By Laurence Senelick (auth.)
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This is the programme I would adhere to if I were a great artist (to A. N. Pleshcheyev, 4 October 1888). Personal integrity was more important for Chekhov than political adherence; he was no joiner. Yet he was drawn to the increasingly popular teachings of Tolstoy, even though he rejected such tenets as ascetism and passive resistance to evil. In The Wood Demon he subscribes to the Tolstoyan notion of universal love as a means of cutting through the Gordian knot of sodal problems. The cast of characters he had drawn up for Suvorin had included two Tolstoyan characters: Anuchin, an old man, who as the result of a public repentance became the happiest person in the district, and the pilgrim Fedossy, a plain-speaking and optimistic lay brother of the Mt.
It became such abhe noir that he returned to attack it again and again, excoriating it as a 'Iong, fat boring ink-blot' 'as pleasant as yesterday's porridge';6 he wrote a parody of The Fumes o[ Li[e, but had it destroyed in proof. His review of Lentovsky's production was unacharacteristi- 22 At the Play caIly abusive and personal, and ended, 'On the whole, the play is written with a lavatory brush and smeIls foul'. The play that provoked such an intense reaction is a tear-jerker in the style of Dumas fils.
It is no coincidence, perhaps, that Chekhov's earlier efforts, those most wedded to the conventions of the problem play and current stage practice, were composed while he was deeply immersed in the literary life of the Russian capitals. As early as 1887, Chekhov was insisting that the author must control his play, select the cast and issue instructions for its production (to N. A. Leykin, 15 November 1887). The first consistent example of his new art, Uncle Vanya, was the deliberate revision of a failed experiment; his first perfectly-orchestrated achievement, Three Sisters, was written for the Moscow Art Theatre, a company made up of educated individuals, devoted to ensemble playing and the evocation of 'mood'.
Anton Chekhov by Laurence Senelick (auth.)