a monologue at the end of the play?

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Answer

Sonya

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True or False: Astrov kisses Elena.

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Answer

True.

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True or False: Elena aims to create a better world for the future generations. 

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Answer

False.

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Question

True or False: In the play, the destruction of the environment is presented as connected to the degradation of human morals.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Where was Chekhov born?

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Answer

Taganrog 

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True or False: Chekhov had a happy childhood.

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Answer

False.

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What was Chekhov's official profession?

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Answer

 Physician

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Question

Which novella did Chekhov write after travelling to Ukraine?

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Answer

The Steppe (1887)

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Question

True or False: Konstantin Stanislavski directed Chekhov's plays at the Moscow Art Theatre.

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Answer

 True.

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Question

True or False: Chekhov died of tuberculosis.

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Answer

True.

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Question

What is Chekhov's last play?

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Answer

The Cherry Orchard (1904) 

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Question

Chekhov was a master of...?

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Answer

Short stories 

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How many acts do Chekhov's plays have?

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Answer

4

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Question

The premiere of which play WASN'T in the Moscow Art Theatre?

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Answer

The Seagull (1895)

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Question

Which play discusses the social changes in Russian society at the turn of the 20th century?

Show answer

Answer

The Cherry Orchard (1904)

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Question

Which short story was Chekhov's favourite?

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Answer

The Student (1894)

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Question

Which of the following is NOT one of the main themes in Chekhov's works?

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Answer

 The city life

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Question

Which dramatic tecnhique involves important events taking place off stage?

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Answer

Indirect action

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The action in the play takes place in...?

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Answer

 Sorin's estate in the countryside

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Trigorin is...?

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Answer

a writer

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True or false: Trigorin has an affair with Nina.

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Answer

True.

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Question

How long is the interval between Act 3 and Act 4?

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Answer

2 years

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True or false: at the beginning of the play Nina wants to become a famous writer.

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Answer

False.

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True or false: most of the characters in the play suffer from unrequited love.

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Answer

True.

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True or false: Arkadina is a caring mother figure.

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Answer

False.

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Question

Which character learns that fame isn't the most important thing in art?

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Answer

Nina

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Question

Which character is a writer who publishes his stories under a pseudonym?

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Answer

Treplev 

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Question

The seagull DOESN'T symbolise...?

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Answer

ambition

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Question

True or false: for both Treplev and Nina, the lake is a symbol of home.

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

True or false: at the end of the play, Sorin finds out that Treplev has killed himself.

Show answer

Answer

False.

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