Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Anton

Chekhov at YaltaToday in 1860 Антон Павлович Чехов (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov) was born. He was a doctor throughout his life, and probably contracted the tuberculosis that killed him while practicing medicine in the labor camps of Siberia - not as a prisoner, but as a volunteer medic, a logical conclusion to a career that began with free clinics and sliding-scale fees for Russia's working poor and included building schools and a fire station.

But if medicine was his lawful wife, literature, as he said once to Alexei Suvorin, was his mistress (Медицина — моя законная жена, а литература — любовница), and he wrote four classic plays (Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, The Seagull, and The Cherry Orchard) and many short stories - his masterpiece "The Lady with the Dog" was written in Yalta, where he'd gone to battle his tuberculosis. (The picture is Chekhov with a dog, in Yalta...) Many consider him the father of the modern short story, many of whose forms he pioneered. He also formulated what's often called "Chekhov's Law" of "economy in narrative": "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Or, in a more famous formulation, often called Chekhov's Gun: Если в первом акте на стене висит ружье, то в последнем оно обязательно выстрелит - "If there's a gun on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired by the end of the third act."

In May 1904 he became so ill that he went to a German health spa, where he died two months later.

All 201 of his stories, in the Constance Garnett translations and in chronological order, can be found here, with notes. And here they are in Russian.

«Если ты кричишь "Вперед!", ты должен принять безошибочное решение, в каком направлении нужно идти. Разве ты не понимаешь, что, не сделав этого, ты взываешь как к монаху, так и к революционеру, и они будут двигаться в противоположных направлениях?»

"If you cry 'Forward!' you must make it absolutely plain which direction to go. Don't you see that if, without doing so, you call out the word to both a monk and a revolutionary, they will go in precisely opposite directions?"

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