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By Joseph Glantz


Anton Chekov
​Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (Анто́н Па́влович Че́хов) (29 January 1860 – 15 July 1904) (Old Style: 17 January 1860 – 2 July 1904) was a major Russian short story writer and playwright. Mr. Checkhov’s stories were notable for their ability to get past the Russian censors while being critical of Russia’s leaders. His plays have been produced throughout the world.

Did you make a lot of friends when you were alive?
Each of us is full of too many wheels, screws and valves to permit us to judge one another on a first impression or by two or three external signs. (Ivanov, Act III, sc. Vi; 1887)

Yes, but do we really know our friends?
While you’re playing cards with a regular guy or having a bite to eat with him, he seems a peaceable, good-humoured and not entirely dense person. But just begin a conversation with him about something inedible, politics or science, for instance, and he ends up in a dead end or starts in on such an obtuse and base philosophy that you can only wave your hand and leave. (Ionych; 1898)

So do you catch up with your friends at class reunions?
Dear, sweet, unforgettable childhood! Why does this irrevocable time, forever departed, seem brighter, more festive and richer than it actually was? (The Bishop; 1902)

 And were your friends cheery or gloomy-gusses?
The unhappy are egotistical, base, unjust, cruel, and even less capable of understanding one another than are idiots. Unhappiness does not unite people, but separates them. (Enemies; 1887)

The pleasures of family?
It’s even pleasant to be sick when you know that there are people who await your recovery as they might await a holiday. (The Story of an Unknown Man)

The legal profession?
One can prove or refute anything at all with words. Soon people will perfect language technology to such an extent that they’ll be proving with mathematical precision that twice two is seven. (Lights)

Can you put a positive spin on the legal profession?
It’s immoral to steal, but you can take things. (Out Beggary)
The problem with the Affordable Care Act? It is unfortunate that we try to solve the simplest questions cleverly, and therefore make them unusually complicated. We should seek a simple solution. (Notebook)

Of course politics is an interesting and engrossing thing. It offers no immutable laws, nearly always prevaricates, but as far as blather and sharpening the mind go, it provides inexhaustible material. (Letter to A.S. Suvorin; January 4, 1889)

Are sports just for the proletariat?
Sports are positively essential. It is healthy to engage in sports, they are beautiful and liberal, liberal in the sense that nothing serves quite as well to integrate social classes, etc., than street or public games. (Letter to A.S. Suvorin; March 16, 1895)

How do you cope when your football team loses on Monday night?
There is no Monday which will not give its place to Tuesday (Notebook)

Here's an easy one. What’s the meaning of life?
You ask “What is life?” That is the same as asking “What is a carrot?” A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more. (Letter to his wife, Olga Knipper Chekhov; April 20, 1904)

Anything else?
When a person is born, he can embark on only one of three roads of life: if you go right, the wolves will eat you; if you go left, you’ll eat the wolves; if you go straight, you’ll eat yourself. (Fatherless, Act I, sc. Xiv)

What was the worst thing about Russia?
In countries where there is a mild climate, less effort is expended on the struggle with nature and man is kinder and more gentle. (Act I –Uncle Vanya; 1897)

Did you ever try to get away for the weekend?
He is no longer a city dweller who has even once in his life caught a ruff or seen how, on clear and cool autumn days, flocks of migrating thrushes drift over a village. Until his death he will be drawn to freedom (Gooseberries; 1898)

How about outside the country?
Without a knowledge of languages you feel as if you don’t have a passport. (Letter to A.S. Suvorin; November 1889)
And did you travel by boat or carriage?
He who constantly swims in the ocean loves dry land. (Letter to E.M. Shavrova; September 16, 1891)

You were known for turning a phrase in your plays and stories. Let’s try a few thoughts about writing?
How did you come up with your ideas?
I try to catch every sentence, every word you and I say, and quickly lock all these sentences and words away in my literary storehouse because they might come in handy. (Act II – The Seagull; 1896)

Again, friends or family?
Narrative prose is a legal wife, while drama is a posturing, boisterous, cheeky and wearisome mistress. (Letter to A.N. Pleshchee; January 15, 1889)

Umberto Eco was known for keeping all his books and manuscripts and buying new homes for them?
Dear and most respected bookcase! I welcome your existence, which has for over one hundred years been devoted to the radiant ideals of goodness and justice. (Cherry Orchard - Act I; 1904)

So critics? Yeah or nay?
Despite your best efforts, you could not invent a better police force for literature than criticism and the author’s own conscience. (Letter to M.V. Kiseleva; January 14, 1887)

Did you make lots of money off your writings?
I don’t care for success. The ideas sitting in my head are annoyed by, and envious of, that which I’ve already written. (Letter to A.S. Suvorin; October 27, 1888)

And were you an eccentric?
The person who wants nothing, hopes for nothing, and fears nothing can never be an artist. (Letter to A.S. Suvorin; November 25, 1892)

Medical advice?
If there's any illness for which people offer many remedies, you may be sure that particular illness is incurable, I think. (Cherry Orchard - Act I)

Any advice for us mortals?
Death is terrible, but still more terrible is the feeling that you might live forever and never die. (Notebook)

What do we have to look forward to?
In two or three hundred years life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, astounding. Man needs such a life and if it hasn’t yet appeared, he should begin to anticipate it, wait for it, dream about it, prepare for it. To achieve this, he has to see and know more than did his grandfather and father. (Act I – Three Sisters; 1901)

And why we shouldn’t worry about the endgame?
Death can only be profitable: there’s no need to eat, drink, pay taxes, offend people, and since a person lies in a grave for hundreds or thousands of years, if you count it up the profit turns out to be enormous. (Rothschild’s Fiddle; 1894).

Thanks Anton. By the way, ever see George Washington hanging around your Cherry Orchard?

Copyright 2016 Joseph Glantz