Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chekov / Ivanov

I like Chekov's plays because they tend to be vague and resist easy discussion. Ivanov was his first notable play, and concerns an angst-ridden government official, his dying wife and other assorted woes. Actually, the dying wife isn' much of a woe because he no longer loves her and her death allows him to marry the daughter of a friend. What's clear is that Nicholas is entirely self-centered, but obsessed with his own inadequacy including his selfishness. He describes his life as a void, saying he once worked hard and did not feel tired but now he "[does] nothing and think[s] of nothing" but is tired in "body and soul." A sense of tiredness and boredom pervades the whole play. The second act is a dinner party that involves primarily a group of old ladies talking about Nicholas and others behind their backs while complaining about their boredom, while a waiter perpetually fails to bring requested refreshments. Even the comedic figue of Kosykh, who tells endless stories of bridge games, seems entirely hollow. The phrase "boredom" appears all over the place.

Nicholas makes for an odd hero, and it's never quite clear whether all the negative stories (e.g., that he married his wife only for the dowry that never arrived and is involved in other schemes) are true or not. They evidently convince the doctor Lvov, who despite being the only honest and seemingly upstanding character of the play is portrayed in a deeply negative light and his judgments directly results in Nicholas' abrupt final suicide. I'm not sure what Chekov wants to say by this heroic inversion, yet it feels oddly natural.

I don't have many other reflections worth nothing. The translation is garbage. It's the Hingley version for Oxford Classics and is buried in tiresome Britishisms..."old chap" and "old boy" and so on. When I read a play, I try to envision it in my mind, but it's hard to mentally picture this play being performed by Russians as a consequence of the translation. I also very much enjoyed some of Nicholas's self-aware (if self-absorbed) speeches saying how he can't even "write bad poetry." He sounds like an unhappy teenager, frankly.

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