Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Ivanov by Anton Chekhov.

Ivanov: A Drama in Four Acts (Иванов: драма в четырёх действиях) is a play by Anton Chekhov, first performed in 19th November 1887. It's been a while since I read Chekhov: the last play I read was Three Sisters (1901) back in 2015, and since then I've been meaning to read the other plays of Chekhov I own: Ivanov, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard, and Uncle Vania. So, consider this a happy return!

Ivanov refers to the main character of the play, Nikolai Ivanov, an upper class government official whose life seems almost to be ebbing away from him. He has recently (within the last few years) married a Jewish woman who converted to Russian Orthodox, Anna Petrovna, who suffers from Tuberculosis. Her conversion made her an outcast, and Ivanov is in considerable debt, which means that he is no longer the shining star of his circle. To help his wife recover he is advised to take her to Crimea (on the northern coast of the Black Sea; their home is in a province of Central Russia) by Doctor Lvov, however Ivanov has neither the funds nor the inclination to make such a trip. As a result he is bad tempered and the situation exacerbates what appears to be his depression.

The debt, the bad temper towards Anna Petrovna, and his 'fall' are discussed by his peers: he is a topic of conversation and gossip. When he kisses Sasha, a woman very much in love with him, he is swiftly found out by his wife. Everything quickly unravels for Ivanov with debts being called in and his betrayal of Anna being discovered. This is not the end, though: one final and shocking act remains...

Ivanov is a uncomfortable psychological drama. Ivanov is depressed yet that is never truly confronted in the play, more implied. His suffering is fodder for gossips, and his suffering makes him do horrible things and say horrible things. Nikolai Ivanov is not a hero, he is not a misunderstood saint drowning in a black sea, he is a man, an upper class man, who is flawed, someone who hurts people, and someone who is depressed: his actions are a result of and a cause of his depression, and he is surrounded by people who are largely very unhelpful in the matter. It's a tragedy, similar in a way to Shakespeare's Hamlet (1603). It's a good play, one I keep thinking about since I read it, but I wouldn't say it was the finest play ever written. That said there's something about Ivanov: I think Chekhov's plays will get better and better.


  1. I've had the plasure of seeing it performed and, also thanks to a great cast, I immensely enjoyed the experience. Well, enjoyed in the sense I was haunted by it, but that's the point I suppose. I've never read nor seen any other Cechov play, but I hope to do so soon!

    1. I'd love to see this! And yes, haunting is very much the for it :)

  2. Thank you for the review. I have never seen it performed. I've always found "The Cherry Orchard" and "Three Sisters" to be more engaging then the other plays, but that may be my flaw as a reader and also because I have seen them performed live.

    I absolutely admire the range of literature about which you write. It's always an enlightening pleasure to read your blog.

    1. Thank you for those kind words :)

      I remember enjoying Three Sisters, and I'm looking forward to The Cherry Orchard - can't decide if I want to read that or The Seagull next... And I think it does help to see these plays performed. I've never seen Chekhov but I watched Shakespeare's histories on the BBC last year and it helped so much!


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