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Chekhov - the master
on 9 September 2010
This slim yet generous volume of short stories by the writer many, myself included, consider the finest of them all, represents the closest I`ve found to an ideal `best of` Chekhov.
Rosamund Bartlett has translated, with tact and taste, 17 stories, spanning the years 1885-1902, when Chekhov was at his peak as a short story writer. Many of his most perfectly realised tales are here, from the harshly touching The Huntsman to the macabre Gusev; from the marvellous trio of linked tales The Man in a Case, Gooseberries and About Love (which gives the book its title) to the famous Lady With the Little Dog and intensely moving The Bishop. There is also the ghostly The Black Monk and Chekhov`s own favourite, the brief but beautiful The Student.
I am always surprised there has never been, at least to my knowledge, a truly comprehensive anthology of, say, a hundred of his best stories - he wrote at least 600 after all - which would show more fully Chekhov`s sheer versatilty, his humanity, and his greatness as a prose writer of subtle brilliance. He was not a grandly tempestuous Tolstoy, or a tortured Dostoevsky; his genius was quieter, closer to the deft shadings of Maupassant, or his friend Ivan Bunin - another superb master of the short story, and the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
This is a wonderful selection which should lead the reader on to explore the many other collections available, among which I would highly recommend the ongoing Penguin Classics series of translations by Ronald Wilks, and an irresistible, perfectly translated volume from Oxford Classics called Early Stories. You might then wish to read a biography of this most lovable of men. But here is as good a place to start as any.
The apt painting by Chekhov`s friend Levitan on the cover does no harm either.