Wednesday 16 July 2014


As well as being Dorothy Fields' birthday, yesterday was also the 110th anniversary of Chekhov's death, and in the evening I caught an excellent talk by Julian Evans on Radio 4 Extra - Chekhov's Death: Fact and Fiction. In it Evans recounts the events, not as related in the famous account by Chekhov's widow Olga Knipper but as recorded, more accurately, by Leo Rabeneck, the young Russian student who was sent by Olga to fetch the doctor on the night of Chekhov's death.
 His record omits the more romantic, mythopoeic elements in Olga's account and gives the facts in a manner that Chekhov would surely have preferred - tinged with darkly farcical comedy. The body (which had refused to be entirely straightened) was carried away not on a stretcher but in a wicker laundry basket that appeared to be of extraordinary length - and yet Chekhov's body could not be laid flat in it, so he was borne away half sitting up, his face in the flickering torchlight appearing to half-smile. Chekhov the writer would surely have relished the scene - as he would the subsequent comedy of the body being transported in a refrigerated wagon labelled 'Oysters', and the fact that many of the mourners at his funeral inadvertently followed the procession of a General Keller, accompanied by a military band.
 Julian Evans' talk can be heard on the BBC iPlayer.

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