Anton Chekhov and how he became known as the “Great Artist”


Anton Chekov's Works in Russian

Anton Chekov’s Works in Russian

Anton Chekhov’s artistic vocation sprung from his longing to be heard, and remembered.  More importantly, he wrote for the people, who were also capable of change, he said, “I believe in particular people, I see salvation in particular personalities, scattered here and there throughout the whole of Russia- whether they are intellectuals or peasants, and there is strength in them, though they are few.”

Chekhov liked to toy with the idea of whether or not he was a true artist, as great artists always do.  In a letter to Alexei Pleshcheyev, he says, “My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom…this is the program to which I would adhere were I a great artist.”

Chekhov found solace in his art, and he used his experience in the medical field to fuel his creativity.  He was known for charging very little for his services, and sometimes nothing at all, this kind of generosity found itself in the company of people from all walks of life, people who soon became muses for the many colorful Chekhovian characters.    Specifically Masha, who represented the soul of Three Sisters. Masha was first played by Chekhov’s wife, Olga Knipper.

Casting Masha as the jaded sloth that many portray her as is a complete opposition to the spirit she represents.  Dressed in all black, Masha does experience grief.  She is not complacent in her grief though, instead she is in constant reflection, in constant yearning for an exciting love.

Even though Masha begins a love affair with the lieutenant Vershinin, she is the most honest character in the whole play.  She doesn’t follow any Western idea of love, nor does she flounder.  Somewhat reserved, quick to snap, easily moved, she cannot be categorized. This is why she is exacerbated by her husband, the teacher, who is constantly described as “nice” and “boring.”

Chekhov had a very beautiful correspondence with Olga Knipper, and Masha was specifically written with her in mind.  Olga Knipper  too spoke three languages, played the piano, and was an enigmatic human being; a true talent with a mind of her own.

In the very last scene, while all three mourn together for each other and their individual losses, it is surprisingly Masha first to speak, in the shortest amount of words, with the greatest amount of hope, “Listen, how the music is playing! They are going away from us, one of them has already gone, gone forever, and we are left here alone to start our lives again. We must go on living… We must go on living…”  The spirit that Masha embodies keeps the play alive, and so it seems that Olga Knipper kept Anton Chekhov alive, with her ever-changing, ever-passionate-rebellious love, he found his great artist.