Within the ten-volume edition of his works published in 1901, Anton Chekhov included 240 of the hundreds of stories he had written for dozens of newspapers and magazines. Many of these stories were collected and published in hardcover form as Chekhov progressed in his career: Pystrye rasskazy (1886; motley stories), Nevinnye rechi (1887; innocent tales), V sumerkakh (1887; in the twilight), and Rasskazy (1888; stories). Some of his most famous stories are “Gore” (“Sorrow”), “Toska” (“Misery”), “Step’” (“The Steppe”), “Skuchnaya isoriya” (“A Dreary Story”), “Palata No. 6” (“Ward No. 6”), “Chorny monakh” (“The Black Monk”), “Tri goda” (“Three Years”), “Muzhiki” (“Peasants”), “Kryzhovnik” (“Gooseberries”), “Dushechka” (“The Darling”), “Dama s sobachkoi” (“The Lady with the Dog”), and “Nevesta” (“The Betrothed”). In addition, Chekhov wrote a work of reportage on conditions on the island penal colony of Sakhalin: Ostrov Sakhalin (1893-1894).
Anton Chekhov began writing as a means of earning an income, and in doing so he built up a large audience for his comic tales, which he wrote at a rate of more than one per week. At the same time, he attracted the attention and approval of a broad range of writers and critics. As his career progressed and his literary efforts grew more serious, his appeal never wavered, and his popularity and reputation continued to grow as he expanded into drama. In 1900, he became one of the first ten literary members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, inducted at the same time as Leo Tolstoy, and during his life he influenced many younger writers, including Maxim Gorky. Since his death, his reputation has grown steadily, and now he is universally recognized as one of the founders of modern drama and one of the greatest of short-story writers.
Anton Chekhov’s literary reputation rests as much on his drama as on his stories and sketches, despite the fact that he was a far more prolific writer of fiction, having written only seventeen plays but almost six hundred stories. Chayka (1896, rev. 1898; The Seagull, 1909), Dyadya Vanya (1897; Uncle Vanya, 1914), Tri sestry (1901; Three Sisters, 1920), and Vishnyovy sad (1904; The Cherry Orchard, 1908), Chekhov’s chief dramatic works, are universally considered classics of modern theater. Chekhov was also an indefatigable correspondent, and his letters, along with his diaries and notebooks, form an important segment of his writing. He also wrote numerous journal articles and one long work, Ostrov Sakhalin (serialized in 1893 and 1894), a scholarly exposé of an island penal colony that Chekhov visited in 1890.
In his lifetime, Anton Chekhov gained considerable critical acclaim. In 1888, he won the Pushkin Prize for his fiction, and in 1900, he was selected to honorary membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences for both his fiction and his drama.
Chekhov’s fiction departs from the formulaic, heavily plotted story to mirror Russian life authentically, concentrating on characters in very ordinary circumstances that often seem devoid of conflict. A realist, Chekhov treads a fine line between detachment and a whimsical but sympathetic concern for his subjects. In his mature work, he is perhaps the most genial of Russian masters, compassionate and forgiving, seldom strident or doctrinaire. Equally important, that mature work reflects very careful artistry, worthy of study for its technique alone.
Describe Anton Chekhov’s use of nature to emphasize the actions and thoughts of the characters in several major plays.
Consider how the physician characters in The Seagull and Uncle Vanya might serve as the playwright’s mouthpiece as they observe the characters about them.
Examine how Chekhov uses soliloquies, fragments of speech, and public utterances to reveal the inner being of his characters.
A common Chekhovian theme is the isolation of people and their failure to achieve their dreams. Discuss this theme’s appearance in at least two major plays.
In three major plays how, why, and where do certain characters meet death?
What ideas about art and artists are reflected by Arkadina, Trigorin, Konstantin, and Nina in The Seagull?
Discuss any three characters who might individually represent Chekhov’s conception of the landed gentry, the merchant middle class, and the peasant class.
In terms of storytelling, characters, and theme, how is “Gooseberries” linked to two other short stories by Chekhov, “The Man in a Case” and “About Love”?
Allen, David. Performing Chekhov. New York: Routledge, 2000. A look at the production of Chekhov’s dramatic works on the stage. Bibliography and index.
Bartlett, Rosamund Chekhov: Scenes from a Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. This biography takes a look, not only at Chekhov’s life, but also at the geography and history of the Russian empire.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Anton Chekhov. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999. A volume in the series Modern Critical Views. Includes bibliographical references, an index, and an introduction by Bloom.
Callow, Philip. Chekhov, the Hidden Ground: A Biography. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998. A biography of Chekhov that covers his life and works. Bibliography and index.
Clyman, Toby, ed. A Chekhov Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. A collection of critical essays, especially commissioned for this volume, on all aspects of Chekhov’s life, art, and career. Some of the most importnat critics of Chekhov’s work are represented here in essays on his major themes, his dramatic technique, his narrative technique, and his influence on modern drama and on the modern short story.
Flath, Carol A. “The Limits to the Flesh: Searching for the Soul in Chekhov’s ‘A Boring Story.’” Slavic and East European Journal 41 (Summer, 1997): 271-286. Argues that “A Boring Story” affirms the value of art and offers comfort against the harshness of the truth about ordinary life and death.
Gilman, Richard. Chekhov’s Plays: An Opening into Eternity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. A scholarly study of the dramas of Chekhov. Bibliography and index.
Gottlieb, Vera, and Paul Allain, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A guide to the life and works of the playwright.
Hahn, Beverly. Chekhov: A Study of Major Stories and Plays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Hahn focuses on The Cherry Orchard as the principal Chekhov play with which to introduce his dramatic technique, although she does discuss the earlier plays as well. This study is particularly notable for its study of Chekhov’s relationship with Tolstoy and of his depiction of women in his plays.
Hingley, Ronald. Chekhov: A Biographical and Critical Study. London: Unwin Books, 1950, rev. ed. 1966. Hingley provides a general introduction to the life and work of Chekhov, focusing on both Chekhov’s language and his relationship to the social issues significant in Russia during that time.
Hingley, Ronald. A New Life of Anton Chekhov. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. A more detailed and more thoroughly biographical study than Hingley’s earlier work, this biography makes use of many documentary materials not previously available, particularly eight volumes of Chekhov’s letters. It also focuses more on the mysterious subject of Chekhov’s relationships with women than do previous studies.
Johnson, Ronald J. Anton Chekhov: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. An introduction to Chekhov’s short stories, from his earliest journalistic sketches and ephemera to his influential stories “Gooseberries” and “Lady with a Dog.” Discusses Chekhov’s objective narrative stance, his social conscience, and his belief in the freedom of the individual. Includes excerpts from Chekhov’s letters in which he talks about his fiction, as well as comments by other critics who discuss Chekhov’s attitude toward religion and sexuality.
Kirk, Irina. Anton Chekhov. Boston: Twayne, 1981. This solid study in the Twayne series offers a good departure point for serious further inquiry. In addition to provocative interpretations of selected fictional and dramatic works, it includes a useful chronology and select bibliography. The study is most helpful in delineating the guiding principles of Chekhov’s art.
Lantz, K. A. Anton Chekhov: A Reference Guide to Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985. Lantz offers an indispensable tool for the researcher. The work provides a brief biography, a checklist of Chekhov’s published works with both English and Russian titles, chronologically arranged, and a very useful annotated bibliography of criticism through 1983.
McMillin, Arnold. “Chekhov and the Soviet Village Prose Writers: Affinities of Fact and Fiction.” The Modern Language Review 93 (July, 1998): 754-761. Discusses Chekhov’s influence on Soviet village prose writers.
Malcolm, Janet. Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey. New York: Random House, 2001. With her favorite Russian dramatist as a guide, Malcolm draws on her observations as a tourist/journalist to compose a melancholy portrait of post-Soviet Russia. Malcolm weaves her encounters with contemporary Russians with biographical and critical analyses of Chekhov and his writings.
Martin, David W. “Chekhov and the Modern Short Story in English.” Neophilologus 71 (1987): 129-143. Martin surveys Chekhov’s influence on various English-language writers, including Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and Frank O’Connor. He compares selected works by Chekhov with pieces by those he has influenced and discusses those Chekhovian traits and practices revealed therein. He credits Chekhov with showing how effete or banal characters or circumstances can be enlivened with the dynamics of style. The article is a good departure point for further comparative study.
Pritchett, V. S. Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free. New York: Random House, 1988. Pritchett’s study is a critical biography and a good general introduction to Chekhov. Himself a writer of fiction, Pritchett has a very readable, engaging style. His discussions of selected works, though helpful, are prone to summary rather than extensive analysis. The work is not recommended as a guide for further study. It has no bibliography or other aids.
Prose, Francine. “Learning from Chekhov.” Western Humanities Review 41 (1987): 1-14. Prose’s article is an appreciative eulogy on the staying power of Chekhov’s stories as models for writers. She notes that while Chekhov broke many established rules, his stress on objectivity and writing without judgment is of fundamental importance. The piece would be of most help to creative writers.
Rayfield, Donald. Anton Chekhov: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1998. A detailed biography of Anton Chekhov including material about his relationship with various members of his family and his antecedents, his literary friendships, and the literary environment of prerevolutionary Russia.
Rayfield, Donald. Understanding Chekhov: A Critical Study of Chekhov’s Prose and Drama. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. A critical examination of the writings of Chekhov. Index.
Senelick, Laurence. The Chekhov Theatre: A Century of the Plays in Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. A look at the stage history and production of Chekhov’s works.
Troyat, Henri. Chekhov. Translated by Michael H. Heim. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1986. Troyat’s biography, drawing heavily on Chekhov’s letters, is a much more detailed and comprehensive study of Chekhov’s life than is V. S. Pritchett’s (above). It is less a critical biography, however, and is mainly valuable for its intimate portrayal of Chekhov the man. It is well indexed and documented by Chekhov’s correspondence. Illustrated with photographs.