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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Reference:

Unaccustomed Chekhov (humanitarian study)

Rozin Vadim Markovich

Doctor of Philosophy

Chief Scientific Associate, Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences 

109240, Russia, Moskovskaya oblast', g. Moscow, ul. Goncharnaya, 12 str.1, kab. 310

rozinvm@gmail.com
Другие публикации этого автора
 

 

DOI:

10.25136/1339-3057.2019.1.27556

Review date:

01-10-2018


Publish date:

02-04-2019


Abstract.

The paper deals with the situation that has developed in recent years, which is written in the Internet, where memories and studies of life of the writers and poets are represented. A logical interpretation of the life and work of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is offered, which makes it possible to compare the two relations between the creativity of the author and his ordinary life. Unaware of the evolution in the views of Anton Pavlovich and his ambivalent attitude towards women and love, revealed in such an interpretation, we really do not understand the actions and thoughts of the heroes of his works, especially the later stories and plays. The study used the following methodology: problem formulation, situational and comparative analysis, humanitarian interpretation of the author's works, reconstruction of the life path. As a result, it was possible to show that although the personality of the author of the work is not directly related to his work, nevertheless, in order to understand a number of significant moments of this work and the features of the work, a special reconstruction of the author's personality and his works is necessary. Within the framework of such a reconstruction, the analysis of personality and works must be linked.

Keywords: life, poetry, art, personality, interpretation, work, creativit, author, choice, reality

I have read a very interesting book by Donald Rayfield “Anton Chekhov. A Life”, (in Russian translation) and the image of Chekhov as a refined intellectual wearing a pince nez, a great master author of short stories, one of the reformers of theatre in the end of the XIX - beginning of the XX century has literally collapsed. To be more precise, evaluation and meaning of Chekhov’s works have stood the test, but only rubble was left of understanding Anton Pavlovich as a person. Then I started thinking where I had got the idea of his personality. To be frank, I have to admit that his image is not exactly mine, I had not tried consciously to understand Chekhov as a person, to examine critically his numerous letters (more than 5000) and commentaries of other researchers on his life. This image was formed, like in case of most of readers, under the influence of ideologically constructed versions of great writer’s life created at school literature classes, radio and TV programs, and, finally, while reading Chekhov’s works (because when one is reading he creates, nearly out of thin air, a certain image of the author). It appeared that bthis image was generalized and conventional, having nothing to do with those facts about Chekhov’s live which I found in Rayfield’s book. Here is one example.

It is supposed (at least, I thought so) that Chekhov, unlike, for example, our great Alexandr Poushkin, a conqueror of many female hearts, was the singer of ideal love, and in his life had few intimate relations with women, mainly in the end of his life with his wife Olga Knipper. One can see quite a different picture. From the age of 14 Anton Pavlovich had been visiting brothels. Later, in November 1888, Chekhov who was already 28, writes to Plesheev: “As to whores, I used to be a great specialist in this field in my time…”. In the end of December he wrote to Scheglov: “ Why are you so averse to speaking about Sobolevsky lane? I like its visitors, though myself go there as rarely as you. One should not be squeamish about life, no matter what kind of life it is ”. [2, p. 227] And in 18901891, while travelling in Siberia and Far East, Chekhob visits local brothels with interest and pleasure. Thus, he writes to N. Yezhov from Ceylon: “I am…completely fed up with palm forests and bronze women. When I have children I will tell them, not without pride: ‘You, sons of a bitch, in my time I had sex with a black-eyed Indian girl… where? At a coconut plantation on a moonlit night.’ … What is charming is colored women!” [2, p. 290]

As to temporary liaisons with various women (from pretty chamber maids to educated intellectual ladies) Chekhov was far ahead of Poushkin, and the quantity is measured not in dozens, but in hundreds. Actually, a large part of Rayfield’s book is dedicated to description of these shorter or longer liaisons without which, as we can see, Chekhov just could not live.

To be fair, one must say that description of the epoch, the family and environment in which Chekhov grew up and later lived and created his works takes up the larger part of this book. It was the time of dramatic transformation and crisis of social norms, including those concerning family and sexual relations. Chekhov’s family, as we know, had not gone a long way from serfdom into culture; Anton and his brothers were often regarded as commoners. Chekhov’s environment was largely Bohemian (painters, artists) where sexual promiscuity and alcoholism were never judged severely. And still Anton Pavlovich had to help his relations, he worked day and night and had a capacity to write in any atmosphere.

Here I had a question: what has changed when I learned about real life and personality of Chekhov? The same question stood before me when I came across polemics in Internet concerning Marina Tsvetaeva’s actions in 1920-ies (she placed her two children in Kuntsevo orphanage and did not visit them; as a result junior, unloved daughter Irina fell ill and died, but Marina did not even come to her funeral. Besides I read marina’s diaries and research work by A.Kiryanova “Two Souls of Marina Tsvetaeva” [1]. Under the influence of what I had read my image of Marina Tsvetaeva changed drastically, though I have kept interest in her poetry. Thus comes a question: how does knowledge of life and personality of an author influence our perception of his work? Or, maybe, there is no such influence? Or it is irrelevant?

As to Donald Rayfield, he tries to show that most of plots and characters of Chekov’s works were taken from his own life or lives of this relatives, friends an acquaintances.. Thus, from his point of view, in “A Boring story” Chekov, on the one hand, selected as the prototype of the main character Petersburg professor Botkin who shortly after that died of liver cancer (which was regarded as Chekov’s prophecy). But on the other hand, according to reyfield, “the feeling of despair dominating in Chekov’s story, can be ascribed to Kolya’s death (Kolya was Chekhov’s younger brother who drank heavily and died – V.R.) [2,p.254, 259-260]

Such interpretation of author’s works allows the reader to percept these works in perspective of his personality but gives little new for understanding them. Can one, for example, knowing the prototype or the story, understand and explain the music and the real magic of Chekhov’s stories or feel terseness and expressivity of Chekhov’s language, or that imperceptible vagueness and beauty, that miraculous atmosphere in which Chekhov immerses his readers? I think, no.

My close friend, a well known psychologist and a connoisseur of art Andrey Puzurey voiced an opinion contradictory to that of Reyfield. He states straightforwardly that a work of art and its author should be judged only on the basis of work itself, and real life actions have absolutely no meaning. It seems, Marina Tsvetaeva’s work confirms this. In my article “Personality and Tragedy of Marina Tsvetaeva” I show that our great poetess reacts very oddly to suffering of her daughter placed in orphanage: instead of visiting them and helping (children were ill) marina transforms her feelings into a source of poetic inspiration. [3] her daughter Alya writes: “Mama, I will hang myself if you do not come… or do not get some news about you. Do you love me? My God, how unhappy I am!From quiet sadness I go to the desire to revenge on those who did it. Oh, I beg you, please, love me, or I will die a torturous death”.

Marina did not come but she composed beautiful verses about parting with her daughter.

Little home spirit,

My house genius!

Here it is, a parting of two

Related inspirations.

I feel sorry when the stove

Is hot, but you do not see it!

A night star near my door!

You will not rise, will not come out!

Your dresses are hanging,

Like a forbidden fruit.

The garden is blooming in vain

In the attic window.

Pigeons are knocking at the window, -

It is boring with pigeons!

Winds are shouting welcome to me, -

Leave them alone, the winds!

It is impossible to say to grey winds,

To flocks of pigeons –

In your wonderful voice: -

Marina!

Analysis of such situations seems to prove that everyday life of the author and his creativity are connected superficially (in this case tragic situation with daughters becomes for Tsvetaeva just a pretext for writing poetry, supplying the theme). Rayfield’s book shows nearly the same. But let us not be in a hurry. Let us analyze a different situation, namely Chekhov’s attitude to love and women.

Yes, on the one hand his attitude to women looks or is purely mercantile (to satisfy one’s passion, if not lust), or it presumes more lasting relations with no obligations, which now is called “relations”. Rayfield thinks that Chekhov did not have abnormal sexual hunger, rather his random relations with women showed that he lost interest in them soon. Rayfield refers to zoologists who could compare Chekhov’s sexuality with that of cheetah which can mate only with unknown female. Chekov’s fleeting interest in women may be ascribed, according to Reyfield, could both consequence and cause of his frequent visits to brothels. He was not aroused by women whom he liked, and vice versa, and this bothered him a lot, until the time he lost interest in sex because of illness. He wrote about this in September 1893 in a letter to his elder brother Alexander and his wife Anne. He complained that he worked so much that forgot about women, besides he did not want to waste money. But what I feel about this is something different. I think that in the process of gaining maturity, becoming a famous writer, self-reflection a quiet spiritual change was taking place. He started rethinking his attitude to women, to love and to life as a whole. It can be seen in his letter to his elder brother when the latter wanted to marry Helen Lintvareva. He called his brother a real hypocrite, because of his expressed desire for family, music, tenderness and compassion. But, Chekhov argues, these things cannot be the result of marriage to a person whom you hardly know, only of love. Chekhov puts mutual love as a pre-condition of marriage and denies possibility of successful marriage to a person one “knows no more than inhabitants of the Moon”. But what did Anton Pavlovich mean speaking of love besides sublime feelings, responsibility in marriage, respect to one’s “friend in life’s path”? (I came across epitaphs with such walking at the cemetery of Donskoy monastery). Three years before his death Chekhov put down his thoughts in his notebook: “Love. It is either a part of something degenerating which had once been enormous, or it is a part of something which will develop in something enormous in future, but at present it does not satisfy and gives much less that one expects”. [2. P. 630] One wonders - what did Chekhov expect of love?

We can find out some things in the well known and much loved story “Lady with a Dog”. This story, according to Reyfield, justifies adultery to a certain extend and thus negates Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina”. Tolstoy was greatly disappointed by this story. But Gurov, the protagonist in the story, is not a one-dimensional character. Reyfield defines him as a Don Juan who experienced great love, and one wonders what happens to him in the end: is he in love or is he just worried about first grey hairs. [2, pp. 592-593]. It seems, Rayfield did not understand the problem Chekhov tried to solve in “Lady with a Dog”. It is easy to see that Gurov, the protagonist in the story, resembles in the beginning Anton Pavlovich himself in his young years: his relations with women are limited to sexual encounters, but do not follow Don Juan’s pattern. But in the end of the story we see real love: “Anna Sergeevna and he loved each other as really close people, husband and wife, tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had destined them for each other, and it was not clear why both he and she were married; they were like two migratory birds, male and female, which had been caught and made to live in separate cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, forgave everything in present and felt that their love had changed them both”. [6, pp. 379-380]

Here there comes a question: for whom did Chekhov feel this great love? According to Donald Reyfield, it was not only for Olga Knipper. Unfortunately, Anton Pavlovich had not experienced really great love, but he was looking for and reflecting upon the new ideal of love. It was an imaginary ideal existing only in artistic form, but do not all spiritual innovation start from such semiological constructs? The very personality of Chekhov which was greatly changed in the end of his life makes him seek for this ideal.

Though Anton Pavlovich did a lot for peasants (treaded them free of charge, actively supported projects of ‘zemstvo’) he shows at the same time(for example in “A House with a Mezzanine”) the futility of efforts to improve people’s life since they did not eliminate the main reason of their miserable existence. While in his time Chekhov shared Tolstoy’s moral principles, in the end of his life he wrote that to be just one should admit that electricity and steam engines contain more love to mankind than celibacy and vegetarianism. By this time Chekhov’s liberal views were largely replaced by stoic world view. In 1898 he answers the complaints of his mother: “No matter how dogs and samovars behaved, winter must come after summer, old age after youth, grief after happiness and vice versa; one cannot be healthy and jolly all life… and one has to be prepared for everything… One should just fulfill one’s duty as far as possible – and nothing more”. [2, pp. 559]

Without knowing about changes in Chekhov’s ideas and his duality of attitude to women, which have been examined here, we are not likely to understand the deeds and the thoughts of his characters, especially of the later stories and plays. One may say that in Chekhov’s works we can see only sublime attitude, while the other side of the medal was concealed. It is difficult to agree with this, one has to rethink his works, give up customary interpretations according to which Chekhov’s women and love itself are always virtuous and sublime.

And what can one learn about creative writing of Marina Tsvetaeva after finding out about her deeds and personal life? Will our perception of her beautiful poetry change? I think it so, at least partly, in a certain way. According to recent research, Tsvetaeva was an extremely egoistic individual. One of participants in Internet forum wrote: “I am examining. Not finding any mental disorder in her thoughts. I see a person who thinks only about herself, thinks herself justified (since she is a Poet), does not want to do anything for anyone (oterwise it will mean to lose face even in her own opinion, and in opinion of friends of whom she is afraid) and she does not like to care about the sick or defective, she prefers to get rid of them, even to morgue, only not to look after them. But taking into account that she should not lose face completely and it should not lead to the break with friends and husband who would not sympathize with child murderer. She did not REALLY want the death of her elder daughter. Though she did not want either to take care of her, whether ill or healthy. And she was completely unwilling to work for them. Which of these ‘reluctances’ would dominate was not clear, and the events of November-January were usually explained by the struggle of these ‘reluctances’ with the second usually winning”. [8]

One may think that the attitude of the author and the pparticipant of Forum cited here is prejudiced because of lack of knowledhe of her life. Mut here is the opinion of her son Moor. “Moor, - Tsvetaeva writes, - tells me: ‘Mama, in small things you are not egoistic: you give away everything, feel sorry for everybody, but in bigger things you are terribly egoistic, and not at all a Christian. I even don’t know what your religion is”. [9] Here one can remember Marina’s own self-evaluation in her wonderful work “Art Illuminated by Consciousness”. “Artistic creation in some cases is a certain numbness of conscience, that moral flaw without which it, art, cannot exist…. ‘Exception in favor of genius’. Our attitude to art is exception in favor of genius. Art itself is that genius in favor of whom we get excluded from moral law”.

Tsvetaeva tries to define the essence of creativity comparing it to a dream: “The state of creativity is the state of sleep, when suddenly, succumbing to an unknown necessity, one puts fire to a house or pushes his friend down a cliff. …Is it your deed? Clearly, it is (it is you who are dreaming!) Yours – in the state of complete freedom, the deed of you deprived of consciousness, you – as nature”. She continues: “A poet is often compared to a child on the basis of innocence alone. I would compare them on the basis of this irresponsibility. Irresponsibility is in everything, except play.” [7]

If one agrees with such evaluation of Tsvetaeva’s personality one can come to a different understanding of her poetry. I have always been interested in ger poems from the point of view of their artistic creativity – bright images, emotion and passion, unusual form, exact expression, original poetic intellect. But I was never touched by Marina’s poems, did not feel empathy or emotion. One may ask – why? Maybe because Tsvetaeva writes only about herself, while others are just mentioned in passing? Maybe because Marina knew nothing about other people’s feelings, did not identify herself with them, in a certain way, did not sympathize with anyone? She probably knew nothing about joint life with others ('Love your neighbor as yourself’), presupposing mutual feelings, grief and joy, compassion or even hatred.

Let us suppose that it is so, but does poetry and art in a broader sense suffer because of it? Were there not a few wonderful artists who were absolutely self-centered in everyday life? This question leads us to another – what is art, especially modern? Discussion of this question is a separate theme, probably not for one article. That is why I shall stop here.

Having examined certain issues I have come to a conclusion that it is difficult to agree with A.Puzyrey’s opinion concerning irrelevance of artist’s life and deeds. It is very important to understand author’s personality to have correct judgment of his work. No doubt, such understanding is not simple, it presupposes a special reconstruction of life and work of an artist. Here we come across another important problem: what are the criteria for such reconstruction.

References
1.
Kiryanova A. Two Souls of Marina Tsvetaeva. URL http://kiryanova.com/r11.html
2.
Reyfield D. Zhizn Antona Tchekhova (transl. O.Makarova). – M.:BSG-Press, 2011. ‒ 784p.
3.
Rosin V.M. Lichnost I nragediya Mariny Tsvetaevoy// Filologia: Academic papers, 2012, No2. – P. 43-52.
4.
Rosin V.M. Dve zhisny Aleksandra Sergeevicha Poushkina/ Rosin V.M. Osobennosti diskursa: ‒ M.: LIBKOM, 2009. pp. 108-127.
5.
Rosin V.M. Osobennosti sovremennogo iskusstva // Rosin V.M. Priroda I genesis sovremennogo iskusstva.-M.: Golos, 2011. Pp. 307-322.
6.
Chekhov A.P. Collected works in 8 volumes. Vol.6. M.: Pravda Publishing House, 1970.
7.
Tsvetaeva M. Art in the Light of Consciousness URL http://brb.silverage.ru/zhslovo/sv/tsv/?id=9&r=proza
8.
URL http://wyradhe.livejournal.com/59035.html
9.
URL http://www. Livelib.ru/quote/762001-dushi – nuchinayut – videt – marina tshetaeva – boris-pasternak
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