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Ward No. 6 and Other Stories [Paperback]

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov , Constance Garnett
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

30 Jan 2009
Anton Chekhov, who is often credited with inventing the modern short story, wrote many volumes worth of short stories during his lifetime and is considered by many as one of the greatest short story writers of all time. This collection includes twenty-three examples of Chekhov's extraordinary storytelling gift. The following tales can be found in this volume: The Cook's Wedding, The Witch, A Dead Body, Easter Eve, On the Road, The Dependents, Grisha, The Kiss, Typhus, The Pipe, The Princess, Neighbours, The Grasshopper, In Exile, Ward No. 6, Rothschild's Fiddle, The Student, The Darling, A Doctor's Visit, Gooseberries, The Lady with the Dog, In the Ravine, and The Bishop.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Digireads.com (30 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1420934058
  • ISBN-13: 978-1420934052
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,071,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it 4 Aug 2005
By John
This is one of the most enjoyable books I ever read. The odd characters made it all the more funny. Being a recent peruser of Russian books and having developed an interest in them, I am up and ready for more Russian stories. The stories are deep, witty and humorous in a classic way. It comes after The Usurper and Other Stories as my second collection read this year. The stories are fine and hilarious and Chekhov's books to good to read.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have given us more 18 Dec 2007
By Andrew J. Sydlik - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a good collection of Chekhov stories, but there is little information to help a reader unfamiliar with the author. Before reading this collection, I had only read "The Bet" in high school. I majored in Creative Writing in college, but we didn't read one single Chekhov story, though his name was thrown around here and there. As I saw his name referenced more and more, I became curious and read this. At first, it was hard to get into the stories--Chekhov's style is rich in detail but not exactly cohesive in plot or character. But I saw enough talent to prod me on, and as the stories progress (arranged chronologically), they get more refined and mature.

There's a good portion of reading here, 23 stories that span 358 pages, and a diverse selection that ranges from 1885 to one of his last stories, "The Bishop," from 1902. (Chekhov died in 1904.) However, I feel there could have been better representations of Chekhov's earlier stories. I haven't read them, but I've heard that "The Steppe" and "Gusev" are particularly good stories, probably better than "The Cook's Wedding" or "On the Road," which seem to lack the power of some of the other early pieces like "Easter Eve" and "The Witch."

Also, where are the humorous stories? I couldn't believe that Chekhov wrote humor after reading this book, because all the stories are pretty depressing, showing the toil of everyday life and the difficulty of finding happiness. That's not a bad thing per se, but I think a more representative picture of Chekhov's writings could have been given.

If you're new to Chekhov, you will probably be jolted, perhaps annoyed, perhaps amazed, by his writing. He is a master at honing in on the lives of people without providing much in the way of plot or authorial explanation of what's going on, yet in most stories, he maintains momentum through the sheer power of the details.

And don't expect uplifting moral messages or hope here--or formulaic sentimentality, for that matter. "The Pipe" is almost apocalyptic in its tone, conveying a sense that the world is dying. But is that the story itself saying it, or just the characters thinking it? It's hard to decide, but it really doesn't matter. In another story, an infant is killed when a woman throws boiling water on it, and no one seems to hold it against her.

The eponymous story, "Ward No. 6," is probably the most powerful--and one of the longest--pieces here. A doctor who considers himself an elitist philosopher becomes intrigued with a mental patient, only to have people start to doubt his only sanity. Considering Chekhov was a doctor himself, he didn't seem to have any more sympathy with doctors than he did anyone else--the doctor is portrayed as pretentious and naive. He has his positive qualities, too; though rebuffed by the mental patient he visits, he reacts only in confusion, not anger. He seems to genuinely want to understand the man and the larger questions in life, even if his ideas distort him to the reality of suffering.

And then there is "The Lady with the Dog," often considered the best of Chekhov's works. The core of the story is a pretty common idea--adulterous lovers whose lives become disrupted by their passion for each other. But Chekhov depicts the situation with such intriguing detail that it takes on a whole new meaning. And there is no clear resolution--as often happens in Chekhov's stories--just a tense collision of passion and suffering.

Chekhov shows the faults, passions, and more rarely, the redeeming qualities of a diverse range of people, from peasants, to widows, to aristocrats, to clergy. Without seeming to make moral judgments (except perhaps in "The Grasshopper" which seems to outrightly condemn the cruelty of the characters and satirize the arrogance of actors), Chekhov shows people as they really are--struggling, weak, philosophical, victims of circumstance, victims of their own self-delusion, compassionate, filled with beauty, sorrow, and cruelty. In essence, he captured the complex workings of human nature.

Chekhov's stories also capture the atmosphere of late 19th-century Russia: steeped in images of the Orthodox Church; the encroaching modern world on a hard, unmerciful landscape; ubiquitous vodka, often gone bad, which makes people roll on the ground and lose their senses; corrupt government officials and clergy; crude, stupid peasants; philosophical meanderings that intrude upon getting water from a well or treating a patient sick with typhus. Characters are plagued with poverty, disease, superstition, infidelity, even murder. Some towns are hundreds of miles from a railroad station, and you begin to see how hard life in 19th-century Russia must have been.

But while the names of characters may be long and hard to remember, while there are numerous references to towns, rivers, landmarks, and people a non-Russian is unfamiliar with, the struggles and details told in these stories are relevant to anyone, in any country. There is great power in Chekhov's ability to reveal the complexities in life without being sentimental or melodramatic, and his conciseness and richness of language is inspiring.

Besides a better selection in the early stories, I would have liked more background about Russia, about the many references in the stories that were hard to follow. The introduction isn't a bad portrait of Chekhov's life and work, quoting his letters and others who have commented on him, but it wasn't all that helpful in approaching the stories with a good idea of what I was getting into. I have since read more about him, which has helped me to better appreciate my reading. I'm also intrigued to read more of Chekhov's work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful stories, lame commentary 21 Oct 2007
By raboof - Published on Amazon.com
Chekov brings a warmth and "fleshiness" to Russian fiction that is not so prominent in the works of other authors. This collection of short stories provides a big taste of 18th and 19th century Russian peasant life. Characters are real people, with humor and sadness, dedication and flightiness, and most of all roots in the ground.

For the stories, I really loved the book. Because of Chekov's insistent realism, the pain and pleasure of these fictional characters were just as real as if I were reading a biography. The editing and organization of the stories is flawless, with each story leading positioned well with the story before and after it.

What I found disappointing was the commentary in the preface and the afterword and "study guide". Compare the rich and complete commentary of Penguin Classic's Crime and Punishment to the vapid and wholly uninteresting opinion piece of Barnes and Noble's Ward No. 6. In the former, the commentator provides context, insight, and relevant information regarding the story to follow. That commentary makes the book richer and more enjoyable. The latter (this book) commentary provides no such context, no insight, and not a shred of relevant information regarding the stories, Chekov, of related literature. It seems to be little more than a hack-job criticism of Super-realism and the author's own biases.

The study section at the end is again more of the same. The followup questions focus on the commentary rather than the text, so students are turned against the author for his style rather than towards the value of the literature itself. The short blurb about some Katherine Mansfield seems wholly out of place with neither relevancy to the stories nor connection to the commentary.

I recommend the book for its stories, but skip everything preceding and following.
5.0 out of 5 stars A very Entertaining collection 31 Oct 2011
By John T C - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
This is one of the most enjoyable books I ever read. The odd characters made it all the more funny. Being a recent peruser of Russian books and having developed an interest in them, I am up and ready for more Russian stories. The stories are deep, witty and humorous in a classic way. It comes after The Usurper and Other Stories as my second collection read this year. The stories are fine and hilarious and Chekhov's books to good to read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Stories -- Good Collection for Most Readers 22 Feb 2010
By Bill R. Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Anton Chekhov is widely considered the greatest short story writer and is certainly the most influential. He wrote prolifically and produced so many masterpieces that productivity alone would make him notable, but he is far more important for revolutionizing the very idea of what a story could be. Chekhov virtually abandons all traditional ideas of what is needed: tight plots, climax, resolution, etc. His stories have almost no action; nor are they dialogue heavy. If this sounds like Modernism's worst specimens, have no fear; though a profound influence on Modernist writers - indeed, practically making their work possible -, he was no experimenter in terms of narration, characterization, etc. It is in fact very hard to pinpoint just what makes his stories great; even his biggest fans likely have difficulty pinning down the indefinable something that they abound in and which few other stories have. Many have read a Chekhov story that greatly moved them and/or provoked much thought without their really knowing why. Often they look back and are astonished to find that almost nothing happened in any conventional sense; certainly nothing seems to account for the effect - yet it is undeniable. A few facets are clear. The most obvious is that, in contrast to other Russian greats like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy, he revels in concision; he wrote a fair share of novellas, but most of his works are indeed short, some but a handful of pages. To a certain extent, Chekhov resembles Henry James in showing only the bare minimum of the real story, letting us decipher the rest if we can. However, the comparison is of little use - and can indeed be very misleading - because he does not use James' signature narrative subjectivity. He seems above all to operate via mood and atmosphere, letting them fill in details merely suggested by narration and dialogue. The stories thus contain worlds of suggestion, not least because of the second primary factor - deliberately ambiguous endings. The stories dramatize a wide variety of emotions and feelings - love, hate, charity, pity, and seemingly everything else - and explore numerous everyday life aspects. Being a doctor who almost exclusively treated very poor patients gave Chekhov significant experience with and insight into life's dark side, as did his own ill health and far from well-off life. His stories thus abound with gritty details that give a very visceral view of late nineteenth century Russia. He also uses a wide variety of characters, from aristocrats to the truly poor. His stories nearly always raise questions about numerous sociopolitical, philosophical, and ethical issues, but the endings force us to draw our own conclusions. They often seem abrupt, which has frustrated some, but Chekhov insisted that an artist's duty is to ask questions, not answer them, and readers have done so in various ways. Perhaps one of his success' keys is that the combination of dramatizing elemental human concerns and leaving endings open lets all relate to the stories and find their own meaning. Later writers have taken these concepts in various directions - some with great success, others falling flat on their proverbial faces -, often in overt imitations, but few or none have reached his sublime heights, much less so consistently.

Many Chekhov collections are available; this is not the best in the sense of being most comprehensive, and the nature of Chekhov's stories means there is an unusually large degree of subjectivity in assessing the representativeness and quality of selection. However, as a story collection, this is excellent in itself and one of the most widely available, making it an excellent primer. It has twenty-three stories and over 350 pages ranging from some of the earliest pieces, which are distinctly lighter in tone, to masterworks from Chekhov's last years. Whatever one thinks of the selection, it is certainly chronologically representative - a feature not often found - and particularly notable for having several rarely anthologized early stories. Many will complain that it leaves out some of the best-known and most revered, especially later novellas, but there is no denying the greatness of included stories such as "The Lady with the Dog," "In The Ravine," and the title work. It also has some of my personal favorites like "Typhus" and "Rothschild's Fiddle." Anyone interested in Chekhov will want the stories included here, but whether they will want them in this form depends on exactly what they seek.

Several factors other than selection come into play, notably translation. This edition is translated by Constance Garnett, the near-legendary figure responsible for first translating Chekhov and other Russian masters into English. It is impossible to exaggerate her effect; for instance, writer Katherine Mansfield told her "The younger generation owe you more than we ourselves are able to realise. These books have changed our lives, no less." She remains perhaps Chekhov's most popular translator, but some loudly prefer more recent translations to her Victorian English. This is of course an issue mainly for enthusiasts, as her accurate and readable versions are certainly adequate for general readers.

Also important is supplemental material, of which this book has quite a bit: a lengthy introduction with background on Chekhov and the stories plus some critical analysis; a short biographical note; a Chekhov chronology; a few pages on works inspired by the stories; a comments and questions list; further reading suggestions; and an introductory list of quotes. This seems like a lot, and the Barnes & Noble Classics series is usually very strong here, but some features are superfluous and others so disappointing as to be near-useless. For example, the Introduction is not up to par, including much irrelevant information and frequently referring to stories not in the volume. If the editor thought these stories so important, why not include them? The Inspiration section is near-laughable, focusing almost entirely on Mansfield with very little attempt to connect with Chekhov. Some will also bemoan the absence of notes, though Chekhov's straight-forward prose and near lack of allusions make them essentially unnecessary; they might even be harmful in leaning toward a subjective interpretation.

Readers must take all this into account when deciding what collection to buy. This will suffice for most, but it should not be anyone's only Chekhov purchase, and those turned off by my complaints should skip it altogether.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living with unanswered questions... 6 Sep 2010
By Brian C. - Published on Amazon.com
The other reviews of this volume are quite good and I am not sure how much I can really add without simply being redundant. Another reviewer said it well when they wrote, "even his [Chekhov's] biggest fans likely have difficulty pinning down the indefinable something that they [his stories] abound in and which few other stories have. Many have read a Chekhov story that greatly moved them and/or provoked much thought without their really knowing why." This is exactly how I felt after reading each of the stories in this volume. There was something deep, and profoundly moving, within each story but nearly impossible to put my finger on. My review is simply going to be a rather lame attempt to put my finger on this unnameable something.

One thing I find especially compelling about Chekhov is his ability to refrain from providing answers. In this his works have certain similarities with some of the works of the existentialist philosophers; I am thinking of Albert Camus in particular. In a letter he wrote to his publisher Chekhov wrote, "you confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for the artist" (pg. xiii). In this regard Chekhov certainly practiced what he preached. The characters in Chekhov's stories are often profoundly effected by deep philosophical questions about the meaning of suffering and death and of life, and these questions arise from, and are motivated by their own particular situations, but they are never resolved either by the characters themselves or by an implied external meaning or moral lesson attributed from the outside by Chekhov. There is never a point at which the characters in Chekhov's stories are able to completely master their situation, or, see into their problems fully and completely enough to provide some lasting insight. The characters are as confused in the end as they were in the beginning.

This irresolution is heightened by Chekhov's narrative technique. We are used to having stories resolved. There is some burning desire within human nature for resolution which Chekhov, like life itself, often refuses to provide. The best example is his story "In the Ravine" which is one of the most painful stories I have ever read. A vindictive, ambitious woman, motivated purely by hate and spite, kills an innocent child by throwing a pan of boiling water on him. As human beings we want this resolved, we want revenge, we want justice, but Chekhov does not provide us with any; the deed goes unpunished.

What I believe all of this does is awaken a longing in us that is impossible to fulfill. We want perfect justice to reign in the world, we want answers to our questions about life and death, we want to have the mystery revealed, to see the face of God. The artist often gives into this natural human desire by providing us with the answer at the end of their work, by resolving the central plot complication, which we desire so fervently but which is ultimately equivalent to death. As long as we are alive there are unanswered questions, there are contradictions we cannot resolve, there is injustice we cannot remedy. I believe this is the spiritual force of Chekhov's work. David Plante, who wrote the introduction to this particular volume, said it well when he wrote, "The longing for something that can only ever be longed for is the tragic force of Chekhov's work. It is also the work's moral and spiritual force" (pg. xxvii). Chekhov was perhaps making the same point when he wrote, "My goal is to kill two birds with one stone: to paint life in its true aspects, and to show how far this life falls short of the ideal life" (pg. xx). Chekhov was able, in his writing, to resist the temptation of providing final answers, of giving into the demands of his readers for resolution, of falsifying life by presenting it in an idealized way.

And yet for all the questions that remain unanswered after reading Chekhov we also come away with the feeling that life is beautiful nonetheless; and not merely in spite of its unanswered questions, but because of them. I actually thought the very first story in this collection, The Cook's Wedding, was especially moving in this regard. It is a simple story about a cook who is deeply unhappy about the prospect of a marriage that is being arranged for her and a small boy who witnesses, without ever truly understanding, her unhappiness. At the end of the story the boy goes down to the pantry and picks out the best apple he can find and hands it to the cook and then runs away. It is hard to imagine a better image for the human condition than the image of that little boy, in the face of a suffering which he does not understand, attempting to provide some small comfort, some small expression of solidarity with the unhappy cook. We are all to some degree in the grip of suffering which we do not fully understand, but without such suffering, without such confusion in the face of life, these small expressions of compassion would be impossible or meaningless.

Chekhov does what I believe all good artists do; he provides us with a deeper sense of our own lives, a heightened awareness of both the tragedy and beauty of human life. That is ultimately what we demand from art, and that is what the short stories of Chekhov provide.
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