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.
Read more in Sean’s recent blog post Chekhov Three Ways.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
– Anton Chekhov