Alexander Lensky and Chekhov’s “The Grasshopper”

Ivan Kramskoy's portrait of Alexander Lensky as Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew" (1883). Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Ivan Kramskoy’s portrait of Alexander Lensky as Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” (1883). Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Alexander Lensky, an actor and manager of the Maly Theater in Moscow, frequently attended Sophia Kuvshinnikova’s soirees, where he became friends with both Levitan and Chekhov. On several occasions Lensky performed dramatic readings of Chekhov’s stories and one-act plays. In late 1889 Chekhov sent Lensky a copy of his play The Wood Demon in the hopes that he would produce it at his theater. Lensky’s response was brutally frank: “Stick to writing stories.” Chekhov took the rejection in stride, thanking Lensky for reading his “vile little play,” which he put back in his drawer (the play would later be reshaped into Uncle Vanya).

Their friendship was already beginning to show signs of strain when in the spring of 1892 Lensky read Chekhov’s “The Grasshopper” and saw himself as “the fat actor” briefly mentioned in the story. Levitan, who had far more reason to be upset by how he was so obviously caricatured in “The Grasshopper,” showed Lensky the letter (now lost) Chekhov wrote him defending himself. Lensky angrily rejected Chekhov’s explanations as “false and strained.” Apparently Chekhov had tried to dismiss his story as just a trivial little “something” that he had been asked to write for the first issue of a new journal. Lensky stoked Levitan’s sense of outrage about what Chekhov had done: “And for the sake of this he had no pity on his acquaintances, among whom he was accepted gladly, with love, and he had no pity on the person he ‘loved’ [Levitan], making him out to be a vulgar Lovelace! I just don’t understand.”

For eight years Lensky refused to speak to Chekhov.

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This entry was posted in Circle of Friends, Sophia Kuvshinnikova and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Alexander Lensky and Chekhov’s “The Grasshopper”

  1. Joel Shepard says:

    It must be difficult and exhausting to maintain one’s position as an angel on the pinpoint of a needle.

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