Slot:       28D-1          Dec. 28, 3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.                                                

Panel:     North American Chekhov Society

Chair:     Inna Caron, Ohio State University


Title:       Chekhov and the Old Testament: “Mire” Revisited

Author:   Erica Siegel, Columbia University

Much of the critical work on this story rightly focuses on the figure of the Jewish woman and her reception by the narrator and by the two men she seduces.  This paper proposes a reading that focuses instead on the Jewish text on which “Mire” appears to be modeled:  the Genesis story of Jacob and Esau.  The reader is told that a picture of the two brothers hangs in Susannah’s home, and their ekphrastic appearance serves as a reminder that this biblical narrative resonates with that of “Mire.”  A close reading of the text will reveal how Chekhov relies on and manipulates these biblical themes of fraternal betrayal and reconciliation and will enrich our understanding of the story as well as provide some insight into Chekhov’s use of the Old Testament in his short fiction. 



Jackson, Robert Louis. “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem,”: An Essay on Chekhov’s Rothschild’s Fiddle.  Slavica Hierosolymitana, Slavic Studies of the Hebrew University.  Ed. L. Fleishman, O. Ronen and D. Segal, vol. 3 (Jerusalem, 1978): 55-67. 

Karlinsky, Simon.  Introduction.  Letters of Anton Chekhov, trans. M.H. Heim. London: Harper & Row, 1973. 

Tolstoy, Helena.  “From Susanna to Sara: Chekhov in 1886-1887.” Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 3. (Autumn, 1991): 590-600.


Title:       Misplacement as Poetic Strategem in Chekhov's Platonov and On the High Road

Author:   Mila Shevchenko, The University of Michigan

In his latest complete edition of Chekhov’s dramaturgical heritage in English (2006) Laurence Senelick places Platonov (1878-80) and On the High Road (1885) under the rubric “Early Experiments.”  These two dramatic pieces, albeit quite different in social settings and stylistic quality, reveal unanticipated common features in regard to modes of narration and the appropriation of dramatic space as a poetic strategem, utilized by Chekhov in the system of characters. The dramatist exploits misplacement, one of the major motifs in his later plays, as a reflection of the spiritual anxieties of fin-de-siècle Russia.

Both plays illustrate this aspect of the Russian scene through spatial shifts within two emblematic social entities of Russian society: the provincial estate and the wayside tavern. Platonov demonstrates the fluidity of the socio-cultural behavior of the fin-de-siècle individual by the use of continuous ‘spatial’ exchange between the title protagonist and Osip, the horsethief. It is precisely Platonov and On the High Road which mark the beginning of Chekhov’s penchant for diverse implementation of ‘double’ (‘mirroring’) personages.

Osip echoes a topical theme of the time – the drama of undeveloped potential. The pivotal rhetoric of “timelessness” (bezvremenie) is balanced by the parable-like quality of Osip’s unrealized “pilgrimage” to Kiev and New Jerusalem. In a similar vein, On the High Road witnesses the disruption and “atomization” of modernity through a series of spatial reversals. Bortsov, the ruined landowner, and Merik, the tramp, reiterate the Platonov-Osip correlation between ‘high’ and ‘low’ manifestations of misplacement and hierarchy. Chekhov endows Osip and Merik with key compositional value.  Moreover, the spatial shifts they cause “open” the estate’s and tavern’s encapsulated topoi. They anticipate the dimensions of the symbolics of the playwright’s later plays. 


Title:       Reading Chekhov’s Stories “Vanka” and “Varka”

Author:   Tetyana Varenychenko, Holy Family University

The focus of this paper is on the characters of Vanka and Varka, children from Chekhov’s stories “Vanka” and “Sleepy”, respectively. The paper studies the influence of dangerous surroundings depicted in the stories in the development of the children’s characters as well as in their mental and emotional state. I will show the similarities between Chekhov’s depiction of these characters, and I will stress the idea that these stories can be read as two parts of one story where both characters are traumatized and ultimately destroyed by their abusive environments. I will try to answer why Chekhov uses the names Vanka – Varka, where only one letter is changed, and why both names are rude. Also, why the author uses the same name Pelageya for both Vanka’s and Varka’s mother. 

Chekhov describes the same environmental components (the master’s room, the dark window, night, and a crying baby), the same internal conditions (anxiety, worried childhood memories, and disorientation), and he uses the same specific vocabulary describing the symbolic pictures, plot tension, and musicality (sounds/tones/voices/choir/vocal device) in both stories (for example, Vanka’s letter with the sounds of crying and Varka’s song with her strange “murmurs”).  Reading these stories as two parts of one story can give us a better picture of abused characters in such violent environments.  Vanka’s letter “To Grandpa in the Village” is a significant component of a child’s reflection on an abusive atmosphere where Vanka’s voice sounds strongly: “… everybody beats me, and I’m so hungry…  I just cry all time.” Varka’s voice sounds quiet because her harmful environment puts pressure on her, and she is ruined.  Vanka and Varka represent the condition of the process, in which Vanka’s story is the somewhat hopeful beginning (Vanka tries to reach out to his grandfather for help), and Varka’s story is the hopeless ending (Varka kills the baby). Ultimately, Varka’s present is Vanka’s future. 

Sleepiness is both a condition of sickness for Vanka and Varka as well as a wish to run from a very aggressive world where they are verbally, physically and emotionally abused to another world where they are “fast asleep”.  Metaphorically this means to be denied, destroyed or killed.  Reading stories together can help us to find how the story “Vanka” is developed in the story “Varka” and how one end of the story (Vanka “an hour later was fast asleep…”) is continued into another story (Varka “a moment later is already fast sleep, like the dead…”).