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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Chapter 1 - Life


For many readers, Anton Chekhov's life has exerted nearly as much fascination as his works. Not only was he a major literary figure with an unquantifiable impact on the drama and fiction of the modern period, but he was an indisputably good man, who worked heroically, throughout his short life, for the benefit of other people. Listing him on a roll call of “modern saints,” Chekhov scholar Charles Meister has asserted that “Even if he had not been a great writer, Chekhov would have deserved worldwide recognition for his role as a humanitarian.” His achievements are incontrovertible: he raised his family from poverty through his own effort and talent, built schools and hospitals, gave free medical treatment to thousands, helped change Russia's penal conditions through his report on the Sakhalin prisons, stood up against injustices of all kinds, and wrote some of the greatest stories and plays in the history of literature, all while, for much of his life, fighting a losing battle against the tuberculosis that killed him at forty-four. Recent biographical revelations that Chekhov could be irritable, vain, or selfish, and that he kept others, especially the women in his life, at an emotional distance while accepting their devotion, have done little to tarnish his overall reputation. The letters, memoirs, and reminiscences of his contemporaries leave little doubt that Chekhov was deeply and deservingly loved; and that love has been reaffirmed by generations of readers.