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Антон Павлович Чехов
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
head and shoulders engraving of bearded Chekhov in pince-nez and suit
Born January 29, 1860(1860-01-29)
Taganrog, Russian Empire
Died July 15, 1904 (aged 44)
Badenweiler, German Empire
Occupation Physician, short story writer, playwright
Nationality Russian

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Russian: Антон Павлович Чехов, pronounced [ɐnˈton ˈpavləvʲɪtɕ ˈtɕɛxəf]; 29 January [O.S. 17 January] 1860 – 15 July [O.S. 2 July] 1904) was a Russian short-story writer, playwright and physician, considered to be one of the greatest short-story writers in the history of world literature.[1] His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.[2][3] Chekhov practised as a doctor throughout most of his literary career: "Medicine is my lawful wife", he once said, "and literature is my mistress."[4]

Chekhov renounced the theatre after the disastrous reception of The Seagull in 1896; but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Constantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Uncle Vanya and premiered Chekhov’s last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble[5] as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a "theatre of mood" and a "submerged life in the text."[6]

Chekhov had at first written stories only for the money, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story.[7] His originality consists in an early use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, later adopted by James Joyce and other modernists, combined with a disavowal of the moral finality of traditional story structure.[8] He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.[9]





Anton Chekhov was born on 29 January 1860, the third of six surviving children, in Taganrog, a port on the Sea of Azov in southern Russia where his father, Pavel Yegorovich Chekhov, the son of a former serf, ran a grocery store. A director of the parish choir, devout Orthodox Christian, and physically abusive father, Pavel Chekhov has been seen by some historians as the model for his son's many portraits of hypocrisy.[10] Chekhov's mother, Yevgeniya, was an excellent storyteller who entertained the children with tales of her travels with her cloth-merchant father all over Russia.[11][12] "Our talents we got from our father", Chekhov remembered, "but our soul from our mother."[13]

In adulthood, Chekhov was to criticise his brother Alexander's treatment of his wife and children by reminding him of Pavel’s tyranny:

Let me ask you to recall that it was despotism and lying that ruined your mother's youth. Despotism and lying so mutilated our childhood that it's sickening and frightening to think about it. Remember the horror and disgust we felt in those times when Father threw a tantrum at dinner over too much salt in the soup and called Mother a fool.[14][15]
The Assumption Cathedral in Taganrog, Russia, where Anton Chekhov was christened on 10 February 1860

Chekhov attended a school for Greek boys, followed by the Taganrog gymnasium, now renamed the Chekhov Gymnasium, where he was kept down for a year at fifteen for failing a Greek exam.[16] He sang at the Greek Orthodox monastery in Taganrog and in his father's choirs. In a letter of 1892, he used the word "suffering" to describe his childhood and recalled:

When my brothers and I used to stand in the middle of the church and sing the trio "May my prayer be exalted", or "The Archangel's Voice", everyone looked at us with emotion and envied our parents, but we at that moment felt like little convicts.[17]

In 1876, Chekhov's father was declared bankrupt after over-extending his finances building a new house,[18] and to avoid the debtor's prison fled to Moscow, where his two eldest sons, Alexander and Nikolai, were attending university. The family lived in poverty in Moscow, Chekhov's mother physically and emotionally broken.[19] Chekhov was left behind to sell the family possessions and finish his education.

The Taganrog Boys Gymnasium in the late 19th century

Chekhov remained in Taganrog for three more years, boarding with a man called Selivanov who, like Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard, had bailed out the family for the price of their house.[20] Chekhov had to pay for his own education, which he managed by—among other jobs—private tutoring, catching and selling goldfinches, and selling short sketches to the newspapers.[21] He sent every ruble he could spare to Moscow, along with humorous letters to cheer up the family.[21] During this time he read widely and analytically, including Cervantes, Turgenev, Goncharov, and Schopenhauer;[22][23] and he wrote a full-length comedy drama, Fatherless, which his brother Alexander dismissed as "an inexcusable though innocent fabrication."[24] Chekhov also enjoyed a series of love affairs, one with the wife of a teacher.[21]

In 1879, Chekhov completed his schooling and joined his family in Moscow, having gained admission to the medical school at Moscow University.[25]

Early writings

Young Chekhov (left) with brother Nikolay in 1882

Chekhov now assumed responsibility for the whole family.[26] To support them and to pay his tuition fees, he daily wrote short, humorous sketches and vignettes of contemporary Russian life, many under pseudonyms such as "Antosha Chekhonte" (Антоша Чехонте) and "Man without a Spleen" (Человек без селезенки). His prodigious output gradually earned him a reputation as a satirical chronicler of Russian street life, and by 1882 he was writing for Oskolki (Fragments), owned by Nikolai Leikin, one of the leading publishers of the time.[27] Chekhov's tone at this stage was harsher than that familiar from his mature fiction.[28]

In 1884, Chekhov qualified as a physician, which he considered his principal profession though he made little money from it and treated the poor for free.[29] In 1884 and 1885, Chekhov found himself coughing blood, and in 1886 the attacks worsened; but he would not admit tuberculosis to his family and friends,[13] confessing to Leikin, "I am afraid to submit myself to be sounded by my colleagues."[30] He continued writing for weekly periodicals, earning enough money to move the family into progressively better accommodation. Early in 1886 he was invited to write for one of the most popular papers in St. Petersburg, Novoye Vremya (New Times), owned and edited by the millionaire magnate Alexey Suvorin, who paid per line a rate double Leikin's and allowed him three times the space.[31] Suvorin was to become a lifelong friend, perhaps Chekhov's closest.[32][33]

Before long, Chekhov was attracting literary as well as popular attention. The sixty-four-year-old Dmitry Grigorovich, a celebrated Russian writer of the day, wrote to Chekhov after reading his short story The Huntsman,[34] "You have real talent—a talent which places you in the front rank among writers in the new generation." He went on to advise Chekhov to slow down, write less, and concentrate on literary quality.

Chekhov replied that the letter had struck him "like a thunderbolt" and confessed, "I have written my stories the way reporters write up their notes about fires—mechanically, half-consciously, caring nothing about either the reader or myself."[35] The admission may have done Chekhov a disservice, since early manuscripts reveal that he often wrote with extreme care, continually revising.[36] Grigorovich's advice nevertheless inspired a more serious, artistic ambition in the twenty-six-year-old. In 1887, with a little string-pulling by Grigorovich, the short story collection At Dusk (V Sumerkakh) won Chekhov the coveted Pushkin Prize "for the best literary production distinguished by high artistic worth."[37]

Turning points

Chekhov, 1889, aged 29
Chekhov family and friends in 1890. (Top row, left to right) Ivan, Alexander, Father; (second row) unknown friend, Lika Mizinova, Masha, Mother, Seryozha Kiselev; (bottom row) Misha, Anton.

That year, exhausted from overwork and ill health, Chekhov took a trip to Ukraine which reawakened him to the beauty of the steppe.[38] On his return, he began the novella-length short story The Steppe, "something rather odd and much too original," eventually published in Severny Vestnik (The Northern Herald).[39] In a narrative which drifts with the thought processes of the characters, Chekhov evokes a chaise journey across the steppe through the eyes of a young boy sent to live away from home, his companions a priest and a merchant. The Steppe, which has been called a "dictionary of Chekhov's poetics", represented a significant advance for Chekhov, exhibiting much of the quality of his mature fiction and winning him publication in a literary journal rather than a newspaper.[40]

In autumn 1887, a theater manager named Korsh commissioned Chekhov to write a play, the result being Ivanov, written in a fortnight and produced that November.[13] Though Chekhov found the experience "sickening", and painted a comic portrait of the chaotic production in a letter to his brother Alexander, the play was a hit and was praised, to Chekhov's bemusement, as a work of originality.[41] Mikhail Chekhov considered Ivanov a key moment in his brother's intellectual development and literary career.[13] From this period comes an observation of Chekhov's which has become known as "Chekhov's gun", noted by Ilia Gurliand from a conversation: "If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act."[42][43]

The death of Chekhov's brother Nikolai from tuberculosis in 1889 influenced A Dreary Story, finished that September, about a man who confronts the end of a life which he realizes has been without purpose.[44][45] Mikhail Chekhov, who recorded his brother's depression and restlessness after Nikolai's death, was researching prisons at the time as part of his law studies, and Anton Chekhov, in a search for purpose in his own life, himself soon became obsessed with the issue of prison reform.[13]


Statue, Tomsk. "Anton Pavlovich in Tomsk—drunkard's view, lying in a ditch, who never read Kashtanka."[46]

In 1890, Chekhov undertook an arduous journey by train, horse-drawn carriage, and river steamer to the far east of Russia and the katorga, or penal colony, on Sakhalin Island, north of Japan, where he spent three months interviewing thousands of convicts and settlers for a census. The letters Chekhov wrote during the two-and-a-half month journey to Sakhalin are considered among his best.[47] His remarks to his sister about Tomsk were to become notorious.[48][49]

"Tomsk is a very dull town. To judge from the drunkards whose acquaintance I have made, and from the intellectual people who have come to the hotel to pay their respects to me, the inhabitants are very dull too."[50]

The inhabitants of Tomsk later retaliated by erecting a mocking statue of Chekhov.

What Chekhov witnessed on Sakhalin shocked and angered him, including floggings, embezzlement of supplies, and forced prostitution of women: "There were times", he wrote, when "I felt that I saw before me the extreme limits of man's degradation."[51][52] He was particularly moved by the plight of the children living in the penal colony with their parents. For example:

On the Amur steamer going to Sakhalin, there was a convict with fetters on his legs who had murdered his wife. His daughter, a little girl of six, was with him. I noticed wherever the convict moved the little girl scrambled after him, holding on to his fetters. At night the child slept with the convicts and soldiers all in a heap together.[53]

Chekhov later concluded that charity and subscription were not the answer, but that the government had a duty to finance humane treatment of the convicts. His findings were published in 1893 and 1894 as Ostrov Sakhalin (The Island of Sakhalin), a work of social science - not literature - worthy and informative rather than brilliant.[54][55] Chekhov found literary expression for the hell of Sakhalin in his long short story The Murder,[56] the last section of which is set on Sakhalin, where the murderer Yakov loads coal in the night, longing for home.


In 1892, Chekhov bought the small country estate of Melikhovo, about forty miles south of Moscow, where he lived until 1899 with his family. "It's nice to be a lord", he joked to Shcheglov;[17] but he took his responsibilities as a landlord seriously and soon made himself useful to the local peasants. As well as organising relief for victims of the famine and cholera outbreaks of 1892, he went on to build three schools, a fire station, and a clinic, and to donate his medical services to peasants for miles around, despite frequent recurrences of his tuberculosis.[10][29][57]

Mikhail Chekhov, a member of the household at Melikhovo, described the extent of his brother's medical commitments:

From the first day that Chekhov moved to Melikhovo the sick began flocking to him from twenty miles around. They came on foot or were brought in carts, and often he was fetched to patients at a distance. Sometimes from early in the morning peasant women and children were standing before his door waiting.[13]
Chekhov at Melikhovo

Chekhov’s expenditure on drugs was considerable; but the greatest cost was making journeys of several hours to visit the sick, which reduced his time for writing.[13] Chekhov’s work as a doctor, however, enriched his writing by bringing him into intimate contact with all sections of Russian society: for example, he witnessed at first hand the peasants' unhealthy and cramped living conditions, which he recalled in his short story Peasants. Chekhov visited the upper classes as well, recording in his notebook: "Aristocrats? The same ugly bodies and physical uncleanliness, the same toothless old age and disgusting death, as with market-women."[58]

Chekhov began writing his play The Seagull in 1894, in a lodge he had built in the orchard at Melikhovo. In the two years since moving to the estate, he had refurbished the house, taken up agriculture and horticulture, tended orchard and pond, and planted many trees, which, according to Mikhail, he "looked after… as though they were his children. Like Colonel Vershinin in his Three Sisters, as he looked at them he dreamed of what they would be like in three or four hundred years."[13]

The first night of The Seagull on 17 October 1896 at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in Petersburg was a fiasco, booed by the audience, and the play's reception stung Chekhov into renouncing the theatre.[59] But the play so impressed the theatre director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko that he convinced his colleague Constantin Stanislavski to direct it for the innovative Moscow Art Theatre in 1898.[60] Stanislavski's attention to psychological realism and ensemble playing coaxed the buried subtleties from the text and restored Chekhov's interest in playwriting.[61] The Art Theatre commissioned more plays from Chekhov and the following year staged Uncle Vanya, which Chekhov had completed in 1896.[62]


Chekhov with Leo Tolstoy at Yalta, 1900

In March 1897 Chekhov suffered a major hemorrhage of the lungs while on a visit to Moscow and, with great difficulty, was persuaded to enter a clinic, where the doctors diagnosed tuberculosis on the upper part of his lungs and ordered a change in his manner of life.[63]

After his father's death in 1898, Chekhov bought a plot of land on the outskirts of Yalta and built a villa there, into which he moved with his mother and sister the following year. Though he planted trees and flowers in Yalta, kept dogs and tame cranes, and received guests such as Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky, Chekhov was always relieved to leave his "hot Siberia" for Moscow or travels abroad. He vowed to move to Taganrog as soon as a water supply was installed there.[64][65] In Yalta he completed two more plays for the Art Theatre, composing with greater difficulty than in the days when he "wrote serenely, the way I eat pancakes now"; he took a year each over Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard.[66]

On 25 May 1901 Chekhov married Olga Knipper—quietly, owing to his horror of weddings—a former protegée and sometime lover of Nemirovich-Danchenko whom he had first met at rehearsals for The Seagull.[67][68][69] Up to that point, Chekhov, called "Russia's most elusive literary bachelor",[70] had preferred passing liaisons and visits to brothels over commitment;[71] he had once written to Suvorin:

By all means I will be married if you wish it. But on these conditions: everything must be as it has been hitherto—that is, she must live in Moscow while I live in the country, and I will come and see her… give me a wife who, like the moon, won't appear in my sky every day.[72]
Chekhov and Olga, 1901, on honeymoon

The letter proved prophetic of Chekhov's marital arrangements with Olga: he lived largely at Yalta, she in Moscow, pursuing her acting career. In 1902, Olga suffered a miscarriage; and Donald Rayfield has offered evidence, based on the couple's letters, that conception may have occurred when Chekhov and Olga were apart, although Russian scholars have conclusively refuted that claim.[73][74] The literary legacy of this long-distance marriage is a correspondence which preserves gems of theatre history, including shared complaints about Stanislavski's directing methods and Chekhov's advice to Olga about performing in his plays.[75]

In Yalta, Chekhov wrote one of his most famous stories, The Lady with the Dog (also called Lady with Lapdog),[76] which depicts what at first seems a casual liaison between a married man and a married woman in Yalta. Neither expects anything lasting from the encounter, but they find themselves drawn back to each other, risking the security of their family lives.[77]


By May 1904, Chekhov was terminally ill with tuberculosis. "Everyone who saw him secretly thought the end was not far off", Mikhail Chekhov recalled, "but the nearer Chekhov was to the end, the less he seemed to realize it."[13] On 3 June he set off with Olga for the German spa town of Badenweiler in the Black Forest, from where he wrote outwardly jovial letters to his sister Masha describing the food and surroundings and assuring her and his mother that he was getting better. In his last letter, he complained about the way the German women dressed.[78]

Chekhov's grave, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow

Chekhov’s death has become one of "the great set pieces of literary history",[79] retold, embroidered, and fictionalised many times since, notably in the short story Errand by Raymond Carver. In 1908, Olga wrote this account of her husband’s last moments:

Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe ("I'm dying"). The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: "It's a long time since I drank champagne." He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child...[80]

Chekhov’s body was transported to Moscow in a refrigerated railway car for fresh oysters, a detail which offended Gorky.[81] Some of the thousands of mourners followed the funeral procession of a General Keller by mistake, to the accompaniment of a military band. Chekhov was buried next to his father at the Novodevichy Cemetery.[82]


A few months before he died, Chekhov told the writer Ivan Bunin he thought people might go on reading him for seven years. "Why seven?" asked Bunin. "Well, seven and a half", Chekhov replied. "That’s not bad. I’ve got six years to live."[83]

Chekhov with Gorky at Yalta

Always modest, Chekhov could hardly have imagined the extent of his posthumous reputation. The ovations for The Cherry Orchard in the year of his death showed him how high he had risen in the affection of the Russian public—by then he was second in literary celebrity only to Tolstoy,[84] who outlived him by six years—but after his death, Chekhov's fame soon spread further afield. Constance Garnett's translations won him an English-language readership and the admiration of writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield. The issues surrounding the close similarities between Mansfield's 1910 story The Child Who Was Tired and Chekhov's Sleepy are summarised in William H. New's Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Reform[85] The Russian critic D.S. Mirsky, who lived in England, explained Chekhov's popularity in that country by his "unusually complete rejection of what we may call the heroic values."[86] In Russia itself, Chekhov's drama fell out of fashion after the revolution but was later adapted to the Soviet agenda, with the character Lopakhin, for example, reinvented as a hero of the new order, taking an axe to the cherry orchard.[87][88]

One of the first non-Russians to praise Chekhov's plays was George Bernard Shaw, who subtitled his Heartbreak House "A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes" and noted similarities between the predicament of the British landed class and that of their Russian counterparts as depicted by Chekhov: "the same nice people, the same utter futility."[89]

In America, Chekhov's reputation began its rise slightly later, partly through the influence of Stanislavski's system of acting, with its notion of subtext: "Chekhov often expressed his thought not in speeches," wrote Stanislavski, "but in pauses or between the lines or in replies consisting of a single word… the characters often feel and think things not expressed in the lines they speak."[90][91] The Group Theatre, in particular, developed the subtextual approach to drama, influencing generations of American playwrights, screenwriters, and actors, including Clifford Odets, Elia Kazan and, in particular, Lee Strasberg. In turn, Strasberg's Actors Studio and the "Method" acting approach influenced many actors, including Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, though by then the Chekhov tradition may have been distorted by a preoccupation with realism.[92] In 1981, the playwright Tennessee Williams adapted The Seagull as The Notebook of Trigorin.

Despite Chekhov's eminence as a playwright, some writers believe his short stories represent the greater achievement.[93] Raymond Carver, who wrote the short story Errand about Chekhov's death, believed Chekhov the greatest of all short-story writers:

Chekhov's stories are as wonderful (and necessary) now as when they first appeared. It is not only the immense number of stories he wrote—for few, if any, writers have ever done more—it is the awesome frequency with which he produced masterpieces, stories that shrive us as well as delight and move us, that lay bare our emotions in ways only true art can accomplish.[94]
Bust of Chekhov at Badenweiler

Ernest Hemingway, another writer influenced by Chekhov, was more grudging: "Chekhov wrote about 6 good stories. But he was an amateur writer."[95] And Vladimir Nabokov once complained of Chekhov's "medley of dreadful prosaisms, ready-made epithets, repetitions."[96] But he also declared The Lady with the Dog "one of the greatest stories ever written" and described Chekhov as writing "the way one person relates to another the most important things in his life, slowly and yet without a break, in a slightly subdued voice."[97]

For the writer William Boyd, Chekhov's breakthrough was to abandon what William Gerhardie called the "event plot" for something more "blurred, interrupted, mauled or otherwise tampered with by life."[98]

Virginia Woolf mused on the unique quality of a Chekhov story in The Common Reader (1925):

But is it the end, we ask? We have rather the feeling that we have overrun our signals; or it is as if a tune had stopped short without the expected chords to close it. These stories are inconclusive, we say, and proceed to frame a criticism based upon the assumption that stories ought to conclude in a way that we recognise. In so doing we raise the question of our own fitness as readers. Where the tune is familiar and the end emphatic—lovers united, villains discomfited, intrigues exposed—as it is in most Victorian fiction, we can scarcely go wrong, but where the tune is unfamiliar and the end a note of interrogation or merely the information that they went on talking, as it is in Tchekov, we need a very daring and alert sense of literature to make us hear the tune, and in particular those last notes which complete the harmony.[99]

See also


  1. ^ "Russian literature; Anton Chekhov". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  2. ^ "Greatest short story writer who ever lived." Raymond Carver (in Rosamund Bartlett’s introduction to About Love and Other Stories, XX); "Quite probably. the best short-story writer ever." A Chekhov Lexicon, by William Boyd, The Guardian, 3 July 2004. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  3. ^ "Stories… which are among the supreme achievements in prose narrative." Vodka miniatures, belching and angry cats, George Steiner's review of The Undiscovered Chekhov, in The Observer, 13 May 2001. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  4. ^ Letter to Alexei Suvorin, 11 September 1888. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  5. ^ "Actors climb up Chekhov like a mountain, roped together, sharing the glory if they ever make it to the summit". Actor Ian McKellen, quoted in Miles, 9.
  6. ^ "Chekhov's art demands a theatre of mood." Vsevolod Meyerhold, quoted in Allen, 13; "A richer submerged life in the text is characteristic of a more profound drama of realism, one which depends less on the externals of presentation." Styan, 84.
  7. ^ "Chekhov is said to be the father of the modern short story". Malcolm, 87; "He brought something new into literature." James Joyce, in Arthur Power, Conversations with James Joyce, Usborne Publishing Ltd, 1974, ISBN 978-0-86000-006-8, 57; "Tchehov's breach with the classical tradition is the most significant event in modern literature", John Middleton Murry, in Athenaeum, 8 April 1922, cited in Bartlett's introduction to About Love, XX.
  8. ^ "This use of stream-of-consciousness would, in later years, become the basis of Chekhov's innovation in stagecraft; it is also his innovation in fiction." Wood, 81; "The artist must not be the judge of his characters and of their conversations, but merely an impartial witness." Letter to Suvorin, 30 May 1888; In reply to an objection that he wrote about horse-thieves (The Horse-Stealers, retrieved 16 February 2007) without condemning them, Chekhov said readers should add for themselves the subjective elements lacking in the story. Letter to Suvorin, 1 April 1890. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  9. ^ "You are right in demanding that an artist should take an intelligent attitude to his work, but you confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for the artist." Letter to Suvorin, 27 October 1888. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  10. ^ a b Wood, 78.
  11. ^ Payne, XVII.
  12. ^ Simmons, 18.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i From the biographical sketch, adapted from a memoir by Chekhov's brother Mihail, which prefaces Constance Garnett's translation of Chekhov's letters, 1920.
  14. ^ Letter to brother Alexander, 2 January 1889, in Malcolm, p. 102.
  15. ^ Another insight into Chekhov's childhood came in a letter to his publisher and friend Alexei Suvorin: "From my childhood I have believed in progress, and I could not help believing in it since the difference between the time when I used to be thrashed and when they gave up thrashing me was tremendous." Letter to Suvorin, 27 March 1894. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  16. ^ Bartlett, 4–5.
  17. ^ a b Letter to I.L. Shcheglov, 9 March 1892. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  18. ^ He had been cheated by a contractor called Mironov. Rayfield, 31.
  19. ^ Letter to cousin Mihail, 10 May 1877. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  20. ^ Malcolm, 25.
  21. ^ a b c Payne, XX.
  22. ^ Letter to brother Mihail, 1 July 1876. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  23. ^ Simmons, 26.
  24. ^ Simmons, 33.
  25. ^ Rayfield, 69.
  26. ^ Wood, 79.
  27. ^ Rayfield, 91.
  28. ^ "There is in these miniatures an arresting potion of cruelty… The wonderfully compassionate Chekhov was yet to mature." Vodka miniatures, belching and angry cats, George Steiner's review of The Undiscovered Chekhov in The Observer, 13 May 2001. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  29. ^ a b Malcolm, 26.
  30. ^ Letter to N.A .Leikin, 6 April 1886. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  31. ^ Rayfield, 128.
  32. ^ They only ever fell out once, when Chekhov objected to the anti-Semitic attacks in New Times against Dreyfus and Zola in 1898. Rayfield, 448–50.
  33. ^ In many ways, the right-wing Suvorin, whom Lenin later called "The running dog of the Tzar" (Payne, XXXV), was Chekhov's opposite; "Chekhov had to function like Suvorin's kidney, extracting the businessman's poisons." Wood, 79.
  34. ^ The Huntsman.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  35. ^ Malcolm, 32–3.
  36. ^ Payne, XXIV.
  37. ^ Simmons, 160.
  38. ^ "There is a scent of the steppe and one hears the birds sing. I see my old friends the ravens flying over the steppe." Letter to sister Masha, 2 April 1887. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  39. ^ Letter to Grigorovich, 12 January 1888. Quoted by Malcolm, 137.
  40. ^ "The Steppe, as Michael Finke suggests, is 'a sort of dictionary of Chekhov's poetics,' a kind of sample case of the concealed literary weapons Chekhov would deploy in his work to come." Malcolm, 147.
  41. ^ Letter to brother Alexander, 20 November 1887. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  42. ^ Rayfield, 203.
  43. ^ Simmons, 190.
  44. ^ A Dreary Story.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  45. ^ Simmons, 186–91.
  46. ^ Print issues, Siberia.
  47. ^ Malcolm, 129.
  48. ^ Simmons, 223.
  49. ^ Rayfield, 224.
  50. ^ Letter to sister, Masha, 20 May 1890. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  51. ^ Wood, 85.
  52. ^ Rayfield 230.
  53. ^ Letter to A.F.Koni, 16 January 1891. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  54. ^ Malcolm, 125.
  55. ^ Such is the general critical view of the work, but Simmons calls it a "valuable and intensely human document." Simmons, 229.
  56. ^ The Murder.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  57. ^ Payne, XXXI.
  58. ^ Note-Book.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  59. ^ Rayfield, 394–8.
  60. ^ Benedetti, Stanislavski: An Introduction, 25.
  61. ^ Chekhov and the Art Theatre, in Stanislavski's words, were united in a common desire "to achieve artistic simplicity and truth on the stage." Allen, 11.
  62. ^ Rayfield, 390–1. Rayfield draws from his critical study Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" and the "Wood Demon" (1995), which anatomised the evolution of the Wood Demon into Uncle Vanya—"one of Chekhov's most furtive achievements."
  63. ^ Letter to Suvorin, 1 April 1897. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  64. ^ Olga Knipper, Memoir, in Benedetti, Dear Writer, Dear Actress, 37, 270.
  65. ^ Bartlett, 2.
  66. ^ Malcolm, 170–1.
  67. ^ "I have a horror of weddings, the congratulations and the champagne, standing around, glass in hand with an endless grin on your face." Letter to Olga Knipper, 19 April 1901.
  68. ^ Benedetti, Dear Writer, Dear Actress, 125.
  69. ^ "Olga's relations with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko were more than professional." Rayfield, 500.
  70. ^ Harvey Pitcher in Chekhov's Leading Lady, quoted in Malcolm, 59.
  71. ^ "Chekhov had the temperament of a philanderer. Sexually, he preferred brothels or swift liaisons." Wood, 78.
  72. ^ Letter to Suvorin, 23 March 1895. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  73. ^ Rayfield also tentatively suggests, drawing on obstetric clues, that Olga suffered an ectopic pregnancy rather than a miscarriage. Rayfield, 556–7.
  74. ^ There was certainly tension between the couple after the miscarriage, though Simmons, 569, and Benedetti, Dear Writer, Dear Actress, 241, put this down to Chekhov's mother and sister blaming the miscarriage on Olga's late-night lifestyle of socialising with her actor friends.
  75. ^ Benedetti, Dear Writer, Dear Actress: The Love Letters of Olga Knipper and Anton Chekhov.
  76. ^ The Lady with the Dog.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  77. ^ "Yalta Chekhov Campaign". 2008-11-13. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  78. ^ Letter to sister Masha, 28 June 1904. Letters of Anton Chekhov.
  79. ^ Malcolm, 62.
  80. ^ Olga Knipper, Memoir, in Benedetti, Dear Writer, Dear Actress, 284.
  81. ^ "Banality revenged itself upon him by a nasty prank, for it saw that his corpse, the corpse of a poet, was put into a railway truck 'For the Conveyance of Oysters'." Maxim Gorky in Reminiscences of Anton Chekhov.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  82. ^ Malcolm, 91; Alexander Kuprin in Reminiscences of Anton Chekhov.. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  83. ^ Payne, XXXVI.
  84. ^ Tolstoy, a great admirer of Chekhov's short stories, divided them into two groups of "first quality" and "second quality." In the first category were: Children, The Chorus Girl, A Play, Home, Misery, The Runaway, In Court, Vanka, Ladies, The Malefactors, The Boys, Darkness, Sleepy, The Helpmate, The Darling; in the second: A Transgression, Sorrow, The Witch, Verochka, In a Strange Land, The Cook's Wedding, A Tedious Business, An Upheaval, Oh! The Public!, The Mask, A Woman's Luck, Nerves, The Wedding, A Defenseless Creature, Peasant Wives. He had these stories bound into a book which he read repeatedly with great satisfaction. - Simmons, p. 595.
  85. ^ Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Reform, McGill-Queen’s Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-7735-1791-2, 15–17.
  86. ^ Wood, 77.
  87. ^ Allen, 88.
  88. ^ "They won't allow a play which is seen to lament the lost estates of the gentry." Letter of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, quoted by Anatoly Smeliansky in Chekhov at the Moscow Art Theatre, from The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov, 31–2.
  89. ^ Anna Obraztsova, Bernard Shaw's Dialogue with Chekhov, in Miles, 43–4.
  90. ^ Reynolds, Elizabeth (ed), Stanislavski's Legacy, Theatre Arts Books, 1987, ISBN 978-0-87830-127-0, 81, 83.
  91. ^ "It was Chekhov who first deliberately wrote dialogue in which the mainstream of emotional action ran underneath the surface. It was he who articulated the notion that human beings hardly ever speak in explicit terms among each other about their deepest emotions, that the great, tragic, climactic moments are often happening beneath outwardly trivial conversation." Martin Esslin, from Text and Subtext in Shavian Drama, in 1922: Shaw and the last Hundred Years, ed. Bernard. F. Dukore, Penn State Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0-271-01324-4, 200.
  92. ^ "Lee Strasberg became in my opinion a victim of the traditional idea of Chekhovian theatre… [he left] no room for Chekhov's imagery." Georgii Tostonogov on Strasberg's production of Three Sisters in The Drama Review (winter 1968), quoted by Styan, 121.
  93. ^ "The plays lack the seamless authority of the fiction: there are great characters, wonderful scenes, tremendous passages, moments of acute melancholy and sagacity, but the parts appear greater than the whole." A Chekhov Lexicon, by William Boyd, The Guardian, 3 July 2004. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  94. ^ Bartlett, From Russia, with Love, The Guardian, 15 July 2004. Retrieved 17 February 2007.
  95. ^ Letter from Ernest Hemingway to Archibald MacLeish, 1925 (from Selected Letters, p. 179), in Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Ed Larry W. Phillips, Touchstone, (1984) 1999, ISBN 978-0-684-18119-6, 101.
  96. ^ Wood, 82.
  97. ^ From Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature, quoted by Francine Prose in Learning from Chekhov, 231.
  98. ^ "For the first time in literature the fluidity and randomness of life was made the form of the fiction. Before Chekhov, the event-plot drove all fictions." William Boyd, referring to the novelist William Gerhardie's analysis in Anton Chekhov: A Critical Study, 1923. A Chekhov Lexicon, by William Boyd, The Guardian, 3 July 2004. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  99. ^ Woolf, Virginia, The Common Reader: First Series, Annotated Edition, Harvest/HBJ Book, 2002, ISBN 015602778X, 172.


  • Allen, David, Performing Chekhov, Routledge (UK), 2001, ISBN 978-0-415-18934-7
  • Bartlett, Rosamund, and Anthony Phillips (translators), Chekhov: A Life in Letters, Penguin Books, 2004, ISBN 978-0-14-044922-8
  • Bartlett, Rosamund, Chekhov: Scenes from a Life, Free Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-7432-3074-2
  • Benedetti, Jean (editor and translator), Dear Writer, Dear Actress: The Love Letters of Olga Knipper and Anton Chekhov, Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1998 edition, ISBN 978-0-413-72390-1
  • Benedetti, Jean, Stanislavski: An Introduction, Methuen Drama, 1989 edition, ISBN 978-0-413-50030-4
  • Chekhov, Anton, About Love and Other Stories, translated by Rosamund Bartlett, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-19-280260-6
  • Chekhov, Anton, The Undiscovered Chekhov: Fifty New Stories, translated by Peter Constantine, Duck Editions, 2001, ISBN 978-0-7156-3106-5
  • Chekhov, Anton, Easter Week, translated by Michael Henry Heim, engravings by Barry Moser, Shackman Press, 2010
  • Chekhov, Anton, Forty Stories, translated and with an introduction by Robert Payne, New York, Vintage, 1991 edition, ISBN 978-0-679-73375-1
  • Chekhov, Anton, Letters of Anton Chekhov to His Family and Friends with Biographical Sketch, translated by Constance Garnett, Macmillan, 1920. Full text at Gutenberg. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  • Chekhov, Anton, Note-Book of Anton Chekhov, translated by S. S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf, B.W. Huebsch, 1921. Full text at Gutenberg. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  • Chekhov, Anton, The Other Chekhov, edited by Okla Elliott and Kyle Minor, with story introductions by Pinckney Benedict, Fred Chappell, Christopher Coake, Paul Crenshaw, Dorothy Gambrell, Steven Gillis, Michelle Herman, Jeff Parker, Benjamin Percy, and David R. Slavitt. New American Press, 2008 edition, ISBN 978-0972967983
  • Chekhov, Anton, Seven Short Novels, translated by Barbara Makanowitzky, W.W.Norton & Company, 2003 edition, ISBN 978-0-393-00552-3
  • Finke, Michael, Chekhov's 'Steppe': A Metapoetic Journey, an essay in Anton Chekhov Rediscovered, ed Savely Senderovich and Munir Sendich, Michigan Russian Language Journal, 1988, ISBN 9999838855
  • Gerhardie, William, Anton Chekhov, Macdonald, (1923) 1974 edition, ISBN 978-0-356-04609-9
  • Gorky, Maksim, Alexander Kuprin, and I.A. Bunin, Reminiscences of Anton Chekhov, translated by S. S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf, B.W.Huebsch, 1921. Read at eldritchpress. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  • Gottlieb, Vera, and Paul Allain (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-521-58917-8
  • Jackson, Robert Louis, Dostoevsky in Chekhov's Garden of Eden—'Because of Little Apples', in Dialogues with Dostoevsky, Stanford University Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0-8047-2120-2
  • Klawans, Harold L., Chekhov's Lie, 1997, ISBN 1-888799-12-9. About the challenges of combining writing with the medical life.
  • Malcolm, Janet, Reading Chekhov, a Critical Journey, Granta Publications, 2004 edition, ISBN 978-1-86207-635-8
  • Miles, Patrick (ed), Chekhov on the British Stage, Cambridge University Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0-521-38467-4
  • Nabokov, Vladimir, Anton Chekhov, in Lectures on Russian Literature, Harvest/HBJ Books, [1981] 2002 edition, ISBN 978-0-15-602776-2.
  • Pitcher, Harvey, Chekhov's Leading Lady: Portrait of the Actress Olga Knipper, J Murray, 1979, ISBN 978-0-7195-3681-6
  • Prose, Francine, Learning from Chekhov, in Writers on Writing, ed. Robert Pack and Jay Parini, UPNE, 1991, ISBN 978-0-87451-560-2
  • Rayfield, Donald, Anton Chekhov: A Life, Henry Holt & Co, 1998, ISBN 978-0-8050-5747-8
  • Simmons, Ernest J., Chekhov: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, (1962) 1970 edition, ISBN 978-0-226-75805-3
  • Stanislavski, Constantin, My Life in Art, Methuen Drama, 1980 edition, ISBN 978-0-413-46200-8
  • Styan, John Louis, Modern Drama in Theory and Practice, Cambridge University Press, 1981, ISBN 978-0-521-29628-1
  • Wood, James, What Chekhov Meant by Life, in The Broken Estate: Essays in Literature and Belief, Pimlico, 2000 edition, ISBN 978-0-7126-6557-5
  • Zeiger, Arthur, The Plays of Anton Chekov, Claxton House, Inc., New York, NY, 1945.

External links





Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

People should be beautiful in every way—in their faces, in the way they dress, in their thoughts and in their innermost selves.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Анто́н Па́влович Че́хов) (29 January 186015 July 1904) (Old Style: 17 January 1860 – 2 July 1904) was a major Russian short story writer and playwright.



  • If you can’t distinguish people from lap-dogs, you shouldn’t undertake philanthropic work.
  • Silence accompanies the most significant expressions of happiness and unhappiness: those in love understand one another best when silent, while the most heated and impassioned speech at a graveside touches only outsiders, but seems cold and inconsequential to the widow and children of the deceased.
  • The unhappy are egotistical, base, unjust, cruel, and even less capable of understanding one another than are idiots. Unhappiness does not unite people, but separates them.
    • Enemies
  • Each of us is full of too many wheels, screws and valves to permit us to judge one another on a first impression or by two or three external signs.
    • Ivanov, Act III, sc. vi (1887)
  • You look at any poetic creature: muslin, ether, demigoddess, millions of delights; then you look into the soul and find the most ordinary crocodile!
    • The Bear, sc. viii (1888)
  • The sea has neither meaning nor pity.
  • Everyone has the same God; only people differ.
  • It is not only the prisoners who grow coarse and hardened from corporeal punishment, but those as well who perpetrate the act or are present to witness it.
    • A Journey to Sakhalin (1891)
  • No matter how corrupt and unjust a convict may be, he loves fairness more than anything else. If the people placed over him are unfair, from year to year he lapses into an embittered state characterized by an extreme lack of faith.
    • A Journey to Sakhalin
  • To regard one’s immortality as an exchange of matter is as strange as predicting the future of a violin case once the expensive violin it held has broken and lost its worth.
  • Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains to full consciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape.
    • Ward No. 6 (1892)
  • To believe in God is not hard. Inquisitors, Byron and Arakcheev believed in Him. No, believe in man!
  • Death can only be profitable: there’s no need to eat, drink, pay taxes, offend people, and since a person lies in a grave for hundreds or thousands of years, if you count it up the profit turns out to be enormous.
  • Moscow is a city that has much suffering ahead of it.
  • By poeticizing love, we imagine in those we love virtues that they often do not possess; this then becomes the source of constant mistakes and constant distress.
  • All of life and human relations have become so incomprehensibly complex that, when you think about it, it becomes terrifying and your heart stands still.
    • In the Cart (1897)
  • Who keeps the tavern and serves up the drinks? The peasant. Who squanders and drinks up money belonging to the peasant commune, the school, the church? The peasant. Who would steal from his neighbor, commit arson, and falsely denounce another for a bottle of vodka? The peasant.
  • People who live alone always have something on their minds that they would willingly share.
  • A fiancé is neither this nor that: he’s left one shore, but not yet reached the other.
    • About Love
  • There are no small number of people in this world who, solitary by nature, always try to go back into their shell like a hermit crab or a snail.
  • While you’re playing cards with a regular guy or having a bite to eat with him, he seems a peaceable, good-humoured and not entirely dense person. But just begin a conversation with him about something inedible, politics or science, for instance, and he ends up in a deadend or starts in on such an obtuse and base philosophy that you can only wave your hand and leave.
  • If you really think about it, everything is wonderful in this world, everything except for our thoughts and deeds when we forget about the loftier goals of existence, about our human dignity.
  • Dear, sweet, unforgettable childhood! Why does this irrevocable time, forever departed, seem brighter, more festive and richer than it actually was?
  • Watching a woman make Russian pancakes, you might think that she was calling on the spirits or extracting from the batter the philosopher’s stone.
    • Russian Pancakes
  • Better a debauched canary than a pious wolf.
    • Noxious Thoughts
  • If only one tooth aches, rejoice that not all of them ache.... If your wife betrays you, be glad that she betrayed only you and not the nation.
    • Life is Wonderful
  • There is something beautiful, touching and poetic when one person loves more than the other, and the other is indifferent.
  • Faith is an aptitude of the spirit. It is, in fact, a talent: you must be born with it.
  • It is depressing to hear the unfortunate or dying man jest.
    • On the Road
  • It’s immoral to steal, but you can take things.
    • Out Beggary
  • Thought and beauty, like a hurricane or waves, should not know conventional, delimited forms.
  • When a person is born, he can embark on only one of three roads of life: if you go right, the wolves will eat you; if you go left, you’ll eat the wolves; if you go straight, you’ll eat yourself.
    • Fatherless, Act I, sc. xiv
  • Country acquaintances are charming only in the country and only in the summer. In the city in winter they lose half of their appeal.
    • The Story of Mme. NN
  • That can not possibly be, because it could never possibly be.
    • Letter to a Learned Neighbor
  • Eyes—the head’s chief of police. They watch and make mental notes. A blind person is like a city abandoned by the authorities. On sad days they cry. In these carefree times they weep only from tender emotions.
    • A Brief Human Anatomy
  • [Ognev] recalled endless, heated, purely Russian arguments, when the wranglers, spraying spittle and banging their fists on the table, fail to understand yet interrupt one another, themselves not even noticing it, contradict themselves with every phrase, change the subject, then, having argued for two or three hours, begin to laugh.
  • One can prove or refute anything at all with words. Soon people will perfect language technology to such an extent that they’ll be proving with mathematical precision that twice two is seven.
  • It seems to me that all of the evil in life comes from idleness, boredom, and psychic emptiness, but all of that is inevitable when you become accustomed to living at others’ expense.
  • It is uncomfortable to ask condemned people about their sentences just as it is awkward to ask wealthy people why they need so much money, why they use their wealth so poorly, and why they don’t just get rid of it when they recognize that it is the cause of their unhappiness.
    • Episode from a Practice
  • Nature’s law says that the strong must prevent the weak from living, but only in a newspaper article or textbook can this be packaged into a comprehensible thought. In the soup of everyday life, in the mixture of minutia from which human relations are woven, it is not a law. It is a logical incongruity when both strong and weak fall victim to their mutual relations, unconsciously subservient to some unknown guiding power that stands outside of life, irrelevant to man.
    • Episode from a Practice
  • Only during hard times do people come to understand how difficult it is to be master of their feelings and thoughts.
  • The thirst for powerful sensations takes the upper hand both over fear and over compassion for the grief of others.
    • An Evil Night
  • It’s even pleasant to be sick when you know that there are people who await your recovery as they might await a holiday.
    • The Story of an Unknown Man
  • Exquisite nature, daydreams, and music say one thing, real life another.
    • In a Native Corner
  • Love is a scandal of the personal sort.
    • The Piano Player
  • Probably nature itself gave man the ability to lie so that in difficult and tense moments he could protect his nest, just as do the vixen and wild duck.
  • We live not in order to eat, but in order not to know what we feel like eating.
    • The Fruits of Long Meditations
  • By nature servile, people attempt at first glance to find signs of good breeding in the appearance of those who occupy more exalted stations.
    • A Futile Occurrence
  • Once you’ve married, be strict but just with your wife, don’t allow her to forget herself, and when a misunderstanding arises, say: “Don’t forget that I made you happy.”
    • Guide for Those Wishing to Marry
  • I myself smoke, but my wife asked me to speak today on the harmfulness of tobacco, so what can I do? If it’s tobacco, then let it be tobacco.
    • On the Harmfulness of Tobacco
  • Dinner at the "Continental" to commemorate the great reform [the abolition of the serfdom in 1861]. Tedious and incongruous. To dine, drink champagne, make a racket, and deliver speeches about national consciousness, the conscience of the people, freedom, and such things, while slaves in tail-coats are running round your tables, veritable serfs, and your coachmen wait outside in the street, in the bitter cold—that is lying to the Holy Ghost.
    • Diary entry 19 February 1897
  • If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."
    • Ilia Gurliand Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No 28, 11 July, p. 521. commonly known as Chekhov's dictum or Chekhov's gun.
  • Love, friendship, respect, do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.
    • Alternate Version: Nothing better forges a bond of love, friendship or respect than common hatred toward something.
    • Quoted in "Psychologically Speaking: A Book of Quotations" - Page 96 - by Kevin Connolly, Margaret Martlew - 1999

Note-Book of Anton Chekhov

Translated S. S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf

  • Mankind has conceived history as a series of battles; hitherto it has considered fighting as the main thing in life.
  • Solomon made a great mistake when he asked for wisdom.
  • Ordinary hypocrites pretend to be doves; political and literary hypocrites pretend to be eagles. But don't be disconcerted by their aquiline appearance. They are not eagles, but rats or dogs.
  • A nice man would feel ashamed even before a dog
  • Death is terrible, but still more terrible is the feeling that you might live for ever and never die.
  • When one longs for a drink, it seems as though one could drink a whole ocean—that is faith; but when one begins to drink, one can only drink altogether two glasses—that is science.
  • People love talking of their diseases, although they are the most uninteresting things in their lives.
  • When an actor has money, he doesn't send letters but telegrams.
  • How intolerable people are sometimes who are happy and successful in everything.
  • How pleasant it is to respect people!
    • Varient: What a delight it is to respect people!
  • Better to perish from fools than to accept praises from them.
  • If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry.
  • If you wish women to love you, be original; I know a man who used to wear felt boots summer and winter, and women fell in love with him.
  • Although you may tell lies, people will believe you, if only you speak with authority.
  • As I shall lie in the grave alone, so in fact I live alone.
  • I observed that after marriage people cease to be curious.
  • Our self-esteem and conceit are European, but our culture and actions are Asiatic.
  • It is easier to ask of the poor than of the rich.
  • They say: "In the long run truth will triumph;" but it is untrue.
  • There is no national science, just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science.
  • It is unfortunate that we try to solve the simplest questions cleverly, and therefore make them unusually complicated. We should seek a simple solution.
  • There is no Monday which will not give its place to Tuesday.


  • My mother and father are the only people on the whole planet for whom I will never begrudge a thing. Should I achieve great things, it is the work of their hands; they are splendid people and their absolute love of their children places them above the highest praise. It cloaks all of their shortcomings, shortcomings that may have resulted from a difficult life.
    • Letter to his cousin, M.M. Chekhov (July 29, 1877)
  • Do you know when you may concede your insignificance? Before God or, perhaps, before the intellect, beauty, or nature, but not before people. Among people, one must be conscious of one’s dignity.
    • Letter to his brother, M.P. Chekhov (April 1879)
  • A grimy fly can soil the entire wall and a small, dirty little act can ruin the entire proceedings.
    • Letter to A.N. Kanaev (March 26, 1883)
  • In order to cultivate yourself and to drop no lower than the level of the milieu in which you have landed, it is not enough to read Pickwick and memorize a monologue from Faust.... You need to work continually day and night, to read ceaselessly, to study, to exercise your will.... Each hour is precious.
    • Letter to his brother, N.P. Chekhov (March 1886)
  • Isolation in creative work is an onerous thing. Better to have negative criticism than nothing at all.
    • Letter to his brother, A.P. Chekhov (May 10, 1886)
  • When in a serious mood, it seems to me that those people are illogical who feel an aversion toward death. As far as I can see, life consists exclusively of horrors, unpleasantnesses and banalities, now merging, now alternating.
    • Letter to M.V. Kiseleva (September 29, 1886)
  • To describe drunkenness for the colorful vocabulary is rather cynical. There is nothing easier than to capitalize on drunkards.
    • Letter to N.A. Leikin (December 24, 1886)
  • There are people whom even children’s literature would corrupt. They read with particular enjoyment the piquant passages in the Psalter and in the Wisdom of Solomon.
    • Letter to M.V. Kiseleva (January 14, 1887)
  • Despite your best efforts, you could not invent a better police force for literature than criticism and the author’s own conscience.
    • Letter to M.V. Kiseleva (January 14, 1887
  • I was so drunk the whole time that I took bottles for girls and girls for bottles.
    • Letter to the Chekhov family (April 25, 1887)
  • Writers are as jealous as pigeons.
    • Letter to I.L. Leontev (February 4, 1888)
  • In Western Europe people perish from the congestion and stifling closeness, but with us it is from the spaciousness.... The expanses are so great that the little man hasn’t the resources to orient himself.... This is what I think about Russian suicides.
    • Letter to D.V. Grigorovich (February 5, 1888)
  • Happiness does not await us all. One needn’t be a prophet to say that there will be more grief and pain than serenity and money. That is why we must hang on to one another.
    • Letter to K.S. Barantsevich (March 3, 1888)
  • Tsars and slaves, the intelligent and the obtuse, publicans and pharisees all have an identical legal and moral right to honor the memory of the deceased as they see fit, without regard for anyone else’s opinion and without the fear of hindering one another.
    • Letter to K.S. Barantsevich (March 30, 1888)
  • Hypocrisy is a revolting, psychopathic state.
    • Letter to I.L. Leontev (August 29, 1888)
  • One must speak about serious things seriously.
    • Letter to A.N. Pleshcheev (September 9, 1888)
  • I feel more confident and more satisfied when I reflect that I have two professions and not one. Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one I spend the night with the other. Though it's disorderly it's not so dull, and besides, neither really loses anything, through my infidelity.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (September 11, 1888)
  • I don’t know why one can’t chase two rabbits at the same time, even in the literal sense of those words. If you have the hounds, go ahead and pursue.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (September 11, 1888)
  • The more simply we look at ticklish questions, the more placid will be our lives and relationships.
    • Letter to his brother, A.P. Chekhov (September 24, 1888)
  • I would like to be a free artist and nothing else, and I regret God has not given me the strength to be one.
    • Letter to Alexei Pleshcheev (October 4, 1888)
  • My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom imaginable, freedom from violence and lies, no matter what form the latter two take. Such is the program I would adhere to if I were a major artist.
    • Letter to Alexei Pleshcheev (October 4, 1888)
  • Pharisaism, obtuseness and tyranny reign not only in the homes of merchants and in jails; I see it in science, in literature, and among youth. I consider any emblem or label a prejudice.... My holy of holies is the human body, health, intellect, talent, inspiration, love and the most absolute of freedoms, the freedom from force and falsity in whatever forms they might appear.
    • Letter to Alexei Pleshcheev (October 4, 1888)
  • Lying is the same as alcoholism. Liars prevaricate even on their deathbeds.
    • Letter to A.N. Pleshcheev (October 9, 1888)
  • There should be more sincerity and heart in human relations, more silence and simplicity in our interactions. Be rude when you’re angry, laugh when something is funny, and answer when you’re asked.
    • Letter to his brother, A.P. Chekhov (October 13, 1888)
  • A tree is beautiful, but what’s more, it has a right to life; like water, the sun and the stars, it is essential. Life on earth is inconceivable without trees. Forests create climate, climate influences peoples’ character, and so on and so forth. There can be neither civilization nor happiness if forests crash down under the axe, if the climate is harsh and severe, if people are also harsh and severe.... What a terrible future!
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 18, 1888)
  • He who doesn’t know how to be a servant should never be allowed to be a master; the interests of public life are alien to anyone who is unable to enjoy others’ successes, and such a person should never be entrusted with public affairs.
    • Letter to A.N. Pleshcheev (October 25, 1888)
  • An artist must pass judgment only on what he understands; his range is limited as that of any other specialist—that's what I keep repeating and insisting upon. Anyone who says that the artist's field is all answers and no questions has never done any writing or had any dealings with imagery. An artist observes, selects, guesses and synthesizes.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 27, 1888)
  • It is a poor thing for the writer to take on that which he doesn’t understand.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 27, 1888)
  • You are right to demand that an artist engage his work consciously, but you confuse two different things: solving the problem and correctly posing the question.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 27, 1888)
  • I have in my head a whole army of people pleading to be let out and awaiting my commands.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 27, 1888)
  • I don’t care for success. The ideas sitting in my head are annoyed by, and envious of, that which I’ve already written.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 27, 1888)
  • We learn about life not from pluses alone, but from minuses as well.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (December 23, 1888)
  • It doesn’t matter that your painting is small. Kopecks are also small, but when a lot are put together they make a ruble. Each painting displayed in a gallery and each good book that makes it into a library, no matter how small they may be, serve a great cause: accretion of the national wealth.
    • Letter to S.P. Kuvshinnikova (December 25, 1888)
  • Children are holy and pure. Even those of bandits and crocodiles belong among the angels.... They must not be turned into a plaything of one’s mood, first to be tenderly kissed, then rabidly stomped at.
    • Letter to his brother, A.P. Chekhov (January 2, 1889)
  • Of course politics is an interesting and engrossing thing. It offers no immutable laws, nearly always prevaricates, but as far as blather and sharpening the mind go, it provides inexhaustible material.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (January 4, 1889)
  • In one-act pieces there should be only rubbish—that is their strength.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (January 6, 1889)
  • Narrative prose is a legal wife, while drama is a posturing, boisterous, cheeky and wearisome mistress.
    • Letter to A.N. Pleshcheev (January 15, 1889)
  • Everything is good in due measure and strong sensations know not measure.
    • Letter to N.M. Lintvareva (February 11, 1889)
  • Lermontov died at age twenty-eight and wrote more than have you and I put together. Talent is recognizable not only by quality, but also by the quantity it yields.
    • Letter to P.A. Sergeenko (March 6, 1889)
  • Neither I nor anyone else knows what a standard is. We all recognize a dishonorable act, but have no idea what honor is.
    • Letter to A.N. Pleshcheev (April 9, 1889)
  • Everyone judges plays as if they were very easy to write. They don’t know that it is hard to write a good play, and twice as hard and tortuous to write a bad one.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (May 4, 1889)
  • When performing an autopsy, even the most inveterate spiritualist would have to question where the soul is.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (May 7, 1889)
  • Life is difficult for those who have the daring to first set out on an unknown road. The avant-garde always has a bad time of it.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (May 14, 1889)
  • When a person doesn’t understand something, he feels internal discord: however he doesn’t search for that discord in himself, as he should, but searches outside of himself. Thence a war develops with that which he doesn’t understand.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (May 15, 1889)
  • Without a knowledge of languages you feel as if you don’t have a passport.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (November 1889)
  • Wherever there is degeneration and apathy, there also is sexual perversion, cold depravity, miscarriage, premature old age, grumbling youth, there is a decline in the arts, indifference to science, and injustice in all its forms.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (December 27, 1889)
  • In general, Russia suffers from a frightening poverty in the sphere of facts and a frightening wealth of all types of arguments.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (February 23, 1890)
  • There are no lower or higher or median moralities. There is only one morality, and it is precisely the one that was given to us during the time of Jesus Christ and that stops me, you and Barantsevich from stealing, offending others, lying etc.
    • Letter to I.L. Leontev (March 22, 1890)
  • I divide all literary works into two categories: Those I like and those I don’t like. No other criterion exists for me.
    • Letter to I.L. Leontev (March 22, 1890)
  • One can only call that youth healthful which refuses to be reconciled to old ways and which, foolishly or shrewdly, combats the old. This is nature’s charge and all progress hinges upon it.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (March 29, 1890)
  • The world is a fine place. The only thing wrong with it is us. How little justice and humility there is in us, how poorly we understand patriotism!
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (December 9, 1890)
  • I think that it would be less difficult to live eternally than to be deprived of sleep throughout life.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (December 9, 1890)
  • In my opinion it is harmful to place important things in the hands of philanthropy, which in Russia is marked by a chance character. Nor should important matters depend on leftovers, which are never there. I would prefer that the government treasury take care of it.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (December 17, 1890)
  • One had better not rush, otherwise dung comes out rather than creative work.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (August 18, 1891)
  • All great sages are as despotic as generals, and as ungracious and indelicate as generals, because they are confident of their impunity.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (September 8, 1891)
  • He who constantly swims in the ocean loves dry land.
    • Letter to E.M. Shavrova (September 16, 1891)
  • We old bachelors smell like dogs, do we? So be it. But I must take issue with your claim that doctors who treat female illnesses are womanizers and cynics at heart. Gynecologists deal with savage prose the likes of which you have never dreamed of.
    • Letter to E.M. Shavrova (September 16, 1891)
  • Satiation, like any state of vitality, always contains a degree of impudence, and that impudence emerges first and foremost when the sated man instructs the hungry one.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 20, 1891)
  • Can words such as Orthodox, Jew, or Catholic really express some sort of exclusive personal virtues or merits?
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (November 18, 1891)
  • An expansive life, one not constrained by four walls, requires as well an expansive pocket.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (March 11, 1892)
  • When we retreat to the country, we are hiding not from people, but from our pride, which, in the city and among people, operates unfairly and immoderately.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (March 17, 1892)
  • People understand God as the expression of the most lofty morality. Maybe He needs only perfect people.
    • Letter to E.M. Shavrova (April 6, 1892)
  • The wealthy man is not he who has money, but he who has the means to live in the luxurious state of early spring.
    • Letter to L.A. Avilova (April 29, 1892)
  • There is nothing more vapid than a philistine petty bourgeois existence with its farthings, victuals, vacuous conversations, and useless conventional virtue.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (June 16, 1892)
  • Despicable means used to achieve laudable goals render the goals themselves despicable.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (August 1, 1892)
  • The more elevated a culture, the richer its language. The number of words and their combinations depends directly on a sum of conceptions and ideas; without the latter there can be no understandings, no definitions, and, as a result, no reason to enrich a language.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 12, 1892)
  • The person who wants nothing, hopes for nothing, and fears nothing can never be an artist.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (November 25, 1892)
  • Whoever sincerely believes that elevated and distant goals are as little use to man as a cow, that “all of our problems” come from such goals, is left to eat, drink, sleep, or, when he gets sick of that, to run up to a chest and smash his forehead on its corner.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (December 3, 1892)
  • I abide by a rule concerning reviews: I will never ask, neither in writing nor in person, that a word be put in about my book.... One feels cleaner this way. When someone asks that his book be reviewed he risks running up against a vulgarity offensive to authorial sensibilities.
    • Letter to N.M. Ezhov (March 22, 1893)
  • When you live on cash, you understand the limits of the world around which you navigate each day. Credit leads into a desert with invisible boundaries.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (August 18, 1893)
  • It’s easier to write about Socrates than about a young woman or a cook.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (January 2, 1894)
  • Prudence and justice tell me that in electricity and steam there is more love for man than in chastity and abstinence from meat.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (March 27, 1894)
  • The air of one’s native country is the most healthy air.
    • Letter to his brother, G.M. Chekhov (January 1895)
  • I would love to meet a philosopher like Nietzsche on a train or boat and to talk with him all night. Incidentally, I don’t consider his philosophy long-lived. It is not so much persuasive as full of bravura.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (February 25, 1895)
  • I can’t accept “our nervous age,” since mankind has been nervous during every age. Whoever fears nervousness should turn into a sturgeon or smelt; if a sturgeon makes a stupid mistake, it can only be one: to end up on a hook, and then in a pan in a pastry shell.
    • Letter to E.M. Savrova-Yust (February 28, 1895)
  • Sports are positively essential. It is healthy to engage in sports, they are beautiful and liberal, liberal in the sense that nothing serves quite as well to integrate social classes, etc., than street or public games.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (March 16, 1895)
  • I promise to be an excellent husband, but give me a wife who, like the moon, will not appear every day in my sky.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (March 23, 1895)
  • The bourgeoisie loves so-called “positive” types and novels with happy endings since they lull one into thinking that it is fine to simultaneously acquire capital and maintain one’s innocence, to be a beast and still be happy.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (April 13, 1895)
  • A man who doesn’t drink is not, in my opinion, fully a man.
    • Letter to N.A. Leikin (May 8, 1895)
  • It’s worth living abroad to study up on genteel and delicate manners. The maid smiles continuously; she smiles like a duchess on a stage, while at the same time it is clear from her face that she is exhausted from overwork.
    • Letter to I.P. Chekhov (October 2, 1897)
  • Tell mother that however dogs and samovars might behave themselves, winter comes after summer, old age after youth, and misfortune follows happiness (or the other way around). A person can not be healthy and cheerful throughout life. Losses lie waiting and man can not safeguard against death, even if he be Alexander of Macedonia. One must be prepared for anything and consider everything to be inevitably essential, as sad as that may be.
    • Letter to his sister Maria Pavlovna Chekhov (November 13, 1898)
  • When a person expends the least amount of motion on one action, that is grace.
    • Letter to Maxim Gorky (January 3, 1899)
  • There are in life such confluences of circumstances that render the reproach that we are not Voltaires most inopportune.
    • Letter to A.S. Suvorin (February 6, 1898)
  • I have no faith in our hypocritical, false, hysterical, uneducated and lazy intelligentsia when they suffer and complain: their oppression comes from within. I believe in individual people. I see salvation in discrete individuals, intellectuals and peasants, strewn hither and yon throughout Russia. They have the strength, although there are few of them.
    • Letter to I.I. Orlov (February 22, 1899)
  • Women writers should write a lot if they want to write. Take the English women, for example. What amazing workers.
    • Letter to L.A. Avilova (February 26, 1899)
  • Is it our job to judge? The gendarme, policemen and bureaucrats have been especially prepared by fate for that job. Our job is to write, and only to write.
    • Letter to L.A. Avilova (April 27, 1899)
  • There are plenty of good people, but only a very, very few are precise and disciplined.
    • Letter to V.A. Posse (February 15, 1900)
  • You ask “What is life?” That is the same as asking “What is a carrot?” A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more.
    • Letter to his wife, Olga Knipper Chekhov (April 20, 1904)

A Dreary Story (1889)

  • Instructing in cures, therapists always recommend that “each case be individualized.” If this advice is followed, one becomes persuaded that those means recommended in textbooks as the best, means perfectly appropriate for the template case, turn out to be completely unsuitable in individual cases.
  • When a person hasn’t in him that which is higher and stronger than all external influences, it is enough for him to catch a good cold in order to lose his equilibrium and begin to see an owl in every bird, to hear a dog’s bark in every sound.
  • The wealthy are always surrounded by hangers-on; science and art are as well.

The Bet (1889)

  • If I were asked to chose between execution and life in prison I would, of course, chose the latter. It’s better to live somehow than not at all.
  • Capital punishment kills immediately, whereas lifetime imprisonment does so slowly. Which executioner is more humane? The one who kills you in a few minutes, or the one who wrests your life from you in the course of many years?
  • The government is not God. It does not have the right to take away that which it can’t return even if it wants to.

The Seagull (1896)

  • I’m in mourning for my life.
    • Act I
  • I try to catch every sentence, every word you and I say, and quickly lock all these sentences and words away in my literary storehouse because they might come in handy.
    • Act II
  • Do you remember you shot a seagull? A man came by chance, saw it and destroyed it, just to pass the time.
    • Act IV
  • It’s not a matter of old or new forms; a person writes without thinking about any forms, he writes because it flows freely from his soul.
    • Act IV

Uncle Vanya (1897)

  • People should be beautiful in every way—in their faces, in the way they dress, in their thoughts and in their innermost selves.
    • Act I
  • In countries where there is a mild climate, less effort is expended on the struggle with nature and man is kinder and more gentle.
    • Act I
  • 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.
    • Act I
  • The world perishes not from bandits and fires, but from hatred, hostility, and all these petty squabbles.
    • Act I
  • 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.
    • Act II
  • We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
    • Act IV
  • 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.
    • Act IV

Gooseberries (1898)

  • At the door of every happy person there should be a man with a hammer whose knock would serve as a constant reminder of the existence of unfortunate people.
  • It has become customary to say that a man needs only six feet of land. But a corpse needs six feet, not a person.
  • Money, like vodka, turns a person into an eccentric.
  • He is no longer a city dweller who has even once in his life caught a ruff or seen how, on clear and cool autumn days, flocks of migrating thrushes drift over a village. Until his death he will be drawn to freedom.

The Three Sisters (1901)

  • In two or three hundred years life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, astounding. Man needs such a life and if it hasn’t yet appeared, he should begin to anticipate it, wait for it, dream about it, prepare for it. To achieve this, he has to see and know more than did his grandfather and father.
    • Act I
  • What seems to us serious, significant and important will, in future times, be forgotten or won’t seem important at all.
    • Act I
  • To Moscow, to Moscow, to Moscow!
    • Act II
  • 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.
    • Act II

The Cherry Orchard (1904)

  • 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.
    • Act I
  • If there's any illness for which people offer many remedies, you may be sure that particular illness is incurable, I think.
    • Act I
  • All Russia is our orchard.
    • Act II
  • 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.
    • Act III

About Chekhov

  • No author has created with less emphasis such pathetic characters as Chekhov has.
  • This great kindness pervades Chekhov’s literary work, but it is not a matter of program or of literary message with him, but simply the natural coloration of his talent.
  • Worse than Shakespeare.

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Simple English

The house where Chekhov was born

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (January 29, 1860 - July 15, 1904) was a Russian writer who wrote short stories and plays.


Early life

Anton Chekhov was born in Taganrog, which is a city in Russia. His father, Pavel, was the owner of a grocery store. His mother, Yevgeniya, sometimes told Anton stories about her childhood.

In 1876, Chekhov's father went bankrupt. From then on, Chekhov's family was very poor. Anton Chekhov had to pay for his own education. He paid for it by tutoring (teaching) other students, catching birds and selling them, and writing short stories for newspapers. When he had extra money, he sent it to his family. While he was at school, he read many books by famous authors, for example Miguel de Cervantes and Arthur Schopenhauer.

In 1879, Chekhov went to Moscow University.

Writing career

While he was at Moscow University, Chekhov wrote many short stories to pay for his schooling and to help his family. In 1886, one of the most famous newspapers in Russia, New Times, asked him to write stories for them. Soon, his stories started to get famous, and other writers read his work and liked it. He wrote a book of stories called At Dusk that won the Pushkin Prize, an award for good writing.

In 1887, Chekhov wrote a play called Ivanov. Chekhov did not like the play, but critics loved it.

In 1890, Chekhov went to Sakhalin Island, a penal colony (prison). He talked to many prisoners and found out that they were treated very badly. The prisoners were often beaten. There were also children there. He was angry, and wrote about it in a book called The Island Of Salakhin and in a short story called The Murder.

In 1892, he bought a house and some land near Moscow called Melikhovo. While he was there, he helped the people who lived nearby. He brought them food and clothing, and medicine when they were sick. Since he was trained as a doctor, he knew how to take care of them.

While at Melikhovo, he started to write a play called The Seagull. When it was first performed, it went very badly, and the audience did not like it. Later, it was performed at another theater, the Moscow Art Theater, where the performances went better. Soon after this, he had another play performed, called Uncle Vanya. He later wrote two more great plays: Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. All four plays are still often performed today.

Marriage, sickness, and death

In 1897, he became sick. Doctors told him that he had tuberculosis, a lung disease, and that he should change his life to be healthier. He moved to Yalta and bought a house there. Later, he married a woman named Olga Knipper. At Yalta, he wrote some of his most famous stories, including a story called The Lady With The Dog.

By 1904, Chekhov was very sick. He died on the 2nd of July in Germany. Thousands of people were very sad when he died. He was buried in Novodevichy Cemetery.


Chekhov influenced many important writers, including George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. His short stories are still read by many people around the world.

Other websites

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Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • Works by Anton Chekhov at Project Gutenberg. All Constance Garnett's translations of the short stories and letters are available, plus the edition of the Note-book translated by S.S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf (see the "References" section for print publication details of all of these). The site also has translations of all the plays.
  • Антон Павлович Чехов Texts of Chekhov's works in the original Russian. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  • Web page A.P. Chekhov on a site of the Taganrog Central Public Library named after A. P. Chekhov

rue:Антон Чехов


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