The Wisdom of Chekhov


Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860 – 1904) Russian playwright and short-story writer, is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. Chekhov, along with Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, is often referred to as one of the three key figures in the birth of early modernism in the theatre. A medical doctor throughout most of his literary career, Chekhov once remarked, 'Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.’ After the reception of The Seagull in 1896 Chekhov turned away from the theatre, but the play was revived in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, which also produced Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. Chekhov’s emphasis is on ‘mood' and a 'submerged life in the text'.

Chekhov made no apologies for the difficulties his innovations in the short story form posed for readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.

'These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.'

'Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.'

'I was oppressed with a sense of vague discontent and dissatisfaction with my own life, which was passing so quickly and uninterestingly, and I kept thinking it would be a good thing if I could tear my heart out of my breast, that heart which had grown so weary of life.'

'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.'

'Do you see that tree? It is dead but it still sways in the wind with the others. I think it would be like that with me. That if I died I would still be part of life in one way or another.'

'Any idiot can face a crisis; it's this day-to-day living that wears you out.'

'...and with a burning pain in my heart I realized how unnecessary, how petty, and how deceptive all that had hindered us from loving was. I understood that when you love you must either, in your reasonings about that love, start from what is highest,