Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860 - 1904)

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. His art linked two centuries and two literary epochs - realism and modernism. New dramatic forms that he had created considerably influenced the development of literature and theatre in the XX century both in Russia and abroad.

Chekhov, then a student of the Medical Faculty of the Medical University, began his literary career in the late 1870s as an author of short humorous stories and a chronicler in comic magazines, writing under different pseudonyms (Antosha Chekhonte, The Man without a Spleen, My Brother's Brother, Ulysses and others). Then he published his first collections of stories under the name «Antosha Chekhonte» – «The Fairy Tales of Melpomene» (1884) and «Motley Stories» (1886).

Following the advice of D.V.Grigorovich, who sensed in the comic writer «a real talent», Chekhov moved to «well-considered labor», and, laying aside pseudonyms, began to put his real name. He published collections of stories «In the Twilight» (1887, rewarded with a half of Pushkin Prize in 1888) and «Gloomy People» (1889), the titles of which have become metaphoric definitions of Chekhov's poetics of the late 1880s and of a characteristic hero that he had introduced into literature. A special place in this period belongs to long stories «The Steppe», «A Dreary Story» and a story «Nervous Breakdown» (all - 1889), that have been termed in modern literary scholarship «the existential trilogy». They concentrate the basic elements of future Chekhov's prose.

In 1890 Chekhov undertook a trip to Sakhalin Island, a place of exile for criminals, in order to research the life of the convicts and deportees that resulted in a book of essays «Sakhalin Island» (1893-1894) which occupies a special place in the writer's career.

His art of the mature period (beginning from the early 1890s) is concentrated on the study of the emotional state of a modern man. In his works Chekhov represented practically the complete social spectrum of society, though primarily his characters belong either to the motley estate of intelligentsia («Student», «House with Mezzanine», «Ionych», «My Life», «Lady with a Dog» and others) or ordinary folk («Muzhiks», «On Business», «In the Ravine» and others). They all are in the situation of moral and intellectual anxiety and face the choice of their future way of life. Laconism of «Chekhov’s story» according to the author's formula, «brevity - a sister of talent» appears to be able to accommodate the universal meaning of a big genre.

In the sphere of drama Chekov undertook innovative reform of traditional system of drama genres and changed the scene space. Having begun with one-act plays and vaudevilles, the writer gradually discovered potentialities of a new genre - lyrical comedy and tragicomedy («The Seagull» (1896), «Uncle Vanya» (1897), «Three Sisters» (1901), «The Cherry Orchard» (1904)). Chekhov-dramatist was closely connected with Moscow Art Theatre (directors K.S.Stanislavsky and V.I.Nemirovich-Danchenko), for that Chekhov's seagull was chosen as an emblem.

In 1900 Chekhov was elected an Honorary Member of the Academy, but in 1902 together with V.G.Korolenko declined this title in protest against the cancellation of decision of electing M.Gorky an Honorary Member.

In May 1901 the writer being already gravely ill and forced to spend most of his life in the Crimea married to an actress of Moscow Art Theatre O.L.Knipper, the first performer of roles in Chekhov's plays. She was destined to see the writer's death on July 15, 1904 on a German spa Badenweiler. Chekhov is buried in Moscow on a Novodevichie cemetery.

Chekhov's materials in Pushkinsky Dom are represented with several autographs within archives of different people: fair copy of the story «A Letter», print copies of the stories «The Orator», «Carelessness», «In the Bath-House», «At Friends'« (archive of F.D.Batyushkov), autograph of a comic «Fable». Two proofs of Chekhov's last story «A Bride» bear traces of the author's copious corrections that testify how seriously the already mature artist prepared his works for print. The album of A.F.Onegin contains Chekhov's entry dated May 10, 1898 that is a reply-paraphrase of lines from M.Y.Lermontov's long poem «Hadzhi-Abrek». Within S.A.Vengerov's archive there is preserved «biographical sheet» that Chekhov had filled in January 1890 with a list of his published stories and indication of full publication data. In the archive of T.L.Schepkina-Kupernik there is a receipt from the hotel in Abbazia (October 4, 1894) with a comic note made in Chekhov's hand in French. The most valuable are Chekhov's letters to men of literature, publishers, literary and public figures of the late XIX - early XX centuries.

The Literature Museum possesses a collection of pictorial materials, that captured Chekhov's appearance in oils (N.I.Kravchenko, 1895), drawings (I.E.Repin, 1889), engravings, photos (some of them bear inscriptions), cartoons and caricatures, sculptural representations. Among personal things and relics there is a souvenir ink-pot, a badge of teller of the All-Russian Census of 1897, a purse, a memorable trinket. On the list with a watercolor study by I.I.Levitan «Cypresses» (1880s) Chekhov's left his comic impromptu. An integral part of the collection is constituted by views of places associated with the writer's life and art, illustrations to his works made by B.M.Kustodiev, D.N.Kardovsky, M.I.Chembers-Bilibina, V.M.Konashevich and others, programs of performances, scenes from plays, and stills from films.

In the 1920s Pushkinsky Dom published a major part of Chekhov's correspondence. In commemoration of the writer's 100th anniversary there was published a volume of «The Literary Heritage» series devoted to him. Academic Complete Works and Letters of A.P.Chekhov in 30 volumes that included Pushkinsky Dom materials is the summit of the scholarly research devoted to the art of this classic of Russian literature.

N.Y.Gryakalova