Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov was born in January 29 of 1860.

 

Chekhov seated at a desk

 

Anton Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramaturge and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history.

His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.

Chekhov practised as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career: “Medicine is my lawful wife”, he said, “and literature is my mistress.”

Chekhov had at first written stories only for financial gain, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story.

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.

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.

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 Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” and premiered his last two plays, “Three Sisters” and “The Cherry Orchard”.

These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a “theatre of mood” and a “submerged life in the text.”

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.

Chekhov also won the admiration of writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield.

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.”

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.”

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.

In 1981, the playwright Tennessee Williams adapted The Seagull as The Notebook of Trigorin.

One of Anton’s nephews, Michael Chekhov would also contribute heavily to modern theatre, particularly through his unique acting methods which differed from Stanislavski’s.

 

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Despite Chekhov’s eminence as a playwright, some writers believe his short stories represent the greater achievement.

Raymond Carver, who wrote the short story “Errand” about Chekhov’s death, believed Chekhov was 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.

 

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Chekhov biographies

 

Chekhov’s works have been translated into many languages.

This was a tribute to Anton Chekhov!

Jacqueline

 

 

 

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