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The Complete Short Novels by Anton Chekhov
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The Complete Short Novels

by Anton Chekhov

Other authors: Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)

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Chekhov is most well known for his short stories and plays, but he also wrote five novellas, which are collected in this volume. Although they differ in many ways, all show Chekhov's deep understanding of character, his brilliant ability to set a scene, and his compassion for our very human foibles.

The Steppe is largely told from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy who is sent away from home, initially with his uncle and a local priest and then with a wagon train of traders, to go to a town where he can go to school. His natural emotion at leaving home and the immensity of the steppe, lyrically described by Chekhov (including a very dramatic thunderstorm), as well as the distinct characters of the uncle and the priest, who are traveling on business but have different approaches to it, and of the varied members of the wagon train, combine to create feelings of both the loss of an old life and an exploration of a new one. Chekhov's ability to portray nature is very apparent in this novella.

In The Duel, set on the Caucasian coast, two men with opposite views of life complain to their mutual friend about each other. One has run off to the Caucasus with the wife of another man, but has grown tired of her; he doesn't really know what to do with himself. The other, a man of science, despises the first for his weakness and, in social Darwinian fashion, thinks he should be "eliminated." The wife too plays a role; feeling unloved but eminently lovable, she flirts with other men. After dueling verbally with each other but behind each others' backs, the two end up fighting a real duel. The surprising conclusion is based on the idea that "no one knows the truth," including about themselves.

The Story of an Unknown Man involves a revolutionary who under an assumed name goes to work as a servant for the son of a man he despises, hoping to find incriminating documents about the father. Initially focusing on the role of servants and the people they work for, the plot thickens when the married mistress of the man spontaneously decides to move into the household, much to the discomfiture of her lover and also the maid in the house. Complications ensue when the man starts to live increasingly at the home of a friend (pretending he is traveling for business) and the servant starts to fall in love with the mistress. But this is far from a bedroom farce; in fact, the hidden revolutionary, suffering from tuberculosis, the disease that would kill Chekhov, at one point has the opportunity to kill the hated father but doesn't do so. Eventually he reveals himself in a letter to his "master," criticizing both of their lives. This is a story of how we deceive ourselves and others.

In Three Years, an unattractive man who comes from a successful family (in the wholesale haberdashery business), while visiting his mortally ill sister, convinces a beautiful young woman to marry him. Part a story of his distaste for the business and his conflict with his father and brother, part a story of the evolution of the man and his wife's feelings for each other, this novella also brilliantly depicts the inhumanity of the business.

Finally, My Life tells the story of another misfit, a man who likewise comes from a successful family but who fails at all the jobs he tries and is determined to live the life of a simple manual laborer, much to the horror of his father and many of the people in the town, who afterwards shun him. But he attracts the attention of the daughter of one of the other successful families, who shares his passionate interest in living more simply, in her case closer to the land. This works for a time, but then it doesn't.

These are merely plot summaries. As always, the joy of reading Chekhov is in the dense interconnections between human behavior and the situations of their lives.
1 vote rebeccanyc | Oct 26, 2014 |
In her present merriment there was something childlike naive, as if the joy which during her childhood had been supressed and stifeld by a stern upbringing, had now suddenly awakened in her soul and burst out into freedom
  balvant | Sep 2, 2010 |
A hodgepodge of his five novels in one compendium. Brilliant publication with some excellent works in here like The Duel. ( )
  LesMiserables | Jan 20, 2009 |
Anton Chekhov's short novels are here brought together in one volume for the first time, in a masterly new translation by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Chekhov, widely hailed as the supreme master of the short story, also wrote five works long enough to be called short novels. The Steppe-the most lyrical of the five-is an account of a nine-year-old boy's frightening journey by wagon train across the steppe of southern Russia to enroll in a distant school. The Duel sets two decadent figures-a fanatical rationalist and a man of literary sensibility-on a collision course that ends in a series of surprising reversals. In The Story of an Unknown Man, a political radical plans to spy on an important official by serving as valet to his son, however, as he gradually becomes involved as a silent witness in the intimate life of his young employer, he finds that his own terminal illness has changed his long-held priorities in startling ways. Three Years recounts a complex series of ironies in the personal life of a rich but passive Moscow merchant, engaging time as a narrative element in a way unusual in Chekhov's fiction. In My Life, a man renounces wealth and social position for a life of manual labour, and the resulting conflict between the moral simplicity of his ideals and the complex realities of human nauture culminates in an apocalyptic vision that is unique in Chekhov's work.

In these five short novels, Chekhov's masterful storytelling and his profound understanding of human nature are brilliantly evinced.
2 vote antimuzak | Apr 30, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anton Chekhovprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140003292X, Paperback)

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Aanton Chekhov, widely hailed as the supreme master of the short story, also wrote five works long enough to be called short novels–here brought together in one volume for the first time, in a masterly new translation by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

The Steppe–the most lyrical of the five–is an account of a nine-year-old boy’s frightening journey by wagon train across the steppe of southern Russia. The Duel sets two decadent figures–a fanatical rationalist and a man of literary sensibility–on a collision course that ends in a series of surprising reversals. In The Story of an Unknown Man, a political radical spying on an important official by serving as valet to his son gradually discovers that his own terminal illness has changed his long-held priorities in startling ways. Three Years recounts a complex series of ironies in the personal life of a rich but passive Moscow merchant. In My Life, a man renounces wealth and social position for a life of manual labor.

The resulting conflict between the moral simplicity of his ideals and the complex realities of human nature culminates in a brief apocalyptic vision that is unique in Chekhov’s work.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:17 -0400)

"Anton Chekhov, widely hailed as the supreme master of the short story, also wrote five works long enough to be called short novels, here brought together in one volume for the first time, in a new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky." "The Steppe - the most lyrical of the five - is an account of a nine-year-old boy's frightening journey by wagon train across the steppe of southern Russia. The Duel, set two decadent figures - a fanatical rationalist and a man of literary sensibility - on a collision course that ends on a series of surprising reversals. In The Story of an Unknown Man, a political radical spying on an important official by serving as valet to his son gradually discovers that his own terminal illness had changed his long-held priorities in startling ways. Three Years recounts a complex series of ironies in the personal life of a rich but passive Moscow merchant. In My Life, a man renounces wealth and social postion for a life of manual labor. The resulting conflict between the moral simplicity of his ideals and the complex realities of human nature culminates in a brief apocalyptic vision that is unique in Chekhov's work."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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