restricted access 3. Sunrise and the 'Tearful' Art of Chekhov
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Ill Sunrise and the 'Tearful* Art of Chekhov THE INTERI M year s betwee n Thunderstorm (1933 ) an d Sunrise (1936 ) were mos t beneficia l t o th e progres s o f Ts'a o Yii' s artistry , fo r i n these thre e year s h e ha d graduall y becom e awar e o f th e limitatio n o f his own craf t a s represented i n Thunderstorm. T hav e recentl y becom e more an d mor e disappointed—t o th e poin t o f nausea—wit h Thunderstorm \ h e confessed in his Postscript to Sunrise, ' I find it s structure to o "theatrical", a resul t o f m y over-dependenc e o n th e magi c o f stag e tricks'.1 Sunrisey then , presumabl y denote s Ts'a o Yii' s consciou s effor t t o reject th e mechanica l techniqu e o f th e well-mad e plays . N o longe r a follower o f Scribe, he is now drawn to the 'tearfu l drama ' o f Chekhov: 2 I stil l ca n remembe r ho w I wa s carrie d awa y a fe w year s ag o b y th e profundit y o f Chekhov's art; how I had closed my eyes, after readin g The Three Sisters, an d a pictur e of autumna l sadnes s emerge d befor e me . I sa w i n m y eye s the three sisters—Masha , Irina, and Olga—huddle d togethe r befor e th e window, with moistened sorro w in thei r big eyes , listenin g t o th e cheerfu l marc h playe d fro m a distance; an d a s th e cheerfu l notes o f th e musi c graduall y fade d away , I sa w Olga , th e oldes t o f th e three , kep t murmuring t o herself, a s if mourning fo r th e dreariness of her life, the futilit y o f hop e and th e monoton y o f existenc e . . . then tear s bega n t o well up i n m y eye s an d I wa s no longer abl e to lift up ' myiiead.3 Whether The Three Sisters ca n b e rea d a s a dram a o f sadnes s an d despair a s th e abov e comment s see m t o sugges t i s a questio n t o b e 1 Ts'a o Yii , Postscript , Sunrise (Shanghai , 1936) , p . xiv . 2 David Magarshac k note s tha t Chekho v resente d th e fac t tha t hi s comedies , The Cherry Orchard fo r one , wer e s o ofte n misrepresente d a s tragedy durin g hi s lifetime . In a reply to a telegram from Nemirovick-Danchenk o who complained tha t ther e wer e too many 'weepin g characters' in the play, Chekhov answered: 'Wher e ar e they? Ther e is only one such character—Varya , bu t tha t i s because sh e is a cry-baby by nature an d her tear s ough t no t t o arous e any feeling s o f gloom i n the audience . I ofte n pu t dow n "through tears" in my stage directions, but that shows only the mood o f the character s and not tears'. Quoted by David Magarshack, Chekhov the Dramatist (Ne w York, i960) , p. 274 . 3 Ibid. Ts'ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 2 9 considered late r i n a mor e fittin g context . Wha t i s importan t i n thi s statement i s tha t i t signifies a turnin g poin t i n th e artisti c concep t o f Ts'ao Yii. That h e should have singled out The Three Sisters as an object for admiratio n an d emulatio n is in itself a n example of improving taste . For The Three Sisters, bein g one of the four last plays that David Magar shack classifie s a s 'plays of indirect action',4 has little on the surface fo r a ma n o f suc h dissimila r sentiment s...


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