Books: The Melancholy Life of Uncle Anton Chekhov

by Henri Troyat; Translated by Michael Henry Heim Dutton; 364 pages; $22.50

A biography of Anton Chekhov is like a play by Anton Chekhov. The decors of both are mainly Russian provincial. The characters are an engaging assortment of dreamers and bored intellectuals. The atmospheres are tumid with unreleased passion, and there are ample supplies of tea and sympathy. Unlike the lives and works of Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, subjects of other Henri Troyat biographies, Chekhov's belong to the 20th century, an age of fretful spirits and melancholy skepticism. These impulses guide his hundreds of stories, his theatrical masterpieces (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard) and especially his letters....

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