The Seagull

The Seagull Study Guide

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

Brief Biography of Anton Chekhov

Born in 1860 in a port town in the south of Russia, Anton Chekhov grew up in a household ruled by an abusive father—an imposing figure whose cruelty and plunging of the family into bankruptcy inspired many of Chekhov’s dramatic works and short fictions. Chekhov moved to Moscow in 1879 to attend medical school, knowing he had to support his large and struggling family. In order to make ends meet while he studied, he wrote and published satirical short stories and sketches. Chekhov went on to make more money as a writer than a doctor, though he considered himself as a physician first and foremost for much of his life. Chekhov suffered from poor health in the mid-1880s, but told very few people of his struggles with tuberculosis. While travelling to the Ukraine for his health in the late 1880s, he was commissioned to write a play, and his literary career took off in earnest. Chekhov enjoyed great success for many years. As his health continued to deteriorate throughout the late 1890s, Chekhov purchased a country estate in Yalta, where he composed some of his most famous works, including The Seagull, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and the short story “The Lady with the Dog.” Chekhov died due to complications from tuberculosis in July of 1904. 
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Historical Context of The Seagull

The mid-1890s in Russia constituted a period of industrialization and social change. The middle and working classes were expanding and growing more radical politically, while the luxury classes felt a decisive threat to their wealth, land, power, and leisure—a theme explored more acutely in Chekhov’s final play, 1904’s The Cherry Orchard. In the middle of the 1890s, however, these social tensions had not yet come to a head—the bourgeoisie was still hanging on to their land and their traditions, and Russia’s burgeoning alliance with France led to an exchange of culture and ideals which is evident in many of the characters’ references to French literature, plays, and music.

Other Books Related to The Seagull

Part of the movement of realist Russian theatre, The Seagull—and many of Chekhov’s other works from the prolific period in his life preceding and following its composition—was inspired by earlier works of European realism such as Henrik Ibsen’s plays A Doll’s House, Ghosts, and Hedda Gabler. The Seagull is peppered with references to famous, successful Russian writers of the period including Ivan Turgenev, Nikolai Gogol, and Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace, Anna Karenina). The characters within the play—many of whom are educated, high-minded literary and artistic types—make references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the writings of Guy du Maupassant, and Pushkin’s The Naiad, among other theatrical and literary works. Contemporary retellings of The Seagull include Aaron Posner’s 2013 play Stupid Fucking Bird, which transports the events of the play to modern-day America, as well as the films La Petite Lili and Hollywood Seagull.
Key Facts about The Seagull
  • Full Title: The Seagull
  • When Written: 1895
  • Where Written: Yalta
  • When Published: First performed October 17th, 1896; first published 1897
  • Literary Period: Psychological realism
  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: A lakeside estate in the Russian countryside
  • Climax: After years of pining for Nina Zarechnaya and failing to win her love or achieve success as a writer, Konstantin Treplyov shoots himself in the head offstage in the play’s final moments.
  • Antagonist: Boris Trigorin, Irina Arkadina, fame, ego

Extra Credit for The Seagull

The Writing Life. The Seagull contains several monologues about the burden of life as a writer, and shows the famous Boris Trigorin and the obscure Konstantin Treplyov struggling equally with their lives writers in spite of the gulf between their very different careers. Many scholars and critics have regarded these passages as some of Chekhov’s most confessional work—though he’s speaking through characters, his musings on the obsessive and often destructive nature of cannibalizing one’s life in the name of art were called “the only good thing[s] in the play” by Leo Tolstoy himself.

Highly Censored. The Seagull underwent heavy edits during Russia’s pre-revolutionary years, with lines that referenced “materialist views” and overt expressions of sexuality censored and excised from the play. The original version of The Seagull, along with many of Chekhov’s other writings, were kept under lock and key in the Russian archives until after the fall of the Iron Curtain.