There are many biographies of Chekhov, including the new one by Rayfield, but this edition of the letters is the best source of the writer's life and thought. Long out of print, it was wise of Northwestern University Press to re-issue this book. The other editions of the letters, by Hellman and another by Yarmolinsky, cannot compare. This volume is valuable for its superb, lengthy introduction, which is a capsule biography. In addition, each of the fifteen sections are introduced by an engaging biographical headnote.
The letters themselves are the record of an extraordinary person, a man who instructed other writers to succeed in their work by feeling "compassion down to their fingertips."
This book shows the emotions and thoughts of the writer who lived that simple but wise piece of advice.
Among the more amusing letters is the one to his wastrel brother, in March 1886, in which he wittily enumerates the qualities of well-bred people. Among them: "They don't guzzle vodka on any old occasion, nor do they go around sniffing cupboards....They shun all ostentation: empty barrels make the most noise."
This volume is full of such humorous but sage advice, and reveals the man behind the extraordinary short stories and plays better than any biography.
You will remember some of the letters in this book throughout your lifetime.
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