A Non-Profit Group of Writers Helping Writers
In this scene from Anton Chekhov's play "The Seagull," The writer Trigorin tells the young actress Nina what it is really like to be a writer, as opposed to her glamorous, naive notions. Obviously, Chekhov used the character of Trigorin to express his own frustrations and disappointments about the life of a writer. Such a bittersweet, poignant description of reality vs. fantasy.
TRIGORIN. I see nothing especially beautiful about it. [He looks at his watch] Excuse me, I must go at once, and begin writing again. I'm in a hurry. [He laughs] You have stepped on my sore toe, as they say, and I'm getting nervous, and a little cross. But let's discuss this bright and beautiful life of mine, shall we? [After a few moments' thought] Violent obsessions sometimes lay hold of a man: he may, for instance, think day and night of nothing but the moon. I have such a moon. Day and night I'm held in the grip of one unsettling thought, to write, write, write! I've hardly finished one book when something urges me to write another, and then a third, and then a fourth--I write ceaselessly. I am, as it were, on a treadmill. I hurry forever from one story to another, and I can't help myself. Do you see anything bright and beautiful in that? Oh, it is a wild life! Even now, thrilled as I am to be talking to you, I do not forget for an instant that an unfinished story is awaiting me. My eye falls on that cloud there, which has the shape of a grand piano; I instantly make a mental note that I must remember to mention in my story a cloud floating by that looked like a grand piano. I smell Heliotrope; I mutter to myself: a sickly sweet smell, the color worn by widows; I must remember that in writing my next description of a summer's evening. I catch an idea in every sentence of yours or mine, and quickly lock all these treasures in my literary store-room, thinking that some day they may be useful to me. As soon as I stop working, I rush off to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope that I may find oblivion there, but no! Some new subject for a story is sure to come rolling through my brain like a cannonball. I hear my desk calling, and have to go back to it and begin to write, write, write, once more. And it goes on like this forever. I cannot escape myself, though I feel that my life is being consumed. To prepare the honey I feed to unknown crowds, I'm doomed to brush the bloom from my dearest flowers, to tear them from their stems, and trample the roots that bore them under foot. Am I not a madman? Should I not be treated by those who know me as one mentally diseased? Yet it is always the same old story, till I begin to think that all this praise and admiration must be a deception, that I'm being hoodwinked because they know I'm crazy, and I sometimes tremble lest I should be grabbed from behind and whisked off to a lunatic asylum. The best years of my youth were made one continual agony for me by my writing. A young author, especially if he is not successful at first, feels clumsy, ill-at-ease, and superfluous in the world. His nerves are all on edge and stretched to the point of breaking; he is irresistibly attracted to literary and artistic people, and hovers about them unknown and unnoticed, fearing to look them bravely in the eye, like a man with a passion for gambling, whose money is all gone. I did not know my readers, but for some reason I imagined they were distrustful and unfriendly; I was mortally afraid of the public, and when my first play appeared, it seemed to me as if all the dark eyes in the audience were looking at it with hostility, and all the blue ones with cold indifference. Oh, how terrible it was! What agony!
NINA. But surely your inspiration and the act of creation give you moments of lofty happiness?
TRIGORIN. Yes. Writing is a pleasure to me, and so is reading the proofs, but no sooner does a book leave the press than it becomes detestable to me; it is not what I meant it to be; I made a mistake to write it at all; I'm provoked and discouraged. Then the public reads it and says: "Yes, it is clever and pretty, but not nearly as good as Tolstoy," or "It is a lovely thing, but not as good as Turgenev's 'Fathers and Sons,' " and so it will always be. To my dying day I shall hear people say: "Clever and pretty; clever and pretty," and nothing more; and when I'm gone, those that knew me will say as they pass my grave: "Here lies Trigorin, a clever writer, but he was not as good as Turgenev."
NINA. You must excuse me, but I don't understand what you're talking about. The fact is, you have been spoiled by your success.
TRIGORIN. What success have I had? I have never pleased myself. As a writer, I do not like myself at all. The trouble is that I'm made giddy, as it were, by the fumes of my brain, and often hardly know what I'm writing. I love this lake, these trees, the blue heaven; nature's voice speaks to me and wakes a feeling of passion in my heart, and I'm overcome by an uncontrollable desire to write. But I'm not only a painter of landscapes, I'm also a man of the city. I love my country, too, and her people; I feel that, as a writer, it is my duty to speak of their sorrows, of their future, also of science, of the rights of man, and so forth. So I write on every subject, and the public hounds me on all sides, sometimes in anger, and I race and dodge like a fox with a pack of hounds on his trail. I see life and knowledge flitting away before me. I'm left behind like a peasant who has missed his train at a station, and finally I come back to the conclusion that all I'm fit for is to describe landscapes, and that whatever else I attempt rings abominably false.
NINA. You work too hard to realize the importance of your writings. So what if you are discontented with yourself? To others you appear a great and splendid man. If I were a writer like you, I would devote my whole life to the service of the Russian people, knowing at the same time that their welfare depended on their power to rise to the heights I had attained, and the people should send me before them in a chariot of triumph.
TRIGORIN. In a chariot? Do you think I'm Agamemnon? [They both smile.]
NINA. For the bliss of being a writer or an actress I could endure want, and disillusionment, and the hatred of my friends, and the pangs of my own dissatisfaction with myself; but I would demand in return fame, real, resounding fame! [She covers her face with her hands] Whew! My head reels!
NINA. Do you see that house there, on the far shore?
NINA. That was my mother's home before she died. I was born there, and I've lived all my life beside this lake. I know every little island in it.
TRIGORIN. This is a beautiful place to live. [He catches sight of the dead sea-gull] What is that?
NINA. A gull. Constantine shot it.
TRIGORIN. What a lovely bird! Really, I can't bear to go away. Can't you persuade Irina to stay? [He writes something in his note-book.]
NINA. What are you writing?
TRIGORIN. Nothing much, only an idea that occurred to me. [He puts the book back in his pocket] An idea for a short story. A young girl grows up on the shores of a lake, as you have. She loves the lake as the gulls do, and is as happy and free as they. But a man sees her who chances to come that way, and he destroys her out of idleness, as this gull here has been destroyed.