Anton Chekhov Biography

Author, Playwright(1860–1904)
Russian writer Anton Chekhov is recognized as a master of the modern short story and a leading playwright of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Synopsis

Anton Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia. Through stories such as "The Steppe" and "The Lady with the Dog," and plays such as The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, the prolific writer emphasized the depths of human nature, the hidden significance of everyday events and the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Chekhov died of tuberculosis on July 15, 1904, in Badenweiler, Germany.

Youth and Education

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia. His father, Pavel, was a grocer with frequent money troubles; his mother, Yevgeniya, shared her love of storytelling with Chekhov and his five siblings.

When Pavel’s business failed in 1875, he took the family to Moscow to look for other work while Chekhov remained in Taganrog until he finished his studies. Chekhov finally joined his family in Moscow in 1879 and enrolled at medical school. With his father still struggling financially, Chekhov supported the family with his freelance writing, producing hundreds of short comic pieces under a pen name for local magazines.

Early Writing Career

During the mid-1880s, Chekhov practiced as a physician and began to publish serious works of fiction under his own name. His pieces appeared in the newspaper New Times and then as part of collections such as Motley Stories (1886). His story “The Steppe” was an important success, earning its author the Pushkin Prize in 1888. Like most of Chekhov’s early work, it showed the influence of the major Russian realists of the 19th century, such as Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Chekhov also wrote works for the theater during this period. His earliest plays were short farces; however, he soon developed his signature style, which was a unique mix of comedy and tragedy. Plays such as Ivanov (1887) and The Wood Demon (1889) told stories about educated men of the upper classes coping with debt, disease and inevitable disappointment in life. 

Major Works

Chekhov wrote many of his greatest works from the 1890s through the last few years of his life. In his short stories of that period, including “Ward No. 6” and “The Lady with the Dog,” he revealed a profound understanding of human nature and the ways in which ordinary events can carry deeper meaning.

In his plays of these years, Chekhov concentrated primarily on mood and characters, showing that they could be more important than the plots. Not much seems to happen to his lonely, often desperate characters, but their inner conflicts take on great significance. Their stories are very specific, painting a picture of pre-revolutionary Russian society, yet timeless.

From the late 1890s onward, Chekhov collaborated with Constantin Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theater on productions of his plays, including his masterpieces The Seagull (1895), Uncle Vanya (1897), The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904).

Later Life and Death

In 1901, Chekhov married Olga Knipper, an actress from the Moscow Art Theatre. However, by this point his health was in decline due to the tuberculosis that had affected him since his youth. While staying at a health resort in Badenweiler, Germany, he died in the early hours of July 15, 1904, at the age of 44.

Chekhov is considered one of the major literary figures of his time. His plays are still staged worldwide, and his overall body of work influenced important writers of an array of genres, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Henry Miller.

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