ANTON CHEKHOV: A BRIEF
Anton Chekhov was born into a family of
emancipated serfs. His paternal grandfather was a
serf who had purchased the freedom of his family
in 1841--twenty years before the abolition of
serfdom in Russia. Born in 1860 in Taganrog, a
prosperous provincial town on the Sea of Azov,
Chekhov became a medical doctor, a short story
writer, a landowner, a playwright, and a loyal son
Chekhov’s family was full of contradictions.
His disciplinarian father opened his own grocery
shop where Chekhov’s early life played out amidst
long hours of labor and practice for the church
choir conducted by his father--a devout Orthodox
Christian who wanted his children to have the best education he could afford in a grammar school immersed in the study of Greek and Latin. But the father was also a drunk, a cheat, and a debtor who often beat his children.
The main event of Chekhov’s teen-age years was the family relocation. His father’s shop failed. Facing debtors’ prison, the bankrupt fled with his family to Moscow, leaving Anton at 16 behind to complete his secondary schooling and fend for himself. He always said that his life was transformed during the three years between sixteen to nineteen, when, left alone in Taganrog after his father’s bankruptcy, he supported himself by tutoring younger students and cadging food from relatives.
The desperate poverty of his childhood only made him more resourceful and hardworking. Liberation from the traditions and values of his parents created a spiritual metamorphosis that produced, like so many of his characters, an outsider determined to crash through the barriers of society. Rampant through his stories are people who desperately try to better themselves—landowners who aid their tenants, daughters of factory workers who grow up to be factory owners, shopkeepers’ sons who aspire to marry rich girls. Joining the family in Moscow three years later, Anton took responsibility for...
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