Called the greatest of short story writer, Anton Chekhov changed the genre itself with his spare, impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition. Now, thirty of his best tales from the major periods of his creative life are available in this outstanding one volume edition. Included are Chekhov's characteristically brief, evocative early pieces such as "The Huntsman" from 1885, which brilliantly conveys the complex texture of two lives during a meeting on a summer's day. Four years later, Chekhov produced the tour de force "A Boring Story" (1889), the penetrating and caustic self-analysis of a dying professor of medicine. Dark irony, social commentary, and symbolism mark the stories that follow, particularly "Ward No. 6" (1892), where the tables turn on the director of a mental hospital and make him an inmate. Here, too, is one of Chekhov's best -known stories. "The Lady with the Little Dog" (1899), a look at illicit love, as well as his own favorite among his stories, "The Student," a moving piece about the importance of religious tradition.
Atmospheric, compassionate, and uncannily wise, Chekhov's short fiction possesses the transcendent power of art to awe and change the reader. This monumental edition, expertly translated, is especially faithful to the meaning of Chekhov's prose and the unique rhythms of his writing, giving readers an authentic sense of his style-and, in doing so, a true understanding of his greatness.
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October 30, 2000
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Excerpt from Selected Stories of Anton Chekov by Anton Chekhov
The Death of a Clerk One fine evening the no less fine office manager Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov1 was sitting in the second row of the stalls, watching The Bells of Corneville2 through opera glasses. He watched and felt himself at the height of bliss. But suddenly . . . This "but suddenly" occurs often in stories. The authors are right: life is so full of the unexpected! But suddenly his face wrinkled, his eyes rolled, his breath stopped . . . he put down the opera glasses, bent forward, and . . . ah-choo!!! As you see, he sneezed. Sneezing is not prohibited to anyone anywhere. Peasants sneeze, police chiefs sneeze, sometimes even privy councillors sneeze. Everybody sneezes. Cherviakov, not embarrassed in the least, wiped his nose with his handkerchief and, being a polite man, looked around to see whether his sneezing had disturbed anyone. And now he did become embarrassed. He saw that the little old man sitting in front of him in the first row of the stalls was carefully wiping his bald head and neck with his glove and muttering something. Cherviakov recognized the little old man as General Brizzhalov,3 who served in the Department of Transportation. "I sprayed him!" thought Cherviakov. "He's not my superior, he serves elsewhere, but still it's awkward. I must apologize." Cherviakov coughed, leaned forward, and whispered in the general's ear: "Excuse me, Yr'xcellency, I sprayed you . . . I accidentally . . ." "Never mind, never mind . . ." "For God's sake, excuse me. I . . . I didn't mean it!" "Ah, do sit down, please! Let me listen!" Cherviakov became embarrassed, smiled stupidly, and began looking at the stage. He looked, but felt no more bliss. Anxiety began to torment him. In the intermission he went up to Brizzhalov, walked around him, and, overcoming his timidity, murmured: "I sprayed you, Yr'xcellency . . . Forgive me . . . I . . . it's not that I . . ." "Ah, come now . . . I've already forgotten, and you keep at it!" said the general, impatiently twitching his lower lip. "Forgotten, but there's malice in his eyes," thought Cherviakov, glancing suspiciously at the general. "He doesn't even want to talk. I must explain to him that I really didn't mean it . . . that it's a law of nature, otherwise he'll think I wanted to spit. If he doesn't think so now, he will later! . . ." On returning home, Cherviakov told his wife about his rudeness. His wife, it seemed to him, treated the incident much too lightly. She merely got frightened, but then, on learning that Brizzhalov served "elsewhere," she calmed down. "But all the same you should go and apologize," she said. "He might think you don't know how to behave in public!" "That's just it! I apologized, but he was somehow strange . . . Didn't say a single sensible word. And then there was no time to talk." The next day Cherviakov put on a new uniform, had his hair cut, and went to Brizzhalov to explain . . . Going into the general's reception room, he saw many petitioners there, and among them was the general himself, who had already begun to receive petitions. Having questioned several petitioners, the general raised his eyes to Cherviakov. "Yesterday, in the Arcadia, if you recall, Yr'xcellency," the office manager began, "I sneezed, sir, and . . . accidentally sprayed you . . . Forg . . ." "Such trifles . . . God knows! Can I be of help to you?" the general addressed the next petitioner. "He doesn't want to talk!" thought Cherviakov, turning pale. "That means he's angry . . . No, it can't be left like this . . . I'll explain to him . . ." When the general finished his discussion with the last petitioner and headed for the inner rooms, Cherviakov fol