Donald Rayfield

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Anton Chekhov. A Life

Rayfield, Donald

Last Updated: Jul-16-1998
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography


This is the most detailed and comprehensive biography of Anton P. Chekhov written to date. Rayfield is a Chekhov scholar who published an earlier biography of the writer in 1975. There are numerous biographies of Chekhov available. In the Preface to this book, Rayfield explains why he wrote it. Chekhov's life is documented by a vast amount of archival material, much of which was unavailable to Western scholars in the past. Russian scholars have studied these sources extensively, but the studies they have published use only a small part of the material. Rayfield's own study convinced him that by drawing liberally from these archives he could write a new biography that would increase our understanding of Chekhov's life and character.

Rayfield's approach is strictly chronological. The book consists of 84 short chapters, each one named and subtitled with the period covered (e.g. July - August 1894). Rayfield sticks closely to the texts, developing a rather staccato style that is heavy on factual statements and light on his own interpretations. He also chooses not to discuss Chekhov's writings as such, except to present brief summaries of the plays and some of the more important stories, and to indicate relationships between Chekhov's life and his art.

The new material gives us a much better view of the day-to-day texture of Chekhov's life, his interactions with family and friends, and his interesting and enigmatic relationships with women. The book also includes a helpful diagram of the Chekhov family tree, two maps of Chekhov's country, and many photographs.

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