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The Bear | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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William Faulkner | Biography


Early Years

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia as the third of six children. His father Pavel Egorovich Chekhov was a grocer and painter with a fanatical devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church. Anton's grandfather was a serf or peasant who lived in indentured servitude until 1841. Pavel Chekhov was a rigid disciplinarian with a violent temper, who often beat Chekhov and his siblings. The family's grocery store failed in 1876. They relocated to Moscow with the exception of Chekhov, who remained in Taganrog to finish school. Anton funded his own education for three years by tutoring other students and catching and selling goldfinches. He also sold short stories to the local newspaper. He sent any extra income to his family in Moscow.

Higher Education and Career

Chekhov enrolled in medical school in 1879 at Moscow University. He graduated in 1884 and was hired at a hospital in Chickino, Russia. By then he had become the head of his family and the main provider. In December 1884 he began to cough up blood and was often ill. The cause of his illness was not determined for more than a decade.

Chehkov's medical income was not enough to support himself and his family, so he wrote stories for the same humorous magazines he enjoyed reading in his spare time. His first story was published in 1880 in a magazine called Dragonfly, followed by nine more stories in the same year. Many of these short stories were published under the pen name Antosha Chekhonte. Chekhov's older brothers also began writing short stories. They all had works published by the magazine Spectator in 1881. Chekhov paid to have his first short-story collection Tales of Melpomene published in 1884. A professional publisher accepted his second collection Motley Stories in 1886. Chekhov wrote this collection under his own name. Motley Stories established his reputation as an author, and he moved away from his medical career to devote more time to his writing.

In 1888 Northern Messenger magazine bought Chekhov's short story "The Steppe" for a sizable sum of money. He was awarded the Pushkin Prize by the Academy of Sciences the same year. Chekhov also published the one-act play The Bear in 1888. He drew upon his original comedic roots as an author and crafted a romantic play about two people who discover true love in the midst of an argument. Chekhov published the play Ivanov in 1889 as well as the short story collection Children. He ended his career as a doctor and focused solely on writing short stories, novels, and plays. From 1888 through 1889, Chekhov worked on a lengthy play titled Wood Demon. He then drastically revised the play by cutting out large sections of the script and overhauling the plot. These revisions resulted in Uncle Vanya (1897). Uncle Vanya would go on to become one of the key works of his career along with Ivanov, The Seagull or Chayka (1897), and The Three Sisters (1901).

Illness and Later Career

Chekhov was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1897 after suffering a lung hemorrhage. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. He suffered from tuberculosis for the rest of his life. Chekhov had a villa built in Yalta in 1899 where he lived with his mother and sisters. During this time he began to slow his writing pace now that his family's financial well-being was secure. His primary focus was now on playwriting. He wrote The Three Sisters in 1901. That same year he married the actress Olga Knipper (1869–1959) who had performed in The Seagull in 1898. She went on to perform in The Three Sisters as well.

Checkov's play The Three Sisters was followed by The Cherry Orchard (1904). His wife performed in The Cherry Orchard during its debut. Chekhov occasionally attended rehearsals for his plays, but he was often disappointed with the actors' portrayal of his ideas. He argued that his plays were designed to have clear comedic elements even when they addressed difficult subjects. Chekhov expressed frustration that the play directors tried to make his plays more tragic in tone than he intended.

Death and Legacy

Chekhov died of tuberculosis on July 2, 1904, during a prescribed trip to a hospital in Badenweiler, Germany. According to a friend, the author predicted his impending death the day before he left Moscow.

Chekhov is credited today for establishing the comedic short story as a literary form in Russia. He showed future writers like Ivan Bunin (1870–1953) and Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) that serious content could be expressed in literature without overwhelming readers with sadness. His short stories and plays deal with difficult topics like abuse, suicide, and grief while maintaining a sense of hope for the future.

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