Doctor Chekhov: A Study in Literature and Medicine

Coope, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Mar-04-1999


This is a study of the influence of medicine and medical practice on Chekhov's writing. While the material is presented in a roughly biographical manner, the chapters are thematically organized. In "University Years" the author discusses Chekhov's experience at Moscow University Medical School (1879-1884) and the influence of several of his professors. "Diseases of the Mind" focuses on the play "Ivanov" and several stories that demonstrate Chekhov's keen interest in and understanding of mental disorders, including endogenous depression (Ivanov), neurotic depression or dysthymia (Uncle Vanya), and reactive or exogenous depression(An Attack of Nerves (A Nervous Breakdown)).

The next chapter covers Chekhov's extended trip to Sakhalin Island in 1890. "Tolstoy Versus Science" describes Tolstoy's position that scientific and technical progress lead to moral regression. For several years Chekhov was sympathetic to Tolstoy's ethical position, although he never embraced the older man's opposition to science.

"The Country Doctor" deals with Chekhov's medical and public health work during the years he resided at Melikhovo (1892-1897). The last chapter describes Chekhov's own battle with pulmonary tuberculosis.


What were the interactions in Chekhov's life between medicine, his "lawful wife," and literature, his "mistress"? Some writers have downplayed Chekhov's medical practice, emphasizing his medical sensibility, while minimizing the time he spent on a day-to-day basis seeing patients and doing public health work.

It is true that after the first few years (1884-1890) Chekhov did not accept payment for his medical work. However, the extent of his "dispensary" practice at Melikhovo is well documented. For example, in 1893 he saw 498 patients in 780 visits (p. 113). Much of Chekhov's writing is infused with his medical knowledge, e.g. physician characters, specific diseases, and forms of treatment. More broadly, however, medical sensitivity contributed to his unique blend of keen observation and objective description (detachment), and deep compassion for his characters (engagement).


Cross Publishing

Place Published

Chale, Isle of Wight



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