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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 299–316.       Uncle Vanya: Life in Time (Reception and Interpretation)1 Margarita Odesskaya The  issue  of  the  “beautiful  man,”  quite  relevant  for  those  who  want  to  con-­‐‑ struct  a  future  society,  was  undoubtedly  a  concern  for  Chekhov’s  heroes.  The   setting   of   all   his   works   was   contemporary,   and   thus   his   characters   “lived”   during  the  1880s  and  1890s,  when  the  ideals  of  the  1860s  had  been  exhausted.   We  do  not  know  the  date  of  composition  for  Uncle  Vanya  (Diadia  Vania),  first   published   in   the   collection   Plays   put   out   by   Suvorin’s   publishing   house   in   1897,  but  we  do  know  that  “the  play  emerged  from  a  fundamental  reworking   of   the   comedy   The   Wood   Demon   [Leshii],   completed   sometime   between   1889   and   the   [early]   1890s.”2   The   present   article   explores   the   reception   of   Che-­‐‑ khov’s  play  Uncle  Vanya  by  Marxist  critics  and  journalists  as  well  as  its  inter-­‐‑ pretation   in   the   Soviet   theater   and   in   two   of   the   most   characteristic   post-­‐‑ perestroika  productions  of  recent  years.   In  Soviet  times,  the  words  of  Doctor  Astrov  (“In  a  man  everything  must   be  beautiful:  his  face,  his  clothing,  his  soul,  his  thoughts”;  Works  13:  83)  were   attributed   to   Chekhov   himself,   the   author   of   the   play,   and   were   perceived   almost  as  a  categorical  imperative,  a  moral  legacy  to  a  future  generation.  It   must  be  said  that  the  ideologues  of  Soviet  art,  whose  goal  was  to  create  the   image  of  a  positive  hero  and  the  depiction  of  a  beautiful  future,  had  invented   nothing  new  but  were  rather  using  old  aesthetic  principles,  vulgarizing  them   in  order  to  meet  the  sociopolitical  requirements  of  the  day.  Schiller’s  utopian   concept  of  human  perfection  was  paradoxically  in  keeping  with  Marxist  ide-­‐‑ ology.  Schiller’s  idea  that  man  can  become  more  beautiful,  can  acquire  free-­‐‑ dom  and  spirituality,  if  literature  raises  the  reader  up  to  the  ideal,3  felt  natural   to  the  architects  of  “paradise  on  earth.”  One  of  the  most  important  parts  of                                                                                                                             1  This   article   belongs   to   a   particular   genre   of   work   exploring   problems   of   reception   and  interpretation.  For  another  example,  see  E.  A.  Polotskaia,  “Vishnevyi  sad”:  Zhizn’  vo   vremeni  (Moscow:  Nauka,  2003).   2  See   Chekhov,   Works   13:   387–88.   All   subsequent   references   to   this   edition   will   be   given   in   parentheses   in   the   text,   with   volume   and   page   number   indicated.   Quotes   from  Uncle  Vanya  from  Five  Plays,  trans.  Ronald  Hingley  (Oxford:  Oxford  University   Press,  1988).  Other  translations  by  Angela  Brintlinger  unless  otherwise  specified.   3  See   Friedrich   Schiller,   “Naive   and   Sentimental   Poetry”   (1795),   in   Naive   and   Senti-­‐‑ mental  Poetry  and  On  the  Sublime:  Two  Essays,  trans.  Julius  A.  Elias  (New  York:  Ungar   Publishing  Co.,  1966),  81–190.   300 MARGARITA ODESSKAYA the   project   of   constructing   a   communist   society   was   the   creation   of   a   new   man,  a  person  who  developed  in  a  harmonious  fashion—physically,  morally,   spiritually,  and  ideologically.  The  goal  of  educating  the  new  man  fell  to  art   and,  first  and  foremost,  to  literature.   In  looking  at  Uncle  Vanya  in  the  twentieth  century,  a  number  of  questions   arise.  On  what  did  Maxim  Gorky  and  the  Marxists  base  their  reception  of  the   play?  How  did  Soviet  directors’  interpretation  of  the  play  change  over  time?   How   is   the   play   treated   today   in   post-­‐‑perestroika   theater?   To   answer   these   questions,  I  draw  on  articles  by  Marxist  critics  and  ideologues,  Anton  Che-­‐‑ khov  and  Maxim  Gorky’s  correspondence,  and  newspaper  reviews  of  Soviet   productions.   I   will   also   share   my   own   impressions   of   the   plays   of   Russian   director  Rimas  Tuminas  at  the  Moscow  Vakhtangov  Theater  and  the  Ameri-­‐‑ can  director  Andrei  Shcherban  at  the  Alexandrinsky  Theater  in  St.  Petersburg.   Let  us  first  look  at  Chekhov’s  play  and  try  to  explain  what  Doctor  Astrov,   expressing  himself  in  an  almost  aphoristic  form,  really  meant.   In  our  view  it  is  no  accident  that  the  statement  belongs  to  the  doctor,  with   his   educational   background   in   the   natural   sciences.   His   dreams   about   the   gradual  changes  of  life  on  this  earth  and  the  creative  activity  of  man,  nature’s   most  developed  creature,  echo  the  late  nineteenth-­‐‑century  popular  theories  of   Herbert  Spencer  and  Henry  Thomas  Buckle,  English  philosophers  and  histo-­‐‑ rians  who  were  proponents  of  biological  and  geographical  determinism.  Ac-­‐‑ cording  to  Buckle,  external  phenomena  affect  the  human  soul  and  the  human   soul  affects  external  phenomena  in  a  reciprocal  fashion.4  These  external,  phy-­‐‑ sical  effects  include  the  influence  of  climate,  food,  soil,  and  landscape.5  The   doctor,  who  dreams  about  a  perfect  life,  unites  in  his...


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