Anton Tchekhov in Venice

ANTON TCHEKHOV IN VENICE

André J. Fabre   June 2013-07-25

After his terrible experience in the KZ of Sakhalin, Tchekhov felt the need to erase such memories with a long tour in Europe.

He began the journey in 1891 with his publisher, the wealthy Suvorin. A long trip took them from Moscow to Paris and Vienna, Nice, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice.

Venice for Chekhov was a revelation: he expressed his enthusiasm in the many letters he wrote to his family in Russia

Just arrived at the Bauer Hotel of Venice , he wrote March 25, 1891, a letter to his brother:

 TO HIS BROTHER IVAN.

 VENICE, March 24, 1891. 

I am now in Venice. I arrived here two days ago from Vienna. One thing I can say: I have never in my life seen a town more marvellous than Venice. It is perfectly enchanting, brilliance, joy, life. Instead of streets and roads there are canals; instead of cabs, gondolas. T

he architecture is amazing, and there is not a single spot that does not excite some historical or artistic interest.

You float in a gondola and see the palace of the Doges, the house where Desdemona lived, homes of various painters, churches. And in the churches there are sculptures and paintings such as we have never dreamed of. In fact it is enchantment.

 All day from morning till night I sit in a gondola and glide along the streets, or I saunter about the famous St. Mark's Square.

The square is as level and clean as a parquet floor. Here there is St. Mark's--something impossible to describe--the Palace of the Doges, and other buildings which make me feel as I do listening to part singing--I feel the amazing beauty and revel in it. 

And the evenings! My God! One might almost die of the strangeness of it.

One goes in a gondola ... warmth, stillness, stars.... There are no horses in Venice, and so there is a silence here as in the open country. Gondolas flit to and fro, ... then a gondola glides by, hung with lanterns. In it are a double-bass, violins, a guitar, a mandolin and cornet, two or three ladies, several men, and one hears singing and music. They sing from operas. What voices! One goes on a little further and again meets a boat with singers, and then again, and the air is full, till midnight, of the mingled strains of violins and tenor voices, and all sorts of heart-stirring sounds.

  Merezhkovsky, whom I have met here, is off his head with ecstasy. For us poor and oppressed Russians it is easy to go out of our minds here in a world of beauty, wealth, and freedom.

One longs to remain here for ever, and when one stands in the churches and listens to the organ one longs to become a Catholic.  The tombs of Canova and Titian are magnificent. Here they bury great artists like kings in churches; here they do not despise art as with us; the churches provide a shelter for pictures and statues however naked they may be.  In the Palace of the Doges there is a picture in which there are about ten thousand human figures. 

To-day is Sunday. There will be a band playing in St. Mark's Square....  If you ever happen to come to Venice it will be the best thing in your life. You ought to see the glass here! Your bottles [Footnote: His brother Ivan was teaching in a school attached to a glass factory.] are so hideous compared with the things here, that it makes one sick to think of them.  I will write again; meanwhile, good-bye. 

 TO MADAME KISELYOV.

 VENICE, March 25. 

"I am in Venice. You may put me in a madhouse. Gondolas, St. Mark's Square, water, stars, Italian women, serenades, mandolins, Falernian wine--in fact all is lost!

Don't remember evil against me.

The shade of the lovely Desdemona sends a smile to the District Captain.

Greetings to all.

Antonio.

The Jesuits send their love to you.&

 TO HIS SISTER,

 VENICE, March 25, 1891. 

&Bewitching blue-eyed Venice sends her greetings to all of you.

 Oh, signori and signorine, what an exquisite town this Venice is! Imagine a town consisting of houses and churches such as you have never seen; an intoxicating architecture, everything as graceful and light as the birdlike gondola.   

Such houses and churches can only be built by people possessed of immense artistic and musical taste and endowed with a lion-like temperament.  Now imagine in the streets and alleys, instead of pavement, water; imagine that there is not one horse in the town; that instead of cabmen you see gondoliers on their wonderful boats, light, delicate long-beaked birds which scarcely seem to touch the water and tremble at the tiniest wave.  And all from earth to sky bathed in sunshine.  

There are streets as broad as the Nevsky, and others in which you can bar the way by stretching out your arms.  The centre of the town is St.  Mark's Square with the celebrated cathedral of the same name.  The cathedral is magnificent, especially on the outside.  

Beside it is the Palace of the Doges where Othello made his confession before the senators. 

In short, there is not a spot that does not call up memories and touch the heart.

 For instance, the little house where Desdemona lived makes animpression that is difficult to shake off.

The very best time in Venice is the evening.

N°1 :  First the stars; secondly, the long canals in which the lights and stars are reflected; thirdly, gondolas, gondolas, and gondolas; when it is dark they seem to be alive…

N° 4, one wants to cry because on all sides one hears music and superb singing. A gondola glides up hung with many-coloured lanterns; there is light enough for one to distinguish a double-bass, a guitar, a mandolin, a violin... Then another gondola like .. Men and women sing, and how they sing! It's quite an opera.

N°5 : it's warm.

In short, a man is a fool if he does not rush to Venice.  Living is cheap here.Board and lodging costs eighteen francs a week--that is, six roubles each or twenty-five roubles a month. A gondolier asks a franc for an hour-that is, thirty kopecks.

 Admission to the academies, museums, and so on, is free.

 Crimea is ten times as expensive, and the Crimea beside Venice is a cuttle-fish beside a whale.

I am afraid Father is angry with me for not having said good-bye to him.

 I ask his forgiveness.

What wonderful glass there in Murano! what mirrors! Why am I not a millionaire! .

Next year let us all take a summer cottage in Venice.

The air is full of the vibration of church bells: my dear Tunguses, let us all embrace Catholicism.

 If only you knew how lovely the organs are in the churches, what sculptures there are here, what Italian women on their knees with prayer-books!  Keep well and don't forget me, a sinner.

 A picturesque railway line, of which I have been told a great deal, runs from Vienna to Venice. But I was disappointed in the journey. The mountains, the precipices, and the snowy crests I have seen in the Caucasus and Ceylon are far more impressive than here.

_Addio_.   "

LAST LETTER :  VENICE,March 26, 1891.

 "It is raining cats and dogs. _Venetia bella_ has ceased for me to be _bella_.

The water gives a feeling of dejected dreariness, and one longs to hasten somewhere where there is sun.

The rain has reminded me of my raincoat (the leather one); I believe the rats have gnawed it a little. If they have, send it to be mended as soon as you can....

How is Signor Mongoose? I am afraid every day of hearing that he is dead.

In describing the cheapness of Venetian life yesterday, I overdid it a bit. It is Madame Merezhkovsky's fault; she told me that she and her husband paid only six francs per week each. But instead of per week, read per day.Anyway, it is cheap. The franc here goes as far as a rouble.

Now we are leaving to go to Florence.

May the Holy Mother bless you.

I have seen Titian's Madonna. It's very fine. But it is a pity that here fine works are mixed up side by side with worthless things, that have been preserved and not flung away simply from the spirit of conservatism all-present in such creatures of habit as _messieurs les hommes_. There are many pictures the long life of which is quite incomprehensible.

The house where Desdemona used to live is now to let."

 Conclusions

In 1892 Chekhov returned to Russia and his practice : he placed his profession of physician above everything else. In a letter to his great friend Suvorin he clearly expressed it  "Medicine is my wife but literature is my mistress" ...

  

a.fabre.fl@gmail.com

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Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

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