Short Classics Project – Book Review: Uncle Vanya

Author: Anton Chekov

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book Blurb: First produced by the Moscow Art Theater in 1899, Uncle Vanya is one of Chekhov’s greatest plays and a staple of the theatrical repertoire. Both structurally and psychologically compact, it is among the most expressive of the Russian playwright’s dramatic works.
Set on an estate in nineteenth-century Russia, this deeply emotional tale of misplaced idealism and unrequited love concerns the complex interrelationships between a retired professor, his second wife, and his brother-in-law and daughter from a previous marriage. In deceptively mundane dialogue, the characters reveal their private tragedies β€” weakness and inability to communicate β€” the failures that lead them to lives of frustration and despair. Nevertheless, Chekhov’s delineation of human frailties elicits sympathy for even the most irresolute and deluded characters, and the play’s underlying message is one of courage and hope.

Let’s see, where to begin…I loved this play when I was in my early twenties because when Sonya confesses she has a crush on the doctor in the story, Helena says something like, ‘Let me just ask if he likes you, anything is better than uncertainty.’ And Sonya says, ‘No, because at least with uncertainty, there is hope.’ And my young, watched too many romantic comedies mind was like, THAT IS SO ROMANTIC! THE ANGST!

Needless to say, I don’t subscribe to that line of thinking anymore. Such thinking keeps you trapped and pining when you could be, ya know, living. So upon this re-read I picked up on quite a few different things. One was that these poor people needed therapy. Another, was that healthy boundaries within the family are a wonderful thing. Yet another was that Serebryakov, the retired professor Vanya was jealous of, was quite the narcissist. Proposing to sell the estate that your brother in law worked so hard on, you’ve basically did nothing to upkeep, that your elderly mother in law, brother in law and daughter currently live on, and that legally BELONGS TO YOUR DAUGHTER, JUST so you can benefit made me raise a shocked eyebrow.

The book blurb is right about communication – Vanya’s pent up fury of emotions comes from not speaking up, Sonya needed to speak up about the doctor and stop pining, Helena needed to speak to her husband about their marriage and mutual unhappiness. The relationships are, as a result of this silence, extremely toxic. It was a great commentary on the ripple effect resentment can have when you do nothing to resolve it, and how grudges, envy and a lack of forgiveness can eat away at peripheral relationships.

So I’d say worth a re-read.


4 responses to “Short Classics Project – Book Review: Uncle Vanya”

  1. Was there a gun in this play?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! And some bad aiming. Isn’t it terrible when resentment and anger get out of hand?


      1. I was actually thinking of the literary device called “Checkov’s Gun”.
        Sorry my humor didn’t come through πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I looked it up – “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev – I had heard this statement before, but didn’t know that is what it is called in a story. I learned something new!!!! πŸ™‚ thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

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