The Three Sisters
Originally from Moscow, the three sisters moved years before to a provincial town with their now dead father. Olga, the eldest, is a teacher in the local school; Masha is married to a man whom she once thought clever, but now realizes is foolish. Young Irina dreams of great things. All of them long to return to Moscow.
The sisters pin their hopes on their brother Andrey, but he falls under the spell of Natasha, a vulgar local girl. Masha, a woman of deep emotions, falls in love with the handsome Vershinin, the new battery commander of the local brigade. It becomes evident that they all are becoming increasingly trapped in this hated town.
Olga is promoted to the job of headmistress at the school and Irina gets a job in the telegraph office. Andrey loses all ambition and Natasha takes over the household, dominating everyone in the family and driving away old friends and servants. Although the sisters still dream of escape to Moscow, in their hearts they know that escape is impossible.
While many of the characters in the play are weak-willed or foolish, they remain sympathetic. Each character struggles desperately to cling to a dream, a vision, some remnant of beauty. Although Vershinin and Masha are separated by his neurotic wife and her ridiculous husband, their frustrated love is both poignant and beautiful. The sisters are generous, even in adversity; they believe in the importance of hope, even when there seems to be little reason for it.
The end of the drama offers no hope for these characters. Masha must say goodbye to Vershinin, and the three sisters know that they are trapped in this provincial town. Nevertheless, they voice their conviction that they must keep trying because someday the world will be a brighter place. Perhaps they themselves will not live to enjoy that time, but they will, at least, help to make it possible.
Barricelli, Jean-Pierre, ed. Chekhov’s Great Plays: A Critical Anthology. New York: New York University Press, 1981. An excellent collection of critical essays, of which four directly pertain to the play. One deals with the love theme, another discusses Vershinin, the third analyzes cyclical patterns and triads, and the fourth compares the women characters of the four major plays.
Clyman, Toby W., ed. A Chekhov Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. An eclectic work examining many aspects of the plays and stories. Specific essays focus on Chekhov’s craftsmanship, his impact in the theater, and performance on stage and in film. Good bibliography.
Melchinger, Siegfried. Anton Chekhov. Translated by Edith Tarcov. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1972. A slim volume of fewer than two hundred pages with photographs and selected bibliography. A good starting point for the student, containing biographical material, an analysis of Chekhov’s craft, and discussions of individual plays and productions in Europe and America.
Troyat, Henri. Chekhov. Translated by Michael Henry Heim. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1986. A readable biography with rare photographs of the author. Includes an interesting description of the writing of The Three Sisters and the reception of the first production.
Wellek, René, and Nonna D. Wellek, eds. Chekhov: New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984. A brief collection of eight essays with a good discussion of The Three Sisters, as well as a historical review of criticism, typical dramatic structure, and Chekhov’s artistic development.
Provincial town. The drabness of life in provincial Russia grates on the three Prozòrov sisters. Compelled to find some kind of happiness in life, Chekhov’s characters settle for professions and marriages that seem to provide some comfort against the tediousness of life, but which ultimately result in despair. Andrey’s marriage to Natasha threatens the position of his sisters within the household, and eventually the household itself, when Andrey mortgages the property at Natasha’s request.
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