chapter  5
26 Pages

Space and confinement: Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya was probably completed in 1896 after The Seagull, and first produced in 1899. While Chekhov’s ironic subtitle to the play, Scenes from Country Life, suggests pastoral comedy, his reflection on Russian provincial life in the 1890s is anything but idyllic. He examines the situation of members of the intelligentsia, who, inspired by the ideals of the 1860s, have worked for reform to no avail, as they reach middle age in the early years of the reign of Nicholas II. Misplaced loyalties and unexamined idealism are presented as a way in which people can collude with situations in which they are oppressed. The difficulty of ‘wringing the slave’ out of oneself in a repressive social environment is seen. In this most poetic play, Chekhov uses a series of metaphors related to space and confinement to convey the predicament of people who are gifted but thwarted in seeking a way forward in life. Furthermore, his exploration of concepts of time and space widens the perspective from the specific historical moment to present a view of existence in general.