The Seagull


After purchasing the Melikhovo farm in 1892, Chekhov had built in the middle of a cherry orchard a lodge consisting of three rooms, one containing a bed and another a writing table. In spring, when the cherries were in blossom, it was pleasant to live in this lodge, but in winter it was so buried in the snow that pathways had to be cut to it through drifts as high as a man. Chekhov eventually moved in and in a letter written in October 1895 wrote:

I am writing a play which I shall probably not finish before the end of November. I am writing it not without pleasure, though I swear fearfully at the conventions of the stage. It's a comedy, there are three women's parts, six men's, four acts, landscapes (view over a lake); a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love.[4]

Thus he acknowledged a departure from traditional dramatic action. This departure would become a critical hallmark of the Chekhovian theater. Chekhov's statement also reflects his view of the play as comedy, a viewpoint he would maintain towards all his plays. After the play's disastrous opening night his friend Aleksey Suvorin chided him as being "womanish" and accused him of being in "a funk." Chekhov vigorously denied this, stating:

Why this libel? After the performance I had supper at Romanov's. On my word of honour. Then I went to bed, slept soundly, and next day went home without uttering a sound of complaint. If I had been in a funk I should have run from editor to editor and actor to actor, should have nervously entreated them to be considerate, should nervously have inserted useless corrections and should have spent two or three weeks in Petersburg fussing over my Seagull, in excitement, in a cold perspiration, in lamentation.... I acted as coldly and reasonably as a man who has made an offer, received a refusal, and has nothing left but to go. Yes, my vanity was stung, but you know it was not a bolt from the blue; I was expecting a failure, and was prepared for it, as I warned you with perfect sincerity beforehand.

And a month later:

I thought that if I had written and put on the stage a play so obviously brimming over with monstrous defects, I had lost all instinct and that, therefore, my machinery must have gone wrong for good.

The eventual success of the play, both in the remainder of its first run and in the subsequent staging by the Moscow Art Theatre under Stanislavski, would encourage Chekhov to remain a playwright and lead to the overwhelming success of his next endeavor Uncle Vanya, and indeed to the rest of his dramatic oeuvre.

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