Who Is a Jew? – Anton Chekhov and Vladimir Nabokov

Anton Chekhov in 1882

The writer Anton Chekhov’s eyes in his younger years strike me as eyes which one often observes in Jewish females, besides the shape of the face, which is likewise difficult to describe (the lower half of the face, the mandible and the cheekbones in particular). In later years of his life he appeared less Jewish. These later photographs are those most frequently used by the media in reference to the author, so that the Jewish appearance was rendered more latent from age – as is usual for Jews and mankind. 

Chekhov in 1900. The eyes are crossed (strabismus?), a frequent characteristic of the Jews. Combined with the peculiar shape of the eyelids already alluded to, the result is a quite “Jewish” appearance.
Chekhov in 1889. In this portrait, he appears European, even quite Nordic. If the writer of this post were ignorant of the name of the personage, he would have assumed a Northern European place of origin.

It would be necessary to do a spiritual study of Chekhov’s life and work to be reasonably certain of a Jewish descent; but I have not read any of Chekhov’s works. Whether he was of Jewish descent is still uncertain to me.

In other portraits of Chekhov something of an Asiatic element is self-evident, a disharmony which is not seldom to be found in the Russian people – and which is not, of course, necessarily the consequence of a Jewish origin. The American racial theorist Lothrop Stoddard (Racial Realities in Europe, 1924, p. 199) expresses the belief that the characteristics of Russian art point clearly to the racially mixed nature of its producers: its ambiguous nature, its lack of practical sense, a love for “what should be” in contrast to “what really is”. The German racial theorist Hans F. K. Guenther (Racial Elements of European History, 1927, p. 62) who holds the East Baltic racial element to be the strongest individual racial element in the Russian people (albeit admitting of the Russian conglomerate as made up of diverse racial strains), assigns to this race a deep, mysterious nature. He differs in this opinion from Stoddard, who believes their tendency to a speculative and unpractical life to be the result of the complexity of its racial composition, and not the peculiar creations of a particular race. Guenther sees the mental stamp of a peculiar race in the indecisive vagueness of many Russians, Stoddard as a common symptom of racial mixture.

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov – of this “Russian” I am more confident of his true origins. Nabokov is most famous internationally as the author of that salacious work Lolita (1955). A commenter on my blog mentioned his work here as an example of Jewish degeneracy, though I had previously suspected Nabokov was a secret Jew. 

Nabokov married a Jew named Vera Slonim, who acted as a middlewoman for Nabokov’s works, besides being a “source of inspiration” for many of his productions. Vladimir Nabokov’s father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, was regarded as “the most outspoken defender of Jewish rights in the Russian Empire, continuing in a family tradition that had been led by his own father”. Vladimir himself “fiercely denounced anti-semitism in his writings”. He said of his Jewish wife that he “would have been nowhere without her.” In the 1930s, with the assistance of Jews from Russia, Nabokov emigrated from Germany to France under the pretext of Nazi persecution. I say Nabokov was Jewish.

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