Doctor Chekhov's doctors.

Research paper by Isabelle I Crommelynck

Indexed on: 15 Mar '13Published on: 15 Mar '13Published in: Frontiers of neurology and neuroscience


Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was both a writer and a doctor, as well as a patient. In spite of his literary success, he did not turn away from medicine until 1897, at the age of 37, when his tuberculosis became too serious. During his medical studies in Moscow, he wrote short stories, at night, under various pseudonyms to provide money for his family; all his life, Chekhov was his parents' financial support. It was Alexei Suvorin (1834-1912), the powerful director of Novoye Vremya (New Times), and the well-known writer Dimitry Grigorovich (1822-1899) who persuaded him that he had exceptional literary talent and requested him to abandon pseudonyms and sign his articles. So, for all his life, he practiced medicine as a district doctor and wrote plays and short stories. In each of his plays, except The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov introduced characters of doctors, principally Yevgeny Konstantinovich Lvov in Ivanov and Mikhail Lvovich Astrov in Uncle Vanya, as well as Khrushchev in The Wood Demon, Dorn in The Seagull, Tcheboutykin in The Three Sisters, and Triletski in Platonov. In his countless short stories, there are numerous doctors, for instance Professor Stepanovich (A Dreary Story), Doctors Kirilov (Enemies), Sobol (My Wife), Outchinnikov (An Inconvenience), Dymov (The Grasshopper), Startsvev (Ionitch), and others. Chekhov's main interest in psychiatry was clearly visible in The Nervous Breakdown, The Black Monk, The Man in a Case, A Doctor's Visit, and WardNo. 6 with Dr. Ragin. In his short stories as in his plays, Chekhov relied on his knowledge of provincial life; his doctor's characters were not professors, academicians, or Moscow's great physicians, but instead exhausted hard workers, with no effective diagnostic and therapeutic means, and poorly paid. Unlike himself, none of Chekhov's doctors was a writer or breadwinner, and Chekhov did not like to lay emphasis on the disease.