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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Chekhov: A Bibliographic Research Guide: Archival Sources

Research sources and strategies for the life and literature of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov and their impact, 1860-present, including bibliographies, databases, encyclopedias, archives, search strategies and more

Archival sources for A. P. Chekhov

As one of Russia's most treasured writers, Anton Chekhov has attracted an tremendous amount of research in the slightly more than 100 years since his premature death. It is somtimes challenging to sift through all the available material on the web to find something important and useful. Chekhov wrote prolifically, producing over 300 published works, not counting his numerous plays, hundreds of newspaper articles and some 7000 letters of correspondence with colleagues and family members. This archival section of this guide for Chekhov materials is focused on unpublished materials; for published works see the other tabs of this guide. Most of this guide focuses on institutions in Russia where various materials pertinent to Chekhov researchers are held, many of the individual holdings are repositories specializing in theatrical materials. Along the way some archival guides are also presented for sifting through some of Chekhov's papers in particular institutions. However, these guides are from the Soviet era and locations given for some specific items (though likely not most) may have changed. Some are from the interwar years and do not reflect the significant movement of materials that have taken place since. As with most biographical archival collections, materials concerning Chekhov include his letters and unpublished works (first and foremost), but also photographs, items from childhood and family materials. Chekhov also published a great deal of short writings in all kinds of non-literary publications (such as newspapers) that have also been subject to collecting efforts. After Chekhov's death, his sister first published many of his letters in a six-volume set from 1912-1916, after which his wife donated most of these materials to the Lenin Library, now the Russian State Library in Moscow, in 1922. Over the course of the Soviet years, original documents migrated to various repositories at libraries, archives and museums, in part because of the way the materials were classified (for example, many, but not all, of his letters were placed together with the recipients' archival holdings). Most Chekhov materials were concentrated in several specific locations at one point or another, however, including the manuscript section of the Lenin State Library (Russian State Library); the institute of Russian Literature known as the Pushkin House of the Russian Academy of Sciences; and especially at the USSR Central State Archive for Literature and Art (currently the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, RGALI). It took most of the Soviet period to locate and collect most of these materials, although the process is still not fully complete. The Russian Academy of Sciences and its literature division known as Pushkin's House are no longer holders of significant archival materials of A.P. Chekhov; the best collection is at RGALI.   

Chekhov at RGALI

Chekhov casual

No greater collection of Chekhov materials exists than at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, RGALI, which received the bulk of Chekhov's papers, donated earlier by his wife, in 1941. The fond reserved at that time for Chekhov remains the same, Fond 549, accessible here. There are only two opisi in the fond, which are viewable online at the RGALI website. Each of the opisi are comprised of eight dela, which are individually accessible to researchers online. Patrons can look through the collection index to get an idea of the specific list holdings. However, although it seems on the site that the individual lists are viewable, in fact they are not. The titles of the documents are viewable, such that it is possible to browse the collection and see exactly what materials are held in order to plan one's research trip, but most of the list content is not accessible online. To view the content of the listy generally requires a trip to RGALI, although some of the materials, especially some of Chekhov's unpublished manuscripts and some collections of photographic materials, are viewable, which is invaluable. Patrons should exhaust the viewable materials prior to going to Moscow, because it is difficult to predict what they might be able to access online. For example, op. 2, item 1031 is a viewable photograph of Iuri Olesha, Mikhail Bulgakov and Valentin Kataev attending Vladimir Mayakovsky's funeral in April, 1930, more than 25 years after Chekhov's death. It is not clear how the materials in the opisi are divided, but the content incldues materials from Chekhov's childhood and schooling, letters he wrote and those he received from friends and colleagues, as well as articles written about him, unpublished materials and manuscripts, and several dela of miscellaneous materials. Additionally, researchers can view the indexes of lists by clicking on the bottom choice, "view stored units," however they may encounter problems surfing from one page of lists to the next, so going through the opisi and dela is probably better. The entry page beneath the clickable index on the top of the page also lists the fond indexes, including the vast array of materials carried therein.

In addition to the RGALI website, which is the most detailed and complete way to examine the archival holdings, a useful summary of the archive's holdings, working conditions, as well as literary guides published to assist researchers in using its materials is available in Patricia Kennedy Grimsted's Archives of Russia:A Directory and Bibliographic Guide to Holdings in Moscow and St. Petersburg, M.E. Sharpe, 2000, 213-219. For a bibliographic compilation specifically on materials pertaining to Chekhov in RGALI, see A.P. Chekhov: Rukopisi, pis'ma, bibliograficheskie dokumenty, vospominaniia, teatral'nye postanovki, risunki, fotografii: Opisanie materialov TsGALI SSSR. Compiled by V.P. Nechaev and Iu. M. Mirkina. Edited by Iu.A. Krasovskii. Moscow: "Sovetskaia Rossiia," 1960. This work is described below in the next section.

Chekhov Archive Guide

Put together by RGALI-based researchers, materials covered by this guide include Chekhov's manuscripts, original autographed materials, letters sent by Chekhov, letter received by Chekhov, biographic materials pertaining to Chekhov's youth and education, collected critical works about and dedicated to Chekhov (until 1960), photos and illustrations of/by Chekhov, and materials held by RGALI pertaining to the nine members of Chekhov's immediate family, including his wife, father, mother, sister, four brothers, and nephew. At the back of the guide are three indexes: one listing the fonds in RGALI that contain Chekhov materials (this is important because while Chekhov materials are ascribed one fond, 549, his letters appear with the recipients who have their own fonds); another listing Chekhov's works alphabetized by title; and thirdly an index of names. The individual entries list the document title if it has one, or if not the first line or something that can substitute for the title. The item is described in detail, including location in the archive, date of publication, its physical dimensions, and its place of publication if it was published (such as for manuscript version of stories that Chekhov later published). The entries, mostly letters, are grouped by the recipients' names and each one lists the fond in RGALI where it is held. As mentioned earlier, this latter part is very important to keep in mind: not all RGALI materials on or about Chekhov are held in Fond 549.    

Chekhov at Russian State Library

Chekhov's wife, Maria Pavlovna, donated all his letters to the Moscow Archival Museum in 1922, which became part of the Russian State Library (RGB), then the Lenin Library, in 1925. These materials formed the basis of the A.P. Chekhov Museum within the RGB, then the most prominent  collection of Chekhov materials (there was already a Chekhov Museum in Moscow and a Chekhov Musuem in the Crimea dating from 1921 that became arms of the RGB). Аlthough many items have since been moved to other places, there remains a good amount of Chekhov materials at the RGB, mostlly from the Chekhov Museums in Yalta and Moscow that were once (1923-1936) attached to the library. Despite the fact that considerable quantities of manuscript materials from Chekhov are housed in the RGB's Division of Manuscripts, it is no simple matter to search for Chekhov's works at the RGB website unless one has the exact document title. For example, a search of "Chekhov's letters" in the Books and Documents search yields thousands of items. The strength of the Library electronic search engine is that one can find works by Chekhov, but also books, articles, dissertations and even some unpublished manuscripts about him. For these reasons, the archival guide to RGB manuscript collections is very valuable: Kratkii ukazatel' arkhivnykh fondov Otdela rukopisei. Compiled by E.N. Konshina and N.K. Shvabe. edited by P.A. Zaionchkovskii and E.N. Konshina. Moscow, GBL, 1948.

Chekhov Archive

This guide was compiled during the interwar years by staff from the All-Union Lenin Library, inclduing the pre-eminent interwar Chekhov bibliographic expert, Evgenii Emilievich Leitneker. It was then the authoritative bibliographic guide to the collection of Chekhov materials at the Lenin Library, the current Russian State Library : Arkhiv A.P. Chekhova : annotirovannoe opisanie pisem k A.P. Chekhovu. Compiled by E.E. Leitnekker; edited by N.L. Meshcheriakova; Gosudarstvennaia biblioteka SSSR im. V.I. Lenina, 1939-41. The guide was compiled prior to the creation of RGALI as the central collection of Chekhov materials in 1941, and is thus dated. It is based on the letters from Chekhov's own files submitted to the library by his wife in 1925. It is an alphabetized, annotated guide to more than 1500 personal letters received by Chekhov from family, friends and colleagues. The letters are not grouped chronologically but alphabetized by correspondent's last name. Unfortunately, there is no index. The annotations, however, are a valuable contribution. Some short ones summarize the letter contents but the more detailed annotations provide considerable and otherwise unavailable background information that may be invaluable to researchers because it comes from people who in many cases had personal proximity to the writer himself. 



UIUC call number 891.73 C41AM853           

Chekhov Manuscripts

This is another guide produced for Chekhov items stored at the Russian State Library, called Rukopisi A.P. Chekhova: Opisanie. Compiled by E.E. Leitneker, Moscow: State Socio-Economic Publishing House, 1938. Evgenii Emilievich is the same bibliographer who compiled the Chekhov archival guide to RGB. Also like the archival guide, this one was produced before the bulk of Chekhov holdings were transferred to RGALI in 1941, so it will be often outdated in terms of actual holdings, which will need to be verified with a more recent source. However, it is useful because because in a short guide of 125 pages, it compares both stories and letters in manuscript form against the later published versions. Eighteen stories by Chekhov are presented in systematic comparison so that researchers can compare what was altered in the published versions. Likewise, there are over 1000 letters thus examined (which takes up the bulk of the guide), listed in alphabetical order of names of 65 correspondents. Each entry discusses the name of the item, its content, date, and the beginning and end of the item.

UIUC call number MFICHE 891.73 C41AM854

Chekhov at State Literary Museum

The State Literary Museum (GLM) holds a rich archival collection for most prominent Russian writers which they circulate via tour displays and make accessible to particular patrons. For Chekhov, a permanent exhibition is held at the Chekhov House Museum in Moscow, which is an affiliate of the Russia State Literary Museum. The Chekhov House-Museum was founded in 1945 in the house where Chekhov lived from 1886 to 1890. This establishment offers various tours year-round through this home, once occupied by the writer. Patrons can learn more about the various tours offered and the items described on these tours here. The museum houses some artifacts from Chekhov's life that interested patrons would need to contact museum staff to inquire about getting specialized access. Separately, the Division of Manuscript Fonds at the State Literary Museum is more useful to scholars because it houses some personal papers belonging to Chekhov, acquired since WWII. The museum's website with some (although far from complete) details of its archival holdings is available here. Patrons can find more details of specific holdings at literary museum collections in general in two editions of bibliographic materials compiled and edited by N.V. Shakhalova, Novye materialy po istorii russkoi i sovetskoi literatury: Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Moscow, GLM, 1983, 261 pp) and Novye materialy po istorii russkoi literatury: Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Moscow, GLM, 1994, 197 pp). Particularly for Chekhov, Shakhalova has compiled A.P. Chekhov i izdat'elstvo "Posrednik":Sbornik nauchnykh trudov (Moscow: GLM, 1992, 152pp). 

Chekhov State Literary-Memorial Museum-Preserve

The A.P. Chekhov State Literary-Memorial Museum-Preserve (Gosudarstvennyi literaturno-memorial'nyo muzei-zapovednik A.P. Chekhova), located in the Chekhovsky raion of Moscow oblast', collects materials relating to memorial exhibitions of A.P. Chekhov. The collection includes about 300 photographs, some autographed documents and drawings, including some by artistic family members. The museum's website (via Museums of Russia) is accessible here. Another helpful site is here.   

St. Petersburg State Theater Library

SpB State Theater Library

One of the oldest libraries in Russian and the most complete collection of pre-revolutionary plays in Russia, this library was designated in 1919 as recipient of the complete collection of plays submitted to the censorship office from the archive of the Main Department for Affairs of the Press. This is now called the "Censorship Fond," (1865-1917), which is held in the Division of manuscripts and Rare Fonds, Archival and Graphic Materials. Here, scholars can examine more than 40,000 units composed of plays marked either "Permitted" or "Banned" by the censhorship office, including some works of Chekhov. This fond also includes autograph manuscript texts, stagebooks, adaptations, promptbooks, and stage-directors' copies of plays by most prominent playwrites of the late pre-revolutionary era, including Chekhov. For the library website follow the link here.

Chekhov at Museum of the Moscow Academic Art Theater

The Muzei Moskovskogo Khudozhestvennogo Akademicheskogo teatra (Muzei MKhAT--Museum of the Moscow Academic Art Theater) was founded as the archive and museum division of the MKhAT in 1923. It has several branches in Moscow, including the Division of Archival Fonds, which holds records of the Chekhov Academic Art Theater (part of MHkAT) containing records going back to 1898. These records include various original papers and manuscripts pertaining to the staging of Chekhov's plays by MKhAT from just before the turn of the century. Among the unique papers in the collection is the description of a letter sent by A.P. Chekhov to  N.M. Kozhin, Secretary to the Board of the Society of Art and Literature (1890) and some relatively unknown photographs of Chekhov.

Chekhov at Russian Institute of the History of Art

Much better known for its rich collection of musical scores, the Russian Institute of the History of Art, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, houses a section called the Cabinet of Manuscripts which houses materials for the history of dramatic theater. Among their collection is a self-corrected copy of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard that also has comments from the legendergy stage director V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. More information is available here.  

Chekhov at Russian State Art Library


Founded in 1922 as the State Central Theater Library by the dean of the theater school at the Malyi Theater, it grew over the Soviet period to become one of the best Russian collections of documentary and visual materials on the history of theater, opera, ballet, the circus, and other Russian and international performing arts and was renamed as the Russian State Art Library (RGBI) in 1992. In its Sector of Rare Books, the collection of S.S. Mokul'skii of art and theater works from the first half of the twentieth century contains several volumes autographed by Chekhov. The library website is available here

Chekhov at A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theater Museum

Backhrushin Theater Museum

Founded in 1894 by industrialist and philanthropist Aleksei Aleksandrovich Bakhrushin and based on his personal collection of theater art and manuscript materials, the museum passed from the Russian Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences to become part of Narkompros in 1918. The next year it was renamed in honor of Bakhrushin and is recognized as one of Russia's greatest collections of theatrical art. It's Archive-Masnuscript Division has several fonds dedicated to the personal papers of A.P. Chekhov, including original manuscripts of plays, directors' copies of scripts and promptbooks, actors' notes, rehearsal notifications, papers from stage and costume designers, as well as letters, memoires, and diaries belonging to the considerable number of people who staged and Chekhov's works. Access to the museum website is available here

A good introductory website that is rich in Chekhov materials is which was compiled for the web by a private firm specializing in humanities subjects in Russia. This on-line, full-text collection of Chekhov works is based primarily on the Полное собрание сочинений и писем: В 30 т. published by the Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, 1974-83. Here, interested patrons have full-text access to numerous biographies of Chekhov, an autobiography written for a publication of medical doctors from Moscow University, several articles about Chekhov, family information, photographs, descriptions of the numerous Chekhov museums around the country, etc. The site also has full-text access to Chekhov's stories, which can be viewed alphebetically or organized according to the year of publication, as well as his plays (all in full text). Additionally, patrons have full-text access to Chekhov's travel notes from Siberia and Sakhalin, his school-era plays, notes on others' writings, jokes, and numerous other miscellaneous writings. Most impressively, patrons have access to 4500 of Chekhov's letters, digitized from the 30-volume complete works listed above. In addition, they examined various holdings from Chekhov museum collections, such as the A.P. Chekhov Literary Museum in Taganrog. Therefore it is useful to check here for viewable holdings prior to setting out for the archives.