Connecting Through Chekhov


Brendan Mathews appreciates Chekhov for his descriptions of human empathy – or the lack of it:

It’s worth noting that Chekhov’s grandfather was a serf, his father was a hyper-religious tyrant, and he knew from the time he was in his twenties that tuberculosis would cut his life short (he died at 44). He didn’t believe in God or the reward of a joyous afterlife, and yet his stories affirm in ways large and small that the only hope we have lies in our relationships with other people. If the world is hell, it’s because we make it that way; if we are to be happy, it’s only by connecting with the people around us.

In Chekhov’s last play, “The Cherry Orchard,” — bracingly translated by Matthew Henry Heim in Chekhov: The Essential Plays — the young idealist Trofimov lectures his one-time patroness Lyubov Andreevna about her failings in love and money: she is a spendthrift whose estate is about to be auctioned; she has driven herself into debt for the love of a ne’er-do-well. Her response, a scorching indictment of Trofimov’s easy dismissal of all that she has suffered in life, climaxes with this demand: “Show a little generosity!”

Lyubov Andreevna is speaking to Trofimov; Chekhov is speaking to us. This writer who sought objectivity in all of his work and who was blasted by his contemporaries for being apolitical and amoral, condenses into this line a plea to us all. That before we judge, we understand. That we extend to each other the same compassion that we all seek.

(Image of scene from the first production of The Cherry Orchard in 1904 via Wikimedia Commons)