The Three Sisters

by

Anton Chekhov

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The Three Sisters Study Guide

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

Brief Biography of Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekov was one of six children born to a grocer and his wife. Chekov’s father was abusive and accumulated ruinous debts. After the family became impoverished, Anton both supported them and financed his own education by writing for periodicals. Though he trained as a doctor, his primary occupation became short-story writing, for which he won the Pushkin Prize in 1887, while only in his 20s. He was quoted as saying, "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I tire of one, I go and sleep with the other." He also conducted thousands of interviews of convicts and settlers on Sakhalin Island, in Russia’s Far East, in 1890; these were published as The Island of Sahkalin, a powerful work calling for more humane treatment of convicts. Most of Chekov’s plays were written during the last 15 years of his life, although early productions were disastrous. By the late 1890s, however, his plays were being produced by the Moscow Arts Theatre and became both commercially and critically successful. By this time in his life, Chekov was suffering greatly from tuberculosis and traveled in search of a healthier climate, building a villa in Yalta and ultimately dying in Badenweiler, Germany, with his wife, Olga, at his side. He was 44 years old.
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Historical Context of The Three Sisters

The turn of the 20th century was a transitional period in Russian history. During the time of the play, Russia was at peace, militarily speaking (as seen in the Brigade’s long, uneventful stay in the Prozorovs’ town). Nicholas II had become Tsar in 1894 and sustained the autocratic policies of the Romanov dynasty, suppressing those who agitated for more democratic forms of governance. Under Nicholas, the massive Russian empire was divided into 50 provinces, which were subdivided into districts, all of which were governed by a complicated, 14-rank system of civil servants (in the play, for instance, Andrey Prozorov serves rather ineffectually on the local District Council). Life in the provinces was regarded as rather sleepy and culturally backward (which accounts for the sisters’ constant desire to move back to rapidly modernizing Moscow). At this time, there was also a marked disparity between the lives of the upper classes—the aristocracy and provincial nobility—and the peasant and servant classes. Set in the last years before revolution began to shake the Empire, the play is filled with a sense of vague restlessness and waning cultural cohesion.

Other Books Related to The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters is one of Chekov’s four dramatic masterpieces, alongside The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). Chekov is considered to be one of the foundational figures of the modern theater, alongside Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, whose late 19th century works, including A Doll’s House and An Enemy of the People, are marked by a similar psychological realism. Finally, although written a generation before Chekov, Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons also explores the tensions and discontentments of provincial life during the waning decades of the Russian Empire.
Key Facts about The Three Sisters
  • Full Title: The Three Sisters
  • When Written: 1900
  • Where Written: Russia
  • When Published: 1901
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: A provincial Russian capital
  • Climax: The departure of the army brigade; Tuzenbakh’s and Solyony’s offstage duel
  • Antagonist: The passage of time

Extra Credit for The Three Sisters

Revolutionary Realism. The realism of Chekov’s plays—the attempt to accurately express the way human beings speak and interact with one another—was revolutionary for the time, and it has remained a foundational principle in drama ever since.

Olga as Masha. When The Three Sisters premiered in January, 1901, the character of Masha was played by Olga Knipper, for whom Chekov had designed the role. Chekov and Knipper were married just a few months later, on May 25, 1901.