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Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Work: The Cherry Orchard


Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • Russian playwright and short story writer. One of the most distinguished and representative exponents of European Realism. Chekhov's writing is notable for its social concerns, stylistic ambition, attention to detail and nuances of characterization, and its aspiration to objectivity and impartiality.

  • Childhood of poverty and suffering

  • Medical career and work as a physician

  • A firm believer in progress, committed to the critique of the human condition and the transformation and betterment of the world

  • Specially concerned with the problems of the exploitation of the poor by the powerful; the vanity, idleness, and shallowness of those in privileged social positions

  • Died of tuberculosis in 1904, at the age of 44

Main Works

  • Chekhov wrote hundreds of short stories, including "Misery," "The Orator," "The Steppe," "The Duel," and "Ward No. 6"

  • Some of his best known plays include The Seagull (1897), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904)


  • Russian History

    • Under the rule of Nicholas I (reigned 1825-1855) Russia became one of the most reactionary, anti-liberal powers in Europe. Russia involved in imperialist, expansionist warfare (e.g. Crimean War 1854-1856).

    • Alexander II (r. 1855-81) was also an authoritarian and imperialist -- annexing territories in central and eastern Asia and brutally repressing rebellions in Poland and elsewhere. While dealing harshly with political opponents and dissenters, he also favored liberal reforms such as the Emancipation of the Serfs (1861) and the modernization of the Russian economy. Alexander II was assassinated by opponents of his authoritarian politics in 1881.

    • Trans-Siberian Railroad built 1891-1905

    • Alexander III (r. 1881–94) and Nicholas II (r. 1894-1917), reactionary, conservative rulers, opposed liberal, democratic reforms and aggravated the discontent that would eventually lead to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

    • World War I (1914-1918). Imperialist, territorial competition between Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, and Russia led to the outbreak of the war. Russia was one of the instigators of the conflict as it supported the Eastern European (Serbian, Slavic) nationalists that assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in 1914.

    • Russian Revolution 1917. The suffering of the Russian people during World War I brought discontent against the government to a climax and precipitated a popular revolution involving the army as well as the middle and working classes. Nicholas II overthrown and executed. The Bolshevik communist party led by Lenin took control of the government.

  • Realist and Victorian Age in Europe: Industrial Revolution, Imperialism, Science and Technology; conflict between conservative powers represented by the land-owning aristocracy and the traditional Church and liberal, democratic interests associated with the middle and working classes

  • Social, economic, and political rise to power of the middle (bourgeois) classes of industrialists, businessmen, merchants, and professionals; decline of the aristocracy and alliance of aristocratic interests with those of the successful among the bourgeoisie

  • Legacy of the failure of the revolutions of the Romantic Age to bring about true equality and social justice -- French Revolution ideals undermined by the violence of the Reign of Terror and the all-out aggression of reactionary foreign powers like Britain, Germany (Prussia, Austria), and Russia. Napoleon's career -- from revolutionary fighter for justice and equality to crowned Emperor and megalomaniac imperialist -- illustration of the tendential development of middle-class ambitions

  • Problem of oppression and injustice continued and aggravated throughout the19th century under middle class rise and dominance; businessmen, industrialists, and professionals more interested in their own wealth than in bringing about social change; working classes brutally oppressed as slaves, serfs, or wage-laborers (cf. Russian emancipation of the serfs in 1861, and U.S. Emancipation Proclamation in 1863).

  • Development and spread of a narrow, selfish, hypocritical mentality characterized by vanity and petty materialistic interests. Money-making and business interests emerging as the main and only concern, overriding all other values and beliefs

  • Science and technology's failure to fulfill their potential to bring material well-being, health, and greater freedoms for the masses -- used instead to further exploit and enslave the working classes

Selected Quotations

  • "All I wanted was to say honestly to people: 'Have a look at yourselves and see how bad and dreary your lives are!' The important thing is that people should realize that, for when they do, they will most certainly create another and better life for themselves. I will not live to see it, but I know that it will be quite different, quite unlike our present life. And so long as this different life does not exist, I shall go on saying to people again and again: 'Please, understand that your life is bad and dreary!'" Anton Chekhov



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Last updated: 07/21/2010


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