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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 31–48.       Chekhov’s The Duel, or How to Colonize Responsibly* Edyta Bojanowska In  1890,  Anton  Chekhov  undertook  an  arduous  and  risky  journey  to  the  is-­‐‑ land  of  Sakhalin,  the  site  of  a  notorious  prison  camp,  in  the  farthest  eastern   reaches  of  the  Russian  Empire  north  of  Japan.  Many  accounts  of  Chekhov’s   motives  for  the  journey  stress  his  interest  in  the  workings  of  a  prison  system.1   Yet  one  key  factor  has  slipped  out  of  view.  When  explaining  his  decision  to   his  friend  and  editor  Alexei  Suvorin,  Chekhov  writes:  “Except  for  Australia  in   the  past,  and  Cayenne,  Sakhalin  is  the  only  place  where  one  can  study  coloni-­‐‑ zation  by  criminals.”2  This  formulation  stresses  Chekhov’s  overarching  inter-­‐‑ est  in  a  particular  method  of  colonization  and  only  secondarily  in  the  crimi-­‐‑ nals.   Indeed,   the   book   that   resulted   from   the   expedition,   Sakhalin   Island   (Ostrov  Sakhalin,  1895),  shows  that  for  Chekhov,  Sakhalin  was  a  test  of  wheth-­‐‑ er  Russia  was  a  European  empire  with  a  cogent  civilizing  mission,  able  to  col-­‐‑ onize   its   vast   territories.   This   problem   held   moral   and   political   significance   for  Chekhov.  Sakhalin,  he  writes  to  Suvorin,  can  be  devoid  of  interest  only  for   a  society  that  “does  not  deport  thousands  of  people  to  Sakhalin  at  a  cost  of   millions”  (dlia  togo  obshchestva,  kotoroe  ne  ssylaet  na  nego  tysiаchi  liudei  i   ne  tratit  na  nego  millionov;  Letters  4:  31).  Chekhov  arraigns  all  of  Russian  so-­‐‑ ciety  for  the  barbaric  conditions  on  Sakhalin.  As  his  letters  show,  he  sets  out   for  Sakhalin  full  of  the  worst  presentiments,  key  among  them  a  suspicion  that                                                                                                                             In  writing  this  article,  I  have  been  helped,  corrected,  and  inspired  by  my  colleagues   Jonathan  Bolton,  Giorgio  DiMauro,  Kelly  O’Neill,  and  Cathy  Popkin,  and  by  my  grad-­‐‑ uate  students  Tara  Coleman,  Vivian  Kao,  and  Matthew  Mangold.  My  heartfelt  thanks   to  them  all.   1  For  a  quick  overview  of  explanations,  see  James  N.  Loehlin,  The  Cambridge  Introduc-­‐‑ tion  to  Chekhov  (New  York:  Cambridge  University  Press,  2010),  9.     2  “После  Австралии  в  прошлом  и  Кейены  Сахалин  –  это  единственное  место,  где   можно  изучать  колонизацию  из  преступников“  (letter  to  A.  S.  Suvorin  of  9  March   1890;  Letters  4:  32).  Cayenne,  in  French  Guiana,  was  used  as  a  penal  colony  from  1854   to  1938.  All  translations  of  shorter  quotes  are  mine.  Longer,  indented  quotations  from   The  Duel  are  taken  from  the  English  translation  by  Richard  Pevear  and  Larissa  Volo-­‐‑ khonsky:  Anton  Chekhov,  Complete  Short  Novels  (New  York:  Vintage,  2004),  hereafter   “PV.”  My  emendations  of  PV  are  noted  in  square  brackets.  For  the  convenience  of  the   non-­‐‑Russian-­‐‑speaking   reader,   I   supply   the   corresponding   page   numbers   to   the   PV   translation  when  citing  from  Works.—E.B.   32 EDYTA BOJANOWSKA Christian  civilization,  in  the  name  of  which  Russian  imperial  expansion  osten-­‐‑ sibly  proceeded,  was  a  cover-­‐‑up  for  brutal  exploitation  and  for  the  reality  of   an  astounding  failure.     Judging   by   his   book,   massive   imperial   mismanagement   is   indeed   what   Chekhov   found.   Sakhalin   Island   shows   Russia’s   efforts   to   colonize   Sakhalin   through  a  system  of  penal  servitude  to  be  ill-­‐‑conceived,  spectacularly  unin-­‐‑ formed,  wasteful,  and  botched.  Chekhov  finds  that  Sakhalin’s  severe  climate   is  too  formidable  for  the  Russian  agricultural  settler.  The  “randomly  assem-­‐‑ bled  rabble”  of  Sakhalin’s  multiethnic  population  does  not  coalesce  into  a  via-­‐‑ ble  society.  The  native  Gilyak  and  Ainu  are  nearly  wiped  out,  the  smallpox   imported  by  the  Russians  being  as  deadly  for  them  as  for  the  Native  Ameri-­‐‑ cans.  The  Russian  administration  uses  the  Gilyaks  as  “hired  killers”  in  the  de-­‐‑ humanizing   machine   of   the   Russian   penal   system,   teaching   them   that   Rus-­‐‑ sianness   means   violence   and   vodka.   “If   Russification   is   really   necessary,”   Chekhov  dispiritingly  avers,  “the  natives’  needs  must  take  precedence  over   ours.”3     Yet   despite   this   depressing   picture   of   Russia’s   “colonization   by   crimi-­‐‑ nals,”  Chekhov  is  not  opposed  to  the  idea  of  empire—in  Asia,  or  anywhere   else  for  that  matter.  The  chief  argument  of  Sakhalin  Island  is  that  colonization   by  criminals  does  not  work  and  that  Russia  must  use  its  imperial  bounty  more   wisely.   The   Mauka   settlement,   in   south   Sakhalin,   which   achieved   relative   prosperity  through  harvesting  of  seakale  and  trade  with  the  Chinese,  shows   that   voluntary   colonization   can   achieve   positive   results.4   But   in   order   to   be   successful,  colonization  must  involve  the  possibility  of  a  decent  life  and  finan-­‐‑ cial  gain  for  the  settler.     Chekhov  felt  that  the  journey  to  Sakhalin  was  a  stark  caesura  in  his  life.   He  commented  that  in  its  aftermath  everything  “was  sakhalined  through  and   through”  (vse  prosakhalineno).5  This...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780893578923
Related ISBN
9780893573928
MARC Record
OCLC
859687104
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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