Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chekov / Uncle Vanya

I read Uncle Vanya yesterday and subsequently tackled the first half of Three Sisters; I think I'll finish all the plays instead of moving on to another book. After this I guess I'll be fairly thoroughly versed in Chekov.

Uncle Vanya continues the trend of largely irrelevant plots that I noted in The Seagull. What we have in this play is another collection of bored aristocrats--an outdated writer and his family. The latter includes his current wife and his children by a previous wife, along with Uncle Vanya himself, his brother-in-law. All had been enamored with the good professor until late in life and are now disillusioned. The most bored character seems to be his wife, Helen, but everyone complains of a wasted life, from Vanya to the doctor, Astrov, who on the very first page complains of being overworked. He also says one of my favorite lines:
Look at this, I've grown a huge mustache. An idiotic mustache. I've become a freak....Somehow I don't feel things keenly anymore. I don't want anything, I don't seem to need anything and there's no one I'm fond of.
We hear what might be echoes of Chekov's own voice speaking through Astrov, complaining of the destruction of the wildlife and forests in Russia in the name of progress, though lives don't seem to be improving because "people have found the struggle for existence too much for them...they haven't the faintest idea of what they're doing." He also complains of the brighter people who "go in for all this brooding and morbid introspection, all this whining..." Ironically, he's got the longest diatribes in the whole play!

So I find him the most interesting character. Vanya is the pinnacle of brooding and morbid introspection, but at least this time it doesn't lead to suicide. Instead, he points his pistol at his brother in law and tries to kill him, but somehow misses multiple times! The almost complete lack of interest in this attempted murder displayed by the other characters is a lot more shocking than the event itself! Thus all the passions in the play seem momentary. Astrov, who is at random moments obsessed with the professor's young wife, does these crazy leaps from intensely professing his love (at one point even assaulting her) and then immediately dropping all the passion.

This one seems like it would be interesting to see staged. The ending is especially interesting. Nothing is resolved. Uncle Vanya and the rest will continue working pointlessly for the professor they no longer esteem, and everything will go back to the way it was. As the play ends they sit at a table working to manage their farm for the old man, looking forward to nothing but a life of drudgery in the future. It seems like a decidedly anticlimactic ending.

I'll probably wrap up these posts by Wednesday or so. Now I feel like randomly choosing my next reading material. Drumroll, please...It will be...Romain Rolland's Jean-Christoph. Thanks to for making the decision. It's a long book and I just bought it yesterday. I also know absolutely nothing about the author or the book so it will be fun to go in knowing nothing. Actually, the edition I have is from 1938. That tells me I might be sneezing from dust as I read it, so I guess I do know something.

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