There was no denying the Chekhovs’ lowly origins, but one cannot exaggerate the influence of the steppe on Anton Chekhov’s love of personal and spiritual freedom. In the first 19 years of his life he spent many summer months on his grandfather’s and friends’ homesteads in the Don Steppe, he came to know “every gully” as he said later, as well as the ancient burial mounds, the tumbleweed, the birds of prey, the vast starlit nights, the windmills, the peasant children and the Jewish innkeepers, all the elements of his masterpiece “The Steppe” (1888). Free to wander, observe and interact, he had at least one epiphanic experience, as recounted by his brother Mikhail:
“Once, when he was still a schoolboy,… somewhere in the steppe, Anton Pavlovich was standing by a deserted well, looking down at his reflection in the water, when a girl of about fifteen came up to draw water, and so charmed the future writer that there, in the steppe, he began to embrace her and kiss her, and then they stood together at the well a long time, in silence, staring down at their two reflections. He did not want to leave her, and she had forgotten all about her water. He told Suvorin this once, when they were talking about lives being like the parallel lines, whether they can ever meet, and love at first sight.”
The incident prefigures a major theme in Chekhov’s writing: communication between people (“selves”) and its relation to what he usually called “the sexual sphere”.
In 1879 Chekhov entered the faculty of Medicine at Moscow University, worked hard and achieved high marks upon the graduation. At the same time he became de facto head of the household of the Chekhovs.
In spite of many publications of his works, yet he still had doubts about his vocation. He wrote to Suvorin, one of the St. Petersburg Journals Editor, that medicine was his “lawful wife” and literature his “mistress”.
Above all, what a decent human being he was! Chekhov hurried up to make good for people: for his 44 years of life he built up 3 schools, numerous roads, and the refurbishment of two churches. He collected and sent thousands of new books to taganrog library, opened the Taganrog museum.
Chekhov quickly won oveer the peasants by holding a regular clinic, making home visits, and treating them. He did all this for free. In an average year, he had a thousand patients. In 1892 and 1893 he organized sanitation and quarantine facilities for the expected cholera epidemic, which came very close. He became involved in the running of a modern local mental hospital. In 1897 he ran the national census in the Melikhovo area, inspected schools and factories, traveled to the Island of Sakhalin to examine the local problems.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…
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Meanwhile as a dramatist, vaudeville playwright, short and long stories, made happy many a woman such as Lika Mizinova, Lidia Avilova, Ilovaiskaia, Nadia Ternovskaia, Karatygina, Kundasova, Olga Knipper…
“Very light on foot” Anton Chekhov was everywhere, around the Europe and in Russia, and finished in Germany, in the Black Forest spa of Badenweiler, where Chekhov was treated by the highly competent Dr. Schworer, “married to our Moscow Zhivago”.
The fact that Chekhov and Schworer were “colleagues” explains some features of Chekhov’s death from heart failure in the Hotel Sommer, when he sat up and said loudly: “Ich sterbe” (I am dying), he was stating a medical fact.
Schworer ordered a bottle of champagne as that was the accepted custom when a colleague had reached the end. Chekhov took a brimming glass, looked at Knipper, smiled and said: “I haven’t drunk champagne for ages”. The he drained the glass, lay on his side and was gone.
My dear fellows, let us lift up our glasses of sparkling champagne to the starlit eternal memory of such a bright soul and a wonderful individual of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov!
This music for him: Song “She Loves Me” performed by Alexander Serov:You Love Me