Chekhov: “An astonishing sense of freedom”



Nearly a century after Chekhov’s initial appearance in English translation, he is such a canonical figure in both short story and dramatic forms that it is difficult to imagine how startling and radical his works were to the puzzled contemporary readers and bewildered theatergoers of Virginia Woolf’s day or to appreciate the intellectual and emotional demands his stories and plays made on them. His influence on the evolution of the short story is profound. As the contemporary novelist William Boyd declares, “The Chekhovian worldview and, most particularly, the Chekhovian sense of humor have been silently and hugely assimilated. We British writers are all—or almost all, one way or another—Chekhovian now” (”Show and Tell” 10). Chekhov’s effect on drama has been at least as profound. Nearly one hundred years on, Virginia Woolf is equally firmly established as pioneer of British Modernism. As a writer who was indelibly influenced by Chekhov, she also played a role in interpreting his significance for British readers and theatergoers. Yet, as one of Chekhov’s contemporary biographers observes, “It was really only in the second half of the 20th century that we began to be able to perceive, from our post-existentialist vantage point, how modern Chekhov was, how sensitive as a writer to the contingencies of being. Only astute readers such as Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield recognised Chekhov as their contemporary straight away” (Rosamund Bartlett, “From Russia, with Love”).


Short Story Russian Literature Holograph Draft Story Form Reading Note 
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© Roberta Rubenstein 2009

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