Anton Chekhov was one of the most illustrious and celebrated short-story writers in the history of literature. Trained as a physician, he pursued his career of a medical practitioner without giving up on his passion for writing which he discovered when he was young. Interestingly, writing happened incidentally to Chekhov who started off by writing humorous letters to his family in Moscow, while he was in Taganrog to uplift their morale as the family faced trying times. Following this, he started writing materials which soon were featured in newspaper periodicals and literary journals. Initially writing for monetary gains, his artistic ambitions later forced him to concentrate on quality work as he came up with the evolution of what is today known as modern short story. His most impressive works as a short story writer and playwright include, ‘The Cherry orchard’, ‘The Seagull’, ‘Uncle Vanya’, ‘Three Sisters’ and ‘Lady with the Dog’.
Childhood & Early Life
Anton Chekhov was the third of the six children born to Pavel Yegorovich and Yevgeniya Chekhov in Taganrog in southern Russia. His father was a devout orthodox Christian and director of the parish choir. He ran a grocery store, while his mother was a story-teller.
He attained much of his preliminary education from a school that was essentially for Greek boys, before enrolling at the Taganrog Gymnasium. As a child, he contributed as a singer in his father’s choir as well as the Greek Orthodox Monastery.
In 1876, Due to his father’s bankruptcy, the family shifted to Moscow but Anton stayed on as he was pursuing his education. He took up odd jobs to support a living and finance his studies. He engaged in reading and writing extensively.
Completing his studies in 1879, he moved to Moscow to join his family. Therein, he gained admission at the I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University
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He essentially took to writing to support the family and his studies. He started off by writing humorous short stories about the contemporary Russian life and soon earned a reputation for himself. He wrote under a number of pseudonyms.
In 1882, he started writing for Oskolki, which was one of the leading publishers of that time. Two years henceforth, he qualified as a physician and started practicing.
Despite medical practice being his main profession, he did not make much money from it. Thus, he continued with his passion for writing. It was in 1886 that he was invited to write for Novoye Vremya (New Times), owned and edited by the business magnate Alexey Suvorin.
His writings impressed eminent Russian writers and readers. It was following the advice of Dmitry Grigorovich that he slowed down his speed and concentrated on coming up with quality work with artistic allure. In 1887, his work, ‘At Dusk’ won him the coveted Pushkin Prize.
Exhausted from his work and depleting health, he took a trip to Ukraine. The beauty of the place inspired and mesmerized him so much so that he penned a novella or short story on it titled, ‘The Steppe’. The work was much appreciated and earned a publication in a literary journal.
He followed this up with a play, ‘Ivanov’ which was much appreciated by the audience. The play marked a turning point in his career as it revealed a new level of intellectual development and literary rise in his life.
In 1890, he moved to the far east of Russia, where he spent much of his time interviewing thousands of convicts and settlers for a census. Meanwhile, during the journey, he wrote numerous letters to his sister about the town of Tomsk which are considered amongst his best work till date.
The state of affairs at Sakhalin moved him much emotionally as he was disturbed at the plight of men and women and the misuse of power. He concluded that more than charity and contribution, it was the need for humane treatment for the convicts that the government need to concerned about. Much of his works written during this time were published as a work of science, informative in content.
In 1892, he moved to Melikhovo, a small country estate where he lived until 1899. During this time, he wrote under the pen name Shcheglov. He took up the landlord responsibilities seriously and started working for the betterment of the society and its people by opening schools, relief camps, clinic, fire station and so on.
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During this time in life, he worked more as a medical practitioner treating the ailing and the destitute people rather than writing. His profession involved him to travel for long distances for treating the sick and desolate. However, these experiences led him to come up with the work ‘Peasants’ which gave a first-hand experience of the peasants' unhealthy and cramped living conditions.
In 1894, he started to pen his play, ‘The Seagull’. The play opened in October 1896 to a jeering and hooting audience which lowered his morale to the point of renouncing theatre.
Director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was so impressed with the write-up of ‘The Seagull’ that he convinced Constantin Stanislavski to direct it for the innovative Moscow Art Theatre, thus reinstating his interest in playwriting. He then wrote a number of plays for the Art Theatre including ‘Uncle Vanya’
He moved to Yalta upon health complications and for a need to change the lifestyle. Therein he completed penning two more plays for Art Theatre, including ‘The Cherry Orchard’ and ‘Three Sisters’. Additionally, he wrote his most famous story, ‘The Lady with the Dog’
Personal Life & Legacy
After being in romantic relationships with a couple of women, he finally tied the nuptials with Olga Knipper in 1901. The marriage resulted from an agreement according to which they would be married but would live differently, he in Yalta and she in Moscow.
In 1902, Olga suffered from a miscarriage. Though some claim that the conception may have occurred when Chekhov and Olga were apart, Russian scholars have refuted the same.
Throughout his life, he suffered from tuberculosis which worsened by the time his end approached. In 1897, he suffered from a major haemorrhage of the lungs.
In 1904, he was terminally ill with tuberculosis. By June, he moved to a spa town with his wife Olga. He breathed his last after a shot of camphor and a glass of champagne.
Following his death, his body was transported in a refrigerated railway car to Moscow, where his body was buried next to his father at the Novodevichy Cemetery.
This great Russian writer was the author of the plays, ‘The Cherry Orchard’, ‘Three Sisters’ and ‘Uncle Vanya’, the latter of which was awarded the 2003 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award.