The Bet


Anton Chekhov

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The Bet Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Anton Chekhov's The Bet. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov was born to a large family in Taganrog, southern Russia. His parents were struggling grocers and, while his mother was kind, his father was often abusive. When the family fled to Moscow in 1876 because the father faced debtors’ prison, Anton stayed behind and finished his schooling. In 1879, he moved to Moscow and completed his degree in medicine. He proceeded to work as a doctor for most of his literary career, writing short stories and plays in his free time to pay for tuition and to support his family, for whom he was now the sole breadwinner. At 28, he won the Pushkin Prize, marking a major stepping stone in his career. In later years, he lived on a farm where he treated local peasants and dedicated his dwindling energy towards tending to his farmland. Though a longtime bachelor, he finally married Olga Knipper in 1901. He contracted tuberculosis as a young man, and it eventually claimed his life in 1904. At the time of his death, he had authored sixteen plays, a novel, five novellas, countless letters, and over 200 short stories. He is cited as one of the most respected short-story writers and history and is one of the most frequently adapted authors of all time.
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Historical Context of The Bet

Chekhov was writing at a time of political turmoil in Russia. Tsar Alexander II, who had ruled throughout Chekhov’s childhood, had implemented reformist policies in education and government, the most important being his elimination of serfdom. Upon his assassination by revolutionaries in 1881, however, the Tsar was replaced by his son Alexander III, who attempted to undo most of his father’s progressive work. He strengthened the security police, brought back religious censorship, enforced the teaching of the Russian languages in schools, weakened the universities, and persecuted non-Russians within the Empire, especially Jews. Chekhov, as a noted intellectual, would have been troubled by the new regime and its anti-modern nature. Though much of his early work was silly and parodic, it became much more serious in nature as time went on, and “The Bet” is one of his densest works.

Other Books Related to The Bet

Chekhov is considered one of the greatest short story writers in history, as oft-mentioned as Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, and Franz Kafka. Among his most famous stories are “The Lady with the Dog,” “The Man in a Case,” “Ward No. 6” (which drew on his experience as a medical professional), and “The Darling.” Chekhov wrote during the period of Russian Realism, a movement that centered human psychology, philosophical thought, and dark takes on human nature. Other major works of Russian Realism include Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
Key Facts about The Bet
  • Full Title: The Bet
  • When Published: January 14, 1889
  • Literary Period: Russian Realism
  • Genre: Short story
  • Setting: Russia
  • Climax: The banker sneaks into the lawyer’s room to kill him only to discover the letter he has written renouncing his right to his winnings.
  • Antagonist: The banker
  • Point of View: Third person limited

Extra Credit for The Bet

Wasting Away. Chekhov lived with and was affected by tuberculosis for twenty years. The question of whether a slow or a long, painful, drawn-out death was crueler must have plagued him every day, as it does the characters in “The Bet.”

Adaptation. Many of Chekhov’s plays have been adapted into films, including The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull.