Anton Chekhov

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Introduction

(Short Story Criticism)

Anton Chekhov 1860–-1904

(Born Anton Pavlovich Chekhov; transliterated as Čexov, Chekov, Tchehov, Tchekhov, Cechov, Cexov, Cekov, Cecov, Cechov, Chekhoff, and Chehov; also wrote under the pseudonym of Antosha Chekhonte) Russian dramatist, novelist, and short story writer.

See also, "Gooseberries" Criticism.

Chekhov is commonly recognized as the most significant writer of the literary generation that ended the Golden Age of Russian authorship—the era of seminal novelists like Leo Tolstoy and Fedor Dostoevsky—and began the Silver Age—when the Russian symbolist movement flourished. He is parlously distinguished for his formal and thematic innovations in the short fiction and drama genres, and Chekhov's writing is marked by a profound depth of insight into the universal human condition. Although his early work demonstrated subjective sentiments and observations, the ultimate configuration of Chekhov's short fiction was one of supreme emotional balance and tonal control. This detached, rational artfulness distinguishes Chekhov's work from the confessional abandons of Dostoevsky or the psychological fantasies of Nikoali Gogol. Due to this literary composure, Chekhov is often considered to be a master of the modern short story and is perhaps the most important short story writer of all time. His writings have widely influenced world authors, especially short fiction luminaries such as Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, Franz Kafka, and Ernest Hemingway.

Biographical Information

Chekhov's grandfather was a serf who bought his freedom and Chekhov's father was a grocer in Taganrog, the village where Chekhov was born. When the family went bankrupt in 1876, the Chekhovs, without Anton, moved to Moscow to escape creditors; Anton remained in Taganrog until 1879, where he completed his education and earned a scholarship to Moscow University to study medicine. After graduation in 1884, Chekhov went into medical practice, gaining from this experience a wealth of knowledge that would later become evident in his fiction; in fact, Chekhov had already begun publishing sketches in popular magazines to help support his family. He wrote hundreds of light anecdotes and potboilers, mostly humorous, but failed to take them seriously. These early works, generally looked upon as the first major period of Chekhov's writing (1880–1887), did, however, display many Chekhovian narrative permutations in the short story genre: laconic introductions, impressionistic characterization through importance of detail, interior action, and surprise endings. Although the surprise ending did not originate with Chekhov's short fiction, he did coin the “zero ending,” as described by Russian critic Viktor Shklovsky. This innovation being the penchant for dislocating the narrative of a story from its expected denouement and diverting, sometimes deflating, the story line itself, allowing a stress among the factual and the supposed. Skazki Mel'pomene (Tales of Melpomene), Chekhov's first collection of short stories, appeared in 1884 and soon after he befriended Aleksey S. Suvorin, editor of the conservative Moscow daily journal Novoe vremja (New Times), in which Chekhov contributed his first truly literary pieces. From 1888 to 1893 Chekhov was profoundly influenced by Tolstoy's ethics concerning morality, nonresistance to evil, and altruism; and this began the second epoch of Chekhov's fiction in which he experimented with lyricism and thematic contrasts: beauty, sensitivity, and life as opposed to hideousness, banality, and death. After Chekhov made his investigatory journey to the eastern Siberian penal colony at Sakhalin in 1890—a trip he would later use as the subject of his sociological monograph Ostrov Sakhalin (The Island of Sakhalin, first published in the leftist monthly Russian Thought between 1893 and 1894; 1895 in book form)—he came to reject Tolstoyanism as an insufficient response to human suffering. This spiritual upheaval brought...

(The entire section is 189,984 words.)