The Darling

The Darling Anton Chekhov's Unique Place in Russian Literature

In his Lectures on Russian Literature, Vladimir Nabokov reserves a special place for Anton Chekhov. Nabokov was the youngest of a generation of great Russian writers who worked in the 19th and 20th centuries—with his publishing career occurring about 100 years later than Fyodor Dostoevsky's, for example—affording Nabokov a more historical perspective on his peers in the field. In turn, his lecture on Chekhov focuses in equal parts on the writer's work and on the biographical aspects that could help readers understand that work.

Nabokov spends a decent amount of time delving into Chekhov's philanthropical nature, delving into the period of time when Chekhov took a break from his writing career to treat a cholera epidemic amongst peasants in the Moscow suburbs, and remarking on how Chekhov would often funnel the proceeds from his publishing career to family members in need. The implication here is clear, that Chekhov was a sympathetic man, a good man, and that his lovingly humanistic sensibilities appeared in his work. Nabokov says, "This great kindness pervades Chekhov's literary work, but it is not a matter of program, or of literary message with him, but simply the natural coloration of his talent."

The implication here is that Chekhov was unique amongst his literary peers as someone focused on finding the humanity of his characters. Chekhov's interest in characters' psychology and interpersonal relationships can be contrasted with the approach of a writer like Leo Tolstoy, who used his novels to explore social and political ideas, reflecting the writer's own interest in anarchism and strains of political thought that overlapped with Leon Trotsky's. Chekhov's fondness or humanity can also be contrasted with Dostoevsky's disdain for it. Dostoevsky held anti-Semitic views that ultimately pepper his novels, and some believe that the crimes Dostoevsky catalogs in his literature were crimes that he himself committed in real life.

Literary critic Joseph Frank remarks on the fact that Chekhov is the rare excellent writer who was also an excellent person, and goes to pains to point out that Chekhov's morality was all his own and not imposed. Chekhov, despite being raised a Christian, was skeptical of the existence of a God for his entire adult life. Instead, it's clear that Chekhov truly found meaning in the world around him. Ultimately, it makes a lot of sense that this is a man whose plays would shape the landscape of Russian, and in turn the world's, dramaturgy. Alongside the famed director and producer Stanislavski, Chekhov would innovate a naturalistic brand of theatre than reflected the lives of the people in his audience. From Chekhov's great love of people, came great work about the people.