- Chekhov for the 21st Century Edited by Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger
The works of Anton Chekhov are still vital and alive over 150 years after his birth, and their impact is still felt strongly both in his native Russia and the English-speaking world. This superb collection features essays written by twenty-one Chekhov scholars, many of them participants in a 2010 meeting of the North American Chekhov Society. The authors are both Russian and Western scholars, and their essays approach Chekhov’s life and works from the five perspectives that encompass the major sections of the book: “Space,” “Time,” “Person,” “Word,” and “Transpositions.” With enough new and accessible material to interest both casual Russophiles and theatre scholars, Chekhov for the 21st Century provides a new and engaging explication of Chekhov’s central position in contemporary literary and theatrical discourse, a position that has become stronger even as the field has moved further away from the author’s own era. [End Page 492]
The contents of Chekhov for the 21st Century are varied, and editors Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger have succeeded in placing the various perspectives into context with their introductions. The editors argue that Chekhov’s very accessibility has opened up his works to readers and players in a variety of contexts undreamt of by the author, and this collection celebrates both the breadth of Chekhov’s influence, and the depths of his literary output (2). The essays here read like Chekhov’s own work—simple on their face, but deeply nuanced and meaningful in their assessment of the author’s works and influence. They are both articulate and communicative, and together they provide a deeply informed perspective on Chekhov, particularly for “new generations of readers” who may be studying him in depth or the first time (ibid.). “Part I: Space” features three essays examining Chekhov’s uses of space in his literature. Vladimir Katai’s “Circuses and Cemeteries” demonstrates how Chekhov’s uses of these highly charged spaces in The Cherry Orchard are embodied by the former circus performer Sharlotta performing in the cemetery during act 2. Katai’s essay provides a fresh look at the oft-noted mix of the serious and comic throughout Chekhov, particularly in the juxtaposition of these two titular spaces in his other works.
In an attempt to communicate both the “individual and universal significance” of Chekhov’s works, the editors lead us along a number of paths, all of which begin with the texts themselves (ibid.). Two of the essays in “Part II: Time” deal directly with Chekhov’s drama: “Being as Event” by Svetlana Evdokimova, and Anatoly Sobennikov’s “Classical Ideas of Fate.” Evdokimova examines the existentialist nature of The Three Sisters by interpreting the play in the light of Martin Heidegger’s concept of dasein, or “being.” She finds that Chekhov’s play becomes a kind of “practical philosophy” (78), primarily through his use of time, philosophical inquiry, and experience. Sobennikov argues that Chekhov’s characters experience fate in a manner akin to the dramatic characters from ancient Greece—that is, they accept their fate at the end of the play (87).
“Part III: Person” leads off with Michael Finke’s “From Poetics to Metapoetics in Chekhov’s ‘The Kiss.’” He examines Chekhov’s 1887 story “The Kiss” as a vital turning point in Chekhov’s developing use of narrative structure. In Galina Rylkova’s “Reading Chekhov Through Meyerhold’s Eyes,” the author argues that the trajectory of Meyerhold’s creative life was shaped by his acting of the role of Treplev in the original MAT production of The Seagull (149). Rylkova’s narrative is a mix of biography, history, and interpretation that demonstrates how Meyerhold’s artistic journey mirrors Treplev’s quest for new forms in his writing. “Part IV: Word” contains three essays examining the ways that Chekhov manipulates language in his writing, balancing between the poetic and the dramatic.
The last section of Chekhov for the 21st Century is most likely to be of interest to theatre scholars and practitioners. Ronald...