Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (29 January 1860 – 15 July 1904) was a Russian physician, dramatist 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.
Russian playwright, one of the great masters of modern short story. In his work Chekhov combined the dispassionate attitude of a scientist and a doctor with the sensitivity and psychological understanding of an artist. Chekhov portrayed often life in the Russian small towns, where tragic events occur in a minor key, as a part of everyday life. His characters are passive, filled with the feeling of hopelessness and the fruitlessness of all efforts. "What difference does it make?" says Chebutykin in Three Sisters.
One of Russia's greatest writers, Chekhov began his career writing jokes and anecdotes for popular magazines to support himself while he studied to become a doctor. Between 1888 and his death he single-handedly revolutionized both the drama and the short story.
Speaking more generally, it seems to me that Chekhov was under-estimated for so long in western Europe, and in Russia too, because of his extremely sober, critical, and doubting attitude towards himself—a most disarming quality which however, far from inspiring respect, set a bad example to the world at large. For the opinion we have of ourselves is not without influence on the picture which our fellow-men make of us; it colors their notions and may falsify them. This short-story teller was for too long convinced of the slightness of his gifts and of his lack of artistic distinction.
Considered by some to be the father of the short story, Anton Chekhov created a paradigmatic form for writing fiction. By mimicking reality he produced a representational art through his stories. The revelations in Chekhov’s fictional characters transport the reader into all too familiar lives. Chekhov portrays such an honest reality through his characters and dialogue that he leaves his readers with perhaps a revelation within themselves.
Chekhov's influence on the modern short story and the modern play was immense. Among his innovations were his economical husbanding of narrative resources, his concentration on character as mood rather than action, his impressionistic adoption of particular points of view, his dispensing with traditional plot, and, as Charles May declared in an essay collected in A Chekhov Companion, his use of atmosphere as "an ambiguous mixture of both external details and psychic projection."
One of the first things that strikes you about Chekhov is just how much he achieved in a short life dogged by illness. He wrote about 600 short stories, including several masterpieces of the genre, like the superb “Lady with Lapdog”; he produced one-act comic vaudevilles at astonishing speed – he claimed to have written one of them, Swan Song, about a drunken old actor, in just an hour and five minutes; and in his final years, he wrote the quartet of great plays, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, on which his reputation now largely rests. And he did all this while training and then practising as a doctor.
If one really wants to understand Chekhov, one must realize that he was the moralist of the venial sin, the man who laid it down that a soul is damned not for murder, adultery or embezzlement but for the small, unrecognized sins of ill-temper, untruthfulness, stinginess and disloyalty. ... As in Degas and Lautrec the whole beautiful theory of the art schools is blown sky-high, so in Chekhov the whole nineteenth-century conception of morals is blown sky-high. This is not morality as anyone from Jane Austen or Trollope would have recognized it, though I suspect that an orthodox theologian might have something very interesting to say about it. ... Sin to him is ultimately a lack of refinement, the inability to get through a badly cooked meal without a scene
This Was true for "The Cherry Orchard" which Stanislavsky persisted in treating with melancholy although Chekhov himself wanted it to be more optimistic in tone. It was largely out of such disagreements and Stanislavsky's establishment of his interpretation of the plays that Chekhov's legend of melancholy was born.
The final obstacle to what Bunin saw as a proper understanding of Chekov was the widespread assumption that Chekov, by both talent and inclination, preferred plays to prose, and that The Seagull, The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard held sway over Ward Six, "A Lady with a Dog," and other fictional masterpieces. Rather, Bunin concurred with Leo Toplstoy to proclaim not only that what Chekov had written for newspapers, "thick" journals, anthologies, and the like was infinitely superior to what he had penned for the stage but also that his short stories were the true wellsprings of his art.
…it is also wrong to assume that Chekov shares the pessimism that pervades his plays or the despondency of his defeated characters. Everyone who knew him testified to his gaiety, humor, and buoyancy, and if he always expected the worst, he always hoped for the best. Chekov the realist was required to transcribe accurately the appalling conditions of provincial life without false affirmations or baseless optimism; but Chekov the moralist has a sneaking belief in change.
Chekov's belief in the possibility of change and progress manifested itself in his general attitude and behavior. His faith in education and work in general is well documented, but even the relatively trivial fact that he had a great love of gardening is consistent with his overall belief in progress.
[Chekov's father's] tyranny extended, of course, to the religious life of his family […] The Chekov children appeared like a band of frightened little saints before the congregation. What [Chekov] detested in this was what he called "the monstrous lie" of this show of enforced saintliness on their part and their father's. To these displays he attributed the early and lasting loss of religious faith.
Chekov was a first-generation intellectual: his grandfather was a former serf, his father a small shopkeeper. 'There is peasant blood in me', he wrote. But in the history of Russian culture, the name of Chekov has become synonymous with intelligence, good upbringing - and refinement.
We recognize Anton Chekov today as a founding father of the modern theatre, where the author, not the actor, is king. We acknowledge him as the author who gave Europe's narrative fiction a new ambiguity, density and subtle poetry. Of all the Russian 'classics' he is, to non-Russians especially, the most approachable and the least alien, whether on the stage or printed.