A historical moment such as ours, when the most visible cohort of the well-educated and well-shod seems to long for its own destruction, was one that Anton Chekhov well understood. In Three Sisters (1901), the baron and lieutenant Tuzenbach feels guilty about his life of ease but cheerfully envisions an age when languid men such as he will be given a proper seeing-to. He exclaims,

A new age is dawning, the people are marching on us all, a powerful, health-giving storm is gathering, it is drawing near, soon it will be upon us, and it will drive away laziness, indifference, the prejudice against labor, and rotten dullness from our society. I shall work, and in twenty-five or thirty years, every man will have to work. Every one!

The baron’s view that, in lieu of changing one’s own unlovely habits, one should hope...


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