ANTON CHEKHOV by Donald Rayfield


A Life
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 Short on literary and historical perspective, Rayfield's exhaustive work nevertheless will be the definitive biography of Chekhov the private and family man. Rayfield, an established Chekhov scholar (Univ. of London), approached this project with a specific agenda: to offer an account specifically of his private life. Within this scope, Rayfield's goal is to provide a picture of Chekhov more complex than that suggested by other biographers or by the incomplete archival materials previously available. The cumulative impact of its 700 pages confirms Rayfield's claim that ``the complexity, selflessness and depth of the man become even clearer when we fully account for his human strengths and failings.'' This is a biography full of surprises. Although it is peppered with famous and colorful personalities such as the writers Gorky, Tolstoy, and Bunin, as well as figures from Russia's publishing and theater worlds, it is Chekhov's family members who make the most lasting impression: the tyrannical father, the bohemian and unreliable brothers, the dependent and jealous younger sister. The unexpected pleasure of Rayfield's biography is that the bountiful, sometimes overwhelming detail of Chekhov's private life--his own and his four siblings' habits, careers, movements, and finances--provide a fascinating and intimate look at this tendentious, temperamental family. As the extent to which Anton was his family's pivotal emotional figure and provider becomes clearer, one senses the value of Rayfield's endless evidence of financial arrangements, constant changes of domicile, and Anton's various real-estate adventures and debacles. The book suffers stylistically from too many mere listings. Still, Rayfield conveys what he succinctly states at the outset: Chekhov's life is, ``above all, a life enthralling for its own sake.'' Some may take issue with Rayfield's Joe Friday (``Just the facts, ma'am'') approach, but it will be difficult to fault or outdo his meticulous research. (24 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5747-1
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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