Anton Chekhov Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
ph_0111201530-Chekhov.jpg Anton Chekhov Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.

Early Life

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.

Life’s Work

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, for “three dissertations.” Although Ostrov Sakhalin (1893; the Island of Sakhalin) was the formal result of the trip, more lasting fictional results are such stories as “V sylke” (1892; “In Exile,” 1912) and “V ovrage” (1900; in the ravine).

On his return to Moscow, Chekhov once again had the urge to travel, this time to Europe. He found Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Florence overwhelming in the beauty of their art and landscapes. On his return, Chekhov purchased a country estate about fifty miles outside Moscow in Melikhovo, where he became a country gentleman and landowner and wrote many of his most famous stories, such as “Chorny monakh” (1892; “The Black Monk,” 1903), “Palata No. 6” (1892; ward no. six), “Student” (1894; the student), “Muzhiki” (1897; peasants), and “Dom s mezoninom” (1896; the house with an attic).

In 1895, Chekhov began writing plays again, working on Chayka (The Seagull, 1909), which was first staged at St. Petersburg in October, 1896, but, partly because of the nature of the production, was an abysmal failure. Once again, Chekhov swore never to write plays. Shortly thereafter, his health worsened and he began to hemorrhage from the lungs. After entering a clinic, he was officially diagnosed as having tuberculosis and was advised to spend the winter months in a warm climate; he soon left for Nice, France. While Chekhov was in France, the Moscow Art Theater asked for permission to stage The Seagull. Although Chekhov first refused, he later agreed and went to Moscow to meet the cast. Among them was Olga Knipper, whom Chekhov would marry a few years later.

Chekhov’s ill health again forced him to leave Moscow, this time for Yalta, where he had a house built. On December 17, 1898, The Seagull opened and was a tremendous success. Thus encouraged, Chekhov rewrote his first failure, The Wood Demon, and renamed it Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya, 1914), which the Moscow Art Theater staged in 1899. The following year, when the troupe began a tour of the Crimea with both The Seagull and Uncle Vanya among their repertoire, Chekhov was at last able to see his two plays on the stage. He was also able to spend more time with Olga Knipper. Soon after, Chekhov finished his third play, Tri sestry (1901; Three Sisters, 1920). He and Olga Knipper were married on May 25, 1901.

In 1902, Chekhov’s health took another turn for the worse; it is a tribute to his determination and genius that during this year he worked on his final play, Vishnyovy sad (The Cherry Orchard, 1908), and completed it in October. It was scheduled to premier on January 29, 1904, on his forty-fourth birthday; it was also presented in celebration of his twenty-five years as a writer. When Chekhov arrived at the theater after the third act, much to his embarrassment, he was honored with speeches and applause.

Chekhov went back to Yalta for the rest of the winter; on his return trip to Moscow in the spring, his health became worse. On June 4, he and his wife went to Berlin to see a specialist; from there, they went to Badenweiler, a spa in Germany. Chekhov died early in the morning on July 15, 1904. His body was shipped back to Moscow, where he was buried by his father.


Anton Chekhov was one of the most influential literary artists at the close of the nineteenth century to usher in the era of modernism in narrative fiction, particularly in short fiction. When his stories were first made widely available in English in the famous Constance Garnett translations between 1916 and 1923, they were termed sketches or slices of life, lacking in all the elements that constituted the short-story form. Critics soon began to realize, however, that Chekhov’s freedom from the prevailing conventions of social realism and formalized plot indicated the beginnings of a modern kind of narrative, which combined the specific detail of realism with the poetic lyricism of Romanticism.

Chekhov’s most significant contributions to the short-story form, contributions which have influenced modern writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver, include the following: the presentation of character as a lyrical or psychological mood rather than as a two-dimensional symbol or as a realistic personality; the conception of a story as a lyrical sketch rather than as a highly plotted tale; and the assumption of reality as basically impressionistic and as a function of narrative perspective or point of view. The final result of these innovations has been the modernist and postmodernist view of reality as a fictional construct.

With Chekhov, the short story took on a new respectability and began to be understood as the most appropriate narrative form to reflect the modern temperament. Today, most critics agree that there can be no understanding of the short story as a genre without an understanding of Chekhov’s contribution to the form.


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.

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.

Kirk, Irina. Anton Chekhov. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A general introduction to the life and art of Chekhov, focusing primarily on Chekhov’s stories as being the embodiment of the search for a philosophy of life and the search for love and home. Although most of the book focuses on discussions of the stories, one final chapter analyzes the plays.

Pitcher, Harvey. The Chekhov Play: A New Interpretation. London: Chatto & Windus, 1973. A detailed discussion of the four Chekhov plays in the light of several premises Pitcher establishes about their basic nature: for example, that they focus primarily on the emotional side of life, that they follow a certain structural formula, that they follow the ensemble approach of the Moscow Art Theater, and that the language of the characters is dominated by a feeling of informality.

Pritchett, V. S. Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free. New York: Random House, 1988. This study by a master of the short story is neither straight biography nor literary criticism but rather a leisurely mixture of the two, with an emphasis on the latter. Pritchett discusses many of Chekhov’s stories in detail and attempts to distill the essential qualities of his art.

Winner, Thomas. Chekhov and His Prose. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. A chronological study of Chekhov’s development as a story writer, from his beginnings as a writer of humorist anecdotes, to his experimentation with his impressionistic style, through his final concern with the Russian social scene.

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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 letter was “like a thunderbolt,” making him believe in his talent for the first time. Suvorin also wrote, inviting Chekhov to contribute to Novoye vremya. Chekhov accepted, beginning a long relationship with the newspaper and with Suvorin.

In 1887, Chekhov completed the full-length play Ivanov, which was a popular success. In 1888, he experimented with longer prose forms and produced the much-acclaimed novella “The Steppe”; he was also awarded the Pushkin Prize for the best literary work of the year for his collection of stories V sumerkakh. In drama, he achieved financial success with two popular one-act comedies, A Bear and A Marriage Proposal.

In June, 1889, Chekhov’s brother Nicolai died of tuberculosis as Chekhov tended him, and late in the year, his full-length play The Wood Demon, at first rejected as “too tedious,” was finally performed but was an almost complete failure. Chekhov began to doubt his dramatic ability, and, except for the one-act comedy The Jubilee, he abandoned drama until 1896. Indeed, Chekhov underwent a crisis of self-examination in 1889, doubting his literary and medical abilities and even his own worth.

Until this time, Chekhov’s writing had been extraordinarily fluent. He wrote quickly, and almost everything he wrote was successful. Critics had begun to complain, however, that he had no purpose, no aim, and Chekhov was troubled with the same thought. Tolstoy’s moral philosophy, advocating an ascetic search for self-perfection, influenced him for a time. In 1890, Chekhov startled his friends but lifted himself out of what he described as a “spiritual stagnation” by undertaking a long and arduous trip to the prison colony of Sakhalin, located on an island off the eastern coast of Russia, to make study of conditions there. It may be that this trip crystallized Chekhov’s belief that a person must not be content merely to see everything; he must also do something about what he sees.

There is ample evidence of Chekhov’s activity after he returned from Sakhalin. In 1891, a famine year, he devoted himself to collecting food and money for starving farmers. In 1892, he bought Melikhovo, an estate of 675 neglected acres, and poured his efforts into planting, pruning, and improving. He planted thousands of trees, including an apple and a cherry orchard. At Melikhovo, he led medical efforts to forestall threatened cholera epidemics. He also took on the tasks of constructing rural schools, stocking the Taganrog library, and providing constructive criticism for many aspiring writers, displaying the energy and purpose lacking in so many of his dramatic creations.

By 1896, Chekhov was again tempted by the theater, and The Seagull opened on October 17 of that year. The Seagull failed, and its author vowed never again to write drama. In 1898, however, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Konstantin Stanislavsky created the Moscow Art Theater and received permission to use The Seagull in its repertory. The theater’s first few productions failed, and by the time that the company was ready to stage The Seagull, it needed a success. The opening on December 17, 1898, exceeded everyone’s hopes; it was an enormous success, and the theater adopted the seagull as its permanent emblem.

The success of The Seagull was shadowed by a deterioration in Chekhov’s health. A severe pulmonary hemorrhage in 1897 forced him away from Moscow to temperate Nice during the winter of 1897-1898, and in 1898, he settled outside Yalta and gave up the practice of medicine.

On October 26, 1899, the Moscow Art Theater performed the second of Chekhov’s great plays, Uncle Vanya. This play was followed by The Three Sisters on January 31, 1901, and then by The Cherry Orchard on January 17, 1904. All three plays were only moderate successes at first but gained in favor as audiences and actors grew to understand them.

Chekhov met Olga Knipper, an actress, through the Moscow Art Theater. They were married on May 25, 1901, but most of their married life was spent apart, Olga’s career demanding that she live in Moscow and Chekhov’s health preventing him from living there except during the summer. Chekhov’s belief in purposeful work made him content with this situation.

Throughout 1903 and 1904, Chekhov’s health declined steadily, and in June of 1904, he went with Olga to a German health resort in Badenweiler. He seemed to respond to treatment at first, but he died early in the morning on July 15. He was buried a week later in Moscow.

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 school. In 1875, after a bout with acute peritonitis, young Chekhov decided to become a physician. His future brightened when, in 1876, his father, trying to evade his creditors, secretly moved the family to Moscow, leaving Anton to finish school.

In 1879, Anton moved to Moscow, entered the medical school of the University of Moscow, and almost immediately began publishing stories in various magazines and newspapers. A very prolific apprentice, by 1884, when he was graduated from medical school, he had published his first collection of short fiction. By 1886, Chekhov had begun his long association and friendship with A. S. Suvorin, the owner of an influential conservative newspaper to which Chekhov contributed dozens of pieces. Recognized as a significant new author, Chekhov devoted more time to writing and less and less to his medical practice, which, in time, he would abandon altogether.

His greatly improved finances allowed Chekhov to buy a better Moscow house and gave him time to travel, which he frequently did, despite ill health. In 1887, he journeyed to the Don Steppe, and two years later crossed Asia to visit the Russian penal colony on Sakhalin Island. The next year he traveled to Europe with Suvorin. In 1892, Chekhov purchased Melikhovo, an estate outside Moscow. It became a gathering place for family, relatives, and associates. There, too, Chekhov practiced medicine, more as a human service to poor villagers than as a necessary source of income.

In 1896, Chekhov had his first theatrical success with The Seagull, although the reaction of the opening-night audience greatly distressed the author. Suffering from tuberculosis, by the mid-1890’s he began coughing up blood, and in 1897 he had to be hospitalized. In 1898, Chekhov began his propitious association with the newly formed Moscow Art Theater and its great director, Konstantin Stanislavski. He also met Olga Leonardovna Knipper, a young actress. Despite his ill health and his frequent sojourns to Yalta, they carried on a love affair and were married in 1901.

The last six years of Chekhov’s life, from 1898 to 1904, brought him as much recognition as a dramatist as his earlier career had brought him as a writer of fiction. Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard, his last significant work, were all major successes. In 1904, in one last attempt to stay the course of his disease, Chekhov and his wife went to Germany, where, at Badenweiler, he died on July 15.

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 services daily, and forbade them the luxury of play. “We felt like little convicts at hard labor,” Chekhov wrote in an 1892 letter about his childhood—though he did manage to fish and swim and to become a great practical joker. It is nonetheless crucial to note that he was deprived of an adequate portion of familial love in his formative years. That may account for the central flaw in Chekhov’s character: his marked tendency to avoid emotional (and with women, physical) intimacy with family, friends, and lovers.

Chekhov’s Taganrog schooling coincided with tremendous socioeconomic revolutionary ferment incited by the writings of Mikhail Bakunin, Aleksandr Herzen, and others, culminating in the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881. Yet he was sheltered from these winds of modernity and showed no particular inclination, in either his youth or his manhood, to espouse or oppose radical causes. He did show early signs of the poor health that would cost him his life at the age of forty-four: peritonitis, malaria, hemorrhoids, migraines, and other ailments. His symptoms may well have indicated an early tubercular infection, with the bacillus aided in its assault on Chekhov’s body by his hard boyhood regimen of schooling, churchgoing, and shop-minding.

In July, 1876, the elder Chekhovs and all the children but Anton fled Taganrog for Moscow, leaving him to finish grammar school and giving him a theme—dispossession—that he was to feature in both Tri sestry (pr., pb. 1901, revised pb. 1904; The Three Sisters, 1920) and Vishnyovy sad (pr., pb. 1904; The Cherry Orchard, 1908). For three years, the lad supported himself alone in his hometown, burdened with economic worries but relieved of his tyrannical father. Astonishingly, Chekhov not only took care of his own needs but also was able to send small sums to his family. He seems to have been born with a maturity and a fastidious sense of order and responsibility that never deserted him.

In August, 1879, Chekhov joined his family in Moscow and lived there for the next twenty years. He began a demanding five-year grind to become a physician, began his literary career in 1880 with comic sketches published in periodicals, and soon established himself as the de facto head of the Chekhov household. Chekhov was enormously prolific in his early years as a writer. He wrote not only stories and short plays but also sketches, comic calendars, captions for cartoons, and even a detective novel, Drama na okhote (1884-1885; The Shooting Party, 1926). When he reviewed his achievements for a collection of his works that was published in 1899, he excluded 342 of his early titles, calling them “my literary excrement,” but only 6 of his later ones. The major source for Chekhov biographers is his enormous and often eloquent correspondence; the total number of his extant letters is about 4,400.

In June, 1884, Chekhov passed his medical school examinations and was to practice medicine sporadically during the remaining twenty years of his life, though always as a profession secondary to writing. He often claimed medicine for his “wife” and literature for his “mistress,” but the mistress had little trouble supplanting the wife. Chekhov’s medical training enabled him to become acquainted with people on diverse social levels and reinforced his sensible, pragmatic (or diagnostic) view of life. Chekhov often attested in his letters to the harmony of his two callings, claiming that familiarity with the scientific method had enriched his literary skills: “To the chemist nothing in this world is unclean. The writer must be as objective as the chemist.”

In one respect, ironically, Chekhov’s medical knowledge proved to be of no value: his care, or rather neglect, of his own health. As early as December, 1884, he suffered a serious attack of chest pains and blood spitting. In October, 1888, he wrote of his bleeding and chronic coughing fits but refused to characterize them as tubercular symptoms. Hemorrhoids afflicted him with maddening torments, but he rejected a medical colleague’s offer to remove them by an operation. Gastritis, phlebitis, migraine headaches, dizzy spells, defective vision, heart palpitations—all these were frequent afflictions.

In the 1890’s, with Chekhov established as a highly eligible bachelor, many women sought his affections, but he usually managed to evade them. A highly productive, hardworking writer, he used his writing as a shield against amorous involvements and insisted that sexual energy (of which he had very little) bore no relation—except perhaps an inverted one—to creative energy (of which he had a ceaseless supply). He frequently linked artistic creativity with erotic self-denial. Sensual, fleshly women in Chekhov’s fiction and drama are almost invariably predatory, distasteful, and villainous, with Chekhov the author idealizing, as romantically desirable, pallid women with thin arms and flat breasts. Yet Chekhov the man, when interested in women at all, preferred them robust, hearty, and earthy. While love is the dominant theme of Chekhov’s mature work, it is almost never happily consummated love. He prefers to collapse illusions rather than fulfill hopes, to stress romantic frustration and forlornness rather than union and bliss.

Before his marriage at the age of forty-one, Chekhov had only one incontestable mistress, the actress Lydia Yavorsky. Olga Knipper was Chekhov’s second certain mistress and then his wife for what were to be his last three years. She had taken drama lessons from Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko, cofounder of the Moscow Art Theatre, and graduated into leading roles with his company, including Masha in The Three Sisters and Lyuba Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard. Olga was Chekhov’s opposite rather than duplicate: lusty in contrast to his asceticism, insecure and manic-depressive compared to his stable, steady temperament. By July, 1900, she was creeping into his Yalta bedroom at night, stepping on creaking stairs that awakened his old mother and spinsterish sister. The forthright, determined Olga took the initiative in courting the evasive, elusive author, and they were married on May 25, 1901.

In June, 1904, Anton and Olga traveled to the German spa of Badenweiler, near the Black Forest, to attempt his cure. On July 15 he died there, first taking the time to explain to his wife that he was about to die, then draining a glass of champagne, turning calmly to his left side, and expiring. Chekhov’s corpse was delivered to Russia in a railway wagon labeled “Fresh Oysters”—an incongruous effect that he would have loved to have used in one of his stories.

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 of theatricality. A hater of lies and delusions, he has no remedy for the disease of modern life and refuses to arouse false hopes about the future of humankind.

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 already impaired by hard work and tuberculosis, he took up the practice of medicine, which he was to pursue somewhat desultorily in later years, as inclination and poor health permitted. There would be no lack of patients, but money was always scarce.{$S[A]Chekov, Anton;Chekhov, Anton}{$S[A]Tchehov, Anton;Chekhov, Anton}{$S[A]Tchekhov, Anton;Chekhov, Anton}

His literary aspirations received strong encouragement in 1885 when he made his first visit to the nation’s literary capital, St. Petersburg. There he met A. S. Suvorin, wealthy and influential editor of the New Times, who invited contributions. Chekhov’s first three stories published in this paper found enthusiastic readers. He was already well known and admired in the city on the strength of earlier stories, most of which he confessed were carelessly written. In the next five years, he gave critical attention to his writing and formulated sound theories of art. In a letter in 1887, he pointed out that “a man of letters is not a pastry cook, nor an expert on cosmetics, nor an entertainer; he is a responsible person, under contract to his conscience and the consciousness of his duty . . . [and] he is in duty bound to battle with his fastidiousness and soil his imagination with the grime of life.” During this period, he came under the influence of Leo Tolstoy. A few of the tales show the impact of Tolstoyan ideas on morality and nonresistance to evil.

In 1890, Chekhov decided to make the arduous journey to Sakhalin Island, penal colony of the czarist government, to study conditions there. His motives are not clear, for he gave conflicting explanations. However personal the real reasons were, his humanitarian sympathies were genuine enough, and he may have felt an impulse to make practical use of his keen powers of observation and his scientific training. He reported to Suvorin that he spoke with every man, woman, and child on the island. His book based on the survey—in which he said, “I have paid my debt to learning”—helped to bring about changes of policy in the colony, but soon both the investigation and the book were forgotten. One significant consequence was that Tolstoy’s ideas no longer seemed adequate to reach the deep-rooted ills of humankind. Chekhov’s carefully wrought “Ward No. 6” (1892), for example, pointed to the weakness of the “nonresistance” principle.

Chekhov had already written several plays, but his high reputation as a playwright dates from 1898, when The Seagull, a failure at its first performance on October 17, 1896, was presented by Konstantin Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theater. The same group presented Uncle Vanya in the autumn of 1899, and the whole troupe went to the author’s home in Yalta to petition him for further works. Chekhov obliged with The Three Sisters, which brought his subtle methods close to perfection in a deftly articulated story. In the last year of his life, The Cherry Orchard made his high rank secure. External action in this haunting masterpiece is almost nonexistent, for the writer’s intention, as in many of his tales, is to project a mood, an elusive state of mind. The central figures are a set of futile but charming gentlefolk, far better able to feel than to act, who have outlived their own day but are powerless to adapt to the new.

Chekhov’s rise to fame as a playwright coincided with the culmination of his long battle against tuberculosis. In 1897, he suffered a severe attack, and from that day his activities and travels were dictated by his illness. During his stay at Nice, searching as usual for a tolerable climate, he became a partisan of Émile Zola in connection with the Dreyfus affair. This stand brought him into open conflict with the conservative principles of the St. Petersburg New Times, and his close friendship with Suvorin ended. He found a new friend, however, in Maxim Gorky, and in 1901 Chekhov married Olga Knipper, a young actress of the Moscow Art Theater. Much of their wedded life was spent apart, Chekhov in Yalta and his wife in Moscow pursuing her theatrical career, the two of them anxiously querying and reassuring each other by letter as to the quality and durability of their devotion. They were together in Badenweiler, Germany, however, at the time of Chekhov’s death on July 2, 1904. His body arrived in Moscow in a coach bearing the legend “Fresh Oysters.”

Although Chekhov was occasionally charged with being a writer without a philosophy or a point of view, his stories and plays clearly illustrate his artistic principles and his conception of human truths. The drabness and tedium of life, the ugliness of hardship and poverty, and the silent loneliness of the individual are set forth without compromise or palliation, but there are many glimpses of beauty in nature and humanity. The author’s very real personal woes never defeated his innate kindness, his keen sense of humor, his love for humankind, or his faith in the future.

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

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,...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 451 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Drama for Students)

Anton Chekhov was born on January 17, 1860, in Taganrog, a dreary Russian seaport village on the Black Sea. His grandfather was an...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Drama for Students)

Although Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was trained as a physician and practiced as one, he came to dominate not just one field of literature, but...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Drama for Students)

Born on January 29, 1860, in the port village of Taganrog in the Ukraine Anton Chekhov was the third son...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 17,1860, in Taganrog, a city in southern Russia. He was one of six children born to Evgeniya and...

(The entire section is 366 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Drama for Students)

Anton Chekhov was born in Taganrog, Russia, on January 16, 1860. His grandfather had been a serf who had been able to earn enough to buy his...

(The entire section is 391 words.)

Anton Chekhov Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 16, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia, the third of six children. Chekhov’s father, a grocer, was...

(The entire section is 400 words.)