In this month’s Online Reading Group we will discuss Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov. Considered one of Chekhov’s finest plays, it is a darkly comedic study on aimlessness, disappointment and existential ennui set on a country estate in late nineteenth-century Russia. The meeting will be facilitated by our bookshop co-curator Sasha Padziarei and engagement curator Alisa Oleva.

Anton Chekhov, 1898 by Osip Braz

Sonya and her Uncle Vanya have dedicated their lives to managing the isolated rural estate of the ageing professor Serebryakov, Sonya’s father and Vanya’s brother-in-law. But when the professor comes to stay at the estate with his new young wife, the rhythm of routine is disrupted and each character is consumed by the sense that they have wasted their lives.

Vanya feels deceived by Serebryakov, who lives off the labours of others without giving back; Sonya is devoted to helping people but unable to find love; Astrov the doctor has many ideas about how to improve the world but is unable to change anything; Serebryakov’s wife Yelena is beautiful but bored with her life. With so much dissatisfaction in one place, tensions soon reach boiling point…

Despite the dark subject material, Chekhov insisted his play was a comedy, and he explores existential issues – unrequited love, meaningless work and missed opportunities – with delicate humour.