Back to the Classics Challenge: Read a Classic Play

My Selection:  The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

I’ve read enough Anton Chekhov to know that I like his writing style.  And, since I decided to teach The Cherry Orchard this year – a play I had never read – I knew it would be my first Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 read.

Anton Chekhov in a nutshell: born in Ukraine in 1860 and died in 1904 in Germany.  His father was a grocer and his grandfather a serf who had bought his freedom.  Chekhov eventually made his way through medical school, practised medicine and wrote short stories as a means of supporting himself and his family.  He became a renowned writer.  His voice remained nonjudgmental,  preferring to offer realistic depictions of life than overly dramatized versions of reality.  He was mostly known for his short stories.  Eventually his plays became recognized for their realistic and ironic portrayal of Russian life.

I’m having some trouble wrapping my head around writing a review of a classic.  Compiling my thoughts on a modern book is so much easier.  Writing about a classic, a bonafide brilliant piece of writing is humbling to say the least.  I am a lowly English teacher who loves literature and is in no way armed with nearly enough critical knowledge to offer a real criticism on the work of a giant.  But, I will try.  As I take a few days to gather my thoughts, here’s a synopsis of the play.

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov:

(Synopsis from www.webEnglishteacher.com)  The play deal with a once wealthy and honoured Russian family (Mme. Ranevaskya, her brother Gayev, her daughter Anya and her adopted daughter, Varya) and the loss of their estate – the ancestra family home and lands, including a vast and beautiful cherry orchard.  Impoverished after the death of the alcoholic M. Ranevaskya and the dissipation of the family fortune by the extravagance of the wife, the Ranevaskaya’s are incapabale of avoiding the sale of their estate to pay for their debts.  The action of the play revolves around the characterization of the ineffectual idleness and vanity of the Ranevaskaya’s and their victimization by the wealthy and unscrupulous businessman Lopakhin.  Another central figure, the student Trofimov, comments on the  historical necessities that have brought about the downfall of the land-owning Russian aristocracy.  While aware of the problematic rise to power of an enterprising but greedy and soulless middle class, Trofimov and Anya look with optimism to a better day ahead for Russian society as a whole.

Oh yeah, and this play is classified by Chekhov as a comedy.  Yup, a family losing their ancestral home because of idleness and debauchery is supposed to be funny.  Hmmm…maybe I do have something to go on for this review after all…

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