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Chekhov: Scenes from a Life Paperback – 4 Jul 2005
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'A brilliant, impressionistic new biography' -- Independent on Sunday
'Bartletts efforts should be greeted with prizes and acclaim. She has renewed Chekhov for twenty-first-century readers' -- Scotland on Sunday
'Delightful . . . Bartlett has succeeded in freeing the playwright from the dead hand of conventional biography . . . it's a treasure' -- New Statesman
'Here is a wonder: a book that delivers more than it promises . . . A remarkable biography about an inspirational artist' -- Sunday Telegraph
'Unorthodox, fascinating and highly readable . . . I have never read a book that brought me closer to the writer himself' -- Moscow Times
...it makes you want to jump on a plane to Siberia...Sheds new light on a much-discussed writer -- Evening Standard, July 4, 2005
...we do get a better idea of the man too easily typecast by English readers as a chronic pessimist -- Sunday Telegraph, July 4, 2005
Bartlett's innovative approach underscores the remarkable range of Chekhov's life and work -- The Guardian, July 9, 2005
Rosamund Bartlett is steeped in Chekhov's writings, having worked as a translator and lecturer on the culture and history of nineteenth-century Russia. She has written not simply another biography of Chekhov but brought new understanding to the writings and character of the man, set amidst the formidable landscape of the Russia he loved. This is a book of enormous detail about the places Chekhov visited and lived in, which is vital for a good understanding of the character of this unusual and complex man. The author examines with careful precision Chekhov's genius, and shows that he is not simply the gloomy writer of popular myth but one with profound humanity and humour.See all Product description
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The book was enjoyable and the author clearly very learned; there's a lot here about the man (as you would expect) but also a lot about Russia and Russian culture. What I found a touch frustrating, as a newcomer to Chekhov's life, was that it was not a chronological biography but more one based on the key places in his life - his boyhood home of Taganrog, Moscow, Melikhovo (his country house), Sakhalin, Yalta etc. Due to this structure, rather than a chronological one, each chapter did keep jumping backwards and forwards through the events of his life, which could be rather confusing if you were new to the subject. There is a timeline at the front, but it was a tad annoying having to consult it on a regular basis and it didn't always help. One of the review snippets on the cover describes the biography as "impressionistic" and I think I understand why now.
I still enjoyed it and it was an interesting read about a character I found I was drawn to, but if you are looking for a 'beginners', traditional, sequential biography just beware the above.
Still, it inspired me to plant a cherry tree in my garden, so that must be a good thing, eh?
This Free Press Edition (published in 2005) was a welcome edition to my library. Having plodded gamely through Bartlett’s authorative book on Tolstoy I found Chekhov: Scenes from a Life an easier read and equally informative. As ever Bartlett’s research is thorough and her style engaging. Those interested in Chekhov the man, as opposed to Chekhov the writer, will find much to enjoy in the book. If I have any reservations about the book, they are not about the stucture, which is basically chronological, but the writer’s dwelling on fine details about, for instance, the nature of Chekhov’s dogs, their names, origins and where they slept in Melikhovo, as well as the plants he grew, the fish he caught (or failed to catch) and suchlike trivia - all this did rather test my patience. Of course with any book about Russia or Russians one has the problem of names, the use of full names, nick-names and patronymics can, and usually does, provide a stumbling block.
Bartlett’s use of secondary materials, such as letters, diaries and other books is somewhat overwhelming to the non-specialist in the Russian language, but that is hardly the author’s fault. I found the ample Notes section amost unreadable, needing much help translating Russian titles. But it too had its interest in that, for example the title of Chekhov’s ‘A Boring Story’ is probably a misleading translation, for the Russian word would be better translated as ‘wearying’ or ‘desolate.’ Incidentally I notice that Bartlett frequently uses the word ‘boring’ herself in relating Chekhov’s attitude to people who pursue him, gossips, and nuisances in general. He comes over as a rather irritable, short-tempered man, which may of course be attributed to his illness, his many pursuits or his disputes with publishers.
On the whole, though, Bartlertt refutes the general assumption that Chekhov was a thorough-going misanthrope. He was merely selective about making close friends, and when he found one in Alexei Suvorin, an older self-made writer and the owner of New Times, Chekhov was overjoyed, despite the commuting distance and the age differences between them. ‘There was no one he found as thought-provoking, no one who seemed so well-read,’ declares Bartlett, which no doubt goes some way to explain why he found others, by contrast, somewhat ‘boring.’
Chekhov apparently was a prolific letter writer. Bartlett quotes extensively from his letters to reveal his inner thoughts throughout his life. Her description of Chekhov's life is objective and sympathetic, but not reverential.
The main focuses are the humble and humane aspects of his personality and his literary career. But, his exhausting activities as a medical practitioner in the countryside when he lived in Melikhovo, treating poor patients for no fee and getting involved in improvement in public health, are dealt with only briefly. (On the other hand, there is a fair amount of comments on Chekhov's dogs.) I would like to have read a little more on these aspects of the writer's life and career, but we will have to turn to other biographies about these activities.
The last chapter deals with the recent and current situation about the places and buildings associated with the writer. It appears to be rather mixed, particulalrly in the current free-wheeling capitalist era. We just hope that his legacy will be preserved for ever for later generations.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I can confidently recommend it to those who want to better appreciate Chekhov's works which are full of pathos and insight into human conditions.
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