ANTON CHEKHOV ON SAKHALIN: THE RUSSIAN PENAL COLONY AND COLONIALISM
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Sakhalin (an island in the Pacific Ocean) was annexed to Russia in mid 19th century. Until 1850 Russian military posts and settlements were built all over the island. Sakhalin became an immense hard labour camp and a place of exile. The history of conquest and colonization of Sakhalin was well known to Anton Chekhov. The great writer and medical doctor set out in 1890 from Moscow across Siberia to the remote island, Sakhalin, to study life in the penal colony. His several months' expedition resulted in an unusual work - Sakhalin Island (1891-1894). By this book Chekhov entered Sakhalin into the dreariest annals of world penology, colonialism, and imperial policy. Two main threads interlace in Chekhov's observations and reflections: penal servitude (hard labour) and the colonization of the subdued country by the exiles. So far the book has not drawn appropriate attention of researchers of Chekhov's literary works. His diary of the expedition, letters and the book on Sakhalin testify that Chekhov - considered generally a non-political writer - was extremely interested in these problems. Because of censorship, many of his opinions could not be enclosed in the book, or the writer had to hide them in his seemingly chaotic narration, in which his own views are confronted with information and opinions of other travellers. They show Chekhov's critical attitude to Russian penal system and also to problems much more sensitive for the citizen of Russian Empire of expansion, exploitation and severe colonization of Asia, leading to physical and moral destruction of the aboriginal population of subdued lands. By no means was Chekhov a 'troubadour of Empire'.
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