The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.

The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov's final play, first performed in January 1904, six months before Chekhov's death. The cherry orchard at the centre of the play is said to be inspired by Chekhov's own cherry orchard at his home in Melikhovo (forty miles south of Moscow): during Chekhov's childhood Alexander II's economic policies of development lead to the clearances of many a cherry orchard, including Chekhov's own at his childhood home of Taganrog. Chekhov then planted another orchard in Melikhovo, which was also cleared after the estate was sold. In The Cherry Orchard we see Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya return to her estate one day in May with a view to selling it to may the mortgage, an action that will result in the clearance of the orchard.

The play begins with this rather lovely description of the setting:
[A room which used to be the children's bedroom and is still referred to as the 'nursery'. There are several doors: one of them leads into Ania's room. It is early morning: the sun is just coming up. The windows of the room are shut, but through them the cherry trees can be seen in blossom. It is May, but in the orchard there is morning frost...]
In the room we see Lopakhin, a rich business man and friend of the family, and Dooniasha, a maid, where they await Ranevskaya who will arrive with her brother Gayev and daughter Ania along with their servants. When they are reunited the conversation is on both the cherry orchard and of Paris, where Ranevskaya has been staying. Lopakhin outlines his plans of saving the estate, which we learn is where he grew up as the son of a serf, suggesting that it be leased over the summer to those living in the cities who wish to spend their summers in the countryside. It is an unpopular suggestion as it would entail felling the orchard. As the play moves forward with the discussions of the estate and the cherry orchard we learn more about each character: Ranevskaya's young son Grisha accidentally drowned, which is why she moved to France where she lived with a lover, Lopakhin is in love with Varya, Ranevskaya's adopted daughter (she too is a descendant of a serf), and Ania is in love with a student, Trofimov. Furthermore we learn more of the cherry orchard and the meaning it has to the characters, particularly Ania.

Anton Chekhov's later plays are generally categorised as modernist, and I can see similarities with the likes of Virginia Woolf, who praised Chekhov in her The Common Reader (1925-32). Woolf wrote of feeling a sense of "bewilderment". She goes on, "What is the point of it, and why does he make a story out of this? we ask as we read story after story." That is how I feel about The Cherry Orchard: it is beautiful, and I see, as in Woolf, themes of memory and the past, and lingering resentment and pain, and its impact on present life. The point of The Cherry Orchard is not self-evident the way it may be in, say, a Victorian novel that is neatly sown up at the end. It is a snapshot, a moment or a short period of a group of people's lives, the centre of which is the cherry orchard, but it is more than what does and does not happen. We see relationships, people's past, their memory of the past, how it has affected their sense of self, and how, on this bridge from one era to the next, the characters deal with the shifts in circumstance. Who moves forward, who moves back, and who remains as they always were. I do like reading Chekhov, but I do find him particularly difficult.

Comments

  1. hmmph... i've read this a couple of times, and thought it was like eating popcorn, tasty, but no calories... but reading your story of the trees puts a different light on it; the action of continually cutting them down and replanting resonates in some degree with the accidents and occurrences in the human lives, creating a cohesive picture, imo anyway, of an ongoing, pointless universe, which to all intents and purposes we live in, with all the "signifying nothing" obtruding in every facet of existence... tx for the illumination...

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    1. No problem :) It was a tough one for me, this. Also struggled with The Seagull, which I read fairly recently (not written anything about it yet). I know there's a deeper meaning to these plays but I struggle to grasp at it!

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  2. Chekhov is an author that I have good intentions to read more of and never seem to get to. My Deal Me In Challenge has helped a little but I remain frustrated by lack of reading time. Thanks for the insights to look at when I get around to reading this work!

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    1. I hope it's helpful, but I'm not sure it will be - not very confident with my reading! I'm the same as you, always meaning to read Chekhov but so much time goes by before I eventually do. That said hoping to read some more of his plays in the next few weeks, hopefully I'll manage a little better! :)

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  3. I am not familiar with this play by Chekhov. A few years ago a friend and I went to Sydney to see Uncle Vanya and this coming November we are going back to see Three Sisters. I enjoy his plays so far but you have to be on your toes to keep up with what is happening and the symbolism that is presented.

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    1. Indeed you do! It's hard work. I want to like Chekhov, no, I *do* like Chekhov, but... I think it's fair to compare him to, say, Virginia Woolf or James Joyce - it's worth the effort, but it does leave me floundering a lot :)

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  4. I love this play for its oddities---Gayev delivering an apostrophe to his bookshelf, Carlotta suddenly and to no evident purpose pulling a cucumber out of her pocket...the breaking string. And poor Firs being left alone. It's a good reflection on the carelessness of people and their tendency to avoid painful realities.

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    1. It is, I agree. And I'd forgotten about that cucumber bit! :)

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