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

Preface

Summary

Shortly before Anton Chekhov died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-four, he went for an evening carriage ride with a young writer, Ivan Bunin, who visited him frequently during his illness. They drove from the Crimean town of Yalta, where Chekhov was convalescing, to the nearby coastal village of Oreanda. A cliff-top prospect in this village is the setting of one of the most famous episodes in Chekhov's fiction: Gurov's seaside epiphany in “The Lady with the Little Dog.” In Chekhov's story, the timeless, indifferent beauty of the sea leads Gurov to the realization that “everything was beautiful in this world, everything except for what we ourselves think and do when we forget the higher goals of being and our human dignity.”

Chekhov and Bunin drove the same route that Gurov and Anna, the lady with the dog, take in Chekhov's story. Bunin's description of the carriage ride has some of the lyricism and pathos of Chekhov's evocations of nature: “We were quiet, looking at the shining, matted-gold valley of the sea. We first passed by a forest that had a springlike air, tender, pensive, and beautiful.” Bunin's account leads, like Gurov's view of the sea, to a reflection on time, change, and the impermanence of human achievement:

We stopped the carriage and walked quietly under these cypresses, past the ruins of a palace shining bluish-white in the moonlight. Chekhov suddenly turned to me and said, “Do you know how long people will continue to read my works? Seven years, that is all.”

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