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ANTON PAVLOVICH CHEKOV
Anton Pavlovich Chekov was one of the most respected playwrights of the latter nineteenth century. He was born in Taganrog, Russia, in 1860. A bright young man, he attended Moscow University, studying medicine. To help support himself in college, he began to write and contribute to newspapers; after graduating and practicing medicine, he continued to write. His stories were so popular that he decided to devote himself to writing, rather than to medicine. By 1886, he had earned a reputation for himself as a short story writer. Some of his most popular stories include Kashtanka (1887), The Steppe (1888), The Party (1888), A Dreary Story (1889), Ward No. Six (1892), The Duel (1892), My Life (1896), About Love (1898), The Darling (1898), and The Lady with the Little Dog (1899).
Besides writing short stories, Chekov also devoted his efforts to drama. His first successful play was Ivanov (1887). He is most well-known, however, for his later plays. They include The Seagull (1895), Uncle Vanya (1900), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). Both his plays and his short stories are characterized by a subtle blending of naturalism and symbolism. He is also known for his portrayal of the Russian upper class as people stifled by boredom, inactivity, and missed opportunities; many of his characters have great difficulty in understanding the real meaning of life and communicating with others.
Chekov's own life was always filled with conflict. His monstrous father, possessive sister, and delinquent elder brothers made his early family life a living hell. As a married man, he was torn between a duty to his wife, an actress, and his affections for a series of mistresses. In his later life, he was also forced to fight tuberculosis, which killed him in 1904, at the young age of forty- four.
The Cherry Orchard was first performed in Moscow on January 17, 1904, shortly before Chekov's death. It is set in the very early twentieth century, a time of change for Russia. As a country, it was rapidly emerging from feudalism and rushing towards revolution. As a result, the old rules were also rapidly changing; however, the upper class of Russian society had great difficulty accepting the changes, which affected them personally. Firs, the old valet, loathes the fact that lowly clerks and stationmasters are now invited to the dance at the cherry orchard; he still believes that only barons, generals, and lords should be present. Lyobov and her family also have difficulty accepting that Lopahin, formerly a slave at the orchard, is now wealthy enough to purchase the estate, while Lyobov is too poor to retain it. Lyobov also resents that foreigners are moving into Russia, and she absolutely refuses to entertain the idea of leasing her childhood home to one of them.