Thursday, January 3, 2013

Three Sisters: Anton Chekhov Biography

Anton Chekhov was born in the port town of Taganrog January 17, 1860 to his father, Pavel Yegorovich, and mother, Yevgeniya Morozova. He was the third of six children. Although his family was technically of “serf class,” his grandfather, an industrious estate manager, had purchased the family’s freedom in 1841. Pavel ran a small grocery store where his sons worked long hours. Time was otherwise spent in observance to daily worship and other practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pavel enrolled his sons in the local choir that he founded and conducted.

Even at an early age, Chekhov was enthralled by the stage. Although it was against school regulations, he and his friends would sneak off to the playhouse to watch theatre. While in school he began writing sketches and short plays and performing in local comic productions.

In 1879, Chekhov moved to Moscow and enrolled in medical school on a scholarship funded by the Taganrog municipal authorities. He was put in a position as the head of his family with his father failing at business, his older brothers descended into alcoholism, and his younger siblings still in school. Chekhov lived at home and was determined to make a living as a journalist while working through the five-year medical school program. He wrote primarily for humor magazines, but also contributed regularly to the periodical Splinters of Petersburg Life and wrote a theatrical gossip column.

In 1884, he set himself up as a general practitioner. In December of that year, he began coughing up blood. He diagnosed himself with tuberculosis, although he would remain relatively healthy for the next few years. He continued to write and practice medicine, publishing his first collection of stories, Fairy Tales of Melpomene. The following years gained him an impressive reputation as a writer.

By 1891, he was well established and earned enough money in royalties to purchase a farm fifty miles south of Moscow in Melikhovo. He planted a cherry orchard, installed a flush toilet, and became a gracious host. He involved himself with humanitarian work throughout the community building roads, schools, and a free medical clinic. He also served the community as a member of the sanitary commission and famine relief board during the cholera epidemic of 1892-1893.

While he had given up writing theatre for several years, he revived his interest in developing dramatic works in 1894. A disastrous production of The Seagull was performed in St. Petersburg’s Alexandra Theatre in 1896. This experience soured him to theatre and he swore it off even though The Seagull grew more popular in subsequent performances. He couldn’t stay away too long, as we wrote Uncle Vanya in 1897.

During that year he was diagnosed officially with tuberculosis and left Melikhovo for milder climates. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between Yalta, France, Germany, and Moscow. He also became involved with the newly founded Moscow Art Theatre with which his dramatic career would be bound for the rest of his life. Constantine Stanislavski compelled him to revive The Seagull at the end of the theatre’s first season. After the production, the company adopted an art-nouveau style seagull as its emblem and regarded Chekhov as their house dramatist.

While through his life, Chekhov had engaged in a number of prominent love affairs, he settled down and married Moscow Art Theatre actress Olga Knipper in 1900. Their marriage was relatively happy and spirited, although they lived apart often as she worked in Moscow and he retreated to Yalta due to his chronic illness.

By 1903, Chekhov was extremely ill. He traveled to Moscow in December to attend rehearsals for The Cherry Orchard and was visibly frail. His Berlin doctors sent him to a health resort in the Black Forest which he died June 2, 1904. He was mourned by writers, theatre professionals, and many others. He body was buried in St. Petersburg at the Novodevichy cemetery.

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