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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 79–87.       Classical Ideas of Fate in Chekhov’s Dramaturgy Anatoly Sobennikov The  concept  of  fate  plays  a  very  particular  role  in  the  philosophical  content  of   Chekhov’s   plays.1   In   the   texts   themselves   it   is   mentioned   infrequently.   In   Uncle  Vanya,  for  example,  Sonya  says:  “We  shall  bear  patiently  the  trials  fate   has  in  store  for  us”  (Plays  167).2  In  the  first  act  of  The  Three  Sisters,  Vershinin   says:   “Yes,   we’ll   be   forgotten.   Such   is   our   fate,   and   we   can’t   do   anything   about  it”  (Plays  179).3  However,  the  significance  of  this  concept  is  not  defined   by  the  frequency  with  which  the  characters  mention  it.  Rather,  its  importance   is  determined  by  the  specific  relationship  between  human  life  and  time  that   represents   Chekhov’s   artistic   gnosis.   As   one   contemporary   philosopher   has   noted:  “The  alchemy  of  art  is  the  transformation  of  life  into  fate.”4   How   does   this   process   of   transformation   of   life   into   fate   happen   in   Chekhov’s  plays?  First  and  foremost,  the  actions  of  individual  characters  re-­‐‑ treat  to  the  periphery,  and  the  characters’  efforts  to  change  something  in  their   lives   have   no   result.   In   The   Seagull   Masha   gets   married   in   order   to   forget   Treplev  (“I  simply  decided  to  wrench  this  love  out  of  my  heart  and  uproot  it”;   Plays  92).5  However,  even  in  the  fourth  act  she  still  loves  Konstantin.  Treplev   can  kill  a  seagull  and  place  it  at  the  feet  of  the  girl  he  loves,  stand  under  her   window  like  a  beggar,  tear  up  her  letters  and  photographs,  and  declare  his   love.  But  Nina  Zarechnaya  doesn’t  love  him;  she  loves  Trigorin.  Nina  Zarech-­‐‑ naya  also  takes  action;  she  moves  away  to  Moscow  and  becomes  an  actress.   But   her   destiny   is   to   act   before   an   audience   of   “the   more   educated   local                                                                                                                             1  This   article   first   appeared   as   “Dramaturgiia   Chekhova   v   svete   antichnykh   pred-­‐‑ stavlenii   o   roke,”   in   Sud’ba   zhanra   v   literaturnom   protsesse:   Sbornik   nauchnykh   statei   (Irkutsk:  Irkutskii  gosudarstvennyi  universitet,  1996),  157–65.   2  The  English  texts  used  are  from  Chekhov,  Five  Plays,  trans.  Ronald  Hingley  (Oxford:   Oxford  University  Press,  1988),  cited  parenthetically  in  the  text  as  Plays  followed  by   the  page  number.  (“Будем  терпеливо  сносить  испытания,  какие  пошлёт  нам  судь-­‐‑ ба”;  Works  13:  115).  Uncredited  translations  from  the  Russian  are  by  the  translator  of   this  article.—A.K.B.     3  “Да.  Забудут.  Такова  уж  судьба  наша,  ничего  не  поделаешь”  (Works  13:  128).   4  M.  Epshtein,  “Postupok  i  proisshestvie:  K  teorii  sud’by,”  Voprosy  filosofii,  no.  9  (2000):   68.   5  “Вот   взяла   и   решила:   вырву   эту   любовь   из   своего   сердца,   с   корнем   вырву”   (Works  13:  33).   80 ANATOLY SOBENNIKOV businessmen”   (Plays   113)—in   the   provinces.   In   Uncle   Vanya   the   characters’   will,  the  efforts  that  they  make,  are  all  in  vain.  Serebryakov  wanted  to  sell  the   estate,   but   it   remains   unsold.   Astrov   wanted   to   arrange   a   rendezvous   with   Elena  Andreevna  in  his  forest  lodge,  but  it  does  not  occur.  Voinitsky’s  shot   does  not  change  anything  in  the  hero’s  fate;  even  his  relationship  with  Sere-­‐‑ bryakov  remains  unchanged.  In  the  words  of  the  play’s  author,  “after  all,  a   shot  is  not  a  drama,  it  is  an  occurrence,”6  which  is  to  say  it  does  not  follow   from  the  logic  of  the  character  or  of  the  situation.   In  Chekhov,  the  action  which  should  be  fate-­‐‑changing  loses  its  status.  In   the   fourth   act   of   The   Three   Sisters,   Baron   Tuzenbakh   retires   and   resigns   his   commission,  but  he  might  as  well  not  have  bothered,  since  in  the  second  act   Solyony  had  declared:  “By  God  I  mean  it,  if  there’s  anybody  else  I’ll  kill  him”   (Plays  205).7  The  hero’s  death  is  explained  not  by  his  action,  not  by  the  strict   laws  of  reason  and  consequences,  but  by  an  existential  situation:  his  love  for   Irina.   In   The   Cherry   Orchard,   all   efforts   to   save   the   estate   are   bound   to   fail.   Gaev  says  to  Anya  in  the  first  act:  “I  give  you  my  word  of  honour,  I  swear  by   anything  you  like,  this  estate  isn’t  going  to  be  sold”  (Plays  256).8  But  neither   Lopakhin,  nor  the  Yaroslavl  grandmother,  nor  a  mortgage  loan  can  help  Gaev   and  Ranevskaya.  In  the  first  act,  we  learn  that  the  auction  is  set  for  22  August,   and   it   is   on   this   very   day   that   Lopakhin   buys   the   estate,   in   his   words  “the   most  beautiful  thing  on  earth.”     One   of   the   motifs   connected   to   the   philosopheme   of   fate   that   runs   through  Chekhov  is  the  distance  between  the  existential  expectations  of  an  in-­‐‑ dividual  and  what  life  has  to  offer.  The  classic  example  is  the  sisters...


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