Perhaps it’s only fitting, given the prevalence of Chekhov’s plays on New York City stages in the past couple of years, but just a few weeks ago, the New York Times published this feature about Chekhov’s Melikhovo estate and the museum on/of its grounds tended so carefully (through turbulent times) by a devoted curatorial staff, especially Kseniya A. Tchailkovskaya who has worked at the estate for over 40 years (Marina?).
A couple of photographs and a section about the feel of the place when Chekhov was in his heyday caught my attention, esp. as I look at some of the place names referenced in Vanya which are thinly transformed references to the very real places and people that surrounded him and his working life (as playwright and doctor).
When the Chekhovs lived here, she said, they entertained, gardened, painted and made music — the dacha pastimes of generations of Russians able to afford them. The playwright’s brother Aleksandr was a keen photographer, and scene upon scene of guests and family line the walls of the main wooden house, alongside works by renowned Russian artists — and visitors — like the painters Isaak I. Levitan and Vassily D. Polenov.
Chekhov, besides writing and taking part in the estate’s gostoprimstvo, or hospitality, also worked as a doctor, preparing his own medicines. He was always ready, Ms. Tchaikovskaya said, to treat even the poorest patient.
Chekhov’s guiding principle in doing so, she added, was “hasten to do good,” a maxim of Dr. Friedrich Haass, a revered chief doctor of Moscow prison hospitals in the 19th century.
Chekhov’s altruism and the modest proportions of his estate are a far cry from the all-out materialism and bigger-is-best mantra of oil-rich Russia today, where millions are still poor but millions of others are consuming as never before.
Perhaps the writer felt bound to serve not just because of his medical training but also because his own father, Pavel, started life as a serf, winning his freedom only at age 16.