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Anton Chekhov

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As a doctor, he saved lives, delivered babies, dispensed medication. Yet he refused to let other doctors diagnose his tuberculosis. He would later die at an early age, only 44 years old. But he is best remembered for his famous plays, which were said to offer a "theatre of mood" and a "submerged life in the text.” He once said, “What seems to us serious, significant and important will, in future times, be forgotten or won’t seem important at all”. You may recognize his most famous plays, “The Cherry Orchard”, “Uncle Vanya”, “The Seagull” and “The Three Sisters”. He worked closely with Constantin Stanislavski, the Russian actor and director. Who was this famous doctor, playwright, and author of many, many short stories?  We’ll find out next on “Biography Out Loud”.

Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright lived from 1860 to 1904. He has been called “the greatest short-story writer in the history of world literature” by the Encyclopedia Britannica, and influenced many other writers. Trained as a doctor, he used his interactions with all different kinds of people to populate his stories.

He once said, “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.”

His father went bankrupt and left the family, fleeing to Moscow to avoid debtor’s prison. Anton Chekhov helped his family and paid for his education by tutoring, selling goldfinches, and also sold short stories to local newspapers. He once said, “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.” After becoming a doctor, he made little money treating patients and he charged the poor nothing.

Though he had many struggles in life, he said, “We learn about life not from pluses alone, but from minuses as well.” He also said, “The person who wants nothing, hopes for nothing, and fears nothing can never be an artist.”

He wrote about poor conditions on Sakhalin Island, a prison colony run by Russia. He was disgusted with the conditions he found there, where children were imprisoned with their parents. “Love, friendship, respect, do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.”

He was disappointed with the first production of “The Seagull”, but Constantine Stanislavski restaged it in Moscow to critical praise.

Success with “The Cherry Orchard”, “The Three Sisters” and “Uncle Vanya” helped Chekhov gain national recognition, and then international praise. Raymond Carver called him “the greatest short story writer who ever lived”.

He worked for over a year on some plays, and once said, “You need to work continually day and night, to read ceaselessly, to study, to exercise your will.... Each hour is precious.” Optimistically, he proclaimed, “There is no Monday which will not give its place to Tuesday.”

Of his urge to write he said, “I have in my head a whole army of people pleading to be let out and awaiting my commands.” Once he became a successful writer he said, “I don’t care for success. The ideas sitting in my head are annoyed by, and envious of, that which I’ve already written.”

Of marriage, Anton Chekhov said, ““If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry.” He did marry Olga Knipper, an actress he had first met in rehearsals of his play “The Seagull”. He also said, “I observed that after marriage people cease to be curious.”

Constantly plagued by tuberculosis, he moved to Yalta to improve his health. He once said of illness, “It’s even pleasant to be sick when you know that there are people who await your recovery as they might await a holiday.”

He died at the age of 44 from the tuberculosis which had plagued him for years. Of death he said, “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.”

At the end of the “Three Sisters”, Anton Chekhov writes, “Time will pass on, and we shall depart for ever, we shall be forgotten; they will forget our faces, voices, and even how many there were of us, but our sufferings will turn into joy for those who will live after us, happiness and peace will reign on earth, and people will remember with kindly words, and bless those who are living now. Our life is not yet at an end. Let us live.”

Anton Chekhov continues to live through his works, as one of the world’s greatest authors.


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Anton Chekhov

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