Frequent commenter Paul sent me Gary Saul Morson’s overview of Chekhov’s approach to life and literature, from which I excerpt the following list from a letter to his brother Nikolai:

In my opinion people of culture must fulfill the following conditions:
1. They respect the human personality and are therefore forbearing, gentle, courteous, and compliant.
2. They are sympathetic not only to beggars and cats. Their heart aches for things they don’t see with the naked eye.
3. They respect the property of others, and therefore pay their debts.
4. They are pure of heart and therefore fear lying like fire. They do not lie even in small matters.
5. . . . They don’t play upon the heartstrings in order to excite pity . . . because all this is striving after cheap effect, and is false.
6. They don’t occupy themselves with such imitation diamonds as acquaintances with celebrities.
7. If they have talent, they respect it.
8. They develop an aesthetic taste. They cannot bring themselves to look with unconcern at a crack in the wall with bedbugs in it, breathe foul air, walk across a floor that has been spat on. . . . They try as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct. . . . They don’t swill vodka . . . For they need to have mens sana in corpore sano.
It is not enough to have memorized a monologue from Faust. . . .
What you need is constant work, and will power.

I’m just glad he didn’t say anything about overeating, or I’d have to apologize to his shade for my excessive consumption of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy this afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers; happy St. Cecilia’s Day to everyone else!


  1. willpower, yeah, russian writers former doctors are always so great real humanists, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Veresaev, they have that, kinda like naturalist point of view of everything i guess, good attentive psychologists like too
    there are other french authors former mds too i guess who write as if like similarly, can’t recall right now their names, just recall reading and liking their writing and thinking, ah, that’s why upon learning from wiki or intro who they were
    i bought last month Veronika Tushnova’s verses from amazon, it was 5?10 cents only and shipping cost around 3-5 dollars and it said it’s from some Brooklyn library, must be was like discarded from the library and was waiting to become my book, so she were a doctor too it turned out

  2. oh, Somerset Maugham and Cronin too, whom i liked reading too, must be as if like some set of like-minded people, but the list must be incomplete

  3. Luckily for you it’s just an overview, and a very prim one at that. This famous letter is printed with numerous brackets and emissions even in academic editions. Brother Anton gives brother Niklai very detailed advice as to the restraining and ennobling the sexual sphere.

  4. too bad, Tsvetaeva didn’t like Chekhov, it’s understandable her being a maximalist and romantic, in her youth, pragmatic naturalism must be was too much different from her worldviews
    another set of writers-philosophers Camus, Sartre, Gide were not mds but they are in the like-minded people’s set too
    Proust or Nabokov or Amis or too many other western writers whom i don’t remember but remember starting reading them big names and dropping after a few pages on, are not in the set though, must be just as if like idly pure aesthetics/self-,that, indulgent naturalist writings do not appeal perhaps, to me “moralist”

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