Five Plays: The Seagull

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“The Seagull” (in “Five Plays”) by Anton Chekhov
(First performance: 1896 / This edition: Oxford World’s Classics: 2008)
Taken at a cafe in Moscow—somewhere near Tverskaya, I forgot the name. I had bought the book just a few moments before taking this photo at a nearby Dom Knigi store.

Because I work, I feel, I’m always on the go, while you just stay put—you’re only half alive. (pg.82)

This was my first Chekhov. I decided to finally pick up a Chekhov when I was in Moscow and there was a Chekhov Museum there and everything. A few people had recommended him to me a few times already but I kept putting it off. I guess it’s because I’m not really into plays and I’m not really into short stories, so I just didn’t find him that appealing.

In the morning of that day I bought the book, a former colleague was chatting with me and I was telling him about my trip and my visits to some authors’ houses (eg. Vladimir Nabokov, Bulgakov, Tolstoy)—and he was telling me (for probably the 15th time) that he loves Chekhov and that I should read Chekhov. Since I was in Chekhov’s city, I told him (my friend) I’d get one of his works that day. He recommended that I started with “Uncle Vanya”.

My history with Chekhov actually started about a year and a half ago—and yes, I will ramble on about it. SO, during my last year of university, I took a Japanese class. On the first day of class, once the professor knew my name, he told me (and the class) that his daughter’s name is also “Nina”. The first 20 minutes of that session was about why he named her “Nina”. Turns out he’s very passionate about Russian literature, and a favorite Russian of his is Anton Chekhov. He then named his daughter “Nina” after “the heroine” in Chekhov’s play “The Seagull”. Of course, he was saying all this in Japanese—and I had to guess and Wikipedia what’s actually going on—what Chekhov’s play has a character named “Nina” in it. When I asked him if it’s “The Seagull” in English, he seemed agreeing with it because he said (in Japanese) that it’s about a bird.

So since then, whenever I thought of “Chekhov”, I would link it to: “There is a character he wrote about named Nina who is a heroine—Nina just like my name.” I was determined to pick up a copy, but every time I saw a Chekhov, it was a collection of plays (which I’m not really into) or a collection of short stories (which I’m not really into) or a collection without “The Seagull” in it (which is the ultimate one I want to start with, for obvious reasons).

So, I finally decided to actually, for real, no turning back, buy a copy when I was in Moscow. As a “local hometown celebrity” there, there were quite a lot of books by him to choose from—Oxford World’s Classics, Vintage Books, Collins Classics, Wordsworth Classics, etc. I looked through all that were available, and the only one that had both “The Seagull” and “Uncle Vanya” was this one by Oxford World’s Classics.

I decided to start off with “The Seagull”, because, well—I was curious about this heroine “Nina”, secretly thinking that maybe she’s like my alter-ego or something (haha). I was pretty excited. And the first line of the play is: “Why do you wear black all the time?”—which, if you know me well enough, you’d know that that is the question I get asked the most often. So I was thinking, “Oh yes! I will SO enjoy this play!—I already feel so connected with it from the very first line and, obviously, with the heroine!”

So…onto the story…

I’m disappointed.

I don’t know.

One. I think it’s just my “indifference” for plays and short stories, which made it more difficult for me to get into the story and into the mood of it all.

Two. I didn’t think the story was that exciting or fun. It has four acts, but I just feel that everything is predictable. The characters are well developed and although just a “short story”, you get a firm understanding of the major characters and their personality and their issues. But I just didn’t feel anything for the plot.

Three. I don’t see how the character “Nina” is a “heroine”. If anything, I think she’s desperate, confused, naive, and annoying. I get the comparison at the end, how she’s “stronger” than Treplev because despite all her failures and struggles (to become an actress), she “learns” and “accepts” her situations. On the other hand, Treplev commit suicide because he feels worthless. But I still don’t see how that makes Nina a “heroine”—I don’t think she’s clever or smart. And if anything, I felt like she was at times a bit “slutty” and uses her beauty and youth (in a naive, childish, puppy-love way) to get where she wants to be.

I feel like every single character is “weak” and that made me feel like the read was tedious too.

I don’t know. Just confused. So I think maybe I had mistaken and misunderstood my professor—maybe he was talking about another play; or maybe the character “Nina” is a heroine, but I just missed the point somewhere.

The only line I liked in the play was when Nina first appeared onto the stage, and Treplev calls out to her: “Entrancing creature, my vision of delight”! 😉

I guess this kind of put me off Chekhov—but I’ll give him another go, with “Uncle Vanya”, some time soon. Hopefully I will enjoy that one more.

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