Tag Archives: A Russian Affair literary web site

thoughts about Chekhov


Elisabeth Vandermeer has a wonderful site about Russian literature that has been attracting devotees: “A Russian Affair”


Her posts so far have been included her commentary on Tolstoy; Turgenev; Dostoevsky; Pushkin; Ivan Goncharov’s novel “Oblomov”; and, most recently, Chekhov.

Below are comments of mine about her post on Chekhov. The post on Chekhov is online at

Typically Chekhov


— Roger W. Smith

   April 2017



Elisabeth —

As always, I admired this post greatly.

You say so much, eloquently, in very few words.

Among comments of yours about Chekhov that struck me forcibly are the ones about Chekhov’s “sincerity and moderation” and about the important themes in his work, which you have digested impressively (should I say, marvelously?): “inner conflict, feelings of nostalgia, a longing for the past or a better future, hopelessness, lack of willpower and powerlessness.”

Also, that his characters want to escape their current situation, but can’t do so. And, your phrase “risk happiness in the mysterious unknown.”

You note, accurately, that Chekhov “never made a choice between literature and medicine.” I read that he charged patients on a sliding scale, depending on what they could afford to pay, and that he often treated patients for free.

“His characters are real, not purely good or evil,” you note. So true. What could we not learn from this when it comes to judging other people?

I realize that your post is not intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive — it accomplishes so much and is informative and enlightening. But, some other things that occurred to me:

Chekhov’s «Остров Сахалин» (The Island of Sakhalin) is a great nonfiction work and piece of journalism. It sometimes reads like a dry report, but its harrowing details are compelling on many levels.

“Anton Chekhov’s Life and Thought: Selected Letters and Commentary” (1973) — translated by Michael Henry Heim; edited and annotated by Simon Karlinsky — is a wonderful edition of the letters. The commentary is outstanding. It gives a whole new picture of Chekhov.

I loved the portrait that you have used, and the photos. There are a few wonderful photos of Chekhov young. One in particular I remember is in the book (now hard to find) “Anton Chekhov and the Lady with the Dog” by Virginia Llewellyn Smith. It shows him as an adolescent, looking cherubic.

The Russian film Дама с собачкой (The Lady with the Dog; 1960), which is on YouTube, is outstanding.

Thanks again for this great post.