Save this story for later. But it has even more to do with the lies that Chekhov told to get access to the prison colony. Chekhov began preparing to go to Siberia in Getting permission to make the three-month journey to visit the prison colony required Chekhov to tell many different lies to many different people. He told some that he was doing an academic thesis to complete medical-degree requirements.
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In , to the amazement of his family and friends, Dr. Anton Chekhov — resolved to travel to the island to conduct what nowadays would be called a community medicine research project, for a MD thesis at the University of Moscow. His motivation remains obscure. But Chekhov was already ill from tuberculosis and the ten-week journey to Sakhalin would be very arduous there was as yet no Trans-Siberian Railway. The climate of the island was hardly salubrious; and it was said that Sakhalin had no climate, just bad weather.
The survey work he undertook entailed travel to remote settlements and sometimes staying in very primitive accommodation. Sakhalin is an enigmatic episode in an enigmatic life. The account he wrote of Sakhalin, published as a book because the censor banned its serialisation in a journal Chekhov,  , is quite unlike any of his other writings.
In its barest outline, it is a community survey. But his Sakhalin Island study is much more than a pioneer community medicine study. The Sakhalin study is the work of a great writer who consciously chose to be a social scientist and investigative journalist—a writer whose gifts of description and empathetic understanding shine through the journalism and the science.
These literary touches were evidently unappreciated by the examiners of his MD thesis; and he failed. He documented the overcrowding and the insanitary conditions of the various island prisons. Prisoner accommodation would comprise large common halls, with a long plank sleeping platform down the middle of the hall, where the prisoners slept cheek by jowl, the healthy beside the infected.
The system of communal halls with seventy to a hundred and seventy convicts per hall meant that it was impossible to keep the cells clean and tidy, so they were covered in filth. Bugs and lice were everywhere. The latrines were poor, and in the Kosov prison there were no latrines at all, the prisoners being let out in batches to relieve themselves in the street. He documented the abuses of the administration: the co-option of prisoners by officials to act as unpaid servants and of women prisoners as paramours.
Punishments were severe. In one prison, the most hardened criminals were kept chained to wheelbarrows. Chekhov, who never forgave or forgot the savage beatings of his own childhood, steeled himself to witness the punishment of a failed escapee, but could not stomach the sight of the full ninety lashes that were administered. The administration of the settlements of the ex-convicts was also found wanting.
Many of the chosen sites for settlement were unsuitable for cultivation because of poor soil or vulnerability to flooding. Too many settlers were sent to the settlements, resulting in demoralising overcrowding and epidemics. Basic sanitary precautions were not followed and settlers got their water from ditches. On his return to Europe, Chekhov organised the dispatch of thousands of books to the Sakhalin schools. A government commission was dispatched to Sakhalin to investigate matters the following year.
Any resulting ameliorations on the island would however have been short-lived. Chekhov died at the age of forty-four in , a year before Japan seized the southern part of Sakhalin in the Russo-Japanese War. Chekhov tried to be objective, but he never claimed to be detached.
Chekhov’s Beautiful Nonfiction
Shelves: cultural-political , theatre-direction , historical-non-fiction , This book by Anton Chekhov is essentially a report he writes for the government describing life on the exile Island of Sakhalin off the east coast of Russia, just above japan. I was thoroughly engaged by this book even though it was slow going -- as slow going as the marshy, cold, wet atmosphere of Sakhalin. However it is only for Chekhov fans who are hungry to learn more about this man. It would not be entertaining for This book by Anton Chekhov is essentially a report he writes for the government describing life on the exile Island of Sakhalin off the east coast of Russia, just above japan. It would not be entertaining for the recreational reader. While I was reading it and simultaneously researching it on the internet, I came across a blogger who seemed almost angry at Chekhov because he takes this trip into country that is dangerous to his health and thereby shortens his life, depriving us of more of his genius. He further states that it does not even give inspiration to his four major plays that come after.
Anton Chekhov: Sakhalin Island
Topics Books In , doctor and writer Anton Chekhov baffled acquaintances by announcing he was going to travel across the Russian Empire to visit a forlorn settlement on the fringes of civilisation. It was a place infamous for its isolation, poverty and backwardness. At this time, the Russian government was shoring up its claim to Pacific territories by actively engaging in the process of colonisation. The idea was to convert exiles, prisoners and ex-prisoners into a stable Russian population, resident in a region that had formerly been inhabited only by nomadic indigenous tribes Ainu, Orok, Gilyak and Nivkh , who had little comprehension of the distant St Petersburg monarchy. Russia would use its unwilling colonists, overseen by soldiers and administrators, to form an undeniable demographic basis to her claim over Sakhalin Island. Chekhov, in a letter written before he left, suggested that the process of colonisation was inhumane and impractical, with former prisoners facing such long and difficult journeys home after their sentences were served. He suspected that the authorities relied on poverty and inertia to keep inhabitants in the colonies.
Chekhov in the penal colony
In , to the amazement of his family and friends, Dr. Anton Chekhov — resolved to travel to the island to conduct what nowadays would be called a community medicine research project, for a MD thesis at the University of Moscow. His motivation remains obscure. But Chekhov was already ill from tuberculosis and the ten-week journey to Sakhalin would be very arduous there was as yet no Trans-Siberian Railway. The climate of the island was hardly salubrious; and it was said that Sakhalin had no climate, just bad weather. The survey work he undertook entailed travel to remote settlements and sometimes staying in very primitive accommodation.