- (1860 - 1904) Russian dramatist and short-story writer.The grandson of a serf and son of a failed grocer, Chekhov began writinghumorous sketches and articles as a medical student at Moscow University.After his graduation in 1884 he began to practise medicine but continuedto produce short stories and journalism, acquiring something of alowbrow following.
Chekhov began to make his name in the theater with a seriesof successful one-act farces, including The Bear and SwanSong (both 1888); he claimed to have written the latter in justover an hour. His earliest full-length plays, the gloomy Ivanov(1887) and The Wood Demon (1889), were, however, notably unsuccessful.This failure to become a serious dramatist may have influenced hisdecision to undertake a 6000-mile journey across Siberia to reporton the notorious penal settlement of Sakhalin in 1890.
In about 1892 Chekhov bought an estate at Melikhovo, about50 miles outside Moscow. During his six years at Melikhovo Chekhovproduced many of his finest short stories as well as his first maturedramatic work, The Seagull. When produced in 1896 at theAlexandrinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, The Seagull proved acatastrophic failure; Chekhov, distressed by this experience, vowedto stop writing for the stage. The following year he suffered a lunghaemorrhage and tuberculosis was diagnosed. In 1898, however, he waspersuaded to allow the recently formed Moscow Art Theatreto revive The Seagull. The production was as successful asthe first had been disastrous. In the remaining five years of Chekhov'slife the Moscow Art Theatre also staged Uncle Vanya (1899),a reworking of The Wood Demon, Three Sisters (1901),and The Cherry Orchard (1904), shortly after the productionof which Chekhov died. Within ten years of his death Chekhov's playswere being staged to considerable critical interest in both Britainand America, though it was not until the mid 1920s that they becamecommercially successful. With their depiction of the ennui and inconsequenceof much of daily life, their unobtrusive symbolism, and their blendof comedy with an underlying sense of anguish, Chekhov's four latemasterpieces have had a profound influence on 20th-century Westerndrama.