Like Light on Broken Glass: Stories and Plays of Anton Chekhov 

It’s afternoon on a country estate. Astrov, a local doctor, confides in a friend, “I know no rest; at night I tremble under my blankets for fear of being dragged out to visit someone who is sick; I have toiled without repose or freedom since I have known you; could I help growing old?” But the doctor knows—and we know—that he will continue serving his patients, no matter what. He adds, “See what a long mustache I have grown. A foolish, long mustache.”

Astrov is just one of Chekhov’s many eccentric, memorable characters, men and women with their dreams and ideals, faults and failures, self-deception and self-discovery. So often Chekhov presents a philosophical position or a character with great conviction, only to turn and undercut what we thought we knew with an offhand observation or a revealing detail. No Hollywood endings here; instead a rich, bittersweet complexity that keeps us coming back for more.

Reading Chekhov gives us a vivid sense of Russia at the end of the 19th century. At the same time, Chekhov is strikingly contemporary. “The reason we like Chekhov so much,” says novelist Richard Ford, “is because his stories feel so modern to us … his view of what’s funny and poignant, his clear-eyed observance of life as lived … could, we feel, be written today and appear in The New Yorker.”

Actors and directors remain intrigued by Chekhov because he has the rare gift of writing tragedy and comedy simultaneously. No playwright except Shakespeare is more performed, and we’ll seek to understand why by watching scenes from recent films. We’ll also discover parallels in the visual arts by studying Ilya Repin’s penetrating portraits and the landscapes of the writer’s lifelong friend Isaac Levitan. Take a deep dive into Chekhov’s world and experience for yourself the enduring fascination of his work.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

– Anton Chekhov

Overview

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Leader
Sean Forester is an artist and a lecturer from the San Francisco Bay Area. A veteran Classical Pursuits leader, Sean studied at St. John’s College Great Books program and at Cambridge University. He relishes the mix of tragedy and comedy in Chekhov’s writing.

Books
Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
(Modern Library, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0553381009

Five Plays: Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard, translated by Ronald Hingley
(Oxford World's Classics, 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-0199536696

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.

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