This week’s destination: Russia

This week we travelled to Russia for our

international literature event series. There’s plenty of incredible literature
to be found in this massive expanse of land with my personal favourite (maybe
because I chose to study him for 12 weeks, maybe not) being Chekhov.

Chekhov interrogated much of the
bourgeoisies’ attitude towards ‘peasant work’. Many of his characters are well
off yet hunger for something earthy and grounded and believe hard labour will
save them from their internal failings. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t ever work out
the way they want it to.

Chekhov wasn’t just a man of politics
however. His complex depictions of love showed how in tune he was with emotion
and feeling in an often-restricted era of living. While he imagined many
scenarios of lovers wrong and right it didn’t stop his personal life from
coming to the surface. The Seagull, probably his most well-known work, brought
together him and his wife as his characters frustrations were suspected to
bleed into his own.

I phrase it this way for a specific reason.
Chekhov’s characters have an effervescence to them whereby they swing from
extremes yet inhabit many quiet moments with the playwright’s sterling wit.
Their feeling of humanness, with desires and hopes and fears so tangible they
evoke sympathy and despair in any audience, makes them become living breathing

Chekhov’s wife played Nina, the promising
actress, in the very first production of The Seagull. This too real connection
of woman to character and from man to play lets us imagine the lived experience
of Chekhov coming to him following it’s staging. Seeing part of yourself being
played on stage can only ever be a surreal experience and mapping out what is,
in essence, a tragedy to your life, night after night must have been an
emotional experience for both husband and wife.

The couple survived together for many years
following The Seagull unlike Chekhov’s characters in the play. While my take on
this is of course based on speculation and projection, in the end, this is what
Chekhov himself did. Does art imitate life and vice versa? I don’t think he’d
tell. He’d let us figure it out on our own.