Chekhov shorts

Penguin's anthology of short stories written during the last decade of Chekhov's life The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories is a great introduction to Chekhov. All of the stories in this anthology were written around the same period as his four great plays, for which he is now best known. Sadly this amazing period of productivity was brought to an end by his untimely death from consumption in 1904.

Like the plays the stories are often humorous, but it is an extremely black humour, and most of the stories are very gloomy. Having said which there are some really up-lifting ones, most notably the title story - which although it ends on a note of uncertainty also has a positivity about it. The last short story that Chekhov ever wrote, The bride, is also his most upbeat tale in which a young woman makes a break for freedom. The background to this story involves a young man dying of consumption, who is the catalyst for Nadya's flight towards education. I had a sense reading this and knowing that the short stories were in chronological order that the young man, Sasha, was a projection of Chekhov shouting to the reader "Don't just sit there, do something!"

Written 15-20 years prior to the Russian revolution there's a sociological/political undercurrent running throughout the stories. The treatment of women, the place of the newly emancipated serf in society, a feeling of rebellion and unease feature throughout, as do strenuous efforts to preserve the status quo against increasing opposition. This makes for interesting reading and makes you wonder what Chekhov's writing would have been like if he had survived into the post-revolutionary period.

The best thing about these stories though is the sheer beauty of their language, even in translation. I found myself reading passages aloud just for the pleasure of feeling the language roll over my tongue. It's not surprising that Chekhov was a great influence on later Russian writers such as Mikhail Bulgakov. There's an interesting introduction to this edition by Paul Debreczeny, and copious notes fill in the background to each story. If you haven't read any Chekhov yet start reading now.


Popular Posts