Anton Chekhov in 10 quotes by contemporaries

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

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Russia’s main author of short stories and playwrights lived a short life and died at the age of just 44. A doctor by profession and a pedant by character, overall, he was a rather secretive person. Therefore, let us look at what those who knew him personally said about him.

A great number of people have left their memories of meetings with Anton Chekhov. In a new biography titled ‘Chekhov in Life’ (Kolibri publications, 2024), author Igor Sukhikh suggests looking at the personality of the great writer in the genre of documentary montage, having collected hundreds of quotations from Chekhov's contemporaries. Below, we have selected a few of the most vivid ones.

1. About his appearance

"Positive, sober, healthy, he reminded me of Turgenev's Bazarov. 〈...〉 A subtle, inexorable, purely Russian analysis prevailed in his eyes over his entire facial expression. An enemy of sentiment and pompous hobbies, he seemed to hold himself in the mouthpiece of cold irony and enjoyed feeling the ringlet of courage." - Artist Ilya Repin

2. About home life

"None of even his closest people saw him casually dressed; neither did he like the different domestic liberties like slippers, robes and jackets. At eight or nine o'clock, he could already be found walking around the office or at his desk, as always impeccably elegant and modestly dressed." - Writer Alexander Kuprin

3. About sincerity

"I’ll tell you straight, I’ve met people no less sincere than Chekhov, but I don’t remember people with such a degree of simplicity, alien to any affectation. This was not feigned, as with many other cases, but the requirement of the soul, for which any falsity was excruciating." - Critic Mikhail Menshikov

4. About laughter 

"His eyes were beautiful when he laughed - somehow feminine and tenderly soft. And his laughter, almost soundless, was somehow especially good." - Writer Maxim Gorky

5. About his studies at the Medical Faculty

"Chekhov was an exemplary student and, despite the distractions of writing from the very first years, he studied medical sciences with complete success: he attended lectures, carefully visited both clinics and laboratories. After graduating from the Medical Faculty, he did not give up medicine; he worked as a local doctor in Voskresensk and Zvenigorod, Moscow Province and, seven or eight years after graduation, he was in charge of Melikhovo Disctrict, Moscow Province, during the cholera epidemic. He worked with love and conscientiously, as legends say.” - Grigory Rossolimo, a doctor, close friend and classmate of Chekhov.

6. About inspiration

"- Do you know how I write my short stories...? Here."

He looked around the table, picked up the first thing in sight - it turned out to be an ashtray - put it in front of me and said:

- If you want it, there will be a story tomorrow.... The title is ‘The Ashtray’.

And his eyes lit up with joy. It seemed as if some vague images, situations, adventures had already began to swarm over the ashtray, not yet finding their forms, but already with a ready-made humorous spirit." - Writer Vladimir Korolenko

7. About work

"He usually worked in fits and starts when guests were around, but still wrote every day; he would write a little, then break away from work, go to the guests to talk, thensit back down to write again. Sometimes, during lunch, he would suddenly get up from the table, go into his office, jot down a few lines and, returning to the dining room, continue the table conversation." - Writer and journalist Vladimir Gilyarovsky

8. About talent

Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy in Crimea

"Chekhov... Chekhov, you see, was an incomparable artist.... Yes, yes.  Exactly incomparable. An artist of life. And the dignity of his work is that it is understandable and akin not only to every Russian, but to every person, in general." - Leo Tolstoy (recorded by journalist Alexei Zenger)

9. About women’s interest

"I have more than once witnessed the most enthusiastic admiration that Chekhov evoked among charming girls. He would probably have had stunning "success" with ladies from all circles, if it had not been beneath his soul. It was noticeable that Chekhov, like Turgenev, found love difficult. Tasting love, he 'tasted little honey'..." - Critic Mikhail Menshikov

10. About love

Chekhov and his wife Olga Knipper

"Chekhov's intimate life is almost unknown. The published letters do not reveal it. But there is no doubt that it was complex. Undoubtedly, before his late marriage to [actress Olga] Knipper, Chekhov was not only infatuated many times, but also loved "sorrowfully and difficultly". - Journalist Vladimir Posse

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