Review: Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov


Serebryakov - a retired university professor.
Helena - Professor Serebryakov's young and beautiful second wife.
Sonia/Sonya - Professor Serebryakov's daughter.
Uncle Vanya
Astrov - a country doctor.

This structurally and psychologically compact drama takes place on an estate in 19th-century Russia, exploring the complex interrelationships between a retired professor, his second wife, and the daughter and brother-in-law from his first marriage. Interwoven themes of weakness, delusion, and despair are balanced by an underlying message of courage and hope.
Previously known as The Wood Demon, the play was rejected by two theaters before premiering in Moscow in December of 1889 to a very poor reception (it closed after three performances).

I wasn't very patient with the characters from The Three Sisters. They were weeping all the time, dreaming about better life, and in the end they did nothing at all, only let others to take control over their lives. They failed living their lives and their dreams. That drove me crazy. But in the case of Uncle Vanya it was different. The theme of a wasted life is still there, but in other forms.
First, there is Helena who decided to spend her life with the professor. She is obviously unhappy, but still she stubbornly insists on "living" her life with him, no matter how tyrannical the man is. Also, she manages to be the reason of everyone's trouble and sadness.
Because Astrov, the doctor, falls for Helena and so he pays no attention to Sonya at all. Sonya who is in love with Astrov. And Uncle Vanya is in love with Helena. So everyone has feelings for someone, but sadly it's always an unrequited love.
Interesting is that the only person who actually mentions "a wasted life" in the play is Uncle Vanya. He worked whole his life hard on the estate to earn enough money for the professor. When he realized how rotten the professor is and how meaningless everything the professor did during his "career" is, it's understandable that he feels like his life was wasted. But still, there was a purpose in his life, he worked, he was taking care of the estate. There's some work left behind. For me the really wasted life is the one Helena lives, and she doesn't even try. She's beautiful, but her personality is rather plain.
The most interesting characters for me are surely Uncle Vanya and Sonya. They are both very fragile, yet still strong and beautiful. Both of them worked hard and their dreams were simple, they dreamed about love. And this love was denied. Still they managed to stand up for themselves and then go on with their lives. I always thought all the Chekhov's characters were unable to protect themselves and let others control them. These two are an exception. And however sad their fate is, morally and humanly they are higher than anyone else.
Vladimir Nabokov said: ‘‘What mattered was that this typical Chekhovian hero was the unfortunate bearer of a vague but beautiful human truth, a burden which he could neither get rid of nor carry.’’ I believe this captures Uncle Vanya perfectly.

I enjoyed The Three Sisters, but Uncle Vanya is so much better. Or better put, it is more intense, especially when it comes to pain. The pain is so strong it's almost touchable.

"What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile—and—we shall rest."

After this I'm madly in love with Chekhov.


Anonymous said...

"After this I'm madly in love with Chekhov." - Very cool! That passage you quoted is so bittersweet: sad yet unexpectedly hopeful in a way.

Unknown said...

I ended up actually liking this book, i was told about it from my cousin who cold not put it down, i have now fallen into the trap and i could not put it down only wondering if the lives would change and who the characters would meet and what fate awaited. (darlene lehman)

Petra said...

It's all bittersweet and sad, but still kind of beautiful.

Your cousin has a good taste then. :)
So far this is my favourite Chekhov, but I've only read 3 plays. I'm definitely reading more!

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