Chekhov’s Best Plays

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), of peasant stock, is among the Russians’ most beloved authors of short stories and plays.  His most famous are The Sea Gull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, all of which are included in the above book.   To ignore Chekhov is to admit to a degree of illiteracy and to be forced to abstain from considerable dinner-table colloquy.  

Chekhov suffered an unhappy childhood, in abject poverty, and worked his way through university and medical school, and, like the England’s brilliant novelist, Thomas Hardy, Chekhov practiced medicine most of his adult life, although he treated the poor for free and made little money from his practice.

Given to repetitious wording, he pioneered the stream of consciousness writing-technique, which was later expanded by James Joyce, and he was among the first to leave his plots incomplete, a technique perfected by the brilliant Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), who noted that, until we die, our life stories have no end, nor should my novels; they are all works in progress.

My greatest difficulty with Chekhov is that he didn’t write “to be read” as much as he wrote “to be heard”, i.e., in the format of a play, much as did Shakespeare.  Unlike Shakespeare, both his plots and his characters seem a bit thin, breezy and undeveloped, and his plots lack action, and, of course, he didn’t write in musically rhymed verse.  His characters (like his childhood and, perhaps, a good bit of his adult life) tend to be depressing, reminiscent of more than a few great writers of the 19th Century.

Regardless, we must read Chekhov’s most famous stories and reach our own conclusions.  The adventurous reader ever returns to the classic and none of same can afford to admit to not having read Chekhov.