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Review Article Anton Chekhov:The UnbelievingBeliever GORDON McVAY Allen, David. Performing Chekhov. Routledge, London and New York, 2000. xii + 263 pp. Notes. Illustrations. Bibliography. Indexes. [50.00; [14.99. Clayton,J. Douglas (ed.). Chekhov 7henandNow.7The Reception ofChekhov in WorldCulture. Middlebury Studies in Russian Language and Literature,7. PeterLang,New York,I997. xi + 330 pp.Notes. Indexes. [33.00. Coope, John. DoctorChekhov. A Studyin Literature andMedicine. Cross Publishing,Chale, Isle of Wight, I997. I59 pp. Footnotes.Illustrations . [ Is.oo. De Sherbinin,Julie W. Chekhov andRussian Religious Culture. ThePoetics of theMarianParadigm. Studies in Russian Literature and Theory. NorthwesternUniversityPress,Evanston,Illinois, I997. xiv + I89 pp. Appendix. Notes. Illustrations.Bibliography.Index. [38.oo. Gottlieb, Vera, and Allain, Paul (eds). 7The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov. Cambridge Companions to Literature.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000. XXXiii + 293 pp. Notes. Illustrations .Appendices. Bibliography.Indexes. 13.95. Kirjanov,Daria A. Chekhov andthePoetics ofMemory. Studieson Themes and Motifsin Literature,52. PeterLang,New York,2000. X + I 93 pp. Notes. Bibliography.Index. [24.00. Rayfield, Donald. AntonChekhov. A Life.HarperCollins,London, 1997. xxvii + 674 pp. Notes. Illustrations.Bibliography.Index. [25.00. Rayfield,Donald. Understanding Chekhov. A Critical Study ofChekhov's Prose and Drama. Bristol Classical Press, London, I999. XVii + 295 pp. Bibliography.Index. ?X5.95. Ryfa, Juras T. TheProblem of Genre andtheQuest for Justicein Chekhov's 'TheIslandofSakhalin'. Studiesin SlavicLanguagesand Literature, 13. The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter, I999. XV + 233 pp. Notes. Bibliography.Index. Map. [49.95. CHEKHOV'S art reflects the man elusive, subtle, and understated, humane, modest, and undogmatic. Biographies and investigations abound, yet criticsremain perplexed by the enigma of his personality Gordon McVay is Research Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Bristol. 64 ANTON CHEKHOV: THE UNBELIEVING BELIEVER and of his works. Reserve and 'objectivity' evoke a multiplicity of response. The criticalbattlefieldmight be simplifiedinto two opposing camps. On the one hand, there are the illusion-free or hard-hearted, who perceive Chekhovasemotionallycold, artisticallydetached,philosophically ironic, and spiritually agnostic or atheistic. Their Chekhov is aloof, dry,harsh,sceptical,disconsolateand, ultimately,unconsoling. Against them are arrayed the hopeful or soft-hearted,who, while recognizinghis soberstoicism,see the essentialChekhovasemotionally gentle and grieving, artisticallylyricaland compassionate,philosophically idealistic, and spiritually hovering on the borderline between humanism and Christianity.Their Chekhovis warm, tender, merciful, yearning,undespairingand, ultimately,comforting. Although this reviewer inclines towards the idealistic, yearning interpretation, a plausible case may be made for both contrasting approaches. Perhapsthe unknown 'truth'lies somewhere in between, or beyond. A tentative response might seem appropriately 'Chekhovian ':'No one knowsthe realtruth. . ." This articlewill considersome of the numerouspublicationsdevoted to Chekhov in recent years, includingbiographicalworks,assessments of his philosophicaland religiousoutlook, studiesof his playsand short stories,and varioustranslations. Over thepast eightyyearsmany full-lengthbiographiesand biographical sketches have appeared in English. These biographies invariably express admiration for Chekhov's manifold qualities, such as his modesty and sense of humour, his 'delicacy and refinement',2his willpower and self-discipline, his veneration of freedom and refusal to pontificate, his loyalty to his family, his medical and humanitarian activity,and his unremittingliterarytoil despitepersistentill-health. The hagiographicalschool, with its tendency to portrayChekhov as an almost Christ-likefigure, has recentlyprovoked an understandable reaction. Thus, Ronald Hingley fulminated against 'the litany of the Chekhov Cult', 'the insipid superhuman saintliness so often and Words repeated towards the end of 'Duel" (published in: A. P. Chekhov, Polnoesobranie sochinenii ipisemvtridtsatitomakh [Moscow, I974-83, works in eighteen vols, letters in twelve vols], Sochineniia, vol. VII, pp. 453, 454, 455). Subsequent quotations from Chekhov's works are taken from this edition. Henceforth references will be given thus: Sochineniia, VII, 453 (the Roman numeral denotes the volume, the Arabic indicates the page). Quotations from Chekhov's letters will be taken from this same edition and identified in like manner, but prefaced by the word Pis'ma. 2 Ernest J. Simmons, Chekhov. A Biography, Boston and Toronto, I962 / London I963, p. 499. For a survey of English-language biographies, see Chekhov. A LifeinLetters,translated and edited by Gordon McVay, The Folio Society, London, I994, pp. xi-xvi. GORDON MCVAY 65 erroneously attributed to him' yet even Hingley was forced to acknowledge his overriding virtues: 'Chekhov was gentle, sensitive, kind,helpful,trulycharitableandphilanthropic,free of affectationand remarkablytough-mindedbehind his courteousmanner.'3 Only one...
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