Anton Chekhov Haiku

Discovery of

TB in Act One must lead

To death in Act Three.

Today on Playwright Week, we’ve got Anton Chekhov, who ALSO went to prison. If you’re wondering if I’m purposefully seeking that out in this week’s subjects now, the answer is ‘yes.’

Anton Chekhov was born in 1860 in Taganrog to a lovely mother and a monster of a father. The family wound up in poverty through a combo of pops making bad financial moves and shifty contractors. Once Anton entered med school, it fell to him to support the entire danged family, which he did by… writing! Then right after he graduated, he found he had TB. (Goddamn.) He kept it secret from pretty much everyone.

Most of his money continued to come from his writing, as his rep grew like the mighty oak. Technically, his day job remained ‘physician’, but he kept being philanthropic about it.

So how did THIS one wind up in prison? Not as a convict. He went to the Sakhalin Island penal colony to interview the folks there and shit, he did not like what he saw. The convicts and their families were horrifically abused in every possible way – beatings, forced prostitution, deprived of basic necessities because the officials would embezzle the funds to buy them. (He also saw a little girl obliged to tag along with her father / mother’s murderer and sleep in a convict pile with him, which… The hell?!) He published a book about the experience in 1895.

After his trip, Chekhov became a landlord and not an evil one. He put a lot of his time and money into medical services and constricting schools and suchlike. Marriage, he avoided until 1901, when he wed the actress Olga Knipper. He convalesced in Yalta, she acted in Moscow, and they kept in contact through lots of letters and the occasional visit. This seemed to suit both parties.

Chekhov finally died of TB in 1904, going out with panache. He sat straight up, announced his imminent departure, drained the glass of champagne the doctor ordered for him, and declared: “It’s a long time since I drank champagne.” And then he went to sleep.

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