Wednesday, January 30, 2008


It's the birthday of writer Anton Chekhov, (books by this author) born in Taganrog, Russia (1860). His father came from a long line of serfs, but his grandfather had bought the family's freedom before Anton was born. When Chekhov was 16, his father's grocery store went out of business. The whole family left for Moscow, except Anton, who was left behind to finish school and earn money. He lived in the corner of a house and scraped out a living by tutoring family friends. He later called his adolescence a "never-ending toothache."

After he graduated from high school, he left for Moscow to study medicine. While he was at medical school, he started writing for comic magazines to earn money for his family and himself. He knocked out short, funny stories in his spare time, and later said it was a relief to write in the evenings after spending the day studying chemistry and anatomy. For years, he couldn't decide whether to devote his life to medicine or literature, so he split his time between the two. In 1884, he got his medical degree and began his career as a doctor, which he called "a sporadic second career which was to bring much hard work but little income." He often treated peasants whose poverty reminded him of his childhood, and he wouldn't ask for very much money in return for his care. He set up free clinics in provincial Russia, and he fought the cholera and famine epidemics of 1891 and 1892.

He was always a little embarrassed about his love for writing and used pseudonyms for years. He told a friend, "Medicine takes itself seriously; the game of literature requires nicknames." After graduating from medical school, he continued to write stories for weekly magazines and newspapers. His friends encouraged him to try writing something more ambitious, but he didn't think he was as good a writer as everyone told him he was. The magazines he wrote for gave him strict limits on the number of words per story, and he often started and finished the short pieces in one sitting. He wrote to a friend that he treated writing "frivolously, casually [and] nonchalantly." It wasn't until he received encouraging advice from an editor that he began to write seriously and under his own name.

Chekhov is one of the inventors of the modern short story. His stories were usually short, full of passive characters, and without much of a plot. They didn't have big emotional climaxes, and they usually ended with a moment that revealed something about the main characters' lives.

His first play, The Seagull, opened in 1885. It got horrible reviews, and he walked out on it at intermission and vowed never to write another play. But two years later, it was produced again, this time to rave reviews. The success inspired him to go on to write the plays Three Sisters (1901), The Cherry Orchard (1904), and Uncle Vanya (1897), which are now considered classics.

Chekhov said, "Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out."

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