I have seen all of Anton Chekhov’s plays, some several times, and read many of his stories. I wondered why I was drawn to his writing and especially to his unique character development. I saw the Russian film “Ward 6” based on his story. It was the most depressing film I have seen. It’s all set in a 19th century Russian insane asylum. How depressing can that be, right? But, the dialog was amazing. It took me a time of quiet introspection to come to terms with all this. I came home and read Richard Pevear’s introduction to the book of Chekhov stories and that helped a lot.
Chekhov was a doctor, but chose the human’s thought and not his body to dissect. His stories extol no cause, no political or social principle. He only demonstrates through his words, what each character thinks about all these issues, about life. Like any really great artist, he only represents his picture, and it is up to the observer, the reader, what is meant. And that may mean one thing to one and another thing to another. He was not a pessimist. He wrote about pessimistic characters. “Man is what he believes,” said Chekhov.
Having lived and worked in Russia for the last almost twenty years, I understand the challenge to define what a Russian may really mean, the centuries of fatalistic orthodoxy so deep. Chekhov so sensitively dissects each character’s thought and his relation to others, I feel like I am fly on the wall, just observing. A plot is hard to define. There are just the characters, interacting as their thought or events move them. It’s so real. The irony so clever. I love the last lines of “The Lady with the Little Dog: ”And it seemed that, just a little more—and the solution would be found, and then a new, beautiful life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off, and that the most complicated and difficult part was just beginning.”
Buy the book here “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia”