Anton Chekhov

Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (chĕk´ôf, Rus. əntôn´ päv´ləvĬch chĕ´khəv), 1860–1904, Russian short-story writer, dramatist, and physician, b. Taganrog. The son of a grocer and grandson of a serf, Chekhov earned enduring international acclaim for his stories and plays. His early works, broad humorous sketches and tales published under a pseudonym, were written to support himself and his family while he studied for his medical degree in Moscow. Under this strain he contracted tuberculosis, which ravaged him all his life.

Chekhov's first large collection, Motley Stories (1886), brought him critical respect; it was followed by the collections At Twilight (1887) and Stories (1888), from which "The Steppe" earned him the Pushkin Prize. Chekhov's many hundreds of stories concern human folly, the tragedy of trivialities, and the oppression of banality. His characters are drawn with compassion and humor in a clear, simple style noted for realistic detail. In his plays, too, Chekhov emphasizes character and mood; his plots describe the desolation of lonely people and the misunderstandings that accrue from self-absorption and desperation. His focus on internal drama was an innovation that had enormous influence on both Russian and foreign writing.

An active humanitarian, Chekhov wrote The Island of Sakhalin (1890), a study of convicts' lives that helped to effect social reform; as a physician he fought two cholera epidemics. He wrote several farces related to his early stories, but his first major staged drama was Ivanov (1887). His success as a dramatist was assured when the Moscow Art Theater took his works and built superb productions, beginning with The Seagull in 1898. They followed this with his masterpieces Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904), his last great work.

Among the finest works of Chekhov's later years are his hundreds of letters to notable contemporaries. For the final three years of his life Chekhov was happily married to Olga Knipper, an actress with the Moscow Art company. Although they were often separated, they were together at a German health resort when he died, at 44. Most of Chekhov's works are available in English. Several lesser-known works appear in Avrahm Yarmolinsky's The Unknown Chekhov (1954) and 38 previously untranslated stories were published in The Undiscovered Chekhov (1999).


See his letters, ed. by S. Karlinsky (1973) and A. Yarmolinsky (1973), Chekhov-Knipper letters, ed. by J. Benedetti (1998); M. Chekhov, Anton Chekhov: A Brother's Memoir (2009), and P. Sekirin, ed., Memories of Chekhov (2011); biographies by D. Magarshack (1952, repr. 1960), E. J. Simmons (1962), D. Gillès (tr. 1968), and D. Rayfield (1998); studies of his prose by T. G. Winner (1966) and V. L. Smith (1973); studies of his plays by M. Valency (1966), J. L. Styan (1971), D. Magarshack (1973), R. Gilman (1995), and V. Kataev (2002); critical essays, ed. by R. L. Jackson (1967).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Anton Chekhov: Selected full-text books and articles

Anton Chekhov, the Iconoclast By Lee J. Williames University of Scranton Press, 1989
Plays By Anton Chekhov; Elisaveta Fen Penguin Books, 1954
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Ivanov," "Uncle Vania," "Three Sisters,""The Cherry Orchard," "The Seagull," "The Bear," "The Proposal," and "A Jubilee"
FREE! The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories By Anton Chekhov; Constance Garnett Willey Book Company, 1917
The Schoolmistress, and Other Stories By Anton Chekhov; Constance Garnett Chatto & Windus, 1920
FREE! The Witch: And Other Stories By Anton Chekhov; Constance Garnett Macmillan, 1918
Chekhov in My Life By Lydia Avilov; David Magarshack Harcourt, Brace, 1950
Russian Writers: Their Lives and Literature By Janko Lavrin D. Van Nostrand, 1954
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "The Dramatic Works of Chekhov"
Rewriting the Jew: Assimilation Narratives in the Russian Empire By Gabriella Safran Stanford University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Mutable, Permutable, Approximate, and Relative: Anton Chekhov"
The Director and the Stage: From Naturalism to Grotowski By Edward Braun Holmes & Meier, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Stanislavsky and Chekhov"
Opposition or Identification: Chekhov's Plays on Screen By Olshankskay, Natalia L West Virginia University Philological Papers, Vol. 46, Fall 2000
Chekhov's Doctors: A Collection of Chekhov's Medical Tales By Anton Chekhov; Jack Coulehan Kent State University Press, 2003
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