Gary Dexter

Surprising literary ventures | 19 November 2008

On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco (1886), by Anton Chekhov

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On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco

Anton Chekhov

Chekhov originally wrote the dramatic monologue, On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco, in 1886, and substantially revised it for a second version of 1902 shortly before his death. It deals with Ivan Ivanovitch Nyukhin, a hen-pecked husband who delivers a lecture (at the request of his wife) on the evils of smoking. The play has largely been ignored by Chekhov scholars in the West, despite the fact that the original version was popular in Russia in the 1880s as a farce: it was only published in translation in 1954, and appeared in the edition shown above in 1977. Nyukhin is a Chekhov stock character, a man utterly compromised by wedlock, whose wife calls him ‘dummy’, ‘viper’ or ‘Satan’ as the mood takes her (in real life, of course, Chekhov kept the various women in his harem firmly in their place and at the end married Olga Knipper only on the condition that ‘like the moon, she does not appear in my sky every day’). Despite being a) a doctor and b) a chronic sufferer from tuberculosis (which eventually killed him), Chekhov was a confirmed smoker, rejoicing particularly in Havana cigars.