“There are two kinds of revolutionary writers: Those who create something new. What’s new gets old. And there are those whose works are one of a kind. Such is Chekhov.”
Angelos Terzakis, greek writer
Chekhov A. (1986), The Seagull – Uncle Vanya – A Marriage Proposal – The Bear, Athens: Dodoni, Translated by: Likourgos Kallergis (Volume I)
Chekhov’s fourth multiact play, Uncle Vanya (Дядя Ваня), was written in 1897, ten years after his first attempt to capture scenes from country life, since it was based on his earlier work The Wood Demon (Леший, 1889) that was never performed on stage. He made some quite significant changes over those ten years: he erased both a suicide and about a dozen characters, even changed the story’s ending. A linear story, with no fluctuations and a fruitless pseudo-climax not long before curtain.
The scene is laid on a countryside farm where Uncle Vanya, his mother Maria Vasilyevna and his niece, motherless Sonya, live. Astrov, the province’s doctor, visits them from time to time and discourses with his friend, Vanya, about life in province. Sonya’s father’s arrival, retired professor Serebryakov, alongside his young and beautiful wife, Yelena, unsettles the residents. The bourgeois visitors make waves by imposing their habits, while Yelena’s presence does not go unnoticed, since she fascinates both men and surfaces their innermost concerns.
Almost every character worries that their life went to waste. Uncle Vanya, enchanted by Serebryakov’s knowledge, basically spent all his youth working hard in order to financially support him, just to finally realise that the professor is not the intellectual everyone thought he was. Astrov devoted his whole life to his patients and now feels unable to love, estranged from everyone else, including himself. And the women? Yelena married Serebryakov thinking she was really in love with him, just to end up ten years later in an unhappy relationship, Sonya is in love with Astrov, who ignores her so much, that he has not even realised her feelings for him and mother Maria, a widow for long, spends her time reading flyers.
In 1897, Chekhov writes about people who are deeply disappointed from life but still prefer to preserve their tragic everyday life, rather than try to change it. Everyone blames each other and refuses to accept their responsibilities. There’s only one apology in this whole play (during one of its brightest moments) and not a single “thank you”. A bitter, tragicomic play, which tells eternal truths.
Chekhov, perceptive as he was, expresses all his worries about the effects of industrialization through Astrov’s and Sonya’s mouths. Shocking monologues describe the destruction of Russian forests and all the dangers lurking around the industrialization of rural areas. This is a play written 120 years ago but is as modern as possible.
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