Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Although Chekhov had a significant impact on the creation of modern drama with his four major plays, his most important influence has been on the development of the modern short story. With his numerous lyrical stories, Chekhov liberated the short story in particular from its adherence to the parable form and fiction in general from the tedium of the realistic novel.
Anton Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860, in a small port town on the Sea of Azov in the Crimea. His grandfather was a former slave who bought his own freedom. In what is perhaps the best-known remark Chekhov ever made about his life, he said he felt the necessity to “squeeze the slave” out of himself. Chekhov’s father, Pavel Egorovich, owned a small general store in which Chekhov worked as a child. When Chekhov was sixteen, however, his father had to declare bankruptcy and escape his creditors by going to Moscow. Chekhov’s mother, along with the two youngest children, followed soon after. Chekhov stayed behind as a tutor to the son of one of his mother’s former boarders.
After living in poverty and fending for himself for three years, Chekhov was graduated from high school in Taganrog and went to Moscow to enter medical school at Moscow University. Because his father had a low-paying job outside town and was only home on Sundays and holidays, Chekhov had to assume the role of head of his family’s household and find work. Having shown an early interest in writing while he was a child in Taganrog, he sought to supplement his family’s meager income by contributing anecdotes and stories to humorous magazines, especially at the urging of his elder brother Aleksander, who was already earning a small income by publishing in such magazines. At first Chekhov had little success with his writing efforts, but in March, 1880, his first story was published in the humor journal Strekoza (dragonfly). Chekhov later called this the beginning of his literary career.
In 1882, Chekhov became a regular contributor of jokes and anecdotes to a weekly St. Petersburg magazine, Oskolki (fragments), edited by Nikolai A. Leikin. He submitted a large number of short pieces to the journal, many under various pseudonyms. By 1884, he had published more than two hundred short pieces, but when his first collection, Skazki Melpomeny (1884; Tales of Melpomene, 1916-1923), was published, he included only twenty of them. Also in 1884, Chekhov finished his degree and began practicing medicine. By the following year, when he went to St. Petersburg, he found, much to his surprise (because he did not consider his work significant), that he was quite well known as a writer there.
Chekhov’s increasing desire to write more serious fiction, however, made him chafe against the restrictions of the humor magazines, as well as against Leiken’s insistence that he stick to jokes. Thus, when Aleksey S. Suvorin, the owner of the influential newspaper Novoye vremya (new times), asked Chekhov to contribute more substantial stories to his newspaper, Chekhov was pleased to comply. During 1886 and 1887, Chekhov wrote a large number of stories and short pieces for Suvorin, including some of his best-known stories. His second collection, Pystrye rasskazy (motley stories), was published in 1886, and a third, V sumerkakh (in the twilight), was published in 1887.
Still, Chekhov was not personally satisfied with his work, believing it to be ephemeral. Moreover, in 1886, he began to suspect that he had tuberculosis, although he refused to have another doctor give him an examination. In this spirit of anxiety about his health and dissatisfaction with his work, Chekhov left on a trip to his hometown in the Crimea to visit friends and relatives. This trip seemed to rejuvenate him, for several important stories of the provincial life of the people he encountered resulted from it. Perhaps the most important result of the journey, however, was his lyrical story “Step’” (“The Steppe,” 1915), which was published in a highly reputable literary monthly in 1888. Following the story’s publication, Chekhov was given the Pushkin Prize for literature by the Academy of Sciences. Even Chekhov himself could no longer doubt that his work had more than ephemeral value.
Also in 1888, Chekhov turned to writing plays, beginning with Leshy (1889; The Wood Demon, 1925), which was so poorly received that he quit writing serious drama until 1895. This failure, along with a general sense of malaise, what Chekhov called a stagnation in his soul, was the cause of his decision to take a most treacherous journey to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island in the Northern Pacific to learn about the living conditions of the prison inmates. Taking extraordinary means to study the geography and history of the island, he embarked on April 21, 1890, and arrived on July 11. Chekhov spent three months on the island and did enough research on the inmates, he said,...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the provincial town of Taganrog, Russia, on January 29, 1860. The grandson of a serf, Chekhov was the third of seven children. Chekhov said of his early days, “There was no childhood in my childhood,” largely because of his father, Pavel, who frequently forced Chekhov to tend the family’s unheated food and hardware store until late at night. Chekhov’s father beat his children and taught them how to cheat customers, yet he was in his own eyes a religious man. He forced his children into a religious choir that rehearsed frequently and sang at various churches. Chekhov disliked these duties. It is not surprising that in later life he was not a religious man, that he spent his life trying to “burn the slave” out of himself and become a man of culture, and that he became convinced that work was useless unless it improved humankind’s lot.
Chekhov’s home life was disrupted in 1876 when his father’s business went into bankruptcy and his father fled to Moscow to escape debtors’ prison. His mother sold the house, took the younger children, and joined her husband. Chekhov stayed behind to finish his schooling and became, at sixteen, the main support of the family, providing income by tutoring. He finished school in 1879, rejoined his family, and tried to provide material and moral support, lecturing at times on the need to avoid lies, affirm human worth, and be fair, all values that would be of great importance in his later work.
In Moscow, Chekhov studied medicine and supported the family by writing stories in humorous magazines under the name Antosha Chekhonte. His first story was published in 1880 in the magazine Strekoza (dragonfly), and in 1881, he finished his first full-length play, Platonov, though it was not performed or published in his lifetime. In October of 1882, he met Nicolai Leikin, the owner of the weekly magazine Oskolki (fragments); they became friends, and soon scarcely a week went by without a Chekhov story appearing in the magazine. These early ventures saw him through medical school, and in 1884, Chekhov finished his medical studies and took up practice. By December 10 of that year, however, Chekhov became ill, coughing up blood, his first attack of tuberculosis, the disease that would kill him twenty years later. For the rest of his life, no year would go by without similar attacks.
Chekhov recovered rapidly and managed to ignore the implications of his symptoms, resuming his normal life. In December, 1885, he accompanied Leikin to St. Petersburg, the literary center of Russia at the time, meeting Aleksei Suvorin, owner of the powerful daily newspaper Novoye vremya (new times), and Dimitry Grigorovich, a noted novelist. After his return to Moscow, he received a letter from Grigorovich urging him to respect his talent and write seriously; Chekhov responded that Grigorovich’s...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, the third of six Chekhov children, was born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, a provincial city in southern Russia. His father, Pavel Egorovich Chekhov, son of a serf, ran a meager grocery store, which young Anton often tended in his neglectful father’s absence. A religious fanatic and stern disciplinarian, Pavel gave his children frequent beatings and forced them to spend long hours in various devotional activities. For Anton, who did not share his father’s zeal, it was a depressing, gloomy childhood.
Although the family was poor and Pavel’s marginal business was slowly failing, Anton was able to get some schooling, first at a Greek parochial school, then at the boys’ gymnasium, or high...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (CHEH-kawf) was born on January 29, 1860, into a family of tradesmen in the southern Russian port town of Taganrog, a stiflingly provincial place where he spent his first nineteen years. Chekhov despised Taganrog and used the adjective “Taganrogish” for behavior that he regarded as dull, boorish, squalid, or vulgar. Chekhov’s father, Pavel Egorovich, was a despotic grocer who terrorized his wife, five sons, and one daughter, overworked them, eventually went bankrupt, and had to flee town to escape his creditors. Chekhov’s mother was the soul of kindness, but she was too timid and deferential to protect her children against an abusive father who beat his offspring, ordered them to attend church...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“You ask me what life is?” Anton Chekhov once wrote his wife. “It is like asking what a carrot is. A carrot is a carrot, that’s all we know.” Chekhov records facts: people, places, things, words, actions. Held in his artist’s vision, they catch the comic, pathetic, sometimes frightening, other times loving but always vulnerable and lonely human pose between birth and death. Chekhov is the subtlest, quietest, most indirect of storytellers and dramatists, capable of examining his characters’ darkest despair with calm sympathy, gentle irony, and restrained affection. As an author, he seeks to be an impartial witness to the human condition, careful not to indulge in moral fervor, messianic dogma, or anything that smacks...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Anton Chekhov (CHEHK-awf)—also written Chekov, Tchehov, and Tchekhov—was Russia’s foremost playwright and one of the great masters of the short story. He was the third child of Pravel Yegorovitch Chekhov, a “merchant in the third guild”—that is, the proprietor of a small grocery shop—in Taganrog, where the future writer was born in 1860. When, after an unhappy childhood, he entered Moscow University to study medicine, he assumed the burden and responsibility of supporting the family, which he undertook to do by writing humorous sketches and stories for periodicals. The first of these tales was published in 1880, and in the next seven years he wrote as many as six hundred stories. On his graduation in 1884, with health...
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Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, a Russian town on the Sea of Azov. His father owned a small grocery store, where Chekhov worked as a child, and imposed a strict religious discipline on the family. When Chekhov was sixteen, his father’s business failed, and the family moved to Moscow to avoid debtor’s prison while Chekhov stayed on to finish his secondary school studies. After joining them in Moscow in 1880, Chekhov began to support his family by writing short, humorous sketches for popular journals. Measures of his prolific literary output during this time are the some three hundred short, humorous pieces written in the subsequent four years. Meanwhile, he enrolled in medical school at the University of Moscow, earning his degree as Doctor of Medicine in 1884. Chekhov later made the now famous comment that, while medicine was his wife, literature was his mistress.
That same year, 1884, his first two collections of stories were published: the first was entitled Tales of Melpomene, and for the second, In the Twilight, he was awarded the Russian Academy’s Pushkin Prize for distinguished literary achievement. His only novel, The Shooting Party, was also published in serial form between 1884 and 1885. A turning point in his literary career was in 1888 when he published his first piece in a serious journal, a long short story entitled ‘‘The Steppe.’’ He subsequently turned exclusively to writing longer, more serious stories. In 1889, Chekhov took a trip across Siberia to study life in a penal colony in Sakhalin where he stayed for two years, eventually publishing the monograph, The Island of Sakhalin (1893–1894). Chekhov continued to publish short stories, purchasing a six hundred acre country estate in 1892.
In 1898, he met and befriended Stanislavsky, whose newly formed experimental Moscow Art Theater eventually produced many of Chekov’s plays. His major dramatic works include The Sea Gull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1896), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). In 1901, he married the actress Olga Knipper, who starred in many of these productions.
In the late 1880s, Chekhov showed signs of the onset of tuberculosis, and he spent the last years of his life, from the late 1890s, in health spas in Crimea France and Germany, where he died in 1904. Over the course of his life, the inexhaustibly prolific Chekhov published approximately fourhundred-and-fifty narratives. Throughout the twentieth century, Chekhov, a cultural icon in Russia, has been considered internationally to be one of the greatest and most influential of short story writers and playwrights.of short story writers and playwrights.
Born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia, Chekhov, the third of six children, was the grandson of a serf who bought his freedom. His father owned a small grocery business which went bankrupt, leaving the family impoverished. Chekhov managed to earn a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Moscow, and by 1884 he went into practice. By this time Chekhov had published humorous sketches in magazines in order to support his family. He supported his mother and sisters for many years, turning out sketches and stories with astonishing speed while also practicing medicine.
Famous for the profound influence of his plays on the course of modern drama, Chekhov perhaps exerted an even greater influence on the modern short story. While he is known for his sympathy for and insight into the human condition, his stories ultimately exhibited dispassionate emotional balance, rigorous stylistic control, and a rational, ironic, and sometimes cynical attitude toward human relationships and aspirations. It is Chekhov's cool, detached artfulness that distinguished his work from the confessional style of Dostoevsky, the moral fervor of Tolstoy, and the absurdist fantasies of Gogol. Critics note that Chekhov wrote ‘‘The Lady with the Pet Dog’’—the story of a middle-aged man's belated discovery of true love—shortly before he himself married actress Olga Knipper in 1901. Their love was bittersweet, as he did not expect to live long. Some critics point out that just as Gurov felt bored and disgusted by the triviality of Moscow society in the absence of Anna, Chekhov felt miserable among high society at a health resort in Yalta (where he composed the story while seeking a tuberculosis cure) because he was separated from Olga. Like Gurov, Chekhov loved the company of women and seemed to share a special sympathy with them but simultaneously remained somewhat detached.
Chekhov was influenced by Tolstoy's ideas on ascetic morality and nonresistance to evil. He especially became more actively concerned about human suffering after visiting and caring for patients at a penal colony on the island of Sakhalin. In one of his most famous stories, ‘‘Ward Six,’’ Chekhov depicts a doctor's inner journey from philosophical detachment to deep human sympathy, which resembles Gurov's journey from a thoughtless and cynical lady's man to a deeply sympathetic lover in ‘‘The Lady with the Pet Dog.’’
Chekhov's first major work as a dramatist, The Seagull, was produced in 1896 by the Moscow Art Theater. Although the first performance of this unprecedentedly realistic and "uneventful" play caused the outraged audience to riot, it was soon appreciated as a new and profound kind of theater and was followed by Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Three Sisters. Chekhov died from tuberculosis in 1904 in a Black Forest health spa.
Anton Chekhov was born on January 17, 1860, in Taganrog, a dreary Russian seaport village on the Black Sea. His grandfather was an emancipated serf who had managed to buy his own freedom. His father, Pravel Yegorovitch Chekhov, a cruel and dictatorial taskmaster who made his children's lives miserable, ran a small grocery store. In 1876, that business failed, forcing the family to flee to the anonymity of Moscow to escape from creditors. Although Chekhov's fame as a dramatist rests largely on works he wrote during the last eight years of his life, his love of the theater extended back into his youth in Taganrog, where he frequented dramatic presentations at that city's provincial playhouses. Young Anton remained in Taganrog to complete his schooling before following the family to Moscow and entering that city's university to study medicine.
It was there that Chekhov began writing his sketches and stories, works that fairly quickly brought him financial independence and a moderate degree of fame. Between 1880, when the first of his pieces appeared, and 1887, Chekhov published about 600 pieces in periodicals. Quite literally, he wrote his humorous sketches as "potboilers," works providing money enough for his family to get back on its feet.
By 1884, when he graduated from the university and began practicing medicine, Chekhov already knew that he had contracted tuberculosis, a disease that would leave him but twenty additional years to write. His success and much improved financial situation soon allowed him to give up medicine to concentrate on his writing, though he sometimes worked as a physician to help the poor. At first Chekhov did not take his writing very seriously, but starting in 1885, after he moved to St. Petersburg, his attitude began to change. He became a close friend of A. S. Suvorin, the editor of Novoe vremja, a fairly conservative journal. Recognizing Chekhov's genius, Suvorin encouraged the writer to take more pride in his work and to seek a greater critical reputation. It was there, too, that Chekhov fell under the influence of the great novelist Leo Tolstoy especially that writer's moral preachments, including his passive response to evil.
Chekov began to write plays at about the same time that he started writing fiction but did not immediately achieve the success and acclaim that he did in fiction. His work in drama falls into two distinct periods. The first, from 1881 until 1895, is predominately one in which he wrote adaptations of his prose sketches as curtain-raisers or ''vaudevilles," single-act farces of the sort that were immensely popular in Russian theater at the time. Two of these pieces, The Bear (also known as The Brute and The Boar) and The Marriage Proposal, are extremely durable examples of this kind. Chekhov also experimented with longer pieces in his early years, but, except in the case of Ivanov (1887), he had little success with them. In fact, because one of them, The Wood Demon (1889), was so chillingly received by critics and was rejected for performance, Chekhov all but gave up writing drama for the next seven years. With The Seagull (1896), he entered his second period of dramatic writing and produced the world-renowned masterpieces on which his fame as playwright largely rests. In this second period, lasting to his death in 1904, he wrote his greatest plays, which, besides The Seagull, include Uncle Vanya (1899), The Cherry Orchard (1900), and Three Sisters (1901). It was also in this period that Chekhov commenced his fortuitous association with the Moscow Art Theater, then under the joint directorship of Constantin Stanislavsky and Chekhov's friend, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. In their stage interpretation of his work, these two men and their actors brought the author both great fame and fortune. His sickness soon took its toll, however, and after his marriage to the actress Olga Knipper in 1901 until his death in 1904, Chekhov's failing health depleted his energy and prevented him from adding new works to his limited dramatic canon.
However, by 1901 he had done enough to acquire an international reputation. In these latter plays, Chekhov perfected hallmark techniques and a style that earned him a lasting reputation as a seminal figure in modern drama—in the minds of many the coequal of the ''father'' of modern drama, Henrik Ibsen. To this day, in manner and technique, he is still admired and imitated by aspiring playwrights.
Although Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was trained as a physician and practiced as one, he came to dominate not just one field of literature, but two: plays and short stories. He was born in 1860 in Taganrog, a provincial town in the Ukraine area of Russia that was similar to the one described in The Three Sisters. His family had a small grocery business that went bankrupt, forcing them to move to Moscow in 1876, although Chekhov stayed behind in Taganrog to finish his education. With a scholarship to Moscow University, he studied to be a doctor of medicine, going into practice in 1884. At that time he started publishing short humorous sketches in the Moscow newspapers, though he had no serious artistic aspirations. His writing career became earnest when he moved to St. Petersburg in 1885 and befriended the editor of a literary journal, who recognized his talent and encouraged him. He did write plays, and some of these were produced, but his most memorable work from that period were his short stories, and by late 1880s, he was one of the world's great masters of short story writing.
It was in the late 1890s, when Chekhov became associated with the Moscow Art Theatre, that he reached full maturity as a playwright. The theater, under director Constantin Stanislavsky (whose theories about acting method are standard texts for theater students today), produced The Seagull in 1896, followed by Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904). Chekhov was very involved in the Moscow Art Theatre's productions of his plays, offering suggestions for the actors and constantly rewriting passages. He courted an actress from the company, Olga Knipper, who played Masha in the original production of The Three Sisters (he wrote the part with her in mind); they were married in 1901, just four months after the play opened. During much of their marriage, they were apart, because Chekhov, suffering from tuberculosis since 1884, often went to country retreats for medical treatment. He died of tuberculosis in Yalta in 1904, when he was forty-four years old.
Born on January 29, 1860, in the port village of Taganrog in the Ukraine Anton Chekhov was the third son of Pavel Yegorovitch and Yevgeniya Yakovlevna (Morozov) Chekhov. Though the family was descended from Russian peasants, Chekhov’s grandfather purchased the family’s freedom, allowing Chekhov’s father to run a small grocery store. The family’s fortunes took a sudden turn for the worse, however, when his father’s store went bankrupt in 1876. Following that disaster, his parents moved to Moscow, leaving Chekhov in Taganrog to complete his education.
In 1879, Chekhov reunited with his family in Moscow, where he began studying for a degree in medicine at Moscow University. In 1884, he completed his studies, began to practice medicine, and started publishing short, humorous sketches in popular magazines. In 1886 these collected sketches were published as a book, entitled Motley Stories. According to his biographers, Chekhov only began to take his writing seriously after he moved to St. Petersburg in 1885 and befriended an influential editor named A. S. Suvorin. During the late-1880s, Chekhov wrote some of his most famous short stories, including ‘‘The Kiss’’ and ‘‘The Steppe.’’
Chekhov had attended plays by Nikolai Gogol and William Shakespeare growing up in Taganrog, as well as appearing as an actor on the amateur and professional stage. In the 1880s, Chekhov began to write one-act and full-length plays. Many of his dramatic efforts were poorly received; the 1896 premier of The Sea Gull at the Imperial Alexander Theater in St. Petersburg was drowned out by whispering and derisive laughter. Chekhov’s fortunes as a playwright improved after he met Konstantin Stanislavsky, who produced The Sea Gull at the Moscow Art Theater in 1898. In fact, the Moscow Art Theater was so indebted to Chekhov that an ideogram of a sea gull—from Chekhov’s play of that title—still adorns the theater’s curtain. In 1899, the Moscow Art Theater presented Uncle Vanya, a revised version of Chekhov’s one-act play The Wood Demon. Chekhov’s reputation as an innovative and influential dramatist rests with Uncle Vanya and his two subsequent plays, The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904).
Even as his literary fortunes grew, Chekhov continued to work as a doctor, often refusing payment for the care he dispensed because he earned a good living from writing. In the summer of 1901 Chekhov married Olga Leonardovna Knipper, an actress from the Moscow Art Theater. Ill with tuberculosis, he spent much of his last years traveling to health spas in Europe. He died on July 2, 1904, in Badenweiler, a German health resort, and was buried in Moscow. Chekhov was a highly regarded short story writer and dramatist in his own lifetime and recognition and appreciation for his unique literary gifts have continued to grow throughout the twentieth century..
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 16, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia, the third of six children. Chekhov’s father, a grocer, was intense, religious, and demanding of his family. Chekhov’s paternal grandfather was a serf who managed to buy his freedom, enabling his descendants to lead better lives. Chekhov was a good student whose interests included writing, journalism, and drama. His mother’s storytelling ability is often credited as the source of Chekhov’s talent. When his father’s grocery store failed in 1876, the family moved to Moscow, but Chekhov stayed behind alone to finish school. Upon graduating, he received a scholarship to attend medical school at the University of Moscow. While in medical school, he supported his impoverished family by writing for humor magazines. In 1884, he began practicing medicine and also saw the publication of the first collection of his writing.
In 1901, Chekhov married Olga Knipper, a well-known actress in Moscow. Chekhov’s health had been steadily declining since his twenties, when he suffered the first symptoms of tuberculosis. His illness forced him to leave Russia for extended periods of time, and his wife was often unable to accompany him due to her stage success. On July 2, 1904, Chekhov died at a spa in Badenweiler, Germany, with Olga by his side. He is buried in Moscow. Literary historians note that his death marked the end of Russia’s Golden Age of literature, an age that included the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev.
Chekhov’s career is often divided into three periods. The first, 1880–1887, spans his years of humor writing. The second, 1888–1893, found Chekhov writing at a more leisurely pace as he began writing more experimental and ‘‘literary’’ works. This period shows Chekhov’s early adherence to Tolstoy’s philosophy of nonresistance to evil. Chekhov abandoned this philosophy after an 1889 trip to a prison camp, when he decided that he could not justify passivity in the face of injustice and cruelty. In fact, Chekhov’s second period is characterized by his growing concern over social and psychological ills. The third period, 1894–1904, reflects his evolution as a complex and innovative writer. ‘‘Gooseberries’’ was published during this time. This period also includes the bulk of Chekhov’s writing as a dramatist. Today, he is still regarded as a master of both short fiction and drama, and numerous modern writers are influenced by his thematic and technical contributions to literature.