Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To Gorky.

YALTA, October 16, 1900.

DEAR ALEXEY MAXIMOVITCH,

. . . On the 21st of this month I am going to Moscow, and from there abroad. Can you imagine — I have written a play; but as it will be produced not now, but next season, I have not made a fair copy of it yet. It can lie as it is. It was very difficult to write “Three Sisters.” Three heroines, you see, each a separate type and all the daughters of a general. The action is laid in a provincial town, as it might be Perm, the surroundings military, artillery.

The weather in Yalta is exquisite and fresh, my health is improving. I don’t even want to go away to Moscow. I am working so well, and it is so pleasant to be free from the irritation I suffered from all the summer. I am not coughing, and am even eating meat. I am living alone, quite alone. My mother is in Moscow.

Thanks for your letters, my dear fellow, thanks very much. I read them over twice. My warmest greetings to your wife and Maxim. And so, till we meet in Moscow. I hope you won’t play me false, and we shall see each other.

God keep you.

MOSCOW, October 22, 1901.

Five days have passed since I read your play (“The Petty Bourgeois”). I have not written to you till now because I could not get hold of the fourth act; I have kept waiting for it, and — I still have not got it. And so I have only read three acts, but that I think is enough to judge of the play. It is, as I expected, very good, written a la Gorky, original, very interesting; and, to begin by talking of the defects, I have noticed only one, a defect incorrigible as red hair in a red-haired man — the conservatism of the form. You make new and original people sing new songs to an accompaniment that looks second-hand, you have four acts, the characters deliver edifying discourses, there is a feeling of alarm before long speeches, and so on, and so on. But all that is not important, and it is all, so to speak, drowned in the good points of the play. Pertchihin — how living! His daughter is enchanting, Tatyana and Pyotr are also, and their mother is a splendid old woman. The central figure of the play, Nil, is vigorously drawn and extremely interesting! In fact, the play takes hold of one from the first act. Only God preserve you from letting anyone act Pertchihin except Artyom, while Alexeyev-Stanislavsky must certainly play Nil. Those two figures will do just what’s needed; Pyotr — Meierhold. Only Nil’s part, a wonderful part, must be made two or three times as long. You ought to end the play with it, to make it the leading part. Only do not contrast him with Pyotr and Tatyana, let him be by himself and them by themselves, all wonderful, splendid people independently of each other. When Nil tries to seem superior to Pyotr and Tatyana, and says of himself that he is a fine fellow, the element so characteristic of our decent working man, the element of modesty, is lost. He boasts, he argues, but you know one can see what sort of man he is without that. Let him be merry, let him play pranks through the whole four acts, let him eat a great deal after his work — and that will be enough for him to conquer the audience with. Pyotr, I repeat, is good. Most likely you don’t even suspect how good he is. Tatyana, too, is a finished figure, only (a) she ought really to be a schoolmistress, ought to be teaching children, ought to come home from school, ought to be taken up with her pupils and exercise-books, and (b) it ought to be mentioned in the first or second act that she has attempted to poison herself; then, after that hint, the poisoning in the third act will not seem so startling and will be more in place. Telerev talks too much: such characters ought to be shown bit by bit between others, for in any case such people are everywhere merely incidental — both in life and on the stage. Make Elena dine with all the rest in the first act, let her sit and make jokes, or else there is very little of her, and she is not clear. Her avowal to Pyotr is too abrupt, on the stage it would come out in too high relief. Make her a passionate woman, if not loving at least apt to fall in love. . . .

July 29, 1902.

I have read your play. [Footnote: “In the Depths.”] It is new and unmistakably fine. The second act is very good, it is the best, the strongest, and when I was reading it, especially the end, I almost danced with joy. The tone is gloomy, oppressive; the audience unaccustomed to such subjects will walk out of the theatre, and you may well say good-bye to your reputation as an optimist in any case. My wife will play Vassilisa, the immoral and spiteful woman; Vishnevsky walks about the house and imagines himself the Tatar — he is convinced that it is the part for him. Luka, alas! you must not give to Artyom. He will repeat himself in that part and be exhausted; but he would do the policeman wonderfully, it is his part. The part of the actor, in which you have been very successful (it is a magnificent part), should be given to an experienced actor, Stanislavsky perhaps. Katchalev will play the baron.

You have left out of the fourth act all the most interesting characters (except the actor), and you must mind now that there is no ill effect from it. The act may seem boring and unnecessary, especially if, with the exit of the strongest and most interesting actors, there are left only the mediocrities. The death of the actor is awful; it is as though you gave the spectator a sudden box on the ear apropos of nothing without preparing him in any way. How the baron got into the doss-house and why he is a baron is also not sufficiently clear.

* * * * *

Andreyev’s “Thought” is something pretentious, difficult to understand, and apparently no good, but it is worked out with talent. Andreyev has no simplicity, and his talent reminds me of an artificial nightingale. Skitalets now is a sparrow, but he is a real living sparrow. . . .

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