ALEKO: The hero of the romantic verse tale “The Gypsies” by Pushkin. Aleko becomes disillusioned with Russian civilization and goes off to live amongst the gypsies. He falls in love with a gypsy girl and commits a murder out of jealousy.
TUSENBACH: What’s Aleko got to do with it? (150)
ALUM: A chemical compound and a class of compounds. Likely Chebutykin’s referenced is to potassium alum – the chemical compound for his hair tonic recipe.
CHEBUTYKIN: Now, as I was saying, you cork the bottle and stick a glass tube through the cork . . . Then you take a pinch of alum – plain ordinary alum . . . (122).
AMO, AMAS, AMAT; AMAMUS, AMATIS, AMANT: The basic Latin conjugations of the verb amare, to love. “I love, thou lovest, he, she, or it loves, we love, you love, they love.”
KULYGIN: I’ll be off in a minute . . . What a fine, wonderful wife I have . . . And oh, how I love you, you and you alone . . .
MASHA: Amo, amas, amat; amamus, amatis, amant (165).
BALZAC WAS MARRIED IN BERDICHEV: The French novelist Honoré de Balzac was married to Ewelyna Hanska in Berdichev several months before he died in 1850.
CHEBUTYKIN: Balzac was married in Berdichev (146).
CHEKHARTMA: Tusenbach mis-speaks, it’s correctly “chikhartma,” a Caucasian soup of lamb or chicken flavored with coriander and saffron.
TUSENBAH: And the food they served was authentic Caucasian: an onion soup and chekhartma for the meat course (150).
CHEREMSHA: A sharp-edged leek or form of wild garlic.
SOLYONY: Cheremsha isn’t meat; it’s a plant in the onion family (150).
DARK VODKA: A colored vodka distilled with an herbal extract called catechu to make its distinct hue. Clear vodkas generally have little flavor while dark vodkas tend to bear notes of berry, citrus, or other spices.
VERSHININ: I think I’ll have some of that dark vodka . . . (134).
GERMAN STREET: A street in the German Quarter in the northeast of Moscow. The district began to be inhabited by European immigrants in the mid-16th century who the Russians referred to collectively as “Germans.” After the fire in 1812, most residents left, properties changed hands, and it become inhabited by merchants and craftsmen.
VERSHININ: And German Street for a time. I would walk from there to the Red Barracks.
NIKOLAI GOGOL: A 19th century Russian dramatist, novelist, and short story writer. He was a contributor to the development of Russian naturalism and realism. His writings were essentially observations of real life. His most influential works include Dead Souls and The Government Inspector. Chekhov quotes Gogol extensively in The Seagull.
Masha quotes from the last sentence of “Story of How Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich Fell Out” (1832)
MASHA: As Gogol said, “Life on earth’s an awful bore, my friends.”
A GREEN OAK STANDS: Masha recites lines from the Alexander Pushkin 1820 long poem Ruslan and Lyudmila. The poem is an epic fairy tale of the abduction of the daughter of a prince by an evil wizard and the attempt a brave knight makes to rescue her.
Pushkin was born into the Russian nobility in Moscow in 1799. His work is characteristic of Russian Romantic literature. In his short life he was quite prolific leaving behind examples of lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, short stories, drama, and personal letters. He is sometimes considered the “Father of Modern Russian Literature.” He was fatally wounded in a dual in 1837.
His dark, passionate, and introspective style fits in with Masha’s moodiness. It is fitting she recites, with longing, passages of his poetry.
MASHA: A green oak stands upon a firth,
A chain of gold hangs round its trunk . . . (123)
HE NE’ER HAD TIME TO SAY A PRAYER: A quotation from the fable “The Peasant and the Farmhand” by Ivan Krylov (1768-1844). Many of his fables are loosely based on the work of Aesop. He often satirizes incompetent bureaucracy, which he felt stifled social progress in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
SOLYONY: He ne’er had time to say a prayer,
When he was sat on by the bear. (124)
IL NE FAUT PAS FAIRE DU BRUIT: More bad French from Natasha: “Don’t make any noise. Sophie is already asleep. You are a bear!”
NATASHA: Who’s that talking so loud out there? Is it you, Andrei? You’ll wake up baby Sophie. Il ne pas faire du bruit, la Sophie est dormeé déjà. Vous êtes un ours (183).
I MAY BE STRANGE: A quotation from the comedy Woe From Wit by Aleksandr Griboedov. The line comes from the protagonist who opposes Moscow’s high society.
SOLYONY: “I may be strange, but then who is not? . . . Aleko, be not wroth!” (150)
IT PARAIT QUE MON BOBIK DÉJÀ NE DORT PAS: Bad French on Natasha’s part: “It seems my Bobik is already not asleep.”
JE VOUS PRIE, PARDONNEZ-MOI, MARIE, MAIS VOUS AVEZ DES MANIÈRES UN PEU GROSSIÈRES: French for “Please, forgive me, Marie, but you have rather rude manners. Speaking French would be common in noble Russian intellectual circles, but Natasha’s use is pretentious and full of mistakes. She should say “je vous en prie.”
KOCHANE: Polish for “dearest.”
KULYGIN: And your Polish wife will throw her arms around you and call you “kochane”! (173)
KOPECK: A measurement of Russian currency, approximately 1/100 of a ruble.
MASHA: Here he is . . . Has he paid his rent?
IRINA: No, not a kopeck for eight months. Must have forgotten (144).
LERMONTOV: A reference to Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (1814-1841), an important Russian Romantic lyric poet. He was exiled twice and eventually killed in a duel. Chekhov later wrote that Solyony only thinks he looks like Lermontov, but this is only in his mind.
SOLYONY: I’ve never had anything against you, Baron. It’s just that I have the temperament of a Lermontov. I even look a bit like Lermontov . . . Or so I’m told (150).
MAIDEN’S PRAYER: A sentimental piano piece by the Polish composer T. Badarzewska-Baranovskaia (1838-1862). An incredibly easy piece to play.
IRINA: By tomorrow night I’ll no longer have to listen to that “Maiden’s Prayer” or run into Protopopov . . . (176).
NAME DAY: A custom originating with the Greek
Orthodox church to celebrate on the saint day for which a person is named after. In Russia, name days are celebrated apart from birthdays but in a similar fashion. Celebrations can range widely from cards and small gifts to large formal gatherings. In many regards a name day celebration is more important than a birthday because it commemorates one’s baptism into the community of Christ.
Irina’s May 5 name day celebration commemorates Saint Irene of Macedonia. Her feast day is widely celebrated in Eastern Orthodox churches.
St. Irene of Macedonia was born in the late 1st century the daughter of a pagan Roman nobleman. She learned of Christianity as a young girl, converted, and was baptized in secret by St. Timothy. As a teenager, her parents attempted to arrange a marriage between her and another pagan nobleman, she refused, and broke all her father’s pagan idols. When her father discovered her conversion he commanded she renounced her faith. She refused and so he commanded she would be trampled to death by horses. She remained unharmed, but one of the horses rose up and crushed her father to death. She prayed for him and raised him from the dead, after this he too was baptized. Irene later traveled on missionary projects often suffering torture and working miracles. She converted thousands to Christianity. She died in peace at the home of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus in first half on the 2nc century. She was buried. Two days later, the gravestone was lifted off, but the grave was empty.
OLGA: Father died exactly a year ago today, May the fifth. Your name day, Irina. It was so cold then. Snowing, I never thought I’d survive. You lay there in a dead faint. But now a year’s gone by, and it scarcely bothers us to think about it. You’re wearing white, your face is radiant . . . (119).
NAPHTHALENE: An organic compound with a characteristic odor. It is most often used as the main ingredient for traditional mothballs.
CHEBUTYKIN: To prevent loss of hair . . . dissolve ten grams of naphthalene in half a bottle of alcohol . . . and apply daily (121).
NEW VIRGIN CEMETERY: A cemetery attached to the Novodevihcy Convent, established in 1524 by Tsar Vasily III to commemorate the capture of Smolensk from Lithuania. It was built as a religious building, but also to serve as a fortress. It became a convent for ladies of noble birth.
It is the burial site of many famous Russian authors, artists, and politicians including Anton Chekhov.
IRINA: Mama is buried in Moscow.
OLGA: In the New Virgin Cemetery (127).
O FALLACEM HOMINUM SPEM: Latin for “Oh vain is human hope.” Kulygin quotes from Cicero’s The Orator.
KUYLGIN: I’d have liked some tea. I was looking forward to an evening in pleasant company, and – O fallacem hominum spem! Accusative of exclamation . . . (155).
OLD BASMANNAYA STREET: A popular neighborhood in Moscow for “European” Russian officers under Peter I. The Church of St. Peter and Paul was built in the area in the early 18th century. It eventually became a popular place for Russian nobility to live as well. By 1750, the neighborhood had the largest collection of baroque architecture in Moscow. The neighborhood burnt down in 1812, but was gradually rebuilt. In the early 20th century, the neighborhood was transformed by Art Nouveau and Neoclassical Revival architecture.
There is a sense of pride that the sisters take in having originated in that particular neighborhood as it suggests their class and their father’s role in the military.
IRINA: We plan to be there by autumn. We’re natives of Moscow. We were born there . . . Old Basmannaya Street (126).
OMNIA MEA MECUM PORTO: Latin: “I carry all my goods on my person.” A reference from Cicero’s Paradoxa.
KULYGIN: You and I aren’t poor. I work. I have my position at the school and give private lessons too . . . I am an honest man, a simple man. . . Omnia mea mecum porto, as the saying goes (166).
OUR MORAL MIGHT BE MADE: Solyony quotes the moral from Krylov’s fable, The Geese in which barnyard geese boast of their ancestors, the geese who saved Rome, but they have no merits of their own.
SOLYONY: Our moral might be made more clear.
But that would only tease the geese, I fear (164).
PETERSBURG: This is a shortened name for St. Petersburg, Tusenbach’s hometown. Originally founded in the early 18th century by Peter the Great, the city was built by conscripted peasants. Later, he moved the capital of Russian from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Its most famous building is the Winter Palace designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, but the city includes many famous examples of Neoclassical architecture. The 1905 Revolution began in Petersburg. During World War I, the name was changed to Petrograd or “Peter’s City.”
Tusenbach’s privileged existence in a beautiful and historic city has left him feeling a sense of ennui. He has never had to work for anything and feels a sense of meaninglessness to his life.
TUSENBACH: I was born in Petersburg – cold; idle Petersburg – into a family that didn’t know what work is, never had a care in the world. (122)
PLEASE EAT THIS DATE: Words from an operetta once put on at the Hermitage Theatre.
CHEBUTYKIN: You sit there with your eyes shut while Natasha has her fling with Protopopov. “Please eat this date at my behest . . .” (162).
RED BARRACKS: Red brick structures built to house the Russian army. They still stand in various Russian cities and districts.
VERSHININ: I would walk from there to the Red Barracks. On the way I’d pass a gloomy-looking bridge with water flowing under it. It gives a lonely man a heavy heart (127).
SAMOVAR: A large and often ornate metal apparatus used to heat and boil water. Samovars use a small coal-burning chimney used to heat a metal teapot filled with a strong, concentrated tea. A functional item, some were crafted to be exotic and elegant works of enamel and silver.
Chebutykin’s gift to Irina for her name day celebration would have been considered quite extravagant as, likely, they would have already owned one. Chebutykin’s constant doting on Irina suggests a special bond between the two characters, some critics infer that he may actually be Irina’s father, or at least he believes he might be.
CHEBUTYKIN: Expensive gifts . . . Really now. You’re impossible, all of you! Put the samovar down over there (125).
SARATOV: A major port city on the Volga River. It is known for a rather large German population.
IRINA: Just now a woman came to the office to send her brother in Saratov a telegram saying that her son had died today, but she couldn’t remember the address (143).
TA-RA-RA BOOM-DE-AY: Lyrics to a British music-hall song, accompanied by a high-kicking dance.
TROIKA: Rides in these sleighs decorated with colored ribbons and bells were a favored pastime during carnival time. The sleighs would travel in wide semi-circles to commemorate the sun’s passage.
Natasha’s ride with Protopopov is suggestive of their not-so-clandestine affair.
NATASHA: Protopopov? What a funny man. That’s Protopopov outside inviting me for a ride in his troika (154).
TRUE LOVE KNOWS NEITHER AGE NOR STATION: Vershinin sings lyrics from Gremin’s aria in Chaikovsk’s opera Yevgerry Onegin (1877), it is based on Pushkin’s verse novel.
VERSHININ: True love knows neither age nor station.
Its pangs are pure invigoration (164).
TSITSIHAR: A city in Northeast China.
CHEBUTYKIN: Tsitsihar. There is a smallpox epidemic raging (147).
UT CONSECUTIVUM: Latin: “a means of living, a temporary compromise.”
KULYGIN: He was expelled in the fifth year because he could never quite grasp the ut consecutivum (175).