For three-fourths of this century we got so poor and tired and lost all hope that many are now helpless and resigned, and sometimes we think only heaven’s intervention can help us.

—A Chekhovian voice speaking of Russia

Anton Chekhov wrote Ivanov, his first produced full-length play, in the fall of 1887 when he was twenty-seven. As he says in a letter to his brother, “I wrote the play by chance, after a single conversation with Korsh [a friend who owned a theater in Moscow]. I took two weeks over it or, more truly, ten days.” The Moscow premiere, as described by Chekhov to his brother, was a comedy of errors: he sat “in a tiny box like a prisoner’s cell,” and listened to the actors forget or reword almost all his lines. “Every word cuts me like a knife in my back. But—O Muse!—this act is also a success. . . . I am congratulated on...


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