Tag Archives: Anton Chekhov

Tina, After Anton Chekhov Stories

I’m presently sitting in the audience at the House of Actor in Moscow watching a play after Chekhov stories.

My overall impression is very positive, although there were a few times during the play when I thought it was possible to find another solution, way of conveying the same idea, but in a more powerful manner.

The story follows two brothers trying to get their money from a Jewish girl whose father took money from the elder brother. She’s got no intention of giving the money, but instead uses all her charm and “cynicism” to get both brothers infatuated with her. To use her own words, people blame the Jews for the perils of this world but the only ones to blame are not Jews but Jewish women.

This is not a racist story, on the contrary, this is a story of pre- and misconceptions dissolving, melting in the heat of femininity, whatever its nationality. Young actors, Schepkin School of Acting graduates, are giving brilliant performances, dancing, singing and portraying their characters. A special note goes to David Russell who is American yet decided to make a career at the Russian stage. A part of me is grinning that now, after years of Russian actors mastering their English there is an American who’s reading Russian lines from the stage. But at the same time I’m reliving the same feeling of pride for someone who mastered Russian and can actually act in my first native language. That alone makes David very good.

Laziness: Actor’s Labours Lost

Fresh from reading a summary of Keira Knightley’s interview, I’d like to say that I, too, haven’t been watching TV on a daily basis since 2008. Even though we had TV sets in our Moscow flat, we were never dependent on them. Before I had the Internet and YouTube I caught a lot of classical films on TV, so I don’t complain.

Where I lived between 2003 and 2008, they had their TV on from 6.30 in the morning till 11.30 at night. Admittedly, people who watched it had little else to do, and I don’t mean it offensively. But I don’t know if I can describe my joy when I moved out into a flat that had TV sockets but no TV set. I never even thought of getting a TV. I could listen to the music I liked, watch the films I wanted on my laptop, without the obtrusion of TV ads and news reports. Most importantly, when I wanted it – and after nearly 5 years of noise I wanted it a lot – I could sit or lie down in complete silence.

So, if people start watching less TV, or at least start alternating TV rendez-vous with other activities, we will all be better off.

I cannot quite comment on Knightley’s revelations about orgasmic nature of theatre acting. Even though it may sound silly at first, it is something that can be contemplated. I am sure there are film actors who would compare their work to the Tantric sex whereas a work at the theatre would be as daunting as fulfulling a marital duty… but let’s leave it there for now.

What sparked the post is the note jotted down by Anton Chekhov, the famous Russian playwright, about Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress. I wanted to quote it, but, directed at Russians primarily, it could sound too didactic, and the last thing I wanted was to lecture people on laziness. It is natural to be lazy from time to time; it is when laziness becomes one’s modus operandi, then it is a danger. Below is Knightley’s quote:

Do you know what it is? It’s that I’m the laziest f**ker in the entire world. It’s true. And stagnation is always really, really imminent. I can literally just sit and not do anything for hours and hours and hours and if there is something completely mind-numbing to do, like surfing the internet or watching c***py TV, I’ll do it and then I’ll feel s**t about myself. So I try to get rid of it“.

And here is what Chekhov said:

A gigantic, mighty labour shines through each stage of her act. Had we been as hard-working as she is, what we could be able to write… Our actors, lest they be offended, are terribly lazy. For them, learning is worse than the bitter reddish… Had they worked as hard as Sarah Bernhardt, had they known as much as she does, they would go far!

Chekhov’s words are over a century old. I suppose I should be pleased that laziness is no longer pertinent to Russian actors only. But what about art?

The Manuscript of The Life of Klim Samgin

In the first year of this blog I happened to be anticipating the release of Quiet Flows the Don (2006) whereby I was researching the subject and came across Sholokhov’s 1926 manuscript. It was an amazing coincidence because I wrote the post 80 years after Sholokhov drafted the text.

Not in a dissimilar fashion I have just discovered a photo taken at Gorky’s archive at the State Literary Institute in Moscow. The photo by A. Cheprunov (STF) shows the manuscripts of The Life of Klim Samgin, as well as Gorky’s letter to Anton Chekhov. The photo was taken in 1955, but unfortunately there is no information as to the dates of manuscripts themselves.

 What I find amazing, and so will you surely, is that Gorky’s copies are impressively neat. I’ve never seen his other manuscripts, but what is shown in the picture suggests an amazing clarity of his creative vision.

The image is courtesy of RIA Novosti archives in Moscow.

Anton Chekhov, The Joy

The Joy is a short story by a renowned Russian author and playwright, Anton Chekhov. I have long loved it for its satirical look at the individual’s awe of the press. In those days there was no media the way we now know it, but the power that the newspapers owed to their wide-spread circulation was well recognised and appreciated. There is thus no wonder that anyone of a low social standing who’d find his name in the newspaper would be overjoyed, like the protagonist of this story.

I don’t often read English translations of Russian literary classics, mainly because I have already read those in Russian, and there is much more to do other than to compare the differences between the original and its translation. In the case with The Joy, I wanted to translate it anew anyway, and I was convinced it was necessary after I read the English translation. The differences start at the very beginning: in the Russian text, the protagonist’s parents are only getting ready to go to bed, but the English translation says they had already gone to bed.

Why is this difference important? A few short sentences of the opening passages depict the Kuldarins family through the time they go to bed and through what they do, once in bed. The youngest, the brothers, are the earliest to go, so by midnight they’re fast asleep. Next, a sister, is also in bed, but is finishing a novel, of which her parents are probably oblivious. No doubt, the novel is a romance, and the girl is in that “romance-prone” age. The parents, being the oldest, are the last to go to bed, but also perhaps because they are waiting for their eldest child, the protagonist, to return home. This young man is leading a typical young man’s lifestyle, visiting public houses, working in the day as a college registrar, which was the lowest civil officer rank in Imperial Russia.

Those first few sentences are also important because, in spite of a long list of brilliant short stories, Chekhov’s perhaps largest contribution as an author was to the world’s theatre with his poignant dramas and comedies. The Joy is exemplary in that, being written in 1883, it anticipates Chekhov’s plays by setting a stage for the story: a half-asleep house, disturbed by a “joy”. The momentum is built by getting the secondary characters out of their beds only gradually, while also, through many repetitions, pointing to the protagonist’s hunger for fame and his total disregard to the kind of fame that had befallen him.

Joy by Anton Chekhov
А. П. Чехов, Радость (original Russian text)

Anton P. Chekhov, The Joy (1883)

It was midnight.
Mitya Kuldarov, all excitement, his hair dishevelled, stormed into his parents’ house and quickly walked across all the rooms. The parents were just getting ready for bed. His sister was already in bed, reading the last page of a novel. His brothers, the schoolboys, were fast asleep.
Where have you come from? – the parents asked in amazement. – What’s the matter?
Oh, don’t ask! I didn’t expect this! Oh, I didn’t expect this at all! It’s… it’s simply unbelievable!
Mitya burst out laughing and then sank into the armchair, unable to cope with his happiness.
It’s incredible! You can’t even imagine this! Look!
His sister leaped out of the bed and, wrapping herself in the quilt, went to see her brother. The schoolboys woke up.
What’s the matter with you? You’re not yourself!
Oh, it’s a joy, Mother! For now entire Russia knows about me! Entire Russia! Before it was only you who knew about a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov, and now the whole of the country knows! Mother! Oh my God!
Mitya quickly raised on his feet, ran around the house again, and then returned to the armchair.
But what happened? Can’t you say exactly?
You live like animals in the wild, read no newspapers, pay no notice to the news, yet the papers print so many splendid things! Once something happens, it’s promptly reported, nothing is concealed! Oh, I’m so happy! Oh my God! In the papers, they only write about the celebrated people, and now they wrote about me!
What do you say? Where?
The father went pale. The mother looked at the holy image and crossed herself. The schoolboys left their bed and as they were, in their short nightgowns, came up to their brother.
Exactly! They wrote about me! Now entire Russia knows me! Mother, you put this issue away and keep as a memory! We’ll be reading it occasionally. Look!
Mitya drew a newspaper out of his pocket, gave it to the father and pointed with his finger to a passage highlighted with a blue pencil.
The father put on his glasses.
Come on, read it!
The mother looked at the holy image and crossed herself, and the father coughed and began to read:
On December 29th, at 11 o’clock at night, a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov…
You see? See? Carry on!
… a college registrar Dmitry Kuldarov, upon leaving a porter-serving public house located at Kosikhin’s in Malaya Bronnaya, and being in the inebriated state…
I was with Semyon Petrovich… No detail is missed! Carry on! On! Listen!
… and being in the inebriated state, slipped and fell under the horse of a cab-driver that parked there, which driver is known as Ivan Drotov, a peasant of the Durykina village of the Yukhnovsky district. A frightened horse stepped over Kuldarov, and dragged over him the sledge in which was sitting Stepan Lukov, a 2nd rank Moscow merchant, and then galloped down the street, but was stopped by the street cleaners. Kuldarov, initially unconscious, was later taken to the police station, where he was checked by a doctor. A contusion that he received on his nape…
I was struck by a thill, father. Go on! Read on!
… received on his nape is considered light. The incident is being put on file. The victim received medical help”.
They told me to foment my nape with cold water. So, have you read it now? Yes? See! Now it’s all over Russia! Give it here!
Mitya snatched the paper, folded it and put it back in his pocket.
I’ll go round to the Makarovs, show them, too… And then to the Ivanitskys, and Natalia Ivanovna, and Anissim Vasillich… I’ll run now! Farewell!
Mitya put on his hat with a badge and, joyous and triumphant, stormed out of the house.

English translation © Julie Delvaux (JS) 2007.